Should You Buy Farmed-Raised or Wild-Caught Fish?
As much as I like to keep things simple for you, I’m afraid there’s no easy answer to this one. There are a lot of factors to weigh…nutrition, safety, sustainability, and cost. And the outcome will be different depending on what kind of fish you’re talking about and where it comes from.
The best resource I know for keeping it all straight is the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can search their website by type of fish, learn what the issues are and get recommendations for best choices and better alternatives. They do an amazing job of keeping up with constantly evolving industry practices and environmental issues all over the world. They have an awesome app that makes it easy to do a little research right from the fish counter or restaurant.
In the U.S., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regulates wild-catch fishing, setting, and enforcing standards that protect the marine environment and fish populations. Fish farming operations in the U.S. are also strictly regulated. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. Farm-raised fish now constitutes 50% of the global food fish supply and 90% of U.S. consumption, but the U.S. only produces 2.5% of that. And what we do produce is often more expensive than farmed fish imported from areas of the world that have laxer regulations. For example, U.S. tilapia farms are held to a higher standard than international farms. They’re fed a natural diet and they’re farmed sustainably. So, in this case, it’s best to get U.S. farmed tilapia rather than Costa Rican farmed tilapia. Not all farmed fish are equal. Just like any other farming practice, it can be done responsibly, reducing the impact on the environment and creating a healthy product, or it can be done poorly, harming the environment and creating a poor quality product.
Seafood contaminants can include metals such as mercury, which affects brain function and development, industrial chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides and toxic waste. These toxins unfortunately originate on land and make their way into the smallest plants and animals at the base of the ocean food web. As smaller species are eaten by larger ones, contaminants are concentrated and accumulated. Large predatory fish, like swordfish and shark, end up with the most toxins. So it’s not always safe to go with wild-caught fish, even though they are in there most natural state, and for that we must blame ocean pollution. You can minimize risks by choosing seafood carefully by using the Monterey Bay Aquarium website or app.
With sustainable management practices, the farming of the fish can be much better for the environment than capturing the fish in the wild. But, as always, the choice between wild and farmed fish needs to be made on an individual case by case basis. Often, farmed fish can be superb quality, may have a higher oil content naturally and is harvested in a far quicker, far more humane way than much of the wild catch. We need to look to a reliable fish supply for generations to come. Our children and grandchildren will be eating way more farmed fish than wild, just as we do with land-based animals , and so long as it’s farmed sustainably, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Here are the links to Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium…
Other seafood tid-bits to think about…
Fresh or Frozen?
I like to buy fresh seafood but I want to make sure it hasn’t been sitting in the display case very long. They want the fish to stay fresh and look fresh so often times additives are added to preserve the fish. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, like when did the fish arrive at the store? And if you’re still feeling uncertain about how “fresh” the seafood might be, it is best to go with your gut and pass. I don’t mind if seafood has been previously frozen because in some cases I feel like it will be “fresher” than the “fresh” fish at the grocery stores.
No Artificial Dyes.
Believe it or not some colorful seafood, such as salmon and even fish eggs, are treated with artificial food dyes. If you’re buying your seafood from a mainstream supermarket this is something you want to ask questions about and avoid, of course! You may have seen “color added” printed on your store-bought salmon package? If you haven’t noticed, start looking. This is a common practice. Wild salmon eat plankton and krill, naturally occurring sources of astaxanthin, giving wild salmon their rich coral coloring. Fish meal just doesn’t do that. Unless food coloring is added to the fish feed, the farmed salmon would look greyish white. Synthetically-derived astaxanthin and canthaxanthin (another type of pigment) are added to the fish meal.
I hope everyone is having an amazing Monday! 🙂