Tilapia, catfish, barramundi, striped bass and rainbow trout make the cut.
While experts agree certain types of fish should be avoided due to overfishing or habitat damage, there are many delicious and eco-friendly alternatives. Here are a few of our favorites from the Green List. Check out our Know Your Seafood infographic for more options.
US Farmed tilapia, catfish, barramundi, striped bass and rainbow trout.
There are several fish species that thrive in a farm setting, and despite fish farming occasionally having a bad name, it can be done in a sustainable way. The fish above are raised using closed inland systems such as ponds, raceways and recirculating systems, separate from natural water ways, reducing environmental concerns such as water pollution. Because the water is treated and recirculated, the diminished threat of pollution or disease requires fewer antibiotics or chemicals. Since the systems are kept inland there is no risk of fish escape, which would cause competition with wild species, compromising the hardiness of the natural population, or of disease spreading to wild fish as is the case with open net pens or cages kept in open water.
Tilapia are almost exclusively farmed, because they are a hardy freshwater fish that can tolerate many water conditions. They are second to carp as the world’s most-frequently farmed fish, and the amount of tilapia farmed outweighs the amount wild-caught. The most commonly farmed tilapia species in the US are Nile, Mozambique and blue. They eat an exclusively vegetarian diet, can be harvested when they are 6 months old, and are extremely resistant to disease. While the first scientific culture of tilapia was recorded in 1924, archaeologists have found evidence of tilapia farming in ancient Egypt. Although China and Taiwan provide the majority of tilapia imports to the US (unlike US farmed tilapia, imported is not on the Green List), the availability of US farmed tilapia has been on the rise in recent years, mainly from California. Tilapia has a mild flavor when cooked, making it extremely popular with people who dislike “fishy” fish. The meat is white with tender flakes and is highly versatile in cooking methods. It can be prepared in a multitude of ways, including grilling, steaming, sautéing and baking. Try this taco dish.
Hardy herbivorous tilapia are raised sustainably in US farms.
Catfish are the largest volume and dollar aquaculture species in the US, with national consumption increasing over the past 20 years. They are raised on a vegetarian diet in closed inland ponds, and like tilapia, they are extremely resistant to disease, reducing the necessity of antibiotics or chemicals. 90% of commercial catfish ponds are embankment ponds which have less overflow, further reducing the chance of fish escapement. Catfish have a mild, sweet flavor with a light texture and can be prepared in many different manners. One specialty (especially in the South) is a breaded, deep fried preparation. The meat is firm with fewer flakes than other whitefish and is opaque and white when cooked. If you’re not a fan of fried catfish, try this stir-fry recipe. Other cooking methods are baking, grilling, sautéing, and broiling.
Barramundi are typically farmed in Asia and Australia although they have become more commonly farmed in the US since the 1990s (imported barramundi are generally rated as less sustainable than US farmed). They are hardy, fecund (producing 30-40 million eggs per spawning event) and fast-growing as well as high in omega-3 fatty acids making them beneficial health-wise, to humans. In the US they are farmed in closed recirculating systems and they require less fishmeal than other carnivores, meaning farmers get a lot of fish for how much feed they put in. They have a sweet, mild taste and delicate texture, comparable to Chilean seabass. Their skin is edible and can crisp up nicely when grilled or sautéed. The flesh is firm, moist and pink when uncooked, and white when cooked. Typically barramundi are prepared by baking, frying, poaching, grilling, sautéing, or broiling. Try this recipe from celebrity chef Curtis Stone.
The closed recirculating systems that are used to raise barramundi in the US minimize environmental damage.
US striped bass are actually a cross between striped and white bass, creating a fish that is disease resistant and has great tolerance to environmental change. The hybrid version grows faster than wild striped bass and is produced in pond systems most frequently found in the Southeast US. Advancements in feed formulations have decreased consumption of the previous feed source, wild fish, dramatically improving the amount of fish produced per pound of feed used. By 1990 over 1.5 million pounds of striped bass were produced annually in the US, and by 2000, farmed hybrid striped bass production was fifth highest in the US. It is a mild fish with a delicate, slightly sweet flavor and is opaque white when cooked. It can be stuffed and baked whole or cooked with skin on, turning the skin crispy while the flesh remains moist. It is easiest to bake, grill, sauté or broil the fish. Try Martha Stewart’s striped bass recipe.
Rainbow trout have been produced in the US since the 1960s in raceways with continuously flowing water that are kept inland. This method of farming is highly effective in preventing escaped fish. Trout are a member of the Salmonidae family, which includes Pacific salmon. There have been significant advances in feed formulations in recent years, which have made them highly effective in converting their feed into protein unlike other carnivorous fish. Available year-round in fresh and frozen whole fish and fillets, rainbow trout is also available smoked. The meat is mild, with a delicate, nut-like flavor and the flesh is tender, flaky and soft and white, pink or orange. It is typically prepared by baking, poaching, grilling, sautéing, broiling or smoking. Try Emeril Lagasse’s Rainbow Trout with Butter Bean Succotash.
Advances in feed formulations have drastically improved the feed conversion ratio for US rainbow trout.