Jul 30, 2014

Farm-raised or Wild Fish: What’s the Difference?

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Fresh fish on iceThe per capita fish consumption in the US has increased by over 50% over the last 25 years and is projected to continue climbing. This demand on fish has lead to and the problem of overfishing. As the wild fish population declines, fisheries have responded with a spur in growth of fish farming. So the real question is, does it matter if the fish you’re about to buy has been grown on a fish farm or was caught in the wild?


While it is true that some fish from farms and the wild may look similar at first glance, there are several distinct differences not only in the way they look but more importantly in their nutritional value.


Nutritional Value of Farmed Fish


For starters, many of the fish that have been raised on farms, like salmon, are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (bad). Their wild counterparts, on the other hand, are rich in the beneficial anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (good). Not only is there a difference in fat quality, but also in fat quantity as farm raised fish tend to have 20% more fat content. The protein content of farm bred fish is also inferior when compared to wild salmon, by 20%. This just goes to show that the even though they may appear to be the same, the nutritional value of fish farming products cannot compare to those caught in the wild.


Chemicals in Your Fish


With a concentrated number of fish being farmed in a controlled area, fish farming techniques tend to create waterbeds that are thickly layered with fish excrement and uneaten fishmeal or pellets. This condition can cause droves of disease causing bacteria to flourish. To prevent diseases and the loss of fish, farmers utilize various chemicals in the production process.


Fish farming techniques often include the addition of chemicals in the feed. Fishmeal for farm bred salmons, for instance, is doused with antibiotics, like oxytetracycline and quinolone. Oxytetracycline is used in some fish farms to prevent and control bacterial pathogens that can cause fatal diseases in the fish. Quinolone is an antimicrobial agent that is used to treat the infections that may occur.


Other fish farming techniques include using Canthaxanthin, a carotenoid pigment, to add a pinkish hue to the flesh of fish bred in farms, particularly salmon. This pigment is utilized since the flesh of farm-bred salmon usually has an unappetizing gray color. Adding artificial coloring to their diet through the use of canthaxanthin can make their flesh tone similar to the color of salmon that was caught in the wild.


While all these can mean financial bliss to businesses operating these fish farms, these result in fish that’s laced with contaminants and toxins that can prove harmful to consumers.


Fish Farms and the Ecosystem


Aside from being a potential health risk for humans, fish farming techniques have a variety of different adverse impacts on the environment. When a fish farm is located within the marine environment, the practices employed within the vicinity of these fish farms can harm the extremely delicate habitat of other water inhabitants. For example, the chemicals and antibiotics in the feed that are given to farm bred fish can alter the normal vegetation of the waterbed, thereby denying other water creatures important nutrient-giving food resources.


The disease causing bacteria that may be created due to the farm may affect not only that particular area, but also spread out beyond the confines of the fish farm. This can be a potential ecological disaster because other water creatures may not be able to deal with the high volume of bacteria that are gradually invading their habitat.


When You Think about Eating Fish


Fish farming may have helped balance out the adverse effects caused by overfishing. On the other hand, the benefits of fish farming may be outweighed by the nutritional deficiencies and the negative impacting on the environment. And here we thought the only thing to worry about when eating fish was the mercury content (which, by the way, according to the EPA is generally harmless in its trace amounts for most people). After considering the research it appears as though wild caught fish is clearly more natural and of higher nutritional value vs its farm grown counterpart.



(2010) Fish Farms & Other Types of Aquaculture. Retrieved September 2, 2010. http://www.mass.gov/czm/wpfishos.htm

(2010) International Trade and Seafood Safety. Retrieved September 2, 2010. http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer828/aer828i.pdf

(2010) Antibiotic Drug Use in U.S. Aquaculture. Retrieved September 2, 2010. http://www.healthobservatory.org/library.cfm?RefID=37397

(2010) The Promise and Perils of Fish Farming. Retrieved September 2, 2010. http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=16150

(2010) Farm Raised Fish Not So Safe. Retrieved September 2, 2010. http://www.nutritionresearchcenter.org/healthnews/farm-raised-fish-not-so-safe/

(2010 Is there any nutritional difference between wild-caught and farm-raised fish? Retrieved September 2, 2010. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=96

(2010) Chemical Use In Salmon Aquaculture: A Review Of Current Practices And Possible Environmental Effects. Retrieved  http://www.worldwildlife.org/what/globalmarkets/aquaculture/WWFBinaryitem8842.pdfSeptember 2, 2010.



2 comments

  • Comment Link Pierre Dowing Tuesday, 28 December 2010 11:42 posted by Pierre Dowing

    You know, I have to say that I’m actually incredibly relieved that some salmon farms are finally taking an initiative into a more sustainable direction and away from past practices, such as the ones recently outlined online in the press. Still, with the increasing population and thus demand, it will take more than lukewarm measures to ensure a good, stable source of salmon and other seafood.

    Well anyway, some food for thought :]

  • Comment Link melissa Monday, 26 September 2011 18:37 posted by melissa

    It was my understanding these practices had come along way and such certifications like MSC Certified and similar ones insured much more responsible and environmentally conscience fish....it appears additional research would be good.

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