Omega-3 fats rather than saturated or processed fats

Fish are back. One of the reasons fish has grown in popularity in the American diet is that the low-fat no-fat fad is over. Fish fat (as well as fish protein and minerals) is health-promoting. It is low in saturated animal fat. The processed trans fats are few since they would come only from cooking oils and sauces used to prepare the fish. The omega-3 polyunsaturated fats are healthful for the immune system, building muscle, burning body fat and much more. Enjoy the dockside menu.

Coldwater fish rather than fish from warmer waters

Salmon, artic cod and tuna which swim in cold water are rich in the polyunsaturated fats known as omega-3s. Since salt freezes at subzero temperatures, how do coastal fish survive winter waters unfrozen? In part, the answer is that polyunsaturated fat is a type of fish antifreeze. That’s a way to remember that coldwater fish contain more omega-3s.

Wild rather than farmed

Fish is the last game meat most of us eat and the last food source most of us can stalk. Is the allure of wild game and the hunt why people pay top dollar for wild fish or is there more to it?

Wild fish is not just in fashion, it is also more healthful. Consider wild to be the free-ranging organic choice. Wild fish do not have more toxins than farm-raised fish. Wild salmon have healthier diets which enable them to make healthier fats – more omega-3s. Wild salmon are naturally red in color, while farm-raised salmon are fed food-coloring to redden the flesh.

South rather than north

Various pollutants and heavy metals work their way up the marine food chain (big fish eats little fish.) For example, the metallic toxin mercury accumulates in the food chain, to the point that women planning pregnancy, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and people with certain health conditions are advised to monitor fish intake. The northern hemisphere waters have more pollutants than the southern hemisphere. Since water quality influences fish quality, boaters can also use their knowledge of the local ecosystem in selecting fish from menus and markets.

Fresh rather than previously frozen

Fresh fish is both tastier and healthier. Freeze and thaw cycles remove some of the nutrients that also add flavor. Changes in temperature can also damage the polyunsaturated fats. As fats become damaged, fish takes on a fishy taste and has unhealthful effects on the body.

Spicy rather than mild

“Money and seawater are alike. The more you have of them the more you want.” This folk saying reminds us that salt and spices produce thirst. Mild dehydration is common among boaters. Well-spiced foods provide an extra reminder to hydrate with water. Most spices contain antioxidants, which provide additional health benefits.

Boaters who enjoy sushi and other Asian fish dishes may want to order extra ginger on the side. Ginger is a pungent spice with a high concentration of a nutrient that reduces seasickness, as demonstrated in clinical trials. Alternatively, boaters can navigate through calm waters.

Red rather than white

Those choosing fish because of its heart-healthy attributes, may also wish to embellish a salmon dinner with a glass of Pinot Noir. Since fish is traditionally matched with white wine, selecting a red with salmon warrants special explanation. Red wines contain tannic acid. Tannins are musty and bitter, and their taste crosses the flavor of fish. Red wines also contain resveratrol, a heart-healthy antioxidant from the skin of grapes. Pinot Noir is an exception to the rule. It is a red wine low in tannins, rich in resveratrol, and a tasty, trend-setting, heart-healthy way to enjoy red with fish.

Credit rather than cash

Boaters may want to settle restaurant tabs by credit card rather than by cash. Here’s why I suggest the precaution. On rare occasions people become ill from seafood served at a restaurant. Boaters traveling the coast and dropping anchor miles offshore might not hear the news of the outbreak. In potentially life-threatening situations, the health department is sometimes authorized to contact restaurant diners through credit card information.


Fish from the market

Processing fish is generally called working on the slime line. The fish packagers at the Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, Washington view their job differently. They entertain customers while speedily filling the orders, all the while having a lot of fun. The fish throwers add to the market’s charm and intrigue, and inspired a successful motivational book called, Fish!

Exploring port town fish markets can be an enjoyable way to shop for dinner onboard. Unfortunately, market produce advertised as fresh off the boat is not always fresh. Boaters should be aware of scromboid fish poisoning, a consequence of fish sitting on the fishing boat for too long. When fish are not refrigerated properly after being caught they release an alarm hormone called histamine. While this can happen with any kind of fish, it is more common with very large fish such as tuna and mahi-mahi. Cooking the fish does not eliminate the histamine toxin.

Symptoms of scromboid fish poisoning begin 15-30 minutes after eating the fish and can last 6 to 8 hours. Symptoms are similar to a quick-onset allergy and can include flushing, diarrhea or loose stools, a tight chest with difficulty breathing, a burning mouth, nausea, sweating, and hives.

