Ask A Nutritionist: Farm Raised or Wild Caught Fish?

Ask A Nutritionist: Farm Raised or Wild Caught Fish?

If you ever go to a local restaurant in Decatur, Alabama, there is often a sign that is sitting on top of, below, or beside the health inspection grade. The gist of them say “Under Alabama Law, you are legally allowed to ask if fish is farm-raised or wild-caught”. When you grow up in an area that has a sign like this displayed every Sunday lunch, you get used to it but a little baffled on occasion. What does a fish farm look like? Why do we care where they come from? Do people even pay attention to that sort of thing?

With fish being on the rise in popularity as a healthy meat source, these questions are becoming more relevant. So, we should find the answers to them. From defining what a fish farm is, to figuring out which is better, this is the answer to those questions.

What are Fish Farms?

Whenever you hear the word ‘farm’ you usually think of a strip of land in the middle of nowhere, a rickety barn with owls and mice, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, etc. Maybe plant life if you live near them. It turns out, farms can be for aquatic life too.  The term for this is either pisciculture or aquaculture, and this is something that existed for centuries. The earliest evidence of fish farming dates back to before 1000 BCE in China for aesthetic/religious reasons. Carp was a sign of good fortune, godliness, and blessings. They eventually farmed it for food under the permission of the Emporer 500 years later. Eventually, this expanded into the practice of creating oyster farms for Ancient Rome, and fish being farmed for the nobility and monasteries during the Middle Ages.

Today, 633 million lbs of freshwater and saltwater fish/mollusks are farmed in the United States per year.  It is a 1.5 billion dollar industry and we only rank 16th in national aquaculture production. Something conducted on this large a scale has to have its own environmental controversy or drawbacks. Or at least it requires a lot of regulation to make sure that the production is safe. That is where the State and National Department of Fish and Wildlife Services come in.

But what are some of the things that the Department of Fish and Wildlife have to worry about? What could be a threat to farm-raised fish?

Nutrition Issues with Farm-Raised and Wild-Caught Fish

Salmon has a lot of health benefits, including healthy fats and minerals. It is popular enough to be both enjoyed wild and part of the farm fish industry.  A lot of people want to eat it as part of a healthy diet, but it isn’t without complications.

salmonFarm-Raised Fish are Fattier

There is a decrease in nutritional quality with farm-raised fish. This is no fault of the farmers necessarily. When any animal lives in an environment with limitations,  eventually they will change on a genetic level.

There is an increase in harmful fats with farm-raised fish and a decrease in minerals in comparison to their wild counterparts. This is because when fish are allowed to roam in the wild, they are less likely to eat from the predictable food supply, keeping them lean and giving them a varied diet. This means farmed salmon will have more calories and fewer minerals due to their predictable and reliable diet. This, however, is nothing to be worried about. It is still healthier than other fattier types of meat like beef.

 The Threat of Poisonous Metals

Another bigger issue with fish is the threat of trace metals that are poisonous to ingest including mercury. Up until a little less than 100 years ago, salmon, farm raised fishwe didn’t know that mercury was a poisonous metal. We found that out the hard way after we used it in hat making. So, when we hear the word mercury, it leaves most people feeling cautious. While studies have concluded that it found three times over in wild fish compared to farm-raised fish. While the studies say that it is not enough to harm a healthy person alone, there have been warnings in the past to people with weak immune systems and pregnant women.


Knowing all this, the choice is yours. The benefits are there, but so are the risks. If you can afford and really want wild raised salmon, then enjoy. If you can’t and get some farm-raised, it’s still better than beef.