A Super-Spooky Scare This Halloween!

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Fish That Don’t Taste Like Fish (or When Bland is Best)

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Another great question by a supporter of www.passionfish.org: “I want to find out more about fish that taste less like fish and more like…???” So, we take it you want to eat fish but pretend you are eating a chicken ‘finger’? Okay, we get your pickle: You like chicken but want the health benefits of seafood? That’s one guess. Our other guess is that you have been buying stinky fish (or fish that isn’t the freshest!).
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Don’t feel freakish just because underwater things with slimy skin or snuggled in mud don’t appeal to you. We know you’re not alone. Here’s your guide to health and happiness as you hunt for the perfect “un-fish.”
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Two rules, two rules of thumb, two hot tips, and two good bets:
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Rule 1. If you’re having trouble with fish, the number one thing is to make sure it’s really, really FRESH fish.
Rule 2. Buy your fresh fish from the best store you can afford. (Usually, this also means that the people selling the fish know everything about their products!).
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Rule of Thumb 1. Freshwater fish is generally milder; saltwater fish tends toward a stronger “fish” taste.
Rule of Thumb 2. Stick to white-colored fish fillets.
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Tip 1: Sniff first. If you pick up a whiff of “fishy-ness,” don’t buy it. Fresh fish will smell like a refreshing splash of seawater.
Tip 2: Try sushi. Surprisingly, those who don’t like fish often like sushi. Sushi HAS to be fresh.
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Best bet: Tilapia — This mild, almost tasteless fish accepts seasonings and marinades well. Try “Tilapia Vera Cruz,” a recipe created by Chef Gregory Fedderson for Passionfish’s upcoming cookbook: www.passionfish.org
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Other runners-up that are mild tasting (listed alphabetically):
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Catfish
Cod
Crab
Flounder
Haddock
Hake
Halibut
Hoki
Lingcod
Lobster
Monkfish
Orange Roughy
Pollock
Red Snapper
Scallops
Shrimp (and prawns)
Sole
Turbot
White Sea Bass
Walleye
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It may be that part of the reason you dislike fish is due to its soft texture. Try scallops— their firmness is like steak. Try this delicious and easy-to-prepare scallop recipe by Passionfish’s own Director of Culinary Education, Gerard Viverito (Certified Executive Chef), “Thai-style scallops”: www.passionfish.org Beautiful food imagery is by our very talented colleague, Diane Padys.
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Or look for those recipes for baked fish with a crispy coating. This will make seafood more palatable for those squeamish of you converting from, say, chicken fingers or chicken-fried steaks. Try seafood recipes calling for a dip in Panko (Japanese style) bread crumbs. Those tasty bread crumbs will expand your repertoir from the usual Corn Flakes!
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Here are two great recipes for different white fish:
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Seared Seabass w/Garlic www.calorie-count.com – Seabass is a firm fish with refreshing flavor. The texture really lets you b-i-t-e into something. This recipe has 184 calories per serving and is quick to prepare.
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Halibut Provencal www.calorie-count.com- How about those tomatoes? Full of healthy anti-oxidants (a good thing!). This recipe has 263 calories per serving and takes a little time to prepare.
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There is an excellent, brand-new book on the market by Margaret Wittenberg, a Global Vice President at Whole Foods, called “New Good Food: Essential Ingredients for Cooking and Eating Well.” Amid 283-pages of gems, you can find a fantastic, well-researched and well-written chapter on seafood. Check it out. It’s published by the ultra-creative, excellence-standard-setting and prolific Berkeley, Calif., publisher Ten Speed Press, 2007. On shelves now! It’s also available, naturally, at Whole Foods www.wholefoods.com
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We like Whole Foods a whole lot. We have partnered with local stores several times for community events promoting healthy seafood caught or raised in sustainable ways.
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We end this blog with a fun quote:
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“Fish and visitors smell in three days.”
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1736
US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, and printer (1706 – 1790)
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Take a look at this story on LA.com for more information. www.la.com
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Team Passionfish

The Mercury Conundrum: Should You Worry?

