Wild vs. Farmed Fish — Pros and Cons

Wild vs. Farmed Fish, Pros and ConsA Tale of Two Fishes
If you are one of the many people who has been trying to eat better by cutting out red meat and including more fish, you have had to make the decision between purchasing wild vs. farmed fish. It can be a hard decision because there are pros and cons to both.

The only real difference between the two is where they are raised. Wild fish is exactly that, fish caught in the wild. Farmed fish are raised in pens submerged in ponds, lakes or saltwater. Pretty straightforward.

Public perception would tell you that wild-caught fish is better for you because it is caught in its natural environment, the way we have always caught fish. This may or may not be the case, as I will explain.

The stigma attached to farm-raised fish suggests that it is a genetically modified Frankenfish. It is not. It is the same animal you have always eaten that has been raised in a controlled environment.

In an effort to try to demystify your fish shopping experience, we have compiled a list of pros and cons to help make your decision easier.

Wild Caught
Pros
The biggest proponent of buying wild-caught fish is that it doesn’t contain any antibiotics or pesticides, though the later really depends on the waters that are being fished. Buying wild caught is no guarantee that mercury or other toxin levels in your fish will be low, again, it all depends on the environment they are swimming in.

Wild fish tends to be a bit higher in Omega-3 acids because wild caught fish eat a diet that lends itself to higher Omega-3 concentration (i.e. other fish). However, the fish farming industry has found ways to introduce more good Omegas into the farmed fish diet by cultivating algae and worms for food.

Cons
Without question, the biggest con to eating wild caught fish is the carbon footprint and sustainability. Fish caught in the wild have falling populations and/or are swimming further out to sea. This means the fishing boats are going farther and farther, burning more and more fuel, to make the round trip.

On top of that, the demand for fish is so much higher that many of their natural habitats are being over-fished or have been wiped out completely. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, two-thirds of all of the seafood will be farm-raised due to over-fishing and increasing demand.Depending on your personal preference, this next point could be a pro or a con. Similar to

Depending on your personal preference, this next point could be a pro or a con. Similar to wild game vs. domestic game, wild caught fish tends to be leaner than farmed fish as their diets don’t contain as much fat. The flavor difference seems minimal.

Farmed
Pros
By far, the best argument for eating farmed fish is its reduced impact on the environment—though it does still have some. Consider sending fishing boats further out to sea and back in, and putting the fish on trucks to get them to market, the carbon footprint of farm raised fish is significantly less.

Also, farming fish helps prevent (or at the very least slow) over-fishing of their natural habitats. And farming actually helps to rebuild the wild population by allowing it to be.Farmed fish means that we are able to keep up the demand for seafood. It is estimated that 50% of all seafood consumed is farmed, and that percentage is expected to rise. By farming, we don’t deplete all of our natural resources.

Farmed fish means that we are able to keep up the demand for seafood. It is estimated that 50% of all seafood consumed is farmed, and that percentage is expected to rise. By farming, we don’t deplete all of our natural resources.

Cons
Not all farmed fish are the same. Farm-raised fishing practices and regulations differ from country to country. Pay attention to the country of origin when buying your farmed fish. All retailers are required to label the country of origin for all seafood for just this reason.

Most farm-raised salmon are fed a diet that contains ground up fish which doesn’t help the overfishing and sustainability problem, it actually makes it worse. And shrimp farming has been thought to be responsible for more than half of all of the mangrove loss in the world and almost all of the shrimp sold is farmed. Also, fish can be raised in cramped conditions similar to industrial-farmed livestock which can lead to less healthy fish.

The biggest takeaway you should get from this is while both options have their pros and cons, you shouldn’t stop eating one or the other. Just be smart about your choices. And, no matter how it’s raised, eating some fish is better for you than eating no fish.

And, here is a reference card to print out and keep in your wallet for on the go decisions when you are in the market or a restaurant.

Comments are closed.