Sustainable Seafood: Our Guide to the Guides

The first fish I ever ate that wasn't a breaded "stick" was a freshwater bass caught by a neighboring vacationer during a family trip to Maine. Even for a finicky 8-year-old wary of most any food that wasn't peanut butter and crackers, it was impossible to resist the grilled, peppered and salted deliciousness of a wild fish.  These days, I enjoy seafood year round, but since then I've always associated summer with eating fish.

Of course, just the process of choosing which fish to eat has changed dramatically from those simpler days of relying on whatever happened to be at the end of a fellow vacationer's rod and reel.

Now, there's a maze of considerations for those who are trying to eat fish caught sustainably from healthy stocks. To help us navigate the seemingly countless choices, many organizations have developed seafood guides in the form of wallet cards, mobile apps or detail-rich websites.

In honor of the summer/fish connection, we thought we'd give an overview of some of the top seafood guides on the market. We've categorized them in terms of who we see as the ideal audience, which is not to say that a guide we suggest for the fish neophyte is any better or worse than one suggested for the hardcore seafood enthusiast.

But beware, buyer: One thing these guides can't do is tell you whether the fish you just ordered is in fact what you're about to eat.  Unfortunately, fish are mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time, depending on which species you buy. Anyone care to develop a seafood DNA testing app? Until then, don't be shy to ask your fishmonger or waiter lots of questions, and enjoy our guide to the guides!

For the once-a-summer fish shack tourist:

Seafood Watch: Probably the best-known guide on this list - and with a great mobile app to boot - this Monterey Bay Aquarium guide is one of easiest to navigate. Be sure to check out their regional guides to get the scoop on locally-caught fish.

Sea Choice: Not all fish guides are US-centric. Taking a trip to Prince Edward Island or Vancouver or any other Canadian destination for a summer vacation? Then consider Sea Choice your personal fish guide. The site presents straightforward recommendations and provides plenty of links for those who are interested in the health of the ocean and Canada's fisheries.

For the year-round seafood lover:

The Safina Center: The Safina Center's fish guide (and app) is chock full of options for those who really love seafood.  Maybe you're flummoxed by sushi menus? Or are you just interested in some dinner ideas? Want to know if there are any mercury concerns with your fish choices? This guide has you covered.

Food & Water Watch Smart Seafood Guide: Other big guides should take a page from Food & Water Watch's online guide, in particular the "If You Like..." section, which gives diners sustainable suggestions for mild fish, steak-like fish and several other descriptive categories. There's also a handy series of regional suggestions for tracking down sustainable local fish, and we really like that Food & Water Watch's guide includes invasive species like lionfish and Asian carp.

For the hopeless fish nerd:

Fish Watch: Click on "Seafood Profiles" and you're in store for an exhaustive, but highly readable, overview of the fish of your choice on this cleanly-designed site.  If you're at all interested in the biology, population status, management or even nutritional content among myriad other points of information about a particular fish, this is your go-to guide.

FishChoice: FishChoice is really an online network for fish suppliers and buyers, not a guide for seafood aisle browsers. However, we love how the wealth of information on the site, including updated market reports for specific fish species, a thorough buyer's glossary and even a list of seafood suppliers and their particular catch, gives diners a peak behind the seafood business curtain.