Reports regarding the connection between eating fish and health range from warning consumers about dangerous mercury levels in ocean-caught fish to lamenting the detriment to the environment caused by fish farming. Fish farming is a relatively new phenomenon. Whether wild fish are a healthier option than farm raised depends on several factors. Heed warnings when opting for farm-raised fish.
Why Farm Fish?
As the demand for fish has increased, pressure has grown on suppliers to produce more for commercial consumption. In addition, overfishing has depleted many wild populations of fish that are popular to eat, driving up the cost. In order to meet the demand of an ever-growing population, fish farms have become more common. This way of raising fish increases production, decreases costs and reduces pressure on natural populations in oceans, lakes and other fresh water. Fish farms have become an economical and popular way to raise species that are becoming rarer in the wild and are growing more expensive.
Wild Versus Farm Raised
Wild fish populations have access to their natural ecosystem and all the benefits that it provides. The food they eat, the predators they encounter and the quality of their water all have an impact on the health of the fish. Farm-raised fish live in man-made habitats such as tanks or ponds. All fish farming entails cutting the fish off from the natural world and limiting its territory. Fish farmers may feed fish a type of aquafeed or fishmeal that serves as a substitute for the fish's natural diet.
Impacts of Farming on Fish
Farmed-fish habitats can be small and densely populated, which produces smaller and weaker fish compared with those in the wild. When fish live together in close quarters, disease and illness can spread rapidly. Some farms expose fish to toxins such as pesticides and agricultural runoff. If farmers do not properly filter the fish habitat, the fishes' own waste can contaminate the water. The absence of a natural diet may further weaken the health of the fish.
Farming and Your Health
Farm-raised salmon live in tight, densely populated quarters and eat fish pellets. These salmon do not have the bright pink color of flesh that is expected and which their wild cousins have. As a result, farmers add a chemical dye to artificially color the fish and make it more marketable. Farm-raised fish also may contain polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are highly toxic industrial compounds. These toxins are "probable human carcinogens," according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Future of Farming
As farm raising becomes more widespread, the technology and techniques are becoming more effective at creating healthy alternatives to eating wild fish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium notes that "in the next decade, the majority of fish we eat will be farm-raised, not wild." Farming practices do not always produce an inferior product. Proper research into the farming techniques used to raise the fish you purchase and understanding which species thrive in a farmed setting will help to ensure you can select a healthy fish every time.
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