As a kid I remember getting up at the crack of dawn with my dad, and with fishing poles in hand, we walked to the Atlantic ocean with high hopes of catching our dinner. If successful, we would enjoy fresh-caught blowfish, snapper, flounder, or bluefish with home grown vegetables for dinner. We loved living off the land (and sea), for a few weeks each summer! Now, as an adult, out of convenience, I purchase seafood locally at markets.
Eating seafood continues to gain popularity in the U.S. Annually, we increased our consumption from 11 pounds (1968) to 19 pounds (2020). Nutritionally, this is great news! Seafood is an excellent source of high-quality protein, is low in fat and high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are heart-protective. But, meeting the rising demand for these aquatic powerhouse foods is challenging, nationally and globally.
Aquaculture or ‘fish farming,’ has been successful in increasing the seafood supply. However, many questions have been raised about ‘farming our fish.’ As a registered dietitian, I often receive and respond to questions regarding wild-caught versus farm-raised seafood. For example:
Are farm-raised fish safe to eat?
Like all foods, there are food safety hazards associated with seafood. Farmed-raised and wild-caught seafood can be safe to eat; however, it’s important to consider the source. Seafood from the U.S. has high inspection standards and is closely regulated. This may not be the case in other countries. Contaminants have been found in both. Antibiotics and toxins have been found in some imported farmed seafood and mercury and pollutants have been found in some wild-caught fish.
Does farm-raised fish have the same nutrient quality?
Like farm animals, the nutritional quality of fish depends on what they eat. Wild-caught fish consume diets natural to their habitat (ocean, lake, stream) and can be lower in calories and saturated fat than farm-raised varieties. Farmed fish may be slightly higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids but also saturated fats, which should be limited.
How do I know if I am buying or eating farm-raised fish?
Check COOL (Country Of Origin Label). It’s required on all fresh or frozen seafood sold in the United States. Frozen seafood will also have a label indicating where the fish was packaged. Read the label carefully. Fish caught or farmed from another country can be packaged in the U.S.
Wild-caught or farm-raised? The choice is yours. Read the labels and do your research so you can make informed choices about your seafood. Check out the Seafood Nutrition Partnership for some great recipes!