By Ronald Halweil, MD
Low human populations and oceans that cover 70% of the Earth have always made for strong populations of fish. And fish have been a main source of food for people over our entire history on Earth. Recent archeological findings show that even the Neanderthal were seashore harvesters of shellfish and fin fish, and why wouldn’t they be? Shellfish don’t run away and we all know how tasty they are. Fish trapped in receding tidal pools are an easy catch too if you get them before the sea birds spot them!
By Ronald Halweil, MD
But now things are different. Human populations are huge and everyone wants to eat fish, especially educated people in developed nations who know how good fish is for you. However, when we look closely at the fish available in our supermarkets we see that much of the fish and sometimes most of the fish are farm raised, e.g., tilapia and salmon. Wild fish often carry very high price tags. I’ve seen wild striped bass fillets, from our waters, sold in Manhattan fish stores for $40/ lb! Tilapia and farmed salmon are usually much more affordable, in the $5-10 range, except for “organic farm raised” salmon which can go for as high as $20/lb.
Fish farming is an old technique. The ancient Romans did it very efficiently, and the Chinese have done it for millennia as well, but not on the present mega-industrial scale which needs millions of tons of small ocean fish for fish feed. A recent shortage of sardines for human consumption has been blamed on this overfishing of “forage” fish for the farmed fish industry.
Not widely publicized is the fact that “farmed” fish, even the organic type, does NOT have the healthful qualities of wild fish. Just as industrially produced chickens and cows are overfed with unnatural food (cows are fed fishmeal, certainly not part of cow’s normal diet), farmed fish, particularly the carnivorous salmon, are fed corn and soy pellets as well as fish pellets. These fish are overcrowded in aquatic “feed lots” to quickly bring them to market size; and they are not healthy fish. These fish are susceptible to a wide range of diseases due to their inability to move freely and hunt their normal prey. Recently, the entire salmon farm industry of Chile, a leader in fish farming, was destroyed by a deadly virus that quickly decimated their whole salmon fishery! This too has not been well publicized.
How can we avoid the dangers of farmed fish? We can eat our local wild fish. How lucky to be in an area where this is possible; to get local wild fish, freshly caught. Even though this fish is expensive we can maximize the value by not wasting as much as 50% of the fish! Yes 50%, and that’s with eating every particle of the fillet on your plate.
The problem is the fillet. By just taking the fillet of the fish and discarding the head, neck, skin, skeleton and tail we can lose up to 1/2 of the nutritious and tasty parts of the fish. In Asia this would never happen, but in America we got used to taking only the boneless fish fillet. And if you do order a whole fish in a restaurant (usually a farmed fish, often with the “prestige” of being imported from Europe with an exotic name like branzino), your server will gladly fillet the cooked fish for you and remove the “other” parts.
I once measured and weighed the edible parts of fish that I caught and compared that to the weight of the fillets, and 35-50% “waste” was common.
So if you want to eat only local caught wild fish, for best taste and health, and to respect the animal, please learn to use the other parts in fish soup, fish stew. Eat the fish carefully to avoid any fishbones. Our mouths, lips, and tongue are perfectly sensitive to fishbones and mindful eating will prevent any fishbone accidents. Of course, small children should have their fish carefully checked for bones until they are capable, as Asian children are, of removing any bones from their mouths themselves!
Good eating promotes good health!