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How to buy sustainable seafood just in time for Earth Day

A third generation Alaska fisherman explains how to buy seafood that's good for you and the environment.
/ Source: TODAY

With Earth Day celebrated later this week, many of us are thinking about ways to help the environment and one great thing we can all do is to eat more sustainable seafood. Eating fish is also good for your health — dietary guidelines recommend eating fish two to three times a week. But with so much seafood to choose from, it's not always easy to know what to buy and how to make sure that your choices are ones that are good for the environment.

Hannah Heimbuch, a third-generation commercial fisherman from Kodiak, Alaska spoke to TODAY about sustainable fishing practices and everything else from how to shop for fish to how to cook it.

Nearly 60% of all wild seafood and 95% of wild salmon harvested in the U.S. comes from Alaska. Heimbuch herself has harvested a wide range of wild seafood from regions across Alaska said she is dedicated to ensuring that wild caught seafood is available for future generations.

"An easy way to know you are choosing the best, sustainable fish is simply to choose seafood from Alaska as a guarantee for wild caught seafood every time," she said. "All seafood from Alaska is wild caught and sustainable. In fact, it’s a law and written into our constitution," she said, noting that finfish farming, where fish are cultivated in pods and other devices, is illegal in the state.

Heimbuch said that each season, scientists work to determine optimal harvest levels to keep the ecosystem in balance. "All of us in the industry are committed to the future health and resiliency of fish populations and the surrounding marine ecosystem through careful, science-based and strict resource management," she said. Fisheries managers will set fishing limits at or below the recommended levels to ensure that the waters aren't over-fished.

Eating wild caught fish is good for our oceans, but it tastes great too.

"It’s one of the most healthful protein options packed with vitamin D, vitamin A and omega-3s for immune-boosting and heart health benefits," said Heimbuch.

Wild Alaska salmon season starts off in mid-May and more than 20,000 fisherman will be harvesting all summer long. Heimbuch answered more questions for TODAY about all you need to know to support sustainable seafood (and eat well while you're at it!).

What fish comes from Alaska and how do we shop for it?

"There are a ton of seafood options from Alaska, all of which are wild-caught and sustainable and super easy to find at grocery stores, online retailers and on restaurant menus," she said. Options include:

  • Halibut: In season now. It has sweet, with delicate flavor and a firm and flaky texture, and is great grilled, pan seared or oven roasted.
  • Cod: Moist and firm with a distinctive large flake and slightly sweet flavor, it is great poached, roasted or even in a chowder.
  • Pollock: With its mild flavor, Alaska pollock is an excellent choice for fish tacos, fish sticks and fish burgers and can be sourced frozen as fillets or lightly breaded.

When it comes to salmon, there are actually five different species, said Heimbuch, including king, sockeye, coho, pink and keta. "Each has its own distinct look and taste and you will be able to find an array at grocery stores nationwide at the seafood counter, freezer case and canned food aisle this summer and all year long."

What are some tips for finding the best seafood when you go to the grocery store?

"When shopping for fish at the grocery store or online, look for Alaska on packaging," said Heimbuch. " It's the easiest way to ensure your seafood is wild and sustainable."

If you are at the seafood counter, just ask the seafood monger for wild seafood. In the freezer section, look for Alaska on the package.

Frozen seafood is available year round and is a also a great option. Canned Alaska salmon an be found in the canned food aisle.

"You can also order Alaska seafood online by searching your favorite ecommerce site or buying directly from an Alaska fisherman."

Any simple cooking ideas or recipes?

Heimbuch said that people don’t realize is how easy fish is to prepare and that most of the time it can be cooked in 15 minutes or less. "One of my favorite ways to cook salmon is pan-seared," she said. "For this dish I just heat a pan lightly coated with olive oil and sear wild Alaska salmon fillets for about four minutes on each side and top them with a vibrant salsa verde."

Pan-Seared Cod with Lemon-Parsley Orzo