My husband and I went out for tacos a couple weeks ago. Dating is very rare with a small one at home. The restaurant was recommended due to their delicious fish tacos.

Before my husband ordered, he asked the waitress, “Where is the tilapia from?” She said she would ask the manager. I was a little embarrassed that he asked because I was sure that this restaurant had good food. She came back and said, “China.”

“Let me see,” my husband replied, “I need a few more minutes.”


Fish has never been on the school lunch menu at my school. I think it would be fantastic if my school started offering fish but my concern is that the fish would be sourced from Asia. If you have done any reading about the chemicals and pesticides used in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc., you would also be wary about consuming that kind of fish. They don’t have the same kind of rules and regulations that the US has and so chemicals and pesticides that we banned more than forty years ago are still being used. Known carcinogens. (See FDA Halts Imports of Farmed Fish from China and Wary diners ask: Is fish from China?)

Shrimp is something that I avoid completely because all those little shrimps you can purchase at the grocery store or at a restaurant come from China and they are loaded with chemicals (stuff we banned 40 years ago). You want the big Gulf shrimp — it pays to buy “made in the USA.”

Due to lots of contaminants in fish, we now only eat canned chunk light tuna (the albacore has more mercury), tilapia, salmon, canned sardines, anchovies and cod. I try to steer my husband away from the catfish because it is a bottom feeder (aka eats crap that may contain chemicals), but he loves it and can’t resist eating it.

I think fish are a great thing to eat because it’s low fat and full of great brain developing fatty acids. I just wish there wasn’t so much pollution in this world forcing me to ask questions every time we buy fish at a restaurant or at the grocery store. Luckily most fish is labeled with the country of origin. I encourage you to have a closer look at what you have in the fridge. And check out What Fish Should I Eat? for a list of resources with information about which fish are safe.

At the grocery store I questioned the butcher about the fish and he taught me something new. He said, “If it’s fresh, it most likely did not come from Asia. It’s the frozen stuff that you should worry about.”

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35 thoughts on “Fishy

  1. I guess I am lucky to live in Houston, with the gulf only a 45 minute drive away! We eat shrimp once a week at our house, the kids love it and it is a great low cal option.

  2. Sad… Asia has a bad reputation for sea food… If you'll go visit the Philippines, it's entirely a different thing…

  3. I think choosing fresh meat of any variety presents a challenge for most consumers. Labels are misleading or have ratings that are entirely arbitrary to the uneducated. It is always best to have a "relationship" with a local butcher and fish "monger." I suggest people steer away from the grocery store in most cases as they are rarely as invested in the product as a small business who specializes in them.

    This article has a great eco guide to purchasing seafood if anyone is interested.

  4. If you're concerned about sustainability, too, take a look at Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, They have an iphone app, too, for when you're at the market and need to know if this or that fish is sustainably sourced. I whole-heartedly agree with pushing Gulf shrimp. Not only is it local, it's much tastier than the tiger prawns from Asia. I just hope it's okay after all the oil mess. As for catfish, most of it is farmed.

  5. I agree with your butcher. I live in Florida, and Publix grocers show where each fish is from, whether it's fresh or frozen, and has been carrying locally caught shrimp on and off for a few years now. It's not always at my grocery, but I always buy it when it is. I never buy 'previously frozen' fish, and will go out of the way to the fish shop at the beach, just to get local/fresh/never frozen fish that I know is good and doesn't have all those harsh chemicals.

  6. "If it's fresh, it most likely did not come from Asia. It's the frozen stuff that you should worry about."

    Not likely. Look for the fine-print label (on nearly every piece of fish in your regular American Mega-Mart) that says "previously frozen". You'll be hard pressed to find ANY fresh fish in a grocery store, unless you live on the coast.

  7. I think people's fish choices should also be influence by sustainability. For example, Cod are severely overfished, and are threatened as a result. And something like farmed Salmon (a far cry from the wild variety!) uses incredible amounts of antibiotics, which then spread through ecosystems. Eating fish instead of meat is a great idea, but as you've pointed out, people really need to choose wisely.

  8. Thanks for the great info – as well as the info in the comments. It is hard to find fresh fish (not previously frozen) at the few grocery stores we have here in my small Wisconsin town. Luckily we are starting to build a good relationship with the small "fresh" market in town.

    Love your blog – such good work!

  9. I second Dorn. Fish aren't the only problem. Most grocery store meat has been fed hormones and antibiotics and been overly processed. I prefer to buy all my meat from local farmers.

