Something Fishy: Farm Raised vs. Wild Caught Fish

What’s the difference? Which is better?

This post is a bit lengthy, but it’s something I advocate very strongly & want to educate you about as best as possible!

When you think of fish, in terms of food, you immediately think “Healthy”… right?  Salmon, Tilapia, Cod, Sea Bass, and various other types of fish are packed with Omega 3 fatty acids, rich in various types of nutrients, high in protein and all the while being super low in calories and fat. So, what exactly is the problem here?  Well, depending on where your fish comes from, you might be getting a side of antibiotics or PCBs that you’re unaware of.  Salmon farms of some kind make up about 80% of salmon on the market today (In the United States, the number is higher – 90% by some estimates).
I avoid eating salmon at restaurants.  Wild Salmon is too expensive and most restaurants do not serve it.  They serve farm-raised (Atlantic or Scottish) salmon.  I will either get a white fish or opt for a chicken dish instead and save the salmon to cook at home!
Another telltale sign your salmon isn’t wild?  The color!  Farm- raised salmon is much lighter than wild salmon!
Wild salmon on the left, farm-raised salmon on the right.
First, a quick bit about PCBs:

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a group of man-made chemicals. They were widely used in electrical equipment, in industrial processes, and in the manufacture and recycling of carbonless copy paper until research revealed that they pose risks to human health, wildlife and the natural environment. The federal government banned the production of PCBs in 1976, but PCB contamination remains widespread in the environment today because of improper disposal of products containing the chemicals and byproducts of the processes used to make such products.

PCBs bind readily with sediment particles and do not easily dissolve in water. In rivers, PCBs bind to sediment particles one million times more strongly than to water molecules. PCB molecules attached to sediment particles eventually sink to the river bottom, where they are eaten by tiny organisms. Small fish eat these organisms and retain the PCBs they carry in their body fat, and so on up the food chain to larger fish, birds of prey, and people.


Farm Raised- Consists of raising fish commercially in tanks, enclosures and controlled pens across the country usually in lakes, ponds, rivers and oceans.  Due to their compact living situations and feed, they tend to have more diseases and parasites that require antibiotics and pesticides, toxins, artificial dyes and contain more fat then compared to their wild caught versions. With offshore farms, nitrogen and phosphorous from feed and waste lead to algae blooms that can contaminate surrounding water.

Wild Caught – These fish tend to be higher in Omega 3 fatty acids, protein and contain very low levels of disease as well as being free from antibiotics, pesticides & artificial dyes. Wild caught are obviously free to roam about the ocean and find their own food which results in them containing less fat then the farm raised versions.  While mercury can be an issue with wild caught, it can be just as much of an issue with farm raised fish that are raised in the ocean. The only down side is that wild caught fish tend to cost 3-4 times more than farm raised fish.


The verdict:

Like many environmental quandaries, the debate over wild vs. farmed fish doesn’t yield a simple, universal answer. Some fish species are in more danger in the wild than others. Some fish-farming operations are better and more responsibly managed than others, and the same can be true for wild fisheries. If you tend to eat one or two kinds of fish exclusively, check the list below to see which option is best for your favorite finny food. If you like to mix and match your seafood choices, you download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’sSeafood Watch guide to take with you when shopping or dining. Or use your mobile device to log on to

Arctic char
Bay scallops
U.S. Catfish
U.S. sturgeon caviar
Steamer, Littleneck, or Cockle clams
Rainbow trout
Striped bass

Alaskan/Wild Pacific salmon (avoid Atlantic and Scottish salmon; it’s farmed in a destructive manner)
Dungeness or stone crab
Pacific cod (not New England cod)
Pacific halibut (Atlantic halibut is overfished and high in contaminants)
Sea scallops
Shrimp (but farmed U.S. Pacific white shrimp, West Coast white shrimp, or ebi is OK; avoid imported farmed or wild black tiger shrimp, tiger prawn, white shrimp, and ebi)
Spiny lobster from Maine, Australia, and Mexico’s Pacific coast
White seabass (sometimes called “king croaker”)
Yellow perch (preferably from Lake Erie)



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