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.

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