Shellfish like clams and oysters, what Sammy's Seafood co-owner Katie Sosa calls “the kidneys of the seashore, cleaning out all the impurities,” is perhaps another story. Go to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Aquaculture page at freshfromflorida.com to determine if harvesting is permitted in an area.
* Note: This page contains materials in the Portable Document Format (PDF). But a more likely threat to your health is something that you can't see: tiny toxins found on algae called ciguatoxins.
Researchers are Florida Gulf Coast University in Ester have been taking a close look at ciguatoxins, which can make you sick, and in rare cases be deadly. FGC Marine Science professor Dr. Michael Parsons tells 4 In Your Corner he's done a theoretical calculation to give an idea of just how toxic we're talking.
“Ciguatera is a form of seafood poisoning that's caused by toxins that accumulate in fish,” says Dr. Parsons. The Florida Department of Health's website has this to say about ciguatera: “Over 400 known fish species have been classified as potential ciguatoxin carriers.
“It's a neurotoxin, so it'll affect neurons in your brain,” says FGC marine science researcher Adam Caucasus. Another bizarre symptom is known as “temperature reversal”, where your brain and body mistake hot for cold and vice versa.
“Whenever you drink cold water or soda, you might feel like your esophagus is burning,” says Caucasus. Dr. Parsons says he gets emails and calls from people who've been struggling with the symptoms long after they ate infected fish.
Says Dr. Parsons who explains some patients notice the symptoms disappear and then reappear when triggered by something as simple as a glass of wine. Ciguatera is widespread in tropical and subtropical waters, usually between the latitudes of 35°N and 35°S; it is particularly common in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean Sea.
Newly recognized areas of risk include the Canary Islands, the eastern Mediterranean, and the western Gulf of Mexico.” Last year, a British woman's case of ciguatera made national headlines after she died just ten minutes after being taken to the hospital.
“Based on the survey results, they determined about a 1000 people a year in Florida get sick with Ciguatera,” says Dr. Parsons. “A fish that (can be) caught in Fiji and be served in a restaurant here in Fort Myers or Naples,” says Dr. Parsons.
Fox 4 asked Dr. Parsons if it's possible to catch fish with ciguatoxins off the coast of Southwest Florida. “If the fish is bigger and older, it's been in the food web longer, and it's been able to accumulate more toxin,” says Caucasus whose friend made a video of some spearfishing adventures in which they catch fish and cut open their bellies to check for the presence of the algae (known as Gambierdiscus) that may contain the toxins.
Dr. Parsons says there's one fish that often poses risk and has been linked to numerous cases of sickness and even death. And though the chances of poisoning are lower in other common species, there's quite a list of those known to cause problems.
Dr. Parsons says many of the reported Florida cases of ciguatera were linked to grouper -- not because it's more toxic, but rather because it's so widely eaten. The team definitely advises against eating fish organs which tend to have concentrated toxins.
But the researchers are say they don't want to be “the boy scientists who cried wolf,” as Dr. Parsons put it, and were careful to let local fish eaters they shouldn't panic. It’s incredibly important to get ample omega-3 fatty acids, and certain fish can serve as potent sources.
But due to issues like mining, sewage and fossil fuel emissions, heavy metals like mercury are winding up in the water and building up in our fish. Unfortunately, low-level mercury poisoning from contaminated seafood is a real threat and can lead to devastating effects on health.
Not only that, but some fish have also been so overfished that they are on the brink of collapse, which can have detrimental effects on the ocean ecosystem. In fact, the shift to eating more farmed fish like tilapia is leading to highly inflammatory diets, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers say tilapia is one of the most widely consumed fish in America. Sustaining high levels of inflammation in the body can worsen symptoms of autoimmune disorders and may be linked to chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
If you must eat this fish, avoid tilapia from China, where farming practices are particularly worrisome. In 2014, Oceana, the largest ocean conservation group in the world, conducted an investigation using data from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
They found that commercial fishermen in the U.S. throw about 2 billion pounds of “by catch” overboard each year. According to the report, if you’ve eaten U.S. halibut, there’s a good chance it came from this damaging fishery.
Without further protection and enforcement of existing efforts, we may forever lose one of the biggest, most interesting fishes in the world. Now common on menus around the U.S., Chilean sea bass overfishing has left this species in serious trouble.
Furthermore, harvesting the fish from Chile is also plagued by poor management and by catch problems. Eel Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch places eel on the “Avoid” list on its sushi guide because it’s slow to mature and has been overfished in many parts of the world, bringing some populations to collapse.
In the Delaware River, for instance, eels are an integral part of spreading mussel populations that serve as natural water filters. Aside from the issues with overfishing, eels tend to readily absorb and store harmful chemicals and contaminants such as poly chlorinated biphenyls (PCs) and flame retardants.
In 2009, Italian researchers discovered that 4-hexylresorcinol, a food additive used to prevent discoloration in shrimp that could reduce sperm count in men and increase breast cancer risk in women. Shrimp farm ponds are also treated with harmful chemicals and pesticides such as malachite green, rote none and organic compounds, all of which can have detrimental effects on health.
Plus, an Associated Press investigation uncovered a slavery network in Thailand dedicated to peeling shrimp sold around the world. In 2007, Thailand alone exported about $1.24 billion to the United States, according to Food and Water Watch.
Although Alaskan king crab legs legally can only be called that if they’re harvested from Alaska, widespread mislabeling is the norm. Generally known as “slime head” within the scientific community, seafood marketers had other ideas for this fish and gave the species a more appetizing name.
Beyond that, the orange roughly is also known to have higher mercury levels, which can be dangerous if consumed in large amounts. But apart from that, most shark species, which are slow to mature and don’t have a lot of offspring, are severely depleted.
Often referred to as Hon Mauro on sushi menus, this simply means blue fin tuna, which should be avoided at all costs. A better sushi choice would be fatso/skip jack tuna caught through Pacific troll or pole and line methods only.
However, due to its high demand for sushi, fisheries managers are still allowing commercial fishing to target it. Sadly, blue fin tuna numbers are at just 2.6 percent of historic population levels.
Aside from the obvious population collapse and extinction threat, this is also a large predatory fish that harbors higher levels of mercury. In fact, the mercury in this fish is so high that the Environmental Defense Fund recommends women and children avoid it altogether.
That’s certainly the case with king mackerel, as the Food and Drug Administration warns women and children to outright avoid it. You may want to avoid Spanish mackerel, too, which has also been shown to harbor elevated mercury levels.
Luckily, Atlantic mackerel is high in omega-3s, low in mercury and is rated a top choice in terms of health and sustainability. In 2015, an investigation found that more than a third of 19 restaurants in Atlanta sold fantasies (also known as “Vietnamese catfish”) as grouper.
In addition to being rich in heart-healthy fats, salmon is a great source of protein, B vitamins, potassium and selenium. Atlantic mackerel This oily fish is also high in health omega-3 fatty acids, along with protein, niacin, selenium and vitamin B12.
Finding safer seafood can be challenging and requires you to consider many factors, including sustainability, nutritional value, mercury levels and the risk of contamination with pollutants, pesticides or harmful chemicals. Finally, when you do eat fish, opt for things like wild-caught Alaskan salmon, Pacific sardines and Atlantic mackerel.