Why You Should Avoid Farmed Fish

August 24th, 2009

Fish FarmingThroughout our evolution, fish have been an excellent source of nutrition. Although pollution has made a significant amount of seafood unsafe to eat, it’s fortunately still possible to safely enjoy the benefits of high quality seafood.

Why Eat Fish?

Many native cultures survived mostly on seafood prior to the introduction of modernized food. In fact, inland tribes often traveled great distances to the nearest coast to obtain seafood. In some cases, access to the seafood has even instigated battle. As such, the recognition of seafood as an excellent source of nutrition has clearly existed for quite some time.

One of the most significant benefits of eating fish is the high amount of omega-3 fatty acids that it contains. This type of essential fatty acid, which the human body is incapable of producing on it’s own, is becoming quite popular based on it’s association with a decreased risk of heart disease, cancer, mental dysfunction, and a variety of other conditions.

Although omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from other sources such as flax seed, walnuts, and even capsules and fish oil supplements, seafood is the most complete and natural source. Flax seed and walnuts contain the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) form of omega-3 which must be converted by the body into the more important eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) forms. Because this conversion can be slow or incomplete, and because seafood primarily contains EPA and DHA, fish is the preferred source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Polluting the Planet Also Pollutes Our Food

Billions of pounds of sewage and industrial waste are dumped into our oceans every day! Based on this, it should be no surprise that high levels of toxins such as mercury, PCBs, and even fire retardants are commonly found in seafood. In fact, the mercury from seafood is often regarded as more of a risk than the mercury from amalgam fillings that many of us have had in our mouths for years.

Farmed Fish are Often the Worst Choice

Fish farming presents many of the same problems as industrialized livestock farming including environmental pollution, unsanitary and inhumane conditions, an inferior final product, and a serious threat to the natural balance of our intricate ecosystem.

A typical fish farm may cram up to 90,000 fish in a single pen that’s 100 feet long by 100 feet wide. Salmon, one of the most commonly farmed fish, must be fed a significant amount of smaller sea life such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and herring. As such, farmed salmon are typically fed pellets that are composed of these items along with wheat, soy, antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones. The salmon that are raised on this unnatural diet are a dull gray and are given the synthetic pigments canthaxanthin and astaxanthin to reproduce their natural and vivid tone of pink.

Multiple studies have shown farm raised fish to contain significantly larger amounts of pollutants including mercury and PCBs. The unnatural conditions that farmed fish are raised in also promote the spread of disease and parasites, and even alter the content of omega-3 fatty acids which negates the primary benefit of eating fish. Farmed fish also contain lower levels of vitamins A and D than their wild counterparts.

Fish Farming is a Threat to Our Ecosystem

One of the supposed benefits of fish farming is that it should help reduce overfishing. However, not all of the feed fed to farmed fish is eaten, and as a result, the amount of fish needed to produce this feed ends up being more than what would be naturally consumed in the wild. As a result, fish farming actually makes overfishing a more significant problem than it already was. Furthermore, the fish waste and uneaten feed that cover the ocean floor below the pen often kill the marine life that originally existed there.

A potentially more significant concern is the fact that many farmed fish escape from their pens and are free to reproduce among native fish. It’s estimated that about one million atlantic salmon, which are commonly farmed in the pacific ocean, have escaped and it’s feared that they may endanger the wild population of pacific salmon. Another fear is that the farmed and hormone fed male salmon, which are larger than their wild counterparts, will outcompete them for reproduction. Because of reproductive issues caused by the synthetic hormones supplementation, this could potentially endanger the natural population of salmon. Another cause for concern is the spread of disease and infection to the wild fish that swim in the vicinity of fish farms.

What is possibly the most serious concern of all may soon become a sad reality. A Massachusetts based company named Aqua Bounty has been waiting on the FDA for the approval of their genetically modified salmon that grow to adult size much faster than normal. It’s anticipated that FDA approval might happen as soon as this year. Who knows what will happen once these genetically modified salmon, which are commonly referred to as frankensalmon, escape into the wild.

Where to Find Safe Seafood

Unfortunately, a large majority of the fish that’s available in restaurants and supermarkets is farm raised and should ideally be avoided unless you can verify that it’s from a safer source. There’s been reports of restaurants serving lower quality fish like talapia as more expensive selections, and also of farmed fish being labeled as wild. Buyer beware!

The Environmental Defense Fund’s website offers a convenient seafood selector indicating safe consumption levels for a variety of seafood. GotMercury.org is another great resource that determines if you’ve exceeded the EPA’s safe limit for mercury based on your weight, the type of seafood, and how much of it you consumed.

Even organic farm raised fish isn’t much better because it’s not truly organic. It’s only recently that regulations have been established for organic fish farming and they’re very minimal. Organic fish farmers follow many of the same flawed practices as convention fish farmers including the use of overcrowded pens, unnatural feed, synthetic additives, and even pesticides to prevent sea lice and fungal growth.

Fortunately, there are several places to buy high quality seafood with minimal amounts of contamination. The place I trust and buy my seafood from is Vital Choice Seafood and Organics. The seafood from vital choice is from remote Alaskan waters and is randomly tested to verify minimal levels of contamination.

Stay informed of new articles by email!