Seafood lovers: Add this advice to your fish list


Many readers have written to me wondering where they can get fresh fish in San Diego that is not only good for you, but for the ocean, too. Here’s a brief guide to help you become a smart, sustainable fish and seafood consumer so you can contribute to the health of the planet, your family and future generations:

The ABC’s of PCBs

When I was pregnant, the local fishmonger refused to sell me swordfish, a humongous, bottom-feeding creature loaded with mercury and PCBs — the former having been found to cause brain damage to the fetus, as well as young children; the latter a powerful carcinogenic to humans and animals.

So pick prudently. Avoid bottom-feeding fish such as swordfish, striped bass and eel, along with large fish such as shark and tuna, which devour fish smaller than themselves and therefore concentrate tremendous amounts of mercury in their bodies.

Where possible, eat wild-caught salmon (not antibiotic and fungicide-laced farm-raised fish) and other midsized fish such as sole, whitefish and trout; and smaller, oily fish rich in omega-3 such as herring, anchovies and sardines.

Plenty of sustainable fish in the sea ...

Chilean sea bass, snapper, orange roughy, wild sturgeon, tilefish, yellowfin tuna, grouper, rockfish and shark have been overfished and are branded “unsustainable.” So stick to the good and plenty: wild salmon, herring, mahi mahi and trout, along with Dungeness crab, sablefish or black cod from Alaska or Canada, sardines, farmed oysters, mussels, octopus, Maine lobster and pink shrimp from Oregon.

The skinny on fatty acids

My mom, convinced that fish was “brain food,” used to cook up seafood feasts several times a week in the hope that her daughter would do well in school. I always suspected this was an old wives’ tale, but recent research shows this belief to be well founded. So, with SATs around the corner, I provide a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids for my kids.

The aging brain also benefits from a high omega-3 diet. Studies have shown marked slowing in age-related decline of brain activity among people who eat at least two fish meals a week. The American Heart Association is also a fan of fish, as omega-3s benefit both heart-healthy people and those at risk of cardiovascular disease.

World is your oyster, save in months sans R’s

The rule of thumb that certain shellfish should not be consumed in months without an “R” in the name (May-August) probably arose because of the pesky summer red tides — blooms of red algae that become abundant along coastlines, proliferating toxins that are absorbed by oysters, clams and mussels.

These red tides have been linked to outbreaks of food poisoning when people ate locally harvested shellfish, especially along the Pacific coast. So be prudent when consuming shellfish in the summertime.

The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department also states that farmed mussels are actually safer than wild ones found in the salty (and sometime contaminated) waters of the Pacific and Atlantic, since mussel farmers do not contaminate their shellfish with toxic feed or chemicals, and keep the environment clean so that these filter feeders are safe for human consumption. Standing advice on these bivalves: moderation.

The best shellfish catches with low levels of mercury are scallops, shrimp, crab, clams and lobster.

Some local fishmongers

Point Loma Seafood on Emerson Street in Point Loma jets fish in from all parts of the world (crab from Alaska, Pacific oysters from British Columbia), as well as offering customers fresh, local and seasonal delicacies including lobster, opah, halibut, grouper and white sea bass. General Manager Tim Lamb boasts that

their buyers visit the docks personally and handpick each fish. They have

several tanks housing Maine lobsters and Dungeness crabs that are cooked fresh on the premises, and buy from a Carlsbad farm that cultivates its mussels and oysters.

On a health note, Lamb adds, “We typically get younger, small fish, not the pelagic older fish that accumulate more toxins.”

Whole Foods Market in La Jolla has an impressive seafood and fish department, offering a variety of certified sustainable fish, including wild Alaskan salmon and halibut. If you want fresh lobster and crabs, you’ll have to go elsewhere, since Whole Foods does not have tanks as a gesture of compassion. And in keeping with its healthy planet philosophy, none of its fish are fed animal by-products or contain any antibiotics, hormones or GMOs.

The Fish Market restaurant in Del Mar also sells fresh treasures from the sea daily from San Diego vendors, including a variety of 10 to 12 finfish, along with oysters, clams and mussels.

General Manager Karen May says: “We have a lot of years of knowledge about seafood, and we are very picky about our fish. If a delivery comes in and it is not top-notch, we send it back.” Wild-caught salmon is seasonal and starts in May, and live Maine lobsters in tanks are available year-round.

My fave is a fresh salmon cake with Asian accompaniments. You won’t have to fish for compliments with this one.

Asian Salmon Cakes

  • 1 pound of fresh wild-caught salmon filet, skin removed
  • 1 tablespoon of grape seed, sesame or olive oil, and extra for cooking
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of wasabi mustard
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Japanese Panko bread crumbs

Place the salmon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add oil, juice, mustard, scallions, salt and pepper, and pulse again until blended well. Add the bread crumbs until the mixture becomes a firm texture for forming patties. Mold into the patty size of your choice. Grill or pan-fry the cakes in a well-greased skillet. Cook for about 7 minutes on each side until done.
Garnish with sesame seeds, daikon radish slices, more scallions, wasabi mustard or teriyaki sauce.

Fish and Tips

  • Always buy shellfish and finfish from reputable markets, whether buying live, fresh (shucked), frozen, cooked or smoked.
  • Since PCBs and other contaminants are stored in the fatty tissues of fish, peel away the skin where the fat is abundant, and grill so the fat renders off. Deep-frying (an unhealthy choice from the get-go) seals in toxins.
  • When cooking bivalves, the shells should open within 5 minutes. If not,

chuck ‘em.

  • Refrigerate seafood immediately when you get home and eat it within two days. Live lobster and crab should be cooked the day of purchase.
  • Seafood and fish should be cooked like Baby Bear’s porridge — just right. Crustaceans become rubbery when overcooked, unsafe and mushy when undercooked. Generally, cooking fish, as opposed to eating it raw or rare, will reduce contamination levels by as much as 30 percent.

I have plenty more fish to fry. For other recipes, e-mail me at or check out the blog at