Pros and Cons of Farmed vs. Wild-Caught Fish

bucket of fish
barrel of fish

A more stately term for fish farming, aquaculture, is the century-old practice of cultivating aquatic plants and animals for food. It continues to be the fastest-growing animal food-producing sector, accounting for over 50 percent of seafood on American’s parsley-garnished plates. Still, implications of our billion-dollar industry have many questioning its safety and sustainability. Farmed or fresh-caught fish?

Unlike commercial fishing, which harvests wild creatures from natural habits, fish farming is a controlled, contained process. Yet, soaring demand yields rather uncontrolled consequences:

  • Waste products/feces, uneaten food, pesticides, veterinary drugs and dead fish contaminate surrounding water and affect the entire aquatic ecosystem
  • Proliferation of bacterial, viral and fungal diseases, as well as sea lice that spread from farmed to fresh fish
  • Resources required to feed, breed and farm fish outweigh the product value
  • Devastation to coastal habits and ecosystems

Of course, all industry has its pitfalls. Even wild fishing faces criticisms:

  • Overfished waters and dwindling species
  • Low sustainability
  • Higher carbon footprint

Hope rests in the continued advancement of aquaculture technology and management practices that promise to elevate the eco-friendliness of fish farming. Farming practices are improving as environmental concerns rise. Still, as long as demand remains high, greater variety of farmed species is inevitable in grocery ice cases. We can only expect to see more farm-raised labels as efforts continue toward sustainable fish sourcing and replenishing wild supply.

As consumers, strive to make more informed choices. Always ask if fish is sourced or farmed sustainably, and when possible, purchase only from responsible “certified sustainable” purveyors.

Check out this Seafood Watch brochure for more information on the best and worst fish choices on the West Coast.

— By Sydney Micucci, Bastyr dietetic intern, and Amy Frasieur, MS, RD, core faculty in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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