This Childhood Favorite “Junk Food” Is Surprisingly Sustainable

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A childhood staple, fish fingers (or “fish sticks” for Americans), sort of get a bad rap. Sure, their flaky outside and buttery inside pairs impeccably with a variety of condiments (ranch, ketchup, mustard, you name it), but they've long been thought of as a cheap, environmentally unfriendly alternative to unprocessed fish – apparently wrongfully so.

According to new research led by the Marine Conservation Society and published in the 2018 Good Fish Finger Guide, 85 percent of the fishy freezer isle snack tested in the UK were found to be more sustainable than some unprocessed fish, earning a “best choice” label for the fish ingredients.

Between January and September of this year, researchers requested information from 48 major supermarkets and fish finger brands about how their fish was caught and/or farmed. Unlike unprocessed seafood, there is no legal requirement to put origin information on packaging for fish that is canned, mixed, or breaded. The researchers found that half of the tested fish sticks were made with sustainable Atlantic cod from Iceland or the Northeast Arctic. One-third of the fish fingers came from Alaskan pollock caught in Alaska’s Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, or Gulf. Fifteen percent of the breaded delights were made from Iceland or Northeast Arctic-sourced haddock, and just 2 percent were made from Atlantic and Pacific cod.  

According to the guide, roughly one-fifth of products had enough information on the packaging to allow consumers to make an educated decision, yet nearly one-quarter had no credible ecolabels, sustainability information, or details about how/where the fish were caught.

In case you’re heading to the grocery store, the researchers also listed the top 15 sustainable fish finger brands:

  • Asda smart price fish fingers
  • Asda omega-3 fish fingers
  • Co-op omega-3 fish fingers
  • Iceland breaded fish fingers
  • Marks & Spencer gluten free cod fish fingers
  • Morrisons omega-3 fish fingers
  • Morrisons savers fish fingers
  • Sainsbury's cod fillet fish fingers
  • Sainsbury's "deliciously free from" cod fish fingers
  • Sainsbury's basic fish fingers
  • Sainsbury's omega-3 pollock fish fingers
  • Tesco omega-3 fish fingers
  • Waitrose essential cod fish fingers
  • Waitrose 6 essential chunky cod fillet fish fingers in breadcrumbs
  • Young's omega-3 fish fingers

It’s important to know where our seafood comes from so that conservation methods, such as establishing fishing quotas and catch limits, can accurately reflect what is being taken out of the ocean. A study earlier this year found that at least one-quarter of fish bought around the world are mislabeled and belong to a different species than the seller claimed.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is leading the way in sustainable seafood guides with their Seafood Watch program, showing which fish is relatively plentiful and good to eat and which species should be avoided due to overfishing. They also flag fish species that are known to contain higher levels of unhealthy mercury or PCBs.  

Joe Gough/Shutterstock

 

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