Mussels
Photo: Mikkel Vang
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Many ocean-dwelling populations are simply too fragile to stand a chance against human voraciousness, especially when we've got modern technology on our side, including sonar devices to find fish, nets the size of your hometown to collect them, and giant vacuums to slurp up the bottom-dwellers. The seven seas are no longer big enough to offer their inhabitants a place to hide.

Six billion people on Earth, and we're all hungry for the same few fish. Aquaculture ought to help solve the problem—and eventually it will; many innovative, responsible people are going into the field and changing it from within. But ghastly fish farms remain all too common, notably those where Atlantic salmon are raised on a diet of antibiotics, fish by-products, and salmon-pink dye.

It isn't just the welfare of these creatures that matters. Your own health is at stake when you belly up to the seafood buffet. Mercury, dioxin, and PCBs get into the water from rain and runoff and into the bodies of wild fish. Fish that eat other fish build up alarming amounts in their flesh. While some people argue over just how much mercury is harmful, no one claims it's good. And everyone agrees that children, new and expectant mothers, and women planning to get pregnant should shun big predator fish—swordfish, shark, tilefish; many would add albacore tuna to that list.

Now for the good part: Let's say you're a fanatic about your health but don't really give a hoot about the environment, while your husband feels the opposite. No need to argue! The same choices often solve both problems. Check out the guidelines listed in "Reel In or Throw Back?" on the previous page, then try something new. Shrimp, salmon, canned tuna, pollock, and catfish together make up 76 percent of all the seafood consumed in the United States, but they're hardly the only fish in the sea. Barton Seaver, executive chef and partner in Hook, a sustainable-seafood restaurant in Washington, D.C., suggests you rethink your fish prejudices. Sardines and anchovies, for example, sound more like punch lines to bad jokes than great dinner options, but they're high in omega-3s, low in contaminants, and abundant. And, if you haven't sampled them since you were a picky kid, you may be surprised at how wonderful they taste.

Perhaps all these tips and warnings are just too taxing for your omega-3–deprived brain. Well, sorry, you're not off the hook. The next time you're about to order mahimahi in a restaurant, just text 30644 and type in the words fish and mahimahi on the message line of your PDA or cell phone. In seconds you'll get a reply from the Blue Ocean Institute rating your choice: green (great), yellow (good), or red (not smart).

So there you are, outfitted like a modern-day Captain Nemo, with information rather than harpoons, of course, and ready to make your way wisely through the briny depths. Time to go fishing once again.

Get chef Barton Seaver's mouthwatering recipes

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