Farmed vs Wild Caught Fish


The farm raised vs wild caught fish debate gets fishy.   There are several types of farmed fish that vary in cultivation methods.  To maximize the health benefits of fish it is important to eat high quality low contaminant fish.  Fish is naturally an excellent source of healthy fats.  The problem is that farm raised fish are much like processed foods to the body.  They are much harder to digest and do not contain the health benefits that real foods do.  Eating farm raised fish can be just as bad for your health as it is for the environment.  There are many sources that justify unsustainable fish farming practices disregarding the serious consequences that are associated.  Eating healthy should be easy.  Find out how to pick the best fish for your health and the environment by choosing sustainable options.

What is the problem with farm raised fish?

From low nutrition and birth defects, to environmental harm farm raised fish has many  opponents.  The 2 most important problems relating to fish farming practices include include damages to to environment and human health.  

  1. The amount of  bad fats and contaminants in farmed fish outweigh the nutritional value provided.
  2. Farm raised fish strains the environment and ecosystems. 


The most profitable practices behind harvesting farmed fish cause long term harmful effects to the environment and human health.  There are various types of fish farms:  in contained tanks, in pond systems, or offshore in cages.   Currently the most common practice for fish farming involves open-net cages or pens placed in rivers or oceans.  Farmed fish are fed a combination of soy, wheat, and corn.  Larger fish that would prey on other fish in their natural habitat are fed this combination along with fish meal and fish oil.   The problem with this practice is just as Frances Moore Lappe argued about grain fed cattle more than 30 years ago, a reverse protein method.  It requires more input in pounds of protein being fed to these animals than what they produce.  Also, the foods and oils are low quality and do not yield naturally healthy fish.

The nutritional content between farmed and wild fish varies.  Wild fish have unlimited access to algae and therefore get their energy at the most basic and pure level.  Whereas the supplemented nutrients in farmed fish are more difficult for them to break down and absorb.  Sometimes when the nutritional value is compared people praise farm raised for higher levels of vitamin C.  However one must keep in mind that just how food based supplements are created and digested differently than synthetic isolated nutrients within humans the same goes for fish.  The refined vitamins the fish get are robbed of all the extra nutrients they naturally come with that help the necessary nutrients travel to the internal organs where they are most needed.


Current aquaculture methods mislead many people in a few ways.  They are mostly led to believe that they are eating healthy and helping preserve fisheries and nature when in fact they are not sustainable.  The fish are raised in an unnatural environment and do not follow the traditional life cycle for fish.  As a matter of fact, the living conditions within farmed fish are controlled to the extent of knowing the exact harvest date and weight of an entire batch!

A simple way to approach it is by noting important factors such as the where the fish are being raised and what they are being fed.  The conditions are more than often crowded and filthy because it is difficult for the water to ever fully flush since there are many fish packed into the pens or nets.  This is a problem to even the fish farmers who have to continuously increase their use of antibiotics and pesticides because the diseases and substances in the water lead to death in the pens which onsets a cycle of more disease and waste within the remaining fish.  Surely people looking to gain optimal health by eating more fish will reconsider eating farm raised if they know the facts behind most fish farms and their methods.

DDT, PCB’s, and dioxins accumulate in farmed fish.  This is a direct result of these toxins being present in pens within the feed and antiobiotics.  These three are part of the dirty dozen of POPs, persistent organic pollutants.  The dirty dozen is a list of the most harmful chemicals to stay away from created in a United Nations treaty that the US along with 90 other countries signed in Sweden to protect the environment and citizens of the world. Pesticides and genetically modified foods are linked to fertility problems and birth defects, more about reproductive toxicology (source).

DDT is an insecticide that was used on crops and animals, most known to cause the endangerment of bald eagles in the US.

PCBs are used for a variety of purposes ranging from electrical work to plastics and fluids.

Dioxins are a group of chemically related compounds that are found as trace contaminants in herbicides, preservatives, and PCB mixtures. (Source)

Environmental problems with farmed raised fish

The main argument and reason people advocate for this practice is that wild life will not be depleted when farming fish and other seafood.  Unfortunately, it is impossible to contain much behind the nets so wild life afar and around the pens suffer the toxicity of the substances they wouldn’t naturally be exposed to within their habitat.  Aquaculture systems still continue to grow because of how profitable the industry techniques are.   Farmed fish are both  fed and treated with high doses of antibiotics, pesticides, and heavy dyes.  In the pens the salmon are crowded and live amid disease, feces, and parasites.  The waste the fish in these cages push out into the ocean contaminates the local ecosystem.  This causes serious harm and is destroying marine life.  The wild fish around these cages become poisoned by the massive amounts of waste being flushed.  Around the perimeters of the pens a cloud of sea lice especially (among other parasites) forms.   Typically fish farms are placed in the migration routes of wild salmon.  When the baby salmon are on their way to the ocean they have to swim through rivers and waters surrounding the farms.  During this stage they are about the size of a AAA battery and have not developed scales yet.  Here is where they are most vulnerable to the millions of sea lice around them.  Sea lice attach to their prey feeding off their skin, blood, and mucous.  With a decline in the fish population animals within their ecosystem will suffer as well.  We must take into consideration that fish also feed animals in or near rivers and waters such as bears, larger fish, whales, sharks, tuna, salmon, etc.  If one part of the ecosystem is harmed, starting with the water and food supply the rest will soon be in danger.   The over fishing of small fish to feed the farms has already diminished the food supply for animals in nature.  As for the farmed fish that are fed small wild fish along with the other fish food, the nutritional content of these is indeed higher than when solely grain and soy fed.  However, the use of antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals is still equally present and a threat.

