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Is orange roughy a good fish to eat?

This deep sea fish that can live up to 149 years and was once known as "slimehead," grows very slowly and doesn't reproduce until it's 20 years old. Consequently, years of heavy fishing have decimated orange roughy populations. Further, Environmental Defense has issued a health advisory for orange roughy due to high levels of mercury and should NEVER be eaten by children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and other high-risk populations; particularly those with weakened immune systems.

Other high-mercury fish include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. High-risk populations should eat no more than two or three meals, 12 ounces total, of low-mercury fish and shellfish a week. If you're in a high-risk population, don't eat the skin and fatty parts of fish, where pollutants collect.

Another concern with orange roughy is the way it's caught — bottom-trawling, a fishing method that can damage the seafloor habitat (and we don't know what impacts that damage might have on fragile deep sea ecosystems).

The BEST fish to eat are those that are:

  • Low in mercury
  • Not over-fished or farmed destructively

Shrimp, salmon, tuna, tilapia, trout and abalone are all great, safe fish to eat. Other great options include herring, flounder and lobster.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency both recommend limiting fish consumption by category, not by individual species. For example, both cod and mahi mahi are moderate-mercury fish, and only one type from this category should be eaten per month — not one meal of cod and one of mahi mahi.

Critical points here are to be aware of your fish vendor (and the origination of the fish) and if you have any fish allergies. For ideas on more ocean-friendly seafood to consume, go to the EDF Seafood Selector guide or the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

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