  10. Thanks for all your comments! I'd love to buy fish from sustainable, local sources, but if you're landlocked you are out of luck! I've heard a little about hydroponic fish farms and I thought they were ok. Thoughts?

  11. Try rainbow trout. It has one of the highest concentrations of Omega-3 and it is farmed in America (it's on the EDF safe list). It has the added benefit of being a mild, flaky fish. I like mine pecan-crusted or grilled with butter, lemon, and fresh herbs.

  12. I guess I'm lucky. The store were I buy my fish labels whether its fresh or previously frozen, if its wild or farm raised, and often the country of origin.

    I guess if you keep asking, they'll eventually post the information.

  13. FYI–We harvest tiny, pink and delicious shrimp in Maine so you can get shrimp from outside the Gulf Coast. But yes, buying domestic is one decent way of avoiding some of the things you mentioned.

  14. If catfish is properly handled (which I recognize is a dicy proposition), the incidence of chemicals should be very low. They should be kept alive in buckets for a few days, with clean water changes daily, until the water remains clear.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that far too few people know this about catfish … which is one of the few varieties of fish I like.

  15. When I was a kid attending public school in suburban St. Louis, we were served fish for lunch nearly every Fri. For example, we'd have fried fish on a bun with tartar sauce, fish sticks with tartar sauce, tuna casserole, or tuna salad sandwiches. The occasional Fri. meatless meal would be something like grilled cheese sandwiches instead of fish.

    As an adult, I eat fish 3 to 5 times a week. I would eat it more frequently if it weren't so expensive and I live on the coast where, at least theoretically, it's more affordable than it is in landlocked areas.

    I jot down a list of safe, sustainable fish from the EDF and Monterey Bay Aquarium sites and keep it in my wallet. I check those 2 sites about once a month because their lists change from time to time. Like @M, I consider it important to buy only fish raised or caught in a sustainable manner and that's what I strive for with the help of the aforementioned Web sites. @M, it's only Atlantic cod that's currently overfished and threatened. Pacific cod is sustainable at present. The taste and texture of these 2 fish are very similar.

    Another tip I've heard from multiple sources is that it's better to eat small fish rather than large fish because of the cumulative effect of eating high on the food chain. The theory goes that the contaminants accumulate as they move up the food chain and by the time a large fish eats another fish, it is consuming all the contaminants that were consumed below it in the food chain. Herring and sardines are types of small fish that are high in Omegas and low in contaminants.

    Mr. Q, most catfish sold in the U.S. is farm raised. The EDF site states that, "Channel catfish are the most commonly farmed fish in the United States. These omnivorous fish are raised in ponds in the Southeast, and are fed mostly vegetable-based diets. Channel catfish are a native species, and escaped farmed catfish do not appear to cause ecological harm." So hopefully, that will put Mrs. Q's mind at ease when you want to eat catfish!

    This is redundant but I think some readers might benefit from having the links to the 2 seafood guides that I mentioned repeated here:

    Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Seafood Selector:

    Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide:

    This is off topic but if you ever get a chance to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium, do it. It's an incredible place.

  16. Thanks for your post.

    This is slightly off-topic, but reading this just made me realise how much you have to be thankful for in the US. I still consider myself as "from Asia" even though technically I live in Australia at present. And the more I learn about food production in my region, the harder it is to swallow (that wasn't deliberate :P). I was just thinking about this last night: I buy only free-range meat now, and I rarely eat fish anymore because I can't afford to make a habit of eating the few types that are both ecologically sustainable and won't cause me to grow a third foot. But if I were to move back to my home country, where would I find it?

    There is definitely no legislation covering meat and seafood production practices; I come from a country where food legislation is one of the least of our worries because if we can just get a government that won't selectively offer privileges to a certain ethnic group, and is headed by leaders who are not bribe-devouring sleazeballs, that'll be enough. For starters.

    As I said have a lot to be grateful for in the US: choice, for one. You're able to educate yourself about what goes into your food and choose not to eat certain things from certain sources.

    For my family (and me, if I move back home), the choice is a lot more stark: eat it or starve.

  17. When a certain breed of fish suddenly becomes very affordable and widely available in your local supermarkets, you can be sure that it came from some fish farm.

    Also, some breeds of fish are given misleading commercial names to boost their popularity. E.g. Pacific dory fillet sold in supermarkets is not really a Dory, but a catfish. And most of these Pacific dories are bred in unhygienic farms. Beware!

