When it comes to fish, there can be quite a bit of confusing and conflicting information available as to which is better, fish caught in the wild, or farm raised fish? There are those that sit on both sides of the fence when it comes to believing one type of fish is more sustainable than the other and there are varying opinions on which type of fish is “better” for you, has more nutritional value, and contains the least number of contaminants that could be harmful to your health. So, with all of that being said, let’s talk about the difference between wild caught and farm raised fish.
Wild caught fish is just what it sounds like. This is fish that is caught by a fisherman, either the good old-fashioned way, using a pole and fishing line, or using nets, and they are caught in their natural environment. Wild fish can be found in streams, lakes, rivers, and of course, the ocean. This makes some fish saltwater fish and some fish freshwater fish. Many believe that eating fish caught in the wild is better since it’s “natural” and may even consider it to be organic seafood–which isn’t necessarily true. Read our related blog, “Organic Seafood 101,” to learn more about what makes seafood organic. Tying back to the idea of fish being more “natural” — fish in their natural habitat tend to consume a more varied diet than fish that are raised in a fish farm and fed a controlled diet.
Wild caught fish also aren’t as prone to disease and illness because they live in their natural environment, which means they aren’t pumped with antibiotics to keep them healthy or promote growth. Their habitat does not need to be constantly treated and monitored, leaving them free to simply do what fish do and thrive.
Farm raised fish, on the other hand, are raised by fish farms in a controlled environment. Their homes are man-made tanks above ground, or pens that are placed in large bodies of water, such as the ocean or lakes and rivers. These pens and tanks are closely monitored in order to produce as many fish as possible and keep them alive and healthy.
Unfortunately, some fish farms are laxer in their quality control, using practices that aren’t sustainable and that ultimately can be harmful to both consumers and the environment. That’s why it’s very important when buying fish to check your sources and make sure the fish you are buying is coming from a sustainable source with stringent quality control procedures.
Some farm raised fish may be fed a subpar fish food that can be contaminated and in turn, contaminate consumers. Farm raised fish can also be more prone to disease and illness. This means they are often pumped with antibiotics and medications, which, unfortunately, are passed along to consumers too. Not to mention other contaminants that could be present, like pesticides and PCBs.
The aquaculture industry was first born in order to create cheaper access to fish and to meet the rising demands of the population clamoring for more fish in their diet. There are many species of wild caught fish that are on the decline and even close to extinction because of overfishing. For that reason, there are many eco-conscious people that view consuming wild caught fish as unsustainable, and view farm raised fish as a more eco-friendly option. With the great strides being made in the aquaculture industry, this can be true, but only if the fisheries are adhering to sustainable practices when raising their fish.
Nutritional Differences of Wild Caught and Farm Raised Fish
There are some that believe wild-caught fish holds more nutritional value than farm raised fish. Because of the varied diet wild fish consume, they offer a wider variety of nutrients to us when we eat them. Farm raised fish, on the other hand, eat the same diet, day after day. And depending on the fish farm, that diet could be premium fish food or contaminated fish food made with animal waste and byproducts. So just how nutritious a fish is depends entirely on its diet. It’s thought that wild fish have less saturated fat than farm raised fish, but farmed fish may have a higher level of omega-3. Some breeds of fish will be higher in certain nutrients than others.
Contamination of Wild Caught Fish and Farm Raised Fish
It’s thought that in some cases, farm-raised fish could have higher contamination levels than wild caught fish, along with more antibiotics and drugs in their system because of disease and illness. Mercury levels, on the other hand, may be higher in wild caught fish, although both types of fish can contain mercury because of our waters being so polluted. Additionally, larger fish (like tuna, shark, and swordfish) tend to have higher levels of mercury than smaller breeds.
Genetic Modifications of Farm Raised Fish
There are also some worries out there about fish raised on farms being genetically modified. In the U.S. there is no known fish that’s been genetically modified and sold for human consumption. There are cross-bred fish available, but they are cross-bred the same way anything else is cross-bred, with nothing unnatural about the process at all. There are however fish that have been genetically modified to look prettier as pets in your fish tank. We wouldn’t recommend eating them though!
Sustainability of Farm Raised Fish and Wild Caught Fish
Unfortunately, both types of fish can be the victim of practices that are unsustainable and provide a negative environmental impact. Fish that are caught in the wild may be overfished or caught using methods that damage the natural habitat and put other fish in danger. Fish that are farm raised can harm natural habitats and other breeds of fish through pollution of local waters and threatening fragile ecosystems and breeds that are native to those waters. These type of fish are called invasive breeds because there is nothing in the new environment, they’ve escaped into to keep their reproduction in check. They overwhelm native breeds and take over.
So, which is best? Farm raised fish or wild caught fish? As you can see, that answer is largely in the hands of the fisherman and fisheries you’re purchasing your fish from. It’s important to check your sources and ask questions of your local market on where they are getting their fish and decide whether or not it is sustainable seafood. If their source isn’t practicing sustainable farm fishing methods or raising fish in ways that are kind to the environment, you may want to keep looking until you find one that does.
For more information regarding sustainable and organic seafood, contact Eco Caters organic catering
Read more about local projects, such as the San Diego Roots Sustainable Project, that are working towards sustainable and ecologically sound food systems on Eco Cater’s website. Also, check out the various organic catering services we offer, including corporate catering, wedding catering, and lunch catering.