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“Conundrum: a): a question or problem having only a conjectural answer b): an intricate and difficult problem.”
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Yesterday, we received a couple of health-related questions at Passionfish www.passionfish.org asking, “Does shrimp have mercury?” followed by “Should I even be worrying about mercury levels in seafood? I haven’t heard of anyone with mercury poisoning due to seafood!”
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Turns out that you are safe to eat shrimp — the critters contain no detectable levels of mercury. Whether you should worry about mercury depends on whether you are eating the large predator fish, and whether you are pregnant or planning to become so.
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Basically, if you are pregnant, nursing, or have a weakened immune system, the commonly known fish that health experts say you should avoid are swordfish, shark, and tuna (fresh or frozen). Small fish fear these big fish for good reason. Swordfish, shark, and tuna are “top dogs” in the ocean. They eat lots of smaller fish. As a result, even minute amounts of bad toxins found in the small fish become concentrated in the flesh of larger fish. Mercury is one such compound that accumulates in the muscle of swordfish, shark, and tuna. It doesn’t cook away with the fat. Fetuses are sensitive to mercury, as are people who have compromised immune systems due to illness.
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Some fish contain mercury because it’s in our environment due to industrial pollution, but most fish have levels that are far below the consumption limits set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The body naturally clears itself of mercury although it can take a year. Because developing embryos are the most susceptible to the effects of mercury, health experts recommend that pregnant or nursing women (and women planning to become pregnant) and children under age six avoid seafood highest in mercury. Fish at the top of the food chain have the highest levels of accumulated mercury in their flesh and should be avoided during certain times in your life. The full list is: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tile fish (also called golden bass or golden snapper), orange roughy, Spanish mackerel, marlin, grouper, tuna (fresh or frozen), bass (Chilean), and walleye. Also, if you catch fish recreationally, be sure to check with your state’s advisory. If you are not sure, “catch and release” the fish.
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[Also, women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid all raw or undercooked meats---that includes sushi and sashimi. Because these foods have not been cooked, naturally occurring bacteria can be present. A type of bacteria called Vibrio that can cause illness occasionally infects healthy adults and children but rarely do these people become seriously ill. Babies, however, can be miscarried or be born ill if their mothers have eaten food containing these bacteria during pregnancy.]
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Tuna fish sandwiches: White canned tuna (albacore) contain a moderate level of mercury and health experts recommend that pregnant or nursing women and young children eat four ounces per week (equal to one meal every two weeks). However, light canned tuna has lower mercury content and health experts advise that eight ounces (or one meal) per week can be eaten.
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It’s important to know that seafood is very wholesome, full of vitamins and minerals, easily digestible, and is an excellent source of protein and healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. And, according to a recent US National Academy of Sciences peer-reviewed report, the benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the risks and most of us should eat more of it, rather than less, in order to receive its many health benefits. Health experts recommended that people eat 12 ounces of seafood per week. As comparison, 3 ounces of cooked seafood is about the size of a deck of playing cards. Try replacing a hamburger with a seafood filet and see how you feel: lighter, more energetic? Fish is simply a lighter, healthier protein.
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Meanwhile, if you’re pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or nursing, be sure to eat fish that are highest in Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, trout, mackerel, whitefish, sardines, and anchovies because the long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are essential for your baby’s nervous system development. Also, a tasty new fish on the market is Kona Kampachi, an Hawaiian yellowtail, high in healthy Omega 3s and with no mercury. Check out Kona Blue to find out where you can purchase this delicious, sashimi-grade fish. www.kona-blue.com.
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Last, as a sustainability group, Passionfish knows that reconciling a healthy ocean with the demands put on it by increasing consumption is a very, very tricky balancing act. We work hard to bring you the most respected, well-researched and vetted information on seafood that’s good for you and for the environment.
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If you are worried about the level of mercury in your body, the Sierra Club offers a test for just $25.
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Meanwhile, if we discover recent scientific evidence that people have developed high levels of mercury from over-consuming at-risk seafood, we will post that information on this blog. We’re sure that this posting on mercury in seafood is the first of many to come.
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Team Passionfish

What the Heck is Tilapia?

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This is one of my favorite questions that we’ve received at www.passionfish.org. The newly popular finfish is showing up in grocery seafood cases across the country and we all keep hearing that tilapia is nearly as revolutionary sliced bread. But, in fact, it’s had a long, rich history.
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Tilapia is the common name of a group of fish called cichlids that are native to Africa, but are now one of the world’s greatest aquaculture (fish and shellfish farming) success stories. Since tilapia were first grown in ponds in Arizona in the early 1960s, they have spread to fresh-water aquaculture farms in 85 countries that now produce more than 800,000 tons a year, surpassed only by the production of farmed carp. One species of tilapia, the Nile perch, was the first fish ever reared in aquafarms by Egyptians over 3,000 years ago and they appear in some tomb paintings.
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These relatively small fish, similar to sunfish or crappie, grow quickly and live on diets of ecologically friendly and inexpensive vegetable-based foods. The farms are enclosed ponds, most with recirculating water systems that have very little impact on the surrounding environment. Wild tilapia still inhabit rivers and lakes in Africa, and are taken for food in small artisanal (local or community-based) fisheries and major commercial fisheries on Lake Victoria and other large African lakes.
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Some species of tilapia can easily be identified by color. The most common, from the Nile river, is Oreochromis niloticus which are bright emerald green. Oreochromis honorum is black and white, Oreochromis mossambica has reddish coloring, Oreochromis aureus is white or silver. The fish called red tilapia is a mix of species, but always carries the red gene from Oreochromis mossambica. Tilapia are a riot of diversity, though, and there are dozens of other close relatives with many colors.
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All tilapia are nest builders and the parents guard their fertilized eggs by patrolling areas around the nest and later taking their young into their mouths. They are omnivores, feeding on small fish, algae, and bits of anything else organic that is in the water, growing to weights from six ounces to six pounds, and lengths from four to 18 inches, depending upon the species and habitat. Most tilapia that reach market from farms weigh between one and one-and-a-half pounds.
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Legend has it that the fish Christ multiplied one-thousand-fold to feed the masses was tilapia, and so it is sometimes known as St. Peter’s fish. And, now, in the US, tilapia has become the fifth most popular fish to eat, after shrimp, canned tuna, salmon and pollock.
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Ready to try it? Check out the easy-to-prepare “Tilapia Vera Cruz” contributed by Chef Gregory Fedderson: www.passionfish.org
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Please stay tuned to our blog for more information about seafood that’s healthy for you and for the ocean. We have a beautiful cookbook in development to help answer your questions while providing easy-to-prepare recipes for you and your family. Visit us at www.passionfish.org/support.htm
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Team Passionfish

