Eating fish is good for you, especially for people with auto immune diseases like Multiple Sclerosis because of the need for omega 3s and lots of other nutrients but that nutritional value has diminished in farmed raised fish. Farm raised salmon have been shown to have a very unhealthy high fat content and higher levels of PCBs. A recent study warned women especially pregnant women, children, adolescents and people with compromised immune systems against eating farmed salmon because salmon feed contains highly toxic and harmful pollutants.
The nutritional differences between wild and farmed fish are not as great as you might imagine. Farmed and wild-caught rainbow trout, for example, are almost identical in terms of calories, protein, and most nutrients. There are some minor differences: Wild-caught trout have more calcium and iron. Farmed-raised trout have more vitamin A and selenium. But for the most part, they are nutritionally equivalent.
One of the main reasons we eat fish of course, is that they an extremely potent source for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Farmed fish have often, almost always had the advantage. But, today's farmed Atlantic salmon provide significantly more omega-3 fats than wild-caught Atlantic salmon, for example.
Bet you didn't know the color of the flesh is not a reliable guide to omega-3 content, which most people tend to believe. Atlantic salmon (whether it is fished or farmed) is a pale orange, while Sockeye is dark red. The paler Atlantic salmon provide way more omega-3.
The other contaminant that most people worry about with fish is mercury. The fish that present the biggest concern (swordfish, king mackerel. tilefish, shark, and tuna) are all wild-caught. The most common farm-raised fish (catfish, tilapia, and salmon) all have low or very low mercury levels fortunately.
Did you know that there are severe environmental consequences of raising fish in a farm Here are some of the environmental issues fish farming contributes to:
- Transfer of disease between wild and farmed fish
- Ocean pollution under nets (fish food and excrement buildup)
- Destruction of ocean habitat
- Increased sea lice
- Escaped farmed fish become an invasive species
Fish that are farmed in net pens have an increased risk of disease. They can spread that disease to wild fish.
But it gets worse. Farmed fish are given antibiotics to combat disease in the net pens. Sometimes the antibiotics are released into the water and sometimes they are injected directly into the fish.
Those antibiotics can contribute to the rise of more antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They also contaminate our ocean water. And, if the fish you’re eating were given antibiotics, you’re also ingesting those antibiotics – which brings us to the next big problem with farmed fish: contamination.
Antibiotic use in farmed fish isn’t just an environmental issue – it’s a health issue for you.
A 2015 study that compared samples of farmed fish from 11 countries found 5 antibiotics in shrimp, salmon, tilapia, and trout.
They even found antibiotic residue in fish labeled “antibiotic-free” and wild shrimp – probably due to run-off from farmed shrimp nets nearby.
Antibiotics aren’t the only problem, either. Other common contaminants in farmed fish include:
- Fire retardants
- Copper sulfite
- Canthaxanthin (dye to make the flesh more pink)
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are cancer-causing chemicals that get into fish through the processed fishmeal (made from ground up fish) they are fed in fish farms. The Environmental Protection Agency has “found clear evidence that PCBs have significant toxic effects in animals, including non-human primates.” PCBs can have a negative effect on the immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems.
Farmed salmon is one of the biggest dietary sources of PCBs. According the research conducted by the Environmental Working Group, “on average farmed salmon have 16 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in wild salmon, 4 times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in other seafood.”
So, why isn’t there EPA regulation of PCBs in fish? There actually is. But here’s the catch: the EPA can only regulate PCB levels in wild caught salmon. Farmed salmon is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). EPA regulations for PCB levels in wild caught fish are 500 times more protective than the PCB regulations the FDA places on farmed fish.
High PCB levels in farmed fish are a serious issue – but fish farmers seem to have found a solution: they are replacing the fishmeal used in traditional fish food with fish food made from grains and soy. But grain and soy based foods come with issues of their own.
Omega-3s In Farmed Fish
Did you know, wild fish forage for food and farmed fish are fed using manufactured fish pellets. Many fish are carnivorous, so fishmeal used to be the main ingredient in fish pellets. However, fishmeal is often contaminated with high levels of cancer-causing PCBs. In an attempt to reduce the level of PCBs in fish, fishmeal was supplemented by fish pellets made from grains and soy but as you and I both know grains and soy are not what fish would normally eat at all.
Much like what happens to cows raised in conventional dairies, the fish quickly get fat on the grain-based pellets. Farmed fish are significantly fattier than wild-caught fish.
At first, this seems like a good thing. After all, fish are a potent source of beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids. And more fat should mean more Omega-3, right?
Wrong. The grain-based diet (an incredibly unnatural diet for fish) leads to an increase in Omega-6 fat. And while you may have heard that wild and farmed fish contain the same amount of Omega-3, that is only because the farmed fish contain so much more fat overall.
A serving of wild salmon has half as much fat as the same size serving of farmed salmon.This means farmed salmon has a higher calorie count and less protein, too.
The Bottom Line On Eating Farmed Fish
While some people might disagree, here is my stance: if you can’t eat wild fish, it’s better to not eat fish at all.
Farmed fish have more fat but less Omega-3s, are contaminated with PCBs, antibiotics, and other contaminants, and fish farming has serious environmental consequences. Wild fish are better for you and for our planet.
Whether you’re buying salmon, trout, shrimp – or any other kind of seafood – make sure it is wild.
Avoiding farmed fish doesn’t have to be a burden – keep reading for our tips on buying wild fish affordably.
Fresh, Frozen, Or Canned?
Wild fish is almost always more expensive than farmed fish. One way to save money is to skip fresh fish and opt for frozen or canned instead.
And, unless you have access to a great fish market, there’s a good chance that the “fresh” fish you’re looking at is actually “previously frozen.” Fresh fish goes bad very quickly.
My favorite way to buy fish is individually flash frozen. It preserves the nutrients and individual fillets defrost quickly for a fast dinner.
Canned fish is another good option. We like canned tuna, sardines, and salmon. Look for wild fish in BPA-free packaging.
Is Fish Oil As Good As Eating Fish?
If you’re not a fish fan – or just overwhelmed by all this information – you might think you can skip eating fish and take a fish oil supplement instead.
Wait Just A Minute.
While we don’t think taking a high-quality fish oil supplement is a bad idea, there is evidence to suggest that taking fish oil isn’t as effective as eating whole fish.
When it comes down to absorption – whole fish contains other important vitamins and minerals, as well as potential co-factors. This means that you may absorb more beneficial EPA and DHA from whole fish than you would from even a larger serving of fish oil. So just take a moment to think the next time you opt for fish oil supplements.
The Truth About Eating Fish
Here’s L's bottom line for eating fish:
- Avoid all farm-raised fish
- Aim for 2 servings of wild-caught fish each week or less (and remember if you’re pregnant, make sure you talk with your doctor)
- Supplement with a fish oil, but you must know it may not provide all the benefits of regularly eating wild caught fish
Where We’re Buying Fish
If you live near the water, you might be able to buy wild fish from a local fish market. You can also usually find high quality frozen wild caught fish at your local super market but be sure to read the labels and fine print.
I hope this guide is helpful to you. If you have more questions, just leave L a comment below!