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Swimming Upstream: When it comes to fish, go wild

February 9, 2011

Farm Raised vs. Wild Caught.  Is there a difference?  Hook, line and sinker.

When it comes to fish, go wild.

When you sang Old MacDonald growing up, I bet you $100 one of your answers was never ‘had a fish, eieio’.  Now, how did salmon and tuna trade in their tails for the ranching life? 

Before we jump into that pond, an ode for seafood.

We love fish for its versatility, variety, flavor and health benefits.  Omega-3’s found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines have been shown to have a variety of benefits ranging from reducing the risk of heart disease to treating the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. We don’t produce these Omega-3’s on our own, so it’s critical we get them from our food.

So, does it matter whether we opt for wild caught or farm raised fish?  The answer is absealutely.
Wild fish swims in the sea where it’s supposed to, and is usually line caught. 

Farm raised salmon are housed within small pens that are set up in the ocean or in small ponds and are fed with food other than what nature intended.

Think free range chicken, beef, etc.  Same philosophy. So herein lies the problem.  Farm raised fish are:

  1. Confined and medicated: Think of it as a CAFO under the sea.  These farms can stretch as far as four football fields and contain over a million fish crammed together in floating pens.  The overcrowding increases their risk of infection and disease and they’re often given antibiotics to help deter this.  Sea lice have been known to infiltrate these pens, killing young salmon.
  2. Fed funky food pellets:  Instead of being allowed to find their own natural food sources, they’re fed dried food pellets made up of fish oil and fish meal. Salmon farmers give farm raised salmon a similar color by feeding them a synthetic pigment called canthaxanthin. It’s since been banned in Great Britain.  To add to the mix, pellets often contain cancer causing agents as PCBS, dioxins, and even flame retardants.
  3. Nearly void of good Omegas:  Lower omega-3 levels have been found in farm raised, but they also have higher omega-6 fatty acid levels, a pro-inflammatory that you want to try and avoid.
  4. Prone to E.coli contamination:  Because of overcrowded conditions, fish excretions accumulate and have no where to go.  They can enter fish gills and become a threat to their health and those that eat them.

The bottom line?

According to statistics, the most common fish species raised by fish farms are salmon, carp, tilapia, European seabass, catfish and cod and it’s estimated that only about 10% of the salmon on the market in the U.S. is wild.  Although wild fish may be a bit more expensive than farm raised, you get what you pay for. 

What’s a seafood loving soul to do? Dive in.

– Ask where your food comes from. Look for ‘wild caught’ or ‘line caught’ fish at the grocery store and request more from your fishmonger.  If you’re at a restaurant or sushi bar, don’t hesitate to ask if they offer wild caught and let them know you prefer those selections. 

Look for the smoked section.  Most Gravlax and smoked salmon is wild caught and because of the strong flavor, a little goes a long way.  It’s not just for bagels, either. Toss it into your pasta, alongside eggs and atop sliced, sprouted wheat bread with a dab of nonfat greek yogurt, lemon and fresh dill.

Wash and cook it good. Clean your seafood fillets and whole fish with Eat Cleaner All Natural Seafood + Poultry Wash to help cleanse away contaminants, bacteria and pesticide residue.  According to the Environmental Working Group, you can also reduce your exposure  by trimming fat from fish before cooking.  If farm raised is your only option, limit consumption to once a month. Learn more at http://www.ewg.org/reports/farmedpcbs.

Seafood WATCH.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood WATCH program offers updated resources on sustainable selections by the region you live in.  Consult their site and download their guides and iPhone app here.

It’s Fit February here at the Cleaner Plate Club.  Stay seafood savvy and eat your way to better health with us all month long!

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