Sea lice from farmed fish has eradicated 70% of annual wild salmon runs.

One to three sea lice are enough to kill a young wild salmon.

Female sea lice carry 500 eggs!  Not only do they spread within young wild salmon quickly but carry disease from the farmed salmon to the adult wild salmon who will soon spawn.


When can fish be bad for your health?

Aquaculture production techniques include a range of systems that vary in intensity.  The research and facts presented are based on the most commonly used method: open-net pen systems.  Ideally fish farming would be done using recirculating systems.  This method is part of the closed systems therefore will not send the waste out into the ocean or nearby rivers.  This system is the most environmentally friendly, water flow is controlled by pumps that carry the water to a reservoir then waste is extracted, and the water recycled.  The complexity of this system makes it the most expensive, therefore less common.

Industrial fish farms are not alike smaller ponds that people may build.  In fact, some people looking to take approaches towards responsible living farm raise fish in their homes and fertilize the soil in their garden with the waste from the pond.   This method has been tested and found very efficient in a fish farm in Arizona (ran by the University of Arizona).  The farm is remote, and the water and excrements from the fish are recycled and used to water a field of crops.  Fertilizers are not necessary because the water already includes it.  Healthy fish is the key.  A natural diet for them means higher quality fertilizer in the garden/field and preserving of the soil for future use with other crops.

Fish is the symbol of lean healthy eating.  It provides a ton of benefits to the brain and rest of the body, but the more common farm raised fish becomes the more people that question how healthy it really is and whether or not it can be dangerous.  The concern is both in the damage it causes the environment and human health.  Their lack of wild diet leads to decreased amounts of nutrients by up to 50% in Omega 3 fatty acids.  More than half of the seafood products being sold around the world are farmed and that is expected to increase.  It is a scary statistic and it is definitely correlated with the rising health problems all around the world including especially  the growth rate of autoimmune disease in both adults and children.

The problem is that fish has become the standard when opting for fresh healthy meat but a lot of the fish being sold at super markets and grocery stores is the opposite.

For optimum health people should avoid consuming heavily processed and especially genetically modified foods.  Essentially people are unknowingly consuming gmos from the fish that they are eating.  Farmed fish are usually fed soy and grains such as corn, rice, and wheat.  These are the most processed and genetically modified foods in the world.  Studies have shown that the DNA of people ingesting foods grown with the very popular gmo RoundUp (glyphosate) becomes altered and contains it as well.  In a circumstance like this fish can be bad for your health because of the effects of gmos and unbalanced diet and lifestyle these fish are exposed to.  The stress, disease, medicine, and especially bacteria from fish harvested under unsustainable methods make it toxic for human consumption.

In conclusion, fish can be bad for your health when it comes from unsustainable and unreliable sources.  There is a process behind getting seafood products to local grocery stores and markets.  If it seems like an unfair process that disrupts nature far more than needed the choice to purchase is yours.

Use this guide as a quick reference when at the grocery store to identify farm raised fish.

#1 Farmed Fish in the World – Carp

Carp are the most farmed fish in aquaculture.  You are guaranteed to find a variety of carp in almost any supermarket you step into.  Carp are various species of freshwater fish that usually have thick lips and barbells near the mouth.  They do not eat other fish, and can be contained in tanks or pens for fish farming.  This helped carp become the #1 most farmed fish in the world as they can be farmed almost anywhere.  China is currently the largest exporter of carp.  There are about 30-35 strains of domesticated common carp in Europe (Source).  

#2 Farmed Fish in the World – Salmon

This oily fish has become a staple in health meals.  Its no surprise that salmon are the second most farmed fish in the world!  The global demand continues to increase as more and more salmon farms pop up all over the world. British Columbia, Norway, and Chile are mass producers of farmed salmon.  98% of the salmon feedlot industry in British Columbia is owned by the Norwegian government.  However, Norway has advised for young women of childbearing age to stay away from farmed salmon as farmed salmon is very new and toxins can be easily passed through placenta in the womb.

#3 Farmed Fish in the World – Tilapia

Tilapia is the third most farmed fish, but also one of the most intensive.  The upside is that tilapia are usually farmed in contained systems where the water will recycle and is sometimes reused for other purposes.  The scary problem is that farmed tilapia contain steroids!  They are fed a male hormone to ensure that the whole batch within a tank is male and that there is no breeding other than what the fish farmers allow which takes place away from the tanks.