Dolphin-Free Tuna: Where Are We Today?

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We just received a deceptively difficult question at www.passionfish.org: “How can people be assured that tuna are caught in ways that don’t harm dolphins?” The simple answer is to buy tuna with the dolphin-free label which, in the U.S., you will see on cans of Starkist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea. But, how free of dolphins is “dolphin-free”? Read on for more about this issue as we piece together a twisted history of the issue.
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Tuna and dolphin have a unique relationship that scientists still don’t fully understand. The creatures tend to swim together: dolphins at the water’s surface, tuna (particularly yellowfin, marketed as “ahi”) below the surface. In the 1950s, fishermen in the Eastern Tropical Pacific—origin of much of the tuna consumed in the U.S.—began to take advantage of this natural behavior. They developed the purse seine net fishing method and relied less on individual hook-and-line or harpoon capture. (The purse seine is a net that surrounds schooling fish and then is drawn together by a rope around its lower edge into a purse.) By being on the look-out for dolphin herds, fishermen were able to find and encircle tuna. Dolphin were killed or injured in the process. The numbers of dolphins that died tended to be few because the gear was relatively small and lightweight.
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Larger and heavier equipment increased the efficiency of catching tuna but dolphin mortality escalated. U.S. tuna fishermen realized that their livelihood was linked to the survival of dolphins. They began to develop less lethal gear and techniques. One such practice was named the “backdown method.” Vessels would reverse when one-half to two-thirds of the net was retrieved, pulling a section of the net underwater and allowing the dolphins to escape. Manned rafts were also introduced to help guide the dolphin’s escape. However, despite these efforts, dolphin mortality rates remained troublingly high.
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Rising public concern prompted Congress to pass the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) in 1972 to reduce the dolphin kills “to levels approaching zero.” Although the MMPA greatly reduced the number of dolphins killed by U.S. vessels, it did not affect vessels registered under foreign flags. In time, the U.S. fleet dwindled while the overseas fleet mushroomed. As a result, the total number of dolphin deaths did not decline. Congress enacted various legislation attempting to redress the problem of a global tuna market. These prohibited the importation of yellowfin tuna from nations lacking regulatory programs and mortality reductions comparable to the United States. The US Departments of State and Commerce opposed these embargoes in the interests of good foreign relations and, so, did not enforce them.
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The environmental nonprofit Earth Island Institute (EII) filed suit in the Federal District Court in San Francisco against the US Department of Commerce and won. In 1991, the U.S. enacted an embargo against Mexico and any other country that violated the MMPA. The government-regulated “dolphin-free” canned tuna label was instituted, promoted by EII and a coalition of non-governmental organizations.
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Mexico sued in international court and won a partial decision. Rather than wrangle in court, the US and Mexico adopted a less stringent definition of “dolphin-free.” This term would no longer mandate essentially zero dolphin deaths but instead allowed a mutually acceptable mortality rate.
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Despite these and other restrictions, dolpin populations failed to rebound. Commercial tuna fleets then began to set their nets *not* on dolphin but on floating debris at sea—beneath which juvenile tuna congregate—euphemistically called Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD). While dolphin mortality decreased on FADs, bycatch of juvenile tuna and species associated with debris rafts increased dramatically (e.g. sea turtles, ocean sunfish, etc.).
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So, government and industry have made the ocean safer for dolphins…but “improved” fishing techniques may be harming less popular species. Therefore, the success and significance of the dolphin-free campaign and its label are still debated by various groups and countries.
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Here’s another option: buy troll- or pole-caught albacore tuna which are hooked one at a time.
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Question for you: Do you look for the dolphin-free label on cans of tuna that you purchase?
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This blog on dolphin-free tuna is one of many to come. We don’t pretend to have all the answers but we’ll keep digging in order to provide context, accuracy, and updates on such important issues.
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Team Passionfish