Nutrition Articles

Wild or Farmed Fish: What's Better?

The Pros and Cons for Your Health and the Planet

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Farmed Fish
Fish farming, or aquaculture, means that the fish are raised in floating net pens near the ocean shore. Another name for this method is “ocean raised.”

Pros of Farmed Fish
  • Price: Farmed fish are often cheaper and more readily available than wild fish.
  • Controlled diet: Some farmed fish can have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids than wild fish. This is because fish farmers can better control the diets of the fish they raise—making sure that their fish eat more feed that is converted into Omega-3s than a fish might normally eat in the wild. However, there is really no way for consumers to gauge the amount of Omega-3's in one piece of fish versus another.
  • Ecology: When fish are farmed, there is a lower danger of overfishing (or depleting) the population of wild fish.
Cons of Farmed Fish
  • Contamination: Farmed fish usually contain more contaminants. Farmed fish are fed processed pellets, often made from processed anchovies, sardines and other small fish. Unfortunately, the types of fish used to make the pellets are usually caught in the polluted waters closer to shore and are often contaminated with industrial chemicals. As a result, farmed fish tends to have much higher levels of chemical contaminants that may cause cancer, memory problems, and neurobehavioral changes in children. Farmed salmon, for example, has been found to contain seven times more PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and pesticides than wild salmon. Consumers can reduce the amount of contaminants in farmed salmon by almost half by grilling or broiling it so that the juices drip off, cooking it until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees Fahrenheit and removing the skin before eating.
  • Antibiotics: Besides being prone to industrial contamination, farmed fish are more subject to disease, which spreads quickly throughout the entire pen. Sick fish can escape into surrounding open water and spread disease to wild fish populations. To control disease, farmed fish are often given antibiotics to prevent the whole group from becoming ill. Research has shown that farmed salmon, for example, are administered more antibiotics by weight than any other type of livestock.
  • Lower Omega-3's: While farmed fish can be fed an enhanced diet to increase its Omega-3's, there is no way for consumers to know whether one piece of fish contains more healthy fats than another. According to research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, farmed salmon contains two or three times fewer Omega-3's even though it contains more overall fat than wild salmon due to its grain-based diet. The same is is true for other popular farmed fish, such as catfish and tilapia.
Wild-Caught fish
Wild fish, in contrast to farmed, live in open waters and eat a natural diet. Fishermen catch wild fish on open waters, their natural habitat.

Pros of Wild Fish
  • Flavor: Many people prefer the taste of wild fish. Farmed fish do not have as much room to move as their wild counterparts, which reduces the amount of muscle they can develop and affects texture and taste.
  • Appearance: Wild salmon is naturally bright in color due to its food source (krill and other small sea creatures), while farmed salmon is grayish in color and dyes must be added to bring the flesh to an appealing shade.
  • Nutrition: Wild fish are usually healthier (higher in Omega-3s) and less contaminated than farmed fish. Continued ›
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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.

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