Farm-Raised vs. Wild-Caught Fish: Which Should You Eat?

close up of a male hand holding up a fish he has just caught

Health and fitness have been hot topics in the 21st century thus far. New diets and exercise routines are hitting the market all with different claims on how they benefit your health, but when it comes to the benefits of adding wild-caught seafood to your diet do you really know the truth? The “clear-cut” advantage of buying wild-caught fish might not be so obvious.

Nutritional Value of Farm-Raised vs. Wild-Caught

Many health professionals swear by wild-caught fish being best for your health, but the nutritional value of wild-caught is not drastically (if any) greater than farm-raised. It depends on the benefits you are seeking to implement in your diet. For example, farm-raised salmon to many peoples’ surprise has significantly more omega-3s and vitamin C than wild-caught salmon. Many people buy salmon not only for the taste but for the added strain of omega-3 fatty acids to their diet. However, this added nutrient comes at a price. Farm-raised salmon will come with more calories and added saturated fats due to their feeding routine.

Farm-Raised Fish Have Drugs and Hormones Pumped into Them, Right?

One misconception about farm-raised fish is that they are given hormones to make them grow larger. Unlike the beef and poultry industries that is false, at least in the United States. The FDA does not allow hormones in the fish farming process. The FDA does approve a short list of antibiotics to be used to fight diseases, but there are not any antibiotics given the months prior to distributing the fish.

What About Mercury Content?

Mercury is an obvious concern when it comes to seafood. If you consume wild-caught fish such as shark, swordfish and tuna you run the risk of contaminating your body to mercury. However, even fish such as salmon which is a very common meal in the United States can contain mercury. Most research indicates that mercury levels in farm-raised salmon run very similar to wild-caught, but there are studies that indicate that wild-caught salmon can have upwards of three times as much mercury. So, if you want to compare fish based on mercury content there is no real winner here.

Genetic Modification

Movies like Jurassic Park and Deep Blue Sea are not as farfetched as they were 20 years ago as we enter into the second decade of the 21st century. Genetic modification is happening, and yes, in fish. The genes of salmon and other fish are being scientifically altered to make them grow faster and reduce the risk of disease compared to wild-caught fish. Genetic modifications certainly have some risk, but the upside is usually ignored when people hear GMO. The natural population of fish, especially salmon is depleting rapidly from over-fishing from an increased demand. The argument over environmental concerns is fair because a genetically modified fish could escape into the wild and spread those genes into the population. When it comes to genetic modification, there are certainly benefits to the consumer in terms of price and availability, but there are health and environmental risks of altering nature.

What’s The Verdict?

Farm-raised fish makes up 90% of fish consumption in the United States and more than likely not decreasing in the near future. Being a more accessible and cost-effective seafood option with many health benefits the farm-raised fish choice will be the route many Americans will take. However, depending on the type of fish, what nutritional value you are seeking and where you buy your fish from will determine the right choice for you and your body. There are many variables in fish farming procedures as well as the natural fishing methods, so there is not a clear answer to which type of fish you should eat.


Author Bio

Emily is a freelance writer, covering conservation and sustainability. You can read her blog, Conservation Folks, for more of her work. You can read Emily’s last article here.

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