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Wild or Farmed Fish: What's Better?

The Pros and Cons for Your Health and the Planet

-- By Leanne Beattie, Health Writer & Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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These days, an increasing number of health-conscious consumers are choosing to eat fish for its heart-healthy benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat fish twice a week to meet their needs for omega-3 fatty acids, but how do you know if the fish you're eating is beneficial?

There are many factors to consider when choosing which fish to eat, two of which include species (the type of fish, such as halibut, salmon, etc.) and source (where the fish was raised or caught). These aren't simple decisions when you consider that the nutritional value of fish varies from species to species, and that each source carries a different potential for contamination, nutrition and environmental impact.

There are millions of fish species, but only a handful are popular for eating and even fewer are considered healthy choices. To choose which species to eat, consider first its fatty acid profile. Fish that live in dark, cold waters naturally contain higher levels of Omega-3's. The fish richest in omega-3s are cold water fatty fish like salmon, rainbow trout, anchovies, sardines, bass, herring, and tuna. 

Next, consider the source. There are two categories of sources of fish: farmed or wild. Each method has its own list of pros and cons, which every consumer will have to weigh to make the best decision for his or her own health and priorities.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • I love to eat my fish. I can have fish every day. But what a great article. - 12/21/2013 8:28:57 AM
  • Great article. When I buy fish, I only spend my money on wild-caught. Fish is a bit more expensive than some other forms of protein, but it's good for us, and I don't mind spending a little more to avoid getting healthier fish are aren't loaded up with antibiotics, etc. - 12/14/2013 5:06:17 PM
  • Thanks so much for the very informative "Fish" article!! That was really worth the read.

    Great write up!! Thanks again,
    gmondello - 2/21/2013 1:19:36 PM
  • Thank you for the great information. When I started SP, I also began reading all the labels on all the food I purchase. For fish, I was shocked to find that so much of the fish in our markets is farmed and raised in China, Vietnam and New Zealand. I personally want to enjoy fish caught closer to home, so I go for wild pacific or none at all. I have a new love for fish, wish I could have my own fish farm! - 5/26/2012 11:15:01 AM
  • I go 100% by price. I know fish is good for me, and tuna is a good fish. So I buy tuna canned in water (5 oz cans) when they are seriously on sale (55 to 70 cents) When I have enough food, I eat a whole can, otherwise I make it into two meals. Whiting and Swai fish are often on sale - and one fish is dinner for two of us, Each fish always comes to under a dollar when it's on sale. I wish I could think about other considerations - like what's good for the ecology - but I have to worry daily about getting something to eat. So price is all that really matters to me. I only get salmon when I'm not paying for it. (RARE) - 5/24/2012 1:45:07 PM
  • Thank you so much for clarifing this issue to the readers. I agree with the article. I live in So. Cal. It is easier than most places to get wild caught. However, I wonder about the quality of fish that is "flash frozen" at sea. Also, the article did not address wild caught fish in different countries. I often wonder do they adhere to the same scrutiny we have here in the States. Canada seems ok but what about fish in Vietnam or Brazil?? - 3/11/2011 10:11:37 AM
  • I have made it a habit to eat only wild and organic meats. I work in foodservice and have no problem watching what I eat. - 2/11/2011 5:33:42 PM
  • If you're buying salmon, please buy wild. The farmed salmon spreads disease to the wild population, and buying it supports the market! Since the farm salmon are given antibiotics, they can survive, but their wild counterparts are not so lucky. - 2/11/2011 4:12:31 PM
  • I had some farmed salmon once, and I won't knowingly ever buy it again. It was soft, mushy, and had an unusual color.
    Luckily, since I live in Alaska, the salmon I buy does not have to "travel thousands of miles" making them an expensive alternative.
    I like salmon so much and it's so healthy, I even used canned salmon instead of tuna for my "tuna" sandwiches. - 4/24/2010 10:20:06 PM
  • the only fish we usually eat is what we have cought our selves. yes we know the risks but we like the taste better. fresh salmon cought at the local creek tastes better than any frozen or "fresh" we could buy in the market. - 4/20/2010 9:06:20 AM
  • I just grilled some salmon and had some grilled shrimp a few days ago for dinner. They were delicious! I'm enjoying my toaster oven and all its features! - 3/16/2010 9:38:54 AM
  • KIWI913
    I never really knew the less-than-obvious differences between farmed and wild fish. I think I will stick with paying a little more for the wild ! - 2/28/2010 8:22:24 AM
  • This is a very informative article with a lot of detail so people can make their own choice regarding the consumption of salmon. Actually I stopped eating salmon some time ago even tho I love it (well, the wild salmon) and even tho I know it can be a very healthy choice because the stories that I had been hearing about farmed salmon blew my mind and I have issues regarding overfishing wild salmon. Such a shame. - 2/17/2010 5:29:14 PM
  • By the way, the wild frozen salmon is pricey. I balanced it out in my mind and pocketbook by making cuts in every way I could and figure that if we are only eating it once a week or two I can work it out. Althought I don't know if I could afford it every week and they do say to eat it once or even twice a week. I hope we still get the nutritional benefits from once every week or two.
    - 2/17/2010 11:42:24 AM
  • Food City has really good frozen wild salmon under their organic label "Full Circle". We don't have a Costco where I live or I would try the fish that was suggested. I decided to try it after reading in Prevention magazine that it was much better for the environment to eat frozen fish (because of shipping pollution) and I was really surprised and pleased to find that it tasted much better than the "fresh" farmed fish I had bought at the fish counter.
    I've read that some fish is sold as 'wild' is not---it is really farmed. This must have been the only time I've ever had wild salmon, because my family noticed a big difference in the taste and color. It wasn't as fat----it was much leaner. More like rainbow trout. The color was very pink and the taste was wonderful. It was easy to prepare it with just lemon and pepper and satisfy everyone. - 2/17/2010 11:38:55 AM