Does your head ever spin when you’re in the grocery store staring at all the options?
Farmed fish. Organic fish. Wild fish.
We eat fish once a week because of all the healthy fats (and other nutrients) fish provides, however the source matters. Just as it does with anything else we eat. Our choices impact our health and the environmental.
There’s so much conflicting information out there (as with most things nutrition-related!).
So let’s find out which fish is better for us and why.
Conventionally Farmed Fish vs. Organic Farmed Fish
- Organic farmed fish have a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio (which is more desired!) than conventionally farmed fish. Check out the study here
- Both conventionally farmed fish and organic farmed fish live in cramped net in conditions that can pollute the water.
- It is possible for vegetarian fish (like catfish and tilapia) to be organic because the feed can be controlled in organic farms. However, for carnivorous fish (like salmon) it is impossible to determine if the fish they are fed are organic.
- All farmed fish are subject to environmental pollution. This includes transfer of disease between wild and farmed fish, ocean pollution under nets (such as excrement buildup), destruction of ocean habitat and escaped farmed fish becoming an invasive species.
- Antibiotics in farmed fish is not just an environmental issue but also a health issue for humans. Those antibiotics can contribute to the rise of more antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They also contaminate our ocean water. And, if the fish you’re eating were given antibiotics, you’re also ingesting those antibiotics! A 2015 study that compared samples of farmed fish from 11 countries found 5 antibiotics in shrimp, salmon, tilapia, and trout.
- Farmed fish are subject to contaminants like antibiotics (see above), fire retardants, pesticides, dioxins, canthaxanthin (dye to make the flesh more pink), and PCBs. Check out the study here.
What are PCBs?
They are polychlorinated biphenyls: cancer-causing chemicals that get into fish through the processed fishmeal (made from ground up fish) they are fed in fish farms. PCBs can have a negative effect on the immune, reproductive, and endocrine systems. Check out the research from the Environmental Working Group here.
The Bottom Line:
All farmed fish, both conventionally farmed and organically farmed, have negative implications in the areas of environmental pollution, contaminants, and nutritional value.
What about Wild Fish?
Benefits of Wild Fish:
- Less fat. Because wild caught fish aren’t kept in constricted environments like pens or cages, they are able to swim freely and have half the fat that farm-raised fish have. Also, wild fish have more of the heart-healthy and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Safer. Wild fish aren’t force-fed antibiotics and pesticides so they don’t contain the harmful toxins and chemicals that farmed fish do.
- More ethical. Many are concerned about the environmental impact of farmed fish and the unpleasant conditions under which they live. In addition, the water that these farmed fish are raised in contains antibiotics and pesticides, which are then released into the ocean and contaminate other species. Wild fish do not have any ill effects on the environment that they live in, and by consuming them, you will not be contributing to the farm-raised operations.
Health and Nutritional Value of Wild Fish:
- Great source of omega-3 fatty acids which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fight depression and anxiety, promotes brain health as well as bone and joint health
- Great source of protein which is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood
- Good source of vitamin D which helps maintain the health of bones and teeth, supports the health of the immune system, brain, and nervous system, and regulates insulin levels and aids in diabetes management
How to save money on quality fish:
Wild fish is almost always more expensive than farmed fish so here are some cost-saving tips:
- Try frozen fish. Skip fresh fish which is usually more money.
- Try canned fish. Look for wild tuna, salmon, or sardines packaged in BPA-free cans.
Where to buy quality wild fish:
No matter where you go, remember a fish shop shouldn’t smell ‘fishy’. If the fish is fresh, there should be no smell!
- De La Mer, Hooked and Avenue Seafood in Toronto are all great options for finding fresh, wild fish.
- For places outside Toronto, check out your local fishery or farmer’s market. A few other places to explore Nutrafarms, Sea to Table, or French Creek Seafood.
- For canned fish, check out these brands (which can be found at most grocery stores): Wild Planet and Raincoast Trading.
Worried about mercury?
I was worried too! I did the research for you and shared it in this article on whether we need to be concerned about mercury levels in fish.