Fish Tacos from Kauai

Ali Segersten May 24, 2011 20 comments

Tom and I returned home from Kauai yesterday. We had a wonderful vacation without children this time. They had plenty of fun at home with grandma though! This post is more than a recipe. In fact, after I learned more about mercury levels in Hawaiian fish, I debated posting this at all. But we all make mistakes, and I want to share what I have learned.

When we were packing for our trip I decided to bring a bag of each brown rice, quinoa, pink beans, and raw almonds. I also packed some almond butter, Herbamare, cumin, and our Vitamix. Food is much more expensive over there because everything needs to be shipped in. Relying on all of the local foods and the few things we packed, we were able to prepare amazing, nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while lessening our impact on the environment. There is a farmer's market everyday on the island. You just need to be sure that the farmers you buy from are using organic farming methods, as GMO's are prevalent in non-organic papaya crops, in particular. Most of the meals we ate were vegan, and many were mostly raw or totally raw. One evening we went to the local fish market to purchase fish for tacos. We bought opah, commonly known as moonfish. It is a deepwater fish native to Hawaii. We made a lovely meal that we shared with a friend of fish tacos, quinoa salad, and for dessert a raw macadamia nut-papaya custard. Everything was local except for the corn tortillas, quinoa, cumin, and the coconut oil used for sautéing the fish.


After eating this meal two days in a row, I had the thought to check one of the safe seafood guides for any data on consuming opah while pregnant. Sure enough, it is on the avoid list if pregnant and "consume no more than one serving a month" for adults. Luckily I never consume fish with elevated levels of mercury so I don't feel this will pose a significant problem. Mercury in fish damages brain tissue, especially in developing fetuses, infants, and young children. It also damages heart tissue in adults and male reproductive organs and sperm. Two-thirds of mercury in our environment comes from coal-burning power plants, and a significant amount comes from medical and municipal waste. Microorganisms convert elemental mercury to methylmercury, a toxic form of mercury that our bodies cannot get rid of. It first accumulates in microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain and then moves up the food chain ultimately reaching the highest levels in predatory fish (tuna, shark, king mackerel, swordfish, opah, ono). Interestingly, through my research I also learned that opah, like tuna and other deep water fish, are caught by longline fish practices, a type of fishing that places thousands of hooks on a long line. This practice kills many sea birds and other marine creatures, such as sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles in the process.


Mercury in our food supply is a significant issue. When new scientific findings were released that canned tuna contained very high levels of mercury, the EPA downplayed the findings (the tuna industry is big, think lobbying, and the effect on the economy with a large drop of tuna consumption). You'll still see canned tuna on some of the "safe to eat lists" though in reality, it is not safe at all for pregnant women, children, or women of child-bearing age to consume. In fact, children can receive doses of mercury four times the acceptable level by eating six ounces of tuna per week! More information on mercury in fish can be found on websites such as Mercury has also been found in high-fructose corn syrup and therefore also in commercial foods that contain this ingredient, such as snack bars, barbecue sauce, jelly, yogurt, and chocolate syrup. What are we doing to our environment that we can't rely anymore on local food supplies? We are the cause of many of the problems ailing us today, and we are also the solution. Hopefully this post brings to light some of the issues that can be changed when we focus on human health and the health of our planet.


About the Author

Ali Segersten

Alissa Segersten holds a Bachelor's of Science in Nutrition from Bastyr University and a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine from the University of Western States. She is a Functional Nutritionist, the mother of five children, a whole foods cooking instructor, professional recipe developer, and cookbook author. She is passionate about helping others find a diet that will truly nourish them. Alissa is the author of two very popular gluten-free, whole foods cookbooks and guidebooks: The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and Nourishing Meals. She is also the co-author of The Elimination Diet book. Alissa is the founder and owner of Nourishing Meals®.

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That was a Devine maranade for the fish. I used Halabit fish and it was yummy. Thank you!!

