Aquaculture vs Wild-Caught Fish: Which Is Best?
Wild-caught seafood is almost always a great addition to your diet, especially heart-healthy choices such as salmon, cod, and trout. Summer is right around the corner and fatty fish can be a great addition to your weekend cookout.
High-quality seafood provides your body with essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, protein and vitamin D. However, choosing the right fish is critical, especially if you’re concerned about mercury and other toxins getting into your body. Some fish – such as ones that are raised on fish farms – contain high levels of pesticides and antibiotics, as well as mercury.
Albacore tuna, king mackerel, orange roughy, marlin, shark, swordfish, and tilefish have the greatest likelihood of mercury contamination and aren’t as nutrient dense as other fish. Better choices with lower mercury levels and higher levels of omega-3s include salmon, rainbow trout, sardines, mussels, and Atlantic mackerel.1
While the type of fish is essential for optimal nutrition, where it comes from is just as important. I often get asked which is better: Wild-caught fish or farm-raised? I always recommend wild-caught fish are far less likely to be exposed to harmful chemicals and they have a higher level of omega-3 fatty acids and other crucial nutrients. However, farmed fish is increasing in popularity for a variety of reasons even though it lacks the quality of wild fish.
Let’s dive into fish farms and why you should eat wild-caught seafood when you can, or ensure you’re getting your omega-3s when you can’t.
What is Aquaculture?
Aquaculture – or fish farming – is the commercial breeding, raising, and harvesting of both freshwater and saltwater animals. It is the fastest growing method of global food production.2
Fish production from aquaculture farms increased from 10% to 50% in the last 30 years to help meet a rising demand for food due to the growing population across the world.
Not only does aquaculture provide food, it also protects the shrinking population of threatened aquatic species due to overfishing.3
Aquaculture farmers produce freshwater-and saltwater fish in all types of water environments from ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans, as well as man-made, land-based facilities.
One statistic I find troubling is that up to 90% of the salmon on the market today is produced in fish farms. That suggests it is becoming difficult to purchase nutrient-dense, organic wild-caught salmon. While there are benefits to aquaculture, there are also a few cons.
The Pros and Cons of Aquaculture
Aquaculture provides a great source of protein for millions of people around the world and protects endangered species due to overfishing, however there is a downside to this process. First, let’s talk about the benefits of aquaculture.
Pros of Aquaculture
It Creates Jobs
There are approximately 260 million jobs worldwide at fish farms.4 That’s a significant increase from 23.4 million reported in a 2005 study by the Aquaculture and Management Conservation Service (FIRA).5 Setting up and operating fish farms can be demanding and it requires a lot of manpower, so fish farms boost the economy when it comes to job creation.
Less Expensive than Wild-Caught Fish
Aquaculture is dominating the global seafood market because it’s cheaper to produce, therefore it’s cheaper for you to buy! Unlike wild-caught fish, farmed fish is available year round, so you don’t have to wait on migrating fish to return to make it available. This also contributes to the affordable prices on farm-raised fish because supply is higher than the demand.
Improves Food Security
Fish farming provides a dependable, replenishable food source. Production of farmed fish has greatly increased just in the last decade. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 51 million tonnes of seafood was produced at fish farms in 2018.That’s up from 36 million tonnes in 2010.6
Overfishing is one of the primary concerns with the harvesting of wild-caught fish. It contributes to the decline of the population of wild species. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly 32% of world fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering, and need to be urgently rebuilt.7 Fish farming is hailed by some as a solution to the overfishing problem that could cause some species to become extinct.
Cons of Aquaculture
Fish Farms Use Harsh Chemicals
Due to the confinement of farmed species in enclosed cages and spaces, the chances of disease transmission and parasite infestations are high.8 This is a problem because those diseases and parasites can get into your body when you eat contaminated fish. For example, parasites such as sea lice are abundant in fish kept in aquaculture tanks. In order to fight these parasites, farmers use pesticides, which by their very nature are toxic.
Use of Antibiotics
Farmed fish are in close proximity since they’re confined in cages. This increases the chances of spreading bacteria among fish. To fight bacteria from spreading in the tanks, and ending up in your food, fish farmers use antibiotics. This leads to the presence of antibiotic residues in farmed fish that can enter your body when you eat them. When you take antibiotics they do not know the difference between good and bad bacteria, so they attack both when they enter your body. This can increase your risk of Candida overgrowth. Taking probiotics can help maintain a healthy intestinal microecology and support your body’s immune and inflammatory responses.
Destruction of Habitats
One of the environmental concerns about aquaculture is the potential of farmed species escaping from their confined spaces and spreading parasites and bacteria to natural ecosystems.9 The other side of this is that smaller fish such as anchovies are overfished from natural habitats to be used for food for fish farms, depleting the natural food source for wild fish that gives them their nutrients.
Farmers add artificial coloring to fish to make it an appetizing shade of pink similar to wild-caught salmon.
Wild fish eat a natural diet of krill, plankton, and other small organisms that contain astaxanthin, omega-3 fatty acids, and other vitamins and minerals.
Farm-raised salmon are often fed corn and soy-based fish meal. It’s because of this diet, farmed fish have 50% less omega-3 fatty acids and the flesh appears gray. Farmers add artificial coloring to make it an appetizing shade of pink similar to wild-caught salmon.
The Pros and Cons of Wild-Caught Fish
Wild-caught fish refers to the fish species that are harvested from natural freshwater and saltwater habitats. Their habitats are free of toxins, and their food sources are the natural sources I just mentioned that are full of nutrients. Knowing that, let’s discuss the pros and cons of eating wild fish.
