Thank you for signing up!
When Organic Gets Fishy
Which fish is more likely to be considered organic: a wild-caught salmon that has spent its life freely roaming the pristine Alaskan waters, or a farm-raised salmon that has spent its life restricted to the confines of an over-crowded net?
The answer, in the infinite wisdom of the U.S. Agriculture Department, is pretty complicated. According to U.S.D.A.-certified organic guidelines, wild-caught fish cannot be called organic, because they eat a diet that is not strictly composed of organic plant meal.
Farm-raised fish, on the other hand, make the grade and can be designated as organic, as long as the fish were only fed organic plant meal. The USDA Web site features several PDFs and documents that cover detailed aspects of the issue.
This means that tilapia, catfish and other "vegetarian fish" — or fish that don't eat other fish — might be labeled organic. But carnivorous fish — fish that do eat other fish — cannot be classified as certified organic. Several consumer groups advise caution if you're tempted to pay extra for alleged "organic salmon."
As you can imagine, the U.S.D.A.'s distinction has pretty much everyone (except fish farmers who use organic plant meal, of course) in a tizzy.
Alaskan fishermen argue that wild-caught salmon is the epitome of healthy, natural food. Any of us who have enjoyed a great piece of salmon would probably have to agree.
Meanwhile, hardcore environmentalists are worried about depleting the ocean's wild fisheries. There appears to be some support for the idea that salmon can be called organic if it eats other fish from sustainable fisheries. According to the New York Times, the issue probably won't be resolved for years to come.
Meanwhile, some of us are still trying to remember why we shouldn't eat tuna. (What was it again - the dolphins? The mercury levels? Over-fishing?)
It may be a while before I can graduate out of Tuna 101 and into the Advanced Eco-Friendly Fish 202 class, where I'll get a handle on the ins-and-outs of organic vs. farm-raised vs. wild-caught fish. Till then, it can get awfully complicated when all I want is dinner.
So until I stumble across a cheat sheet that helps sort out which fish is organic, which is eco-friendly, and which is the least likely to mess up our health or karma, I'll try not to over-think it. And if I find myself stressing the next time I look over a sushi menu, I'm ordering the California roll.