I *loved* the fish tacos in Hawaii. But I never knew how to make them before. Fish tacos in Miami and in Houston are different. Thanks for the recipe! But what is Herbamare?

Anon - Thanks for your comment. We have flown to Hawaii many times and yes the form does make sense to us. You can take nuts into Hawaii as well as many other food items, including some fresh produce. They limit what types of live plants come in because they don't want the pests that other areas of the world are dealing with. Bringing in sliced apples for example is no problem but you do need to declare it. If you are interested in learning more about what can be brought in and what can't, the Hawaii government site is a good one to check out. Here is the link:

Maybe you could explain more why almonds would be an issue? Are you concerned that it is a propagative seed? Then wouldn't you be concerned about quinoa and beans as well? As far as I know, almonds still need to be in the shell to be able to grow into a tree. And further more, almonds can't even grow in Hawaii so it is a non-issue.

Do you realize that you broke the law by bringing raw nuts into Hawaii? Did the agriculture form on the plane not make sense to you?

These look absolutely delicious! Sprouts on a fish taco.. never thought about that but I'm certainly going to try it next time I serve fish tacos! I love this blog and found it through Joanne and Julie Usdavins blog, Healthy 4 life. Great gals from Bastyr!

I think my next stop is Amazon for your book! Best wishes to you and your beautiful family.

What a great picture of you above that beach. I think your child would like to see this picture sometime in the future.

It seems like this year will be big and exciting for you. All the best.


We LOVE these! I have made them twice since you posted the recipe. Once with halibut and once with turbot and both were good.

You look so beautiful pregnant. I've been frequenting your blog and soon hope to do your elimination diet. Thank you for all the recipes you have shared. I hope to buy your cookbook soon. Your self-control & discipline is admirable. It's been baby steps for me over the years and while I'm proud of where I've gotten I still have so much to learn. My hubby has type 1 diabetes so I'm so thankful for the info on buckwheat groats. You opened my eyes and I thank you. We've been eating the pancakes. Thanks again. Happy pregnancy!

Hi Ali,

This looks great, can't wait to try it. Thanks for including the info on fish safety during pregnancy. I'm new to the gluten/dairy/soy/corn-free ranks and currently trying to recover from IBS/"leaky gut" so I was delighted to find your blog! My husband and I are hoping to have a baby in the near future and I am looking for pregnancy nutrition guidance on a restricted diet. The last time I was pregnant was 17 years ago and my diet wasn't restricted then (though it probably should have been!). If there are any sites/blogs/books you could recommend, I would be extremely grateful.

Thanks for sharing this article, Brooke...I was aware of some issues with Mercury levels and fish, but am I reading you correctly in that canned tuna is one of the culprits? We'll have to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

My favorite part of this post is the photo of you! What a beautiful picture, Ali. I know you will treasure it as it will bring these wonderful memories back to you and Tom. :-)

The fish tacos look awesome. Thanks so much for the mercury info. I agree with Alisa that fish are harder to "navigate" in terms of safety. I've been reading more on this topic lately, but am not totally up on it all. Your fact about one can of tuna really shocks me, so thank you for sharing that. The fishing practices are really so shortsighted in so many areas. When we went to St. Lucia several years ago, hubby wasn't impressed with the scuba diving. It all made sense one morning when fishermen came into the bay of our resort with a HUGE net and scooped up everything it caught. :-( So sad.


What a gorgeous preggo shot!! Thanks for the information and thanks for the great recipes!!

Wow. You're pregnant again? Congrats!! Is it twins this time or just one more?
Wishing you and baby the best of health and a smooth and quick labor and delivery.

I love this post! I don't know why we inject babies with formaldehyde and mercury either. The state of the environment, including the fish, is sad. I have a son recovering from severe autism. We use flax and spirulina for omega-3s. I eat chia as well, but my son is allergic to it. I'm also naturally chelating him by using raw cilantro and garlic in our foods. I'm thinking of adding chlorella to list for chelating too.

