10 Fish You're Eating That Are Endangered Species

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Human beings: acting like jerks since we killed off the pupfish.
Yesterday, we touched briefly on the plight of the idiot fish, a small red fish with giant, round marbles for eyes. It's delicious, despite its odd appearance. And it's also endangered. Yet it's still sold and served across the world.

The idiot fish is only "endangered," however, not "critically endangered." There are degrees of being endangered, after all. And a critically endangered species is one that is in real, immediate danger of having its numbers decimated by 80 percent within three generations.

So these critically endangered species must be under some sort of protection, right? We don't eat California condors or mountain gorillas after all.

Nope. Endangered fish, no matter what their popularity, don't get the kind of attention and therefore protection that their mammalian counterparts do. For every Iberian lynx that is saved, there are a dozen critically endangered fish that will continue to be fished, sold and consumed.

This is our list of the 10 fish you can buy and eat right now that are endangered. Some are merely endangered, while the ones toward the top are critically endangered. Either way, these fish should be avoided where and whenever possible.

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Photo by Mr. T in DC
Cod in its coffin: Folk art from the Smithsonian, depicting the decline of the Atlantic cod industry.
10. Orange roughy

Because the orange roughy has such a long lifespan (forget parrots; these fish can live to be 100 years old) and a slow rate of maturation, it takes literally dozens of years to replenish decimated orange roughy populations. And decimated they are; the fish became popular in the late 1970s, peaking in 1990, when overfishing led to government-imposed quotas for the fish. Although they're no longer technically critically endangered, many organizations recommend that orange roughy be avoided at all costs to keep it this way.

9. Eel

More specifically, the European freshwater eel. Even farm-raised eel, however, are poor stand-ins for wild-caught eel. A farm-raised eel must be fed three times its own body weight in wild-caught fish, a process that makes eel farming as unsustainable as over-fishing wild eel.

8. Haddock

Recently, the ICUN Red List reclassified haddock as merely "vulnerable," albeit still endangered. It's because of this that the Greenpeace International Seafood Red List has listed haddock as one of the 20 species of fish to avoid at all costs. It also notes that while haddock is no longer overfished in U.S. waters, Scottish haddock fisheries should be closed to prevent the same thing from happening across the pond.

7. Halibut

Although there's been some question as to whether or not Atlantic halibut should still be listed as endangered, there's no question that the fishery itself is still in terrible shape after years of overfishing. Although there have been conservation measures put in place since the fishery threatened to collapse, the fish are still in danger: Bottom trawlers catch the sea floor-dwelling halibut in their nets, destroying the young stock that are supposed to be replenishing the Atlantic halibut population.

6. Atlantic cod

The bad news is that the Atlantic cod has been fished nearly to extinction. The good news is that cod from Iceland and and the Barents Sea has not. According to the Seafood Watch app, "For centuries, north Atlantic cod was one of the world's largest and most reliable fisheries. However, decades of overfishing have resulted in dramatic population declines." Pacific cod from Japan and Russia is said to be just as bad, but opinions on that are currently divided.


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24 comments
willillybabi
willillybabi

Just go to any nearby FISH & CHIPS restaurant and check out how much it cost to order a 'HALIBUT AND CHIPS' these days, it will blow you away !


Prices are doubling every 5 years and it is not greed, it is simply the fact that there are no more Halibut left in the ocean that's causing the prices to skyrocket

TheHerbalGerbil
TheHerbalGerbil

Erratum: There’s no “World Conservation Union”. It’s been called the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for a couple of years now.

Confused About Halibut
Confused About Halibut

I'm confused. The article lists halibut as a no-no and does not specify a region, but the Monterey Bay list Katharine linked to lists Pacific halibut as a "best choice."

Getsomereality
Getsomereality

What stupidity, very few restaurant's in the US serve Bluefin tuna.  Get your facts straight, and I would seriously doubt ANY of them are using it for a roll.  That is cheap yellowfin or blackfin tuna.  And using "Green"peace as a source just blows your credibility all to hell.  Why don't you just use the tooth fairy, that would be about as intelligent as using ecoTERRORISTS as your source.

