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What You Need to Know Before You Ever Order Fish at a Restaurant

Jean-Michel Cousteau explains why the common practice of farming carnivorous fish like salmon is devastating marine life, and why fish farming in general is a bad idea.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Farmed fish is now so common, if you bought fish in the supermarket recently or ordered one in a restaurant, chances are it was born in a pen. About the only ones that don’t use farmed fish as their primary fish source are specialty fine-dining fish restaurants. But these oceanic feedlots, acres of net-covered pens tethered offshore that were once considered a wonderful solution to over-fishing, may in fact not be such a great idea after all.

The Many Drawbacks of Fish Farming

Fish farming turns out to have many drawbacks, some of which can directly impact your health, and our environment. Other hidden costs of mass-producing these once wild fish are now also coming into focus.

Mr. Cousteau brings up an excellent point in this video, and that is the utter irony of farming carnivore fish, such as salmon, which feed on other fish. According to Cousteau, to get one pound of salmon, you need 2.2 pounds of wild fish to produce its feed!

“It is the least sustainable approach to farming I can think of,” he says.

I agree.

But, in addition to being an unsustainable practice and an economic disaster, farm raised fish can also spell disaster for your health.

All farm-raised fish are fed a concoction of vitamins, antibiotics, and depending on the fish, synthetic pigments, to make up for the lack of natural flesh coloration due to the altered diet. Without it, the flesh of caged salmon, for example, would be an unappetizing, pale gray.

Pesticides are also fed to the fish, and toxic copper sulfate is frequently used to keep nets free of algae. These toxins then build up in sea-floor sediments. In fact, industrial fish farming raises many of the same concerns about chemicals and pollutants that are associated with feedlot cattle and factory chicken farms.

These “floating pig farms" make a terrific mess. Fish waste 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. As a result, the excessive use of antibiotics has created resistant strains of disease that now infect both wild and domesticated fish.

Sea lice, a type of crustacean that is easily incubated by captive fish on farms, have also become a significant problem. To deal with it, chemicals that have not been tested for safety on other species are now being used in salmon farms.

But, as Mr. Cousteau points out, what will these untested chemicals do to all other crustaceans, such as shrimp, crab and lobster? After all, these pens are in open water.

So far, no one knows.

New Ideas and Potential Solutions are in the Works, But Will They Work?

Mr. Cousteau also mentions that new ideas and solutions are being implemented in some areas, such as locating fish farms on land, in the area where it will be sold. That will eliminate the need for lengthy transports, reducing emissions, and guarantee freshness. It also gives complete control of the farm environment, and would help protect the oceans at least to some degree.

Personally, I still see drawbacks with this solution, as disease and parasites would still likely be a common problem due to crowded pens. And, where would the waste get hauled off to?

What are Your Options?

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.

Sadly, contamination of our oceans and waterways is so great that toxic pollutants are found in ever increasing amounts 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 and excessive amounts of antibiotics, and contributing to the decline of the fish population and destruction of the environment?

These days I recommend you 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.

I am so convinced of this position that I hardly ever eat fish anymore, let alone eat it in a restaurant.