What You Need to Know About Farmed Fish

fish, sushiDeclining ocean fish stocks have led to a rapid growth in fish farming. But if you think farmed fish are the answer, you might want to take a second look at its effects.

Carnivorous farmed fish are fed on high levels of fish meal and fish oil. In fact, they require a fish biomass input greater than the fish biomass produced. For the 10 species of fish most commonly farmed, an average of nearly two kilograms of wild fish is required for every one kilogram of fish raised.

Unfortunately, there is an increase in the production trend of carnivorous fish (such as salmon or shrimp) rather than herbivorous or filter feeder fish. Small pelagic fish, such as herring, sardines and anchovies, mainly provide the fish meal and fish oils used for aquaculture feed, increasing pressures on wild fish.

Numbers of popular species such as cod have plummeted; in the Mediterranean, 12 species of shark are commercially extinct. Swordfish in that area, which should grow as thick as a telephone pole, now must be caught as juveniles and eaten when no bigger than a baseball bat. The fish in the seas surrounding Africa and Asia are also in steep decline.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
The fact that global fish supplies are dwindling dramatically is deeply concerning on a number of levels.

In 2003, it was found that the number of large fish, including tuna, marlin, swordfish, sharks, cod and halibut, in the world’s oceans had dropped by 90 percent in just 50 years. This means that only 10 percent of all large fish are left in the ocean.

One of the saddest commentaries I’ve heard on this issue is from Sergi Tudela, a Spanish marine biologist with the World Wildlife Fund, who speaks of the disappearance of giant bluefin tuna (which are prized for making sushi). He says:

"My big fear is that it may be too late. I have a very graphic image in my mind. It is of the migration of so many buffalo in the American West in the early 19th century. It was the same with bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, a migration of a massive number of animals.

And now we are witnessing the same phenomenon happening to giant bluefin tuna that we saw happen with America's buffalo. We are witnessing this, right now, right before our eyes."

Why are Fish Disappearing?

Part of the problem has to do with irresponsible fishing practices, such as trawling, which essentially scoops up everything within range from the ocean floor -- only about 5% of the contents are used, while the other 95% is dumped, dead, back into the ocean. Another problem is that fisheries are simply taking too many fish.

Studies show it takes industrial fisheries only 10 to 15 years to diminish any new fish community they encounter to one-tenth of its original size.

Much of the fish caught nowadays (about one-third) are actually not used for human food at all, but are ground up to be used as agricultural or aquacultural feed.

The solution that seems obvious would be to supplement wild fishing with “sustainable” farmed fish.

But that is a massive misconception.

Farm-raised fish are fed great quantities of fish meal, which comes from wild-caught fish. As the Organic Consumers Association pointed out, for the 10 species of fish most commonly farmed, it takes 1.9 kg of wild fish to produce 1 kg of farm-raised fish.

So instead of taking pressure off of the wild fish supplies, farmed fish are actually adding to it. And there are other problems with fish farms as well, problems that are contributing to the degradation of marine ecosystems. An article in the Los Angeles Times several years ago said it well:

“Fish wastes and uneaten feed smother the sea floor beneath these farms, generating bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures. Disease and parasites, which would normally exist in relatively low levels in fish scattered around the oceans, can run rampant in densely packed fish farms.

Pesticides fed to the fish and toxic copper sulfate used to keep nets free of algae are building up in sea-floor sediments. Antibiotics have created resistant strains of disease that infect both wild and domesticated fish.

Clouds of sea lice, incubated by captive fish on farms, swarm wild salmon as they swim past on their migration to the ocean.”

• Disease and parasites?
• Dangerous amounts of waste?
• Resistant strains of disease?

This sounds a lot like filthy, land-based factory farms to me. And, in fact, experts have begun to call fish farms nothing more than factory farms at sea.

What Else is Lurking in Farm-Raised Fish?

If the environmental concerns alone aren’t enough to make you want to steer clear of farm-raised fish, perhaps the health concerns will be.

Studies have consistently found levels of PCBs, dioxins, toxaphene and dieldrin, as well as mercury, to be higher in farm-raised fish than wild fish. Further, farm-raised fish, like factory-farmed meat, is pumped full of antibiotics, hormones and even chemicals to change their color (such as to make salmon appear pink).

Sadly, contamination of our oceans and waterways is so great that toxic pollutants have been found in wild fish as well, and this is why I don’t advise eating any fish, whether farm-raised or wild-caught, unless you can verify its purity.

What options do you have, then, to get the health benefits of the omega-3 fats in fish, without exposing yourself to pollutants or contributing to the decline of the fish population?

There are two ways. The first is to track down a source of wild fish that is free from toxins, and which is sustainably harvested. After years of research I found one such company, Vital Choice, which offers safe salmon that has less than .1ppm of mercury and no harmful levels of other toxins. Vital Choice works closely with a native Alaskan tribe to ensure the salmon are sustainably harvested during their migration.

The second option is to get your omega-3 fat from an alternative source like krill oil. Not only are krill (small, shrimp-like creatures) a superior source of omega-3, but they are one of the most easily renewable food resources available, making them an excellent nutritional source from an environmental perspective.

Though I know many of you enjoy fish for the flavor and the health benefits, if you can’t confirm that it’s from a clean, sustainable source, I believe the risks from eating it -- both to your health and the environment -- vastly outweigh the benefits.