Chris Watkins
Chris Watkins

Here's my honest question: what's a good sub for ahi tuna steak? I'm thinking seared on the outside and raw in the middle and accompanied with soy and wasabi.

In a related vein, is there an article on fish that are okay to eat? Yes, I can Google these things, but I like your writing better. :)

'Will Dangerfield
'Will Dangerfield

Seafood is not something that should be available in the grocery store and at every inland state in the US.  You should have to come to the coast to get it.  Eating frozen fish is a crime!

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

"Because it tastes fantastic, and we are hopelessly greedy and thoughtless creatures who are swayed from our morals by nothing more than a spicy tuna roll."

So sad and so true. You could substitute "it tastes" with "it's convenient", and "spicy tuna roll" with any of the fancy tech toys out there right now and still nail it on the head.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Good point. I'm not quite sure why Greenpeace still refers to them as such.

Jason Dorweiler
Jason Dorweiler

Why dont you shut your face and use a real name, and get some reality yourself. Virtually every sushi restaurant serves bluefin.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

I'm thinking your name should be GetsomeMotrin

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Greenpeace was only one of many sources quoted for this post. Thanks for your thoughtful and constructive feedback.

Terry Alexander
Terry Alexander

As Karen points out, Yellowfin and Blackfin are both available in most area markets - fresh caught from local waters in Galveston Bay. We catch them both regularly on our offshore trips. I eat them as either sashimi or a rare pepper coated steak dipped in my own homemade ponzu sauce. TA

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I'll give you my answer and one from the Seafood Watch app. My answer: I think that bonito would make an excellent sub for ahi tuna. A bonito is basically a smaller version of a tuna, and it tastes virtually the same. You can see in the second photo on this page that it even looks like tuna served raw: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/... The Japanese already use bonito in a lot of different ways; we hardly know what it is over here, even though it's plentiful in the Gulf. However, it's a predatory fish too - just like tuna - and the same problems could present themselves if bonito is overfished in the future.

The Seafood Watch app suggests skipjack tuna as an alternative to ahi. Skipjack and bonito are almost the same fish, and are even served interchangeably in some countries. It also recommends yellowfin tuna (and I'd extend that recommendation to blackfin tuna as well), but only those that are line-caught (sustainably harvested, that is) in U.S. waters.

Bonito is one of the fish that does really well with ike jime, and hopefully it won't be too long before we see that fish gaining a little popularity in Houston. In the meantime, it's pretty easy to find yellowfin tuna here.  :)

Confused About Halibut
Confused About Halibut

Thanks Katharine. I am also wondering if there's a way to know whether the fish you buy in the supermarket or eat in a restaurant is fished via "troll/poll" or "longline" as that seems to make a huge difference in terms of whether something is listed as a good choice on the Monterey Bay list...

Biker
Biker

Or, GetsomeProzac.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Again, something I forgot to point out... Ahi tuna is yellowfin tuna. But I interpreted the original question to ask, "What's a good alternative to bluefin tuna?" for some reason. Mea culpa.

Either way, I still think bonito is awesome.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I should also point out that bonito, yellowfin, blackfin, etc. are all full of mercury as well, another bad side effect of eating predators that are at the top of the ocean's various food chains. So...you know...all things in moderation.  :)

Chris Watkins
Chris Watkins

Thanks! There's an iPhone app for this that I'll grab. Cheers!

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

There really isn't a good way other than asking, and asking can be annoying and uncomfortable - I know. But asking shows the restaurant/grocery store that you're truly interested in a specific product, and is gentle encouragement to buy that product at some point down the line...especially if enough people start asking/demanding that their restaurants and grocery stores carry sustainably harvested fish.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Anything for someone whose Facebook page ends in "baronvonawesome."

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