Tilapia farming

Tilapia is favorited and known for its mild taste and firm texture.  Recent information about modern aquaculture methods has falsely led many  people to believe that it began being farm raised within the last decade.  However, tilapia farming practices go back as far as 4000 years ago to small scale tilapia farming in Egyptian ponds for pharaohs.  It is now the third most farmed fish in the world after salmon and carp.  The methods used range from very simple to extremely complex.  Some techniques  of farming tilapia include adding inorganic substances to “speed up nature” and “make sure everything goes as planned” according to fish farmers.  This includes feeding the infant tilapia a male steroid (17alpha-methytestosterone).  

Typically the fish in tanks go through several stages.  At the beginning stage the fry as they are called are fed a male hormone.  Next they are in the tanks preparing for the next stage. A fish pump pulls the fish up out of the tanks and “sizes” the fish.  This is called the purging stage.  The smaller fish fall through the tubes and are sent back into the tanks while the larger ones are slid across  a conveyer belt that will take them to another tank/room in the facility.  Here is where the environment and feed is altered and the fish is prepared and shipped to the retailers.

Why are tilapia being fed steroids?

The environment of farm raised tilapia is controlled to an exact harvest date.  For an easier harvest fish farmers create a pool of only male fish.  This ensures that there is no mating within the batch and that all of the fish are the same age, weight, etc. In a natural setting fisherman collect fish that vary is size, age, and of course gender.

What sounds like an ideal business plan is in fact a recipe for disaster.  The hormone will have been digested by the time the fish is harvested but the residue is left in the areas and poses health risks to people who work and live within the waters.  Both males and females are affected by the offset of hormones in their body when they come in contact with concentrated amounts of residual steroids in the waters.  PCOS, among other illnesses result from hormone imbalances.

Wild Salmon vs Farmed Salmon

Salmon are one of the most profitable and fastest growing seafoods produced by aquaculture.  The global demand for salmon has been dramatically increasing as a result of more people aware of the health benefits it provides.  It is now the second most farmed fish in aquaculture and the annual output has grown to 1 million metric tons in just two decades.  This is the reason many scientists are weary of the sale of farmed salmon.  The feed contains ingredients that are not always optimal for the carnivorous fish.  Different salmon farms around the world follow different practices.  Some opt for cheap inexpensive feeds that will result in malnourished unhealthy and unattractive fish which will need the additives that are harmful to provide color and help the fish keep.  Farmed salmon is fairly new.  The long term effects are hard to identify because the practices only date back to the mid 90’s.  So far increased obesity, sensitivities, allergies, immune disease, deformities in children, fertility issues, early cancer, among others have been recorded.


Looking at the side by side comparison of wild-caught salmon and farm-raised salmon there is a big difference in appearance.


The wild salmon has:

  • deeper color
  • less and thinner fat lines

Salmon health benefits:

The numerous health benefits of salmon make it the most popular choice of seafood.  It is an excellent source of the oil soluble vitamins A, B, and D and is high in calcium, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and Omega-3.  It helps dilate blood vessels, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce triglycerides, among other things.   Eating salmon helps protect your bones by preventing bone and joint diseases like osteoarthritis.  Because of its rich calcitonin levels, it helps promote bone density by enhancing the intake of calcium.

Eating salmon regularly is recommended by doctors for a healthy balance of Omega-3.  However this can overshadow other nutrients such as a day’s worth of Vitamin D per serving!  Here is an easy way to add wild salmon to your diet.  Try this Easy Baked Salmon Recipe for the perfect balance of fats and proteins.


Benefits of Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids are one of the most studied and recommended nutrients because of long list of health benefits.   They provide relief to common health issues as well as lesser known and more serious conditions.  The best way to get them is from real foods.

Both Omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are proven to maintain vitality and health.  DHA is vital for early brain development and maintenance which is why infants, pregnant women, and  any person really benefits from eating salmon.  Studies have proven that Omeega-3 plays a major role in the part of the brain that controls anger, stress, and anxiety.  When supplemented with Omega 3’s the control group had lower rates of the stress chemical corticosterone.

A few of the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Promote high quality sleep and rest by regulating melatonin levels. Source
  • Prevent cancer! DHA interferes with protein migration and integration to cells. Source

“We found that DHA interfered with the ability of the protein to get where it needs to go in the cell,” says Dr. Chapkin. “Altering the migration patterns of protein within cells may reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.

  • Nourish and protect the skin our  largest organ.  Omega-3 helps in preventing and acne and wrinkles by maintaining a healthy cell membrane.
  • Reduce pain associated with osteoporosis, arthritis, and fibromyalgia by strengthening the bones and lowering inflammation which is the main culprit of many of bone and joint conditions as well as other autoimmune disorders.
  • Heart health; a high intake of healthy fats reduces the risk of heart disease.  Omega-3 helps reduce triglycerides, slow the build up of plaque within the arteries, lower blood pressure, and ultimately prevent an irregular heart beat.
  • Weight loss; high fat diets actually help lose weight.  Read more about how fats and oils affect your health and why you should include them in every meal.

For a quick and easy way to intake Omega-3 fatty acids consider cooking your foods with ghee, a staple in Indian cooking and Ayurvedic tradition.  It rich is in good fats, containing Omega-3 among other nutrients and has a great taste, nutritional benefits, and medicinal qualities.