I was very worried last week when I saw a well-meaning woman give this advice to a pregnant friend: "No seafood!" Fish and shellfish are good for everybody, especially pregnant women and children, because they contain good fats that are essential for brain development. Mercury is a concern for some fish, since mercury bioaccumulates and can cross the placenta, but that doesn't mean all seafood is off limits.
Mercury in the environment comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, and the EPA is working to make amendments to the Clean Air Act to limit mercury emissions. I support that legislation, but I'm not going to skip seafood in the mean time! I love seafood and I try to eat low on the food chain, since mercury and other toxins will be lowest. Since I'm a biology teacher and my husband's family has a shellfishing business that provides us with fresh-caught fish and shellfish, I know where our seafood fits on the food chain. However, you don't need these kinds of connections to know what fish to avoid.
The environmental defense fund has this handy Seafood Selector guide to help you choose which fish is best for you. You can look up specific seafood to find out which are "Eco-Best," "Eco-OK," and "Eco-Worst" for a variety of reasons, including overfishing, farming issues and mercury. They even have a printable Sushi Pocket Guide for sushi lovers!
I'm happy to see that my husband's farmed clams are rated Eco-Best, and my personal favorite sea scallops are Eco-OK. Blue fin tuna, shark, and farmed salmon round out the Eco-Worst list. Albacore tuna, which I craved when I was pregnant (and earned me the nickname "Big Tuna" from my brothers), is also Eco-Best, if it comes from the US or Canada.
Since we enjoy fishing, I also check out guidelines from our state's DEP for recommendations on fish native to our area, with advice specific to our local environment. I try to serve seafood at least once each week, and much more often in the summer, so it's great to know I'm making the right choices.
While there are some fish that we all should avoid, there are plenty of safe options for pregnant and breastfeeding moms and children. Don't cut out all the healthy aspects of seafood in an effort to avoid mercury. And why not join the Moms Clean Air Force in supporting the New Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to help preserving the safety of seafood for our children!
*Disclosure: The Moms Clean Air Force is giving me an honorarium for my time writing, promoting and participating in events in support of clean air and the Clean Air Act. I believe that this is one of the best ways I personally can contribute to positive environmental change on a large scale.