Eat Local! Fish

As summer fades into fall, September in North Idaho boasts some fabulous outdoor activities to enjoy in the crisp autumn days, including fishing. North Idaho’s rivers and lakes offer an abundance of native fish, such as the cutthroat trout (Idaho’s state fish), rainbow trout, steelhead (the ocean-migrating form of rainbow trout), and various species of salmon. Chinook salmon, the largest members of the Pacific salmon family, are native to Idaho and return from the ocean in the fall to spawn on the Snake River. Lake Coeur d’Alene has been stocked with Chinook salmon. Idaho is also home to Sockeye salmon and its smaller, non-ocean migrating cousin known as Kokanee salmon. Coho salmon, which were successfully reintroduced by the Nez Perce tribe after nearing the brink of extinction, can be fished in the fall on sections of the Clearwater, Middle Fork Clearwater, and North Fork Clearwater rivers. Coeur d’Alene’s surrounding waters are also home to non-native species like large pike, bass, and sunfish. As some of these fish are on the Endangered Species List, visit the Idaho Department of Fish and Game website ( to learn about harvesting rules, catch-and-release policies, and permits for the current fishing season.

Nothing beats catching fish and taking it home for a nutritious and delicious meal. Fatty cold water fish such as salmon and trout contain the most bioavailable form of the essential omega-3 fatty acids known as DHA and EPA. As an essential fat, omega-3s cannot be synthesized by the human body and must be obtained from food. Although omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from plant sources (chiefly walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and soybeans), this form is not as readily absorbed as marine sources are. Fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in fish and supplements sourced from algae, krill, anchovies and sardines. EPA and DHA are essential for the central nervous system, reducing inflammation that occurs in arthritis, improving blood triglyceride levels and preventing heart attacks, and even show promise in Alzheimer’s prevention. Fish is also an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, and vitamin D needed for strong bones, healthy energy levels, and hormonal regulation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend aiming for eight ounces of fish weekly (e.g. a deck of cards is about three ounces). This translates to about 250 mg of EPA and DHA combined per day.

Despite recommendations to boost fish intake as part of a healthy diet, concerns of mercury ingestion and the sustainability of commercial fishing poses a question amongst some consumers and interest groups. Although wild-caught fish is free of artificial additives and has a better nutrient profile than farmed fish, it is not devoid of environmental toxins. Certain species of fish contain more mercury, lead, industrial chemicals, and pesticides than others. These contaminants seep into the soil and waterways, accumulating first in smaller plants and species, which larger fish then on.

For commercial fish, the FDA advises that pregnant women and children avoid the highest mercury-containing fish, including swordfish, shark, King mackerel, and Gulf tilefish. Regionally, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) has issued a bass fish advisory, meaning that individuals should regulate their bass intake due to high levels of environmental toxins found in tissue samples of these fish. Advisories do not mean these fish are off the table; it just means that safe limits have been set. Pregnant women and children under 15 are advised to limit meals of bass to twice per month, while all other adults should limit to eight meals per month. Most other species of local fish have generous guidelines for weekly consumption. For more information, visit the Idaho Fish Consumption Advisory Program website (available through the IDHW website at The Fish Consumption Guide and Advisory Map is a condensed resource for those with questions regarding specific fish in our area.

Regarding environmental concerns, the commercial fishing and fish farming (aquaculture) industries are complex operations with various levels of environmental impact. As a consumer, don’t be afraid to ask your supplier if the fish in question was sustainably sourced.
Fish is easy to cook and tastes great with a few simple seasonings such as lemon and pepper, olive oil and turmeric, fresh dill, or garlic. If you’re purchasing fish from the store, a good rule of thumb is that fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy. Whole fish should have a firm texture and be free of dullness or browning.

Try the following flavor combos from Bon Appetit magazine. Simply marinate your fish for a few hours and toss on the grill or in the oven:
• Grated ginger + soy sauce + sesame oil + sriracha + salt
• Dijon mustard + honey + red pepper flakes + salt
• Orange zest + lime zest + salt + agave + ground cumin + ground coriander + finely chopped cilantro
• Lemon zest + chopped shallots + vadouvan (Indian spice blend) + salt

By Natalie Colla, CDE, RDN, LDN. Natalie is a Diabetes Educator, Registered Dietitian, and food and health freelance writer.

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