From nutrition to sustainability to cost to contaminants, there's a lot to consider when weighing the pros and cons of farm-raised vs. wild-caught fish. Nutrition Diva sorts through the confusion.
Environmental Impact and Sustainability of Farmed Fish
Finally, there are concerns about environmental impact and sustainability. However, these are just as likely to apply to wild as to farmed fish. Wild-caught fish are sometimes harvested using practices that do a lot of collateral damage to the ecosystem and other fish. Fish-farming practices, in the other hand, can pollute the water and threaten local flora and fauna. Once again, it depends a lot on who is doing the fishing and/or farming.
Here in the U.S., for example, 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. Any water that is discharged into the environment, for example, must be as clean or cleaner than it was when it came in.
Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere. According to O'Dierno, 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 with laxer regulations.
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--and the one I personally rely on--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. A smartphone app makes it easy to do a little research right from the fish counter or restaurant. There's even a printable wallet card for those who prefer old-school tools.
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