Aquaculture fish farm production is growing at a faster rate than any other animal agriculture. Farmed fish now account for approximately 50% of the fish eaten in the U.S.. While fish farming is intended to mediate supply and demand concerns, it has placed a further strain on our world’s oceans and contributed to unsustainable fishing practices.

The nutritional benefit of fish is greatly reduced when it is farmed
Wild fish have a high omega-3 content due to a diet full of aquatic plants. This is not the case with farm raised fish which are generally fed corn and soy products. This feed provided to farmed fish has little to no omega-3 content. Additionally, the unnatural corn diet results in an accumulation of the wrong fatty acids! Salmon feed on plankton, small fish, squid and shrimp, so their omega-3 isn’t as determined by consumption of aquatic plants. Despite the high omega-3 fatty acid content still found in farm-raised fish, several other nutritional concerns remain. Continue below to learn more.

salmon chart

According to The Cleveland Clinic, a small 198g fillet of wild salmon has 131 fewer calories and half the fat content of the same amount of farm raised salmon. Additionally, farm raised salmon has 20.5% more saturated fat content. While you can see that there is actually a greater omega-3 content in farm raised salmon, it is mitigated by an omega-6 (an unhealthy fatty acid) content that is 6 times higher than wild salmon. A poor omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is a critical factor in the development of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and many types of cancers, as well as a variety of inflammatory conditions. 

The farmed fishing industry disrupts ocean ecosystems by harvesting prey fish
Larger fish, such as tuna and salmon, have a diet consisting mainly of smaller prey fish. These prey fish are being harvested to near extinction to feed farmed salmon and tuna. Oceana, a non-profit organization focused on sustainable fishing practices, stated “we have caught all the big fish and now we are going after their food”. This harvesting of prey fish has detrimentally effected the diets of whales, dolphins, tuna, bass, salmon, and penguins among other species.

Farmed fish are prone to disease and infection
By packing farmed fish into tight quarters, the poor and unhealthy conditions drive infection, disease, and parasitic proliferation. Sea lice is one of the most profound parasitic infections seen within farm raised aquaculture, and significantly increases the number of lice in surrounding waters. The increase in parasitic lice leads to a reduction in the number of juvenile wild salmon that are able to survive and reproduce. These parasites not only affect the health and quality of farm raised salmon, but also disrupt surrounding oceanic ecosystems.

Farmed fish are full of antibiotics, toxins, and other chemicals
The level of disease and parasitic infection seen in fish farms results in concentrated antibiotics and other chemicals being pumped into the water. Not only are consumers being exposed secondarily to these chemicals, but these toxins also spread into local water ecosystems. The detriment of many of these chemicals has been minimally studied, and we’re now just beginning to understand the havoc they’ve caused surrounding marine life.

When environmental damage is accounted for, fish farming operations create more cost than revenue
Aquaculture is not only ecologically unsustainable, it is also economically unsustainable. The ecological damage caused by aquaculture simply doesn’t warrant the proliferation of such farming practices. If the current rate of farming and unsustainable fishing practices continues, extinction or near extinction of many fish species may occur by 2048. It is important to keep fish consumption wild and continue to monitor, regulate, and improve global fishing practices.

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– Dr. Kyle McKenzie