  18. Thanks for this post. Domestic farmed tilapia aren't that bad. Farmed catfish are probably better since they're native (tilapia are an invasive species in various places in the U.S., like the river in my town).

    But farmed isn't always better. Salmon farms cause a lot of pollution. You want wild caught with salmon.

    Gulf shrimp are better than farmed Asian shrimp, but they're still not that great. The Gulf is a pretty messed up ecosystem, even before the oil spill. All the crud from the entire Mississippi watershed runs in there, which is a lot of crud.

    It is sad that this is so complicated, because I love fish. But between overfishing and pollution, it's like an obstacle course to find fish you won't feel guilty about eating. So I end up not eating it very often and get more protien from local grass fed meat and free range chicken. Fish is almost a special occassion thing for me.

    Oh, and I'm still very disappointed that my grocery store carries Orange Roughy. It's one of the regular species they always carry (I don't live on the coast, so we don't have a very wide selection, just a few regulars with some seasonal specials). Maybe I should write a letter or something. Why are people still eating this fish? It has a lifespan of 100 years! It just don't seem right to be eating a fish fillet that's probably older than me.

  19. I don't like fish or seafood, so I don't personally struggle with these issues. In fact, my family and I eat less and less meat as time goes on –it's hard and expensive to get meat that I can feel okay about eating. My husband loves seafood, though, so we do eat at Red Lobster about once a year 🙂 and he'll get seafood on the rare occasion (once every two years?) that we get out to a nicer restaurant.

    I have read stuff that makes me very leary of farmed fish in general, and even of fish that are caught in lakes by your average fishing family. I'm quite happy to avoid all fish, and try to get my omega 3's from grass-fed beef.

  20. Elaine, thanks for that article on the Liberty's Kitchen/New Orleans College Prep project. I can't wait to see how this program turns out.

  21. weary – tired, fatigued, drained of energy
    wary – cautious, fearful, on one's guard
    leery – cautious, distrustful or fearful (Usage: If one pays attention, one is probably leery of fish from China.)

    That is all.

  22. This post smacks of racism. Exactly which chemicals are you talking about? Everything is a chemical. Are non-Asian fish chemical free?

    I live in Korea (I'm not Korean), and all the "chemicals" in the fish they eat don't seem to be doing them any harm. Considering that they have Japan-like life spans and almost no obesity.

  23. I don't know if anyone else has mentioned this. I just noticed one of my pet peeves in the following sentence.

    "If you have done any reading about the chemicals and pesticides used in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc., you would also be WEARY about consuming that kind of fish."

    Mrs. Q, the word you wanted there was "leery." It basically means to be concerned about. The word "weary" means tired. Maybe you were just weary when you wrote the post? 🙂

  24. @Matt – I'm not being racist again fish from China or other Asian countries. I'm just being cautious like many Americans are about products from that part of the world, which have been shown to contain many banned chemicals.

  25. Regarding my grammar…whoops! Sorry, I'll have to change that. I do a lot of the writing when everyone is sleeping…I do need more rest.

  26. Wary would also work there, Mrs. Q. I have a hunch that's what you meant to type when you typed weary. No doubt it was a Freudian slip. You were weary when you typed it!

  27. As nice as it would be for schools to serve fish for lunch more often, it would be a problem for people like me. I am allergic to fish oil and I pretty much cannot eat seafood despite the fact that I like it. When tempted with seafood in buffet situations sometimes i throw caution to the winds and go for it; after all it's delicious. I always regret my choice because the consequences are not fun, think mild food poisoning and migraine. It's not exactly a typical allergic reaction but it definitely impacts my life. If I were a child in school i doubt I would be brave enough to ask for another option so i would either end up eating the fish and getting too sick to continue in school for that day and maybe the next, or i would not eat the main entree and i would spend the rest of the day hungry which would impact my ability to learn.
    In fact i think the situation could apply to many children who have a variety of allergies. What does a child do when faced with a food that they know makes them sick, yet it is not a medically documented allergy and they don't know that they can ask for another option? I never once heard that I could ask to an alternative to a fish sandwich, in fact i don't even recall my school offering a vegetarian option. I'm sure they are required to, but do the students know they can ask for it?

  28. Just to complicate matters, check out the fine print on a lot of frozen "Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon" (Wal-mart, Schwann's, etc): "Wild Caught in USA/Product of China." Seems that a lot of "wild caught" salmon are processed (cut up, bones removed) and packaged in China, then shipped back to us.

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