One of the basic food choices experts recommend for omega-3s is fish. However, not all seafood is created equal, and some of it is downright unhealthy for your body and the environment. Does that mean you should never eat farmed fish? Of course not, but you should be aware of where your food comes from and the practices of farmed sources.
In the last 50 years, the consumption of seafood has risen more than 50 percent, which puts a strain on the sustainability of the fishing industry. The demand for fish continues to grow as the global population rises.
Farmed fish is likely to become a necessity sooner rather than later. Here are 10 facts you should know about it, so you can protect yourself and your family and ensure you eat from only the best sources available.
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1. U.S. Aquaculture Meets Only 21% of Demand
If you live in North America, you might think buying U.S. fish is your best bet, but the problem is that fishing here meets only 21% of the demand for seafood. To keep up with demand, fish must be imported. However, not all countries have the same laws regarding factory farming, and some even harm the environment with their practices. Your first step in fish consumption should be education. Find out which fish farms are responsible and the sources you wish to buy from.
2. Sea Lice Spread Like Wildfire
Factory farmed fish in the United States, Canada, Norway, Scotland and a few other areas attract sea lice, an insect that creates infections and skin issues in salmon. The only way farmers get rid of the parasites is by feeding the fish a pesticide. They also use antibiotics, which impacts the long-term resistance of the fish. The treatments pollute the water in open-net farms. Your best bet is looking for fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The MSC certifies only fisheries supporting sustainable farming.
3. Choose the Right Type of Fish
The kind of fish you eat makes a difference as well. Some types have been raised for thousands of years in fish farms, but are contained in ponds. If you combine smart research into the sustainability of the farm with the right type of fish, you’ll increase your odds of avoiding places that use harmful toxins. Look for varieties such as:
- Atlantic mackerel
- Wild-caught Alaskan salmon
- Black cod
4. Farmed Salmon Are Fed Gross Things
Farmed fish are often fed things that seem highly undesirable and may impact the health of the fish. Some factory farms feed salmon pellets made from things such as fish oil, other fish, poultry feces, soybeans and ground chicken feathers. Wild salmon eat as nature intended, although some of the farming practices have impacted them as they swim past open-net farms.
5. Frozen Is Just as Good as Fresh
Some people think fresh is better, and while that might be true for a slight improvement in taste, frozen seafood provides the same nutrients. One advantage of frozen is that you can research the company in-depth and make sure your fish come from sustainable practices. Even canned seafood, such as tuna, is a viable option. Although canned fish has had some problems in the past, new regulations and better practices mean canned fish is a good option for those on a budget or who don’t have access to fresh.
6. Fish Farming Creates Pollution
Some fish farming creates pollution in surrounding waters. Fish are packed in tightly together, which contributes to the spread of disease. Uneaten feed degrades water quality in the area. Pen systems are the worst culprit, because water is directly exchanged. Closed containment methods work better, since they filter the water and protect the exchange of harmful products.
7. Fish Escape and Change the Ecosystem
Another issue with open-net farms is that fish can escape from the netting. Some of them may not be native to the area and will cause problems with indigenous populations as they compete for resources. The released fish will also breed with the hardier wild stock, but they are diseased and weaker. The resulting offspring may not be as sturdy and will succumb to death more easily, further depleting the supply of seafood in the wild.
In one recent catastrophe, a net pen wasn’t maintained the way it should have been. About 160,000 farmed Atlantic salmon escaped into the Puget Sound in Washington State and then on into the Pacific.
8. Overfishing Is Wiping Out Smaller Fish
Larger fish require smaller ones for food. Factory farms capture little fish to supply their crop with food. This is causing scarcity of seafood like anchovies, krill and herring. In turn, this could harm wild fish that rely on these foragers for their own food sources.
9. Undercutting More Sustainable Options
Farmed fish may be sold for less money since they are mass-produced. This undercuts the fishermen who catch wild supplies or farms using more sustainable methods. While it’s important for consumers to have options for affordable, healthy food, low prices on less desirable fish mean more of those types of fish are grown. Sustainable farms and wild-caught fish suffer in the long term.
There are some areas where fishing is one of the only industries available. Families have worked in fishing for generations, and children are expected to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Farm fishing cuts into jobs and impacts the industry in additional negative ways.
10. Cruelty to Seals
Some fish farms shoot bean pellets at seals who try to get the fish out of their nets. For open-net farms, the large collection of a food source is naturally attractive to other animals. Some fish farms fire beanbag bullets at these seals. Farmers fired 8,700 beanbag bullets at seals near aquaculture farms in Tasmania in recent years. Seals are sometimes blinded or become deaf from the pellets.
Be Aware of Your Sources
You don’t have to give up fish to avoid some of the issues with farms. Be aware of the source of your seafood, and find out which farms use sustainable practices. Buy wild-caught when available and utilize a variety of sources so you gain the benefits of eating fish without the potential dangers.