Boaters are likely to have treatment onboard – water and over-the-counter antihistamines. In addition to diluting the histamine, water acts as a mild antihistamine. Over-the-counter antihistamine medications such as those to relieve allergies, itching, and motion sickness are also useful in blocking the histamine toxin.

In my field experience there are two additional points for boaters to know about scromboid fish poisoning. First, the food poisoning does not mean the person is allergic to fish. With allergies, the body’s immune system makes histamines. With fish poisoning, the histamines are ingested. Secondly, while scromboid fish poisoning is not considered life threatening, at its onset it can feel very much like angina or even a heart attack. Symptoms should be treated accordingly.

Fish off the line

Getting your dinner by dropping a line right off the boat, sounds terrific and it usually is! There are two things boaters should be aware of in order to assure that fishing off the boat remains as terrific as it sounds. Some fish which can be pulled out of Gulf waters are not found in markets or restaurants, out of the concern that they may contain high rates of the nerve toxin ciguatera.

Boaters in Gulf waters should be aware of ciguatera fish poisoning. Ciguatera is the story of the little reef fish that is eaten by the big reef fish. In the coral reef ecosystems smaller critters use poisons for self-defense. Bigger critters that depend on the small critters for food have developed resistance to the poisons for survival. Humans are newcomers to the food chain and are sensitive to some of the poisons, in particular, ciguatera.

Ciguatera poison has been found in amberjack, grouper, snapper, sturgeon, king mackerel, barracuda and moray eel. The poison is most concentrated in the fish’s internal organs which should be removed with gutting. The poison is not destroyed with heat or freezing, so cooking the fish does not reduce the poison.

Symptoms of ciguatera are vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, numbness, dizziness and an inability to distinguish hot from cold. There is not presently an antidote for ciguatera. Medicines are used to lessen symptoms, which can persist for up to two weeks.

Ciguatera is rare, so the important message is to be aware that it exists, to avoid eating fish species not permitted to be sold at local markets, and to gut fish thoroughly.

The second caution to boaters is to spot “fish finger” early. Here’s the story. Fish fins and spines are no respecter of gloves and skin. As a result, most fishers think nothing of a small puncture wound acquired while catching or cleaning fish. Occasionally a tiny puncture becomes infected. Over several days the infection may enter the lymphatic drainage system. If untreated a red streak can usually be seen tracking up the arm. At that point antibiotics by mouth are not sufficient to fight the infection and hospitalization with intravenous medications is required. Therefore, boaters traveling coastal waters should have a plan for identifying and treating skin infections early.

People who have an inflamed liver, are taking medications which can irritate the liver, or absorb iron in excess – a condition known as hemochromatosis – are at more risk of skin infections from species of bacteria known as Vibrio. They should be particularly watchful of “fish finger.” Immunization against viral hepatitis A may also be recommended them. Individuals at high risk may want to discuss this with their doctor before an extended boating excursion.

Mollusks off the shore

Red tide is an algae bloom that can take over coastal waters, hurling the marine ecosystem out of balance. Red tides result in extensive fish kills and cause havoc in coastal waters. Witnessing the tragedy is sobering. There are two direct ways red tide can affect human health – by eating affected shellfish and by breathing aerosolized toxin.

The algae emit a toxin which, similar to ciguatera, accumulates in the inner parts of fish. Affected fish swim around as if drunk. The dolphins indulge on the easy catch and can die from eating affected fish. Humans fair better than dolphins since we don’t binge on fish and since we remove the guts, where the toxin accumulates. However, we don’t remove the guts of clams and mussels. Infected shellfish beds are closed to commercial fishing. Amateur ‘clammers’ not aware of the restrictions have become seriously ill from eating mollusks contaminated with red tide toxin.

Toxins from the algae wash ashore during red tide. The toxins become trapped in the sand and aerosolized by the wind. Shortness of breath during a beachside walk may be the result of the aerosolized toxins rather than a statement of fitness. People with asthma and other respiratory conditions are particularly vulnerable to the coughing, shortness of breath and tingling lips associated with breathing the red tide toxins. The Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida is studying the human effects of breathing this toxin. The Mote recommends taking beach walks in the morning, when there is typically less wind to aerosolize the toxin.

Fishing for the health of it

The health information charted above is intended to keep fishing safe and fun. And fun is exactly what it should be. The pleasure, relaxation, and stress-reduction derived from fishing can be the best prescription for heart health yet.