Farm Raised vs. Wild Caught Seafood – Fishing for Facts

Now that we’re eating real food, I’ve also been trying to swap out meat for fish more often.  But, to tell you the truth, this has been a slow change for us mostly because of two reasons:  1) the kids aren’t always big fans of fish, and 2) I was never really sure what to buy — farm raised (less expensive) or wild caught (more expensive, but possible environmental concerns).  After spending a little time researching (and a little time in the kitchen), I think I’ve found the answer to both issues – how to choose our fish and how to make it taste great!PicMonkey Collage2

When I started researching our fish and seafood supply I was shocked. Did you know that 84% of our seafood is imported, half of it from Asia, and less than 2% of all imported seafood is inspected before it’s sold?

The problem with that is tons of Asian fish are farm raised with antibiotics and fungicides that are banned in the United States because of health concerns. And although you may think the FDA protects you from consuming these fish, the truth is the agency is so overtaxed that according to a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, they tested only one out of 1,000 imported seafood items for only 16 chemicals (Canada tests for over 40 and Japan for 57 chemicals). 1

And if you want to eat shrimp, this might change your mind -they are considered the dirtiest seafood product available.   About 90% of the shrimp sold in the U.S. is imported and, according to Marianne Cufone, Director of the Fish Program at Food and Water Watch, “Imported farmed shrimp comes with a whole bevy of contaminants: antibiotics, residues from chemicals used to clean pens, filth like mouse hair, rat hair, and pieces of insects.”  Ugh.  Definitely stay away from the imported farm raised shrimp!  

What to do?  Depending on the type of fish there are pros and cons to choosing farm-raised and wild caught, but a good rule of thumb (which seems to apply to all real food eating) is:


When I first learned of the contaminants in farm-raised fish I decided to only buy wild caught seafood, but, unfortunately it turns out that a lot of my favorites are actually in danger of being over-fished.  Living in New England, I used to opt for fresh Atlantic caught fish, but according to Cufone  the populations of Atlantic flounder, sole, and halibut are ” less than 1% of what’s necessary to be considered sustainable for long-term fishing”.  A better option is domestically raised tilapia or catfish which is very well managed (this option is also less expensive!).

Wild caught Pacific salmon is always a good bet (but can be expensive).  A less expensive option is farm-raised salmon from Maine or Washington state, just  don’t be misled by labels. For example, did you know it’s illegal to catch Atlantic salmon because of the low populations, so anything labeled “Atlantic Salmon” is most likely farm-raised.

My choices for cod and haddock will continue to be wild caught.

And as for those shrimp, avoid all the contaminated imported shrimp and look for either pink Oregon shrimp which is held to strict guidelines, or shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

When eating out, always ask where the fish comes from.

For a delicious (and easy!) fish dinner recipe, check out my M’organic Crunchy Fish dinner!  And if you have a recipe you love please share it in the comments!








  1. Barry Estabrook, “Hard to Swallow”, Reader’s Digest, May 2014, 71.
This entry was posted in buying seafood, dinner, what to buy.

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