Farmed fish seem to have a bad reputation these days, but should you avoid all farmed fish? Are there any safe kinds? Farmed fish can be bad for our health and the environment for several reasons: One, these fish may be fed contaminated fishmeal. Two, farmed fish kept in areas connected to natural water bodies have on occasion escaped, which can affect the wild populations by competing with them for food and habitat, says the Monterey Bay Aquarium Food Watch. And three, farmed fish tend to be fatter, which the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says causes them to accumulate more PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls], or industrial toxins.
The EWG says that farmed salmon, for instance, contains five to 10 times more PCBs than wild salmon. So while you can’t avoid PCBs altogether in both wild and farmed varieties, the amount tends to be less in wild fish. On the flip side, because farmed salmon generally has more fat, this means it’s also richer in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, Greatist points out.
Farmed fish concerns are real, but the good news is some experts say fish farming practices are getting better, and it’s possible to find healthy options. Some farmed salmon varieties can even be OK if you familiarize yourself with what the labels mean. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) offers a handy Seafood Selector to help consumers make the best choices in farmed and wild fish. Monterey Bay Aquarium also has a Seafood Watch section on its website.
In some cases, farmed fish are actually better for your health and the environment than wild ones. Here are several of the most responsibly farmed fish:
Tilapia farmed in the U.S. is raised in closed tanks to avoid escape issues, the fish are fed a predominantly vegetarian diet and the farms produce minimal water pollution, the EDF says. Ecuador- and Peru-based tilapia also rank high on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Ecuador makes sure not to crowd tilapia fish, resulting in fewer diseases and chemicals. And Peru uses little or no chemicals for its tilapia farming, Monterey Bay Aquarium says.
The EDF rates Arctic char among the best seafood choices. The organization describes this member of the salmon family as an “environmentally friendly alternative to farmed salmon.” Why? Because most char are raised onshore, whereas many varieties of farmed salmon are raised in coastal waters.
Atlantic salmon in land-based tanks
If you do want to eat farmed salmon, opt for Atlantic salmon farmed in closed tanks, as it received the best eco-rating from EDF. This is because of their low risk of spreading disease and escaping into wild habitats. How do you spot them? Look for seafood labels that say “land-based” or “tank-based.”
Bay scallops are mostly farmed in China using suspension nets, which prevents damaging bottom habitat, the EDF says. Monterey Bay Aquarium also rates bay scallops as “best” because the farming practices are eco-friendly and do not use antibiotics and feeds.
Oysters farmed in the U.S., including Eastern, Pacific and edible species, are a great choice. The EDF suggests looking for oysters farmed using suspension systems to avoid doing harm to the bottom habitat. Wild oysters, on the other hand, often use rakes or dredges.
Do you eat any farmed fish? If so, which ones?