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Photo credit: Katie Stoops

When you’re poring over a menu or peering at your fishmonger’s fillets, how do you know which fish to pick? Seafood is a heart-healthy choice, but it’s important to avoid any that may be contaminated with brain-damaging mercury or that have been fished close to extinction.

Yet buying fish doesn’t have to be confusing–follow these basic rules for smart shopping choices from NRDC Smarter Living and select seafood that’s good for you and for the health of our oceans.

  • The Smaller the Better (Generally): Smaller fish and seafood usually reproduce faster and are more plentiful in our oceans, and therefore more able to adjust to the impacts of fishing. Also, they tend to accumulate less toxins like mercury and can be great sources of healthy oils. Try sardines, mussels, and squid, among others.
  • Location, Location, Location: Seafood is a global commodity, but where a fish is caught can be extremely important. Alaskan wild salmon fisheries are some of the best managed on the planet, a good choice for the environment and your dinner. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is an excellent source of information on sustainable fisheries.
  • “Certified” Means Something: Seafood certifications, like those from the Marine Stewardship Council, do carry real benefits. But not all labels are equal! To better understand the variety of food labels and what they mean, check out NRDC’s Label Lookup.
  • “Free-Range” Fish: No, you won’t find “Free-Range” fish on store shelves, but “wild-caught” fish have fewer environmental impacts that farmed fish of the same species. Given a choice, purchase wild-caught fish.
  • Frozen is Fine: Many fish are now frozen at sea shortly after they are caught. The result is high-quality fish, lower transportation costs and CO2 emissions, and less chance of spoilage and waste.

These and the other simple steps available from NRDC Smarter Living will make your seafood shopping easier and let you focus more on the pleasure of preparing and eating a healthy and sustainable meal.

And if you’re looking for recipes, Smarter Living has you covered. Try “Fish Tacos with Grilled Corn, Cilantro and Mango Salsa,” a warm grilled (and low-cal) white fish paired with the crunchy onion and cabbage topped with sweet mango salsa. Check out all the seafood recipes at Smarter Living.