Pros of Wild-Caught Fish
Great Nutrition Value
Wild-caught fish have fewer calories and none of the pesticides or antibiotics found in farmed-fish because their natural habitats have not been exposed to them. They are also richer in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, which supports a healthy immune system and your body’s inflammatory response. In addition, wild-caught fish are also higher in essential minerals such as potassium, zinc, and iron.10
Lower Saturated Fat Levels
Wild-caught fish have lower amounts of saturated fats than farmed ones because of their natural diets. High amounts of saturated fats can increase blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, which are linked to heart disease. Farmed fish are fed with pellets from sources that are enriched with fishmeal. This causes a higher fat content in the fish on your plate.
Less Susceptible to Diseases
Because wild fish don’t live in close quarters, they are less likely to spread virus and bacteria among other fish in their schools. Think of it like being in a small room crammed full of people as opposed to being in a large park with more room to spread out! Because wild fish have more space in their natural habitats, there is a lower chance they are spreading bacteria and viruses.
Not Exposed to Harmful Chemicals
As I mentioned earlier, farmed fish are given toxic pesticides and antibiotics to kill bacteria and parasites. By eating farmed fish, you could be adding to your body’s toxic burden. A heavy toxic burden puts you at greater risk of developing autoimmune disease.
Cons of Eating Wild-Caught Fish
The population of wild fish is diminishing because of overfishing due to rising demand for seafood. Migrating freshwater fish are among the most threatened due to overfishing and warmer waters. A report released in 2016 found that freshwater fish populations declined by 76% between 1970 and 2016 – that’s a higher rate of decline than saltwater and terrestrial migratory species.11 If something isn’t done, this could lead to extinction of endangered species.
Lower Availability Makes It Expensive
With diminishing populations around the world, the cost of buying wild fish is increasing. WIld salmon can cost up to 4 times more than farmed salmon. Another fact to consider is that most wild fish migrate to warmer waters during the winter months. This means certain species of fish such as salmon, shad, catfish and eel are only available during certain times of the year.
It’s true that a controlled environment can lead to pesticide and antibiotic exposure, however a wild fish environment isn’t controlled and open to all sorts of toxins and contaminants from pollution from industry or natural pollutants such as rain or sewage.12
The likelihood of this is declining because of environmental laws that protect your water. Freshwater bodies of water such as rivers and lakes are more susceptible to pollution than saltwater.13
Why It Matters
You should always know where your food comes from. It’s the only way you can ensure you’re giving your body the essential nutrients it needs. I always recommend eating a diet full of organic fruits, vegetables and meats as much as possible. Even if you can’t always eat organic fruits and vegetables, I recommend always buying wild-caught seafood.
Buying wild-caught fish ensures that your food is free from dangerous pesticides, hormones, and other chemicals. Long-term exposure to these toxins can quickly put you on the autoimmune spectrum.
If that isn’t enough to make the case for buying wild-caught fish, here is something else to consider: wild-caught fish have higher amounts of nutrients, such as essential omega-3 fatty acids and are lower in saturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids support heart health and promote a healthy inflammatory response. Vital Choice is my trusted source for wild-caught fish that’s shipped directly to my home.
If wild-caught fish is not available where you live, or if you don’t like fish, I recommend supplementing with Complete Omega-3 Softgels to ensure you’re getting all the nutritional benefits of this essential fatty acid. It is the purest, highest-potency omega-3 fish oil on the market.
Complete Omega-3 Softgels feature superior re-esterified natural triglyceride-form fish oil. This oil is 170% more bioavailable than leading fish oil supplements because it is in the same form that fish oil is naturally found in wild fish.
Choosing the right varieties of fish is important to ensure that you are getting the highest-quality fish full of essential nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids. When you can’t eat wild-caught seafood, Complete Omega-3 Softgels can ensure you’re getting the strongest source of omega-3 fatty acids that you can only find in wild-caught seafood.
Which is better: Wild-caught fish or farmed fish?
Which is better: Wild-caught fish or farmed fish?
I always recommend eating a diet full of organic fruits, vegetables and meats as much as possible. Even if you can’t always eat organic fruits and vegetables, I recommend always buying wild-caught seafood.
Why is aquaculture bad?
Why is aquaculture bad?
Farmed fish lack higher levels of nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, because they don’t eat a natural diet of krull, plankton, and other small organisms. Farmed fish is also exposed to pesticides and other harmful chemicals, as well as disease and bacteria that spreads in confined fish tanks.
What is the best wild caught fish?
What is the best wild caught fish?
Salmon, sardines and Atlantic mackerel are the best because they have higher level of omega-3s and lower mercury levels than tuna, orange roughy, shark and swordfish.
- The Consumer's Guide to Seafood. . Enviornmental Working Group. 2014.
- Aquaculture. Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. 2001.
- What is aquaculture? . . National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2021.
- Contribution of marine fisheries to worldwide employment. Lydia C L Teh , U R Sumaila. Fish and Fisheries. 2013.
- Estimating Employment in World Aquaculture. Food and Agriculture Organization. 2019.
- The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Food and Agriculture Organization. 2020.
- Fish Farming. Animal Welfare Institute . 2019.
- Disadvantages in Fish Farming. Peter Mitchell. Sciencing. 2019.
- Environmental Nightmare' After Thousands Of Atlantic Salmon Escape Fish Farm. Courtney Flatt and John Ryan. NPR. 2017.
- Wild vs Farmed Salmon: Which Type of Salmon Is Healthier?. Joe Leech, MS. Healthline. 2018.
- Many freshwater fish species have declined by 76 percent in less than 50 years. Stefan Lovgren . National Geographic. 2020.
- Contaminants in Fish . . Washington State Department of Health. 2021.
- For healthier lakes, rivers, and drinking water, hold the salt . Deirdre Lockwood. Chemical & Engineering News. 2019.
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