LONG BEACH - The advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Tuesday criticized a promotion from the Aquarium of the Pacific offering free tickets to the attraction in exchange for people's eating specific kinds of fish.

Officially launched last month, the "Seafood for the Future" program has the aquarium partnering with seafood restaurants to place logos on menus to help consumers make sustainable seafood choices, such as avoiding those wild species that are overfished.

The logos also indicate which fish came from environmentally and socially responsible fish farms, according to Aquarium President and CEO Jerry Schubel.

"We are trying to direct people to those stocks that are not overfished and also to stocks that are harvested using methods that do not damage the environment," he said.

But PETA Vice President Tracy Reiman in a letter to Schubel argued that promoting fish consumption goes against the aquarium's mission, which is "to instill a sense of wonder, respect, and stewardship for the Pacific Ocean, its inhabitants and ecosystems," according to the aquarium's web site.

Schubel disagrees.

"The entire program is very consistent with our mission because we are committed to conserving wild stocks of fish," he said. "And one of the best ways to do that - since seafood is so popular - is to influence the choices that people make so that they will choose seafood wisely."

Reiman asked aquarium officials to urge visitors to become vegetarians, arguing that fishing causes animals pain and presents human health dangers because some fish are contaminated with pollutants such as mercury.

"Encouraging aquarium visitors to eat fish is like serving poodle burgers at a dog show," Reiman wrote to Schubel.

"Fish are frequently tainted with a toxic brew of bacteria, contaminants, and heavy metals, and no one - particularly a facility that is supposed to promote respect for sea life - should recommend eating them," she added.

Schubel said that seafood has been shown to have health benefits.

"We don't think there is anything amoral or unethical about what we are proposing," he said. "People eat seafood worldwide. For some people, it's a major source of protein."

Part of the program is to alert consumers that certain fish - such as swordfish - have higher level of mercury that could present health risks to women who are pregnant or nursing, he added.

Schubel plans in the future to include grocery stores and fish markets in the program.

kevin.butler@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1308