Aloha Ali~

I look forward to trying this recipe, I hope my children will love it! We have only really introduced meats within the last year, sometimes they want or ask for it and others they wont touch it. I have no doubt my husband can handle the leftovers if they decide not to partake. I appreciate your honesty in this post about everything. I hope more and more people learn about all of these things b/c I know that the more of us there are the easier it would be to change this system. We are the consumers and there is a line in a documentary I belive by Michael Pollan "Every time you grocery shop you are voting, organic, or non-organic"
You are reaching so many people and creating more awareness, thank you!

Jennifer – I searched and searched last night to find the website that mentioned opah and pregnancy but couldn’t find it. When we were in Kauai, I did research one evening and found this info but didn’t save the sites unfortunately. You can infer from some of the sites I linked to today that it is not safe to eat during pregnancy (of course I err on the side of caution) because levels of mercury in opah are generally higher than in tuna, and tuna is listed as “not safe for pregnant women” here: You can find data on levels of mercury in certain species of fish here: and here: Both websites show mercury levels in parts per million of different types of tuna and other Hawaiian fish.

We usually consume wild Alaskan salmon about once or twice a week, but since I’ve been pregnant it has been more like once or twice a month. I agree that we need to lower our fish consumption while pregnant or trying to conceive. Many of the websites that offer recommendations on fish consumption have very different viewpoints. Some say it is ok to consume fish that contains mercury once a week to twice a month while others say to completely avoid it. The one thing that is always consistent though is that a diet very high in fresh organic fruits and vegetables benefits our health tremendously. Hmm……maybe that is because our bodies are designed to be eating this way. ;-)

We must have purchased and eaten about 20 papayas between the two of us while we were there. That is one food we just can’t get over here so better to enjoy them while we could! Our favorite way to eat them is with the seeds scooped out and then drizzled with fresh Tahitian lime juice – just eat with a spoon!

Thanks everyone, I hope this post and info brings more awareness to the mercury in fish issue, as well as fishing practices that have been affecting some of the declining marine populations.

Mistakes definitely happen, and honestly, I find fish the hardest thing to follow in terms of what is good and safe.

You look beautifully healthy though, and are getting so close!!

thanks so much for the info on safe-to-eat fish! I had no idea about the long line fishing technique either! Wow! You are like an enclycopedia in this post! Thanks for all the useful info and links to safe fish to eat! The fish tacos are definitely calling to me! Looks easy and delicious!

Ali, thank you for sharing this great post--so timely, with warmer weather here, fish tacos well be on the menu more frequently. Can't wait to try this version with a Hawiian twist. My family loves the recipe in your cookbook for fish tacos. Thanks for linking the safe fish list, and also for the additional info about mercury in HFCS. Interesting! I didn't know that. So glad you had a wonderful time soaking up some sunshine with your husband--the photos are beautiful! I can almost smell the sea breezes. :)

Hi Ali,

My ND just recommended no fish during pregnancy at all. I was a bit surprised by this since I am fairly aware of how to keep track of safer fish (lots of educational outreach through the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Seafood Watch in our area). His thoughts were that the tiniest bits of mercury can wreak havoc (especially in the early stages) of pregnancy and from what he's seen lately, it's simply not worth the risk. I don't know if I'll do the next 7 months entirely fish free, but I was surprised at his stance.

When we were in Hawaii we cooked really well with the food we brought and prepared all of our food from the local markets as well. I didn't know how to find information about fish safety, so I just skipped it--where did you manage to find the information?

How great for you to have access to local papaya during the last months of pregnancy! Mmm! Someone suggested scooping out the fruit from a passion fruit and putting it in the hole where the papaya seeds are removed. It was very tasty!

When doing my own research about eating fish during pregnancy, I hear ranges anywhere from 8-12 oz./ week of safe fish.

This recipe looks great!

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