Dr. Dorman Asks: Is it okay to eat farmed fish?

August 19, 2021

Do you enjoy eating seafood? There is a good chance that fish or shrimp you enjoyed recently were raised in an aquaculture facility – also known as a fish farm. 

Fish is a wonderful protein option, yet most of us don’t know much about how fish are raised and may have heard inaccurate information. I spent some time with Benny Shapira, an aquaculture expert, to help answer some common questions about fish farming.  This is a summary of our conversation. 

What is aquaculture? 

Aquaculture is the practice of raising fish in containment. It is practiced in many different ways and takes place around the world. Farmed fish species are now produced inland or in the sea. The fish are raised in freshwater, saltwater, or brackish water – which has less salinity than seawater, but more than freshwater – depending on the need of the species. Some fish, such as salmon, are raised within large pens in the open sea while others are raised in tanks, ponds, or raceways 

Is aquaculture common? 

Aquaculture is one of the most rapidly growing segments of food production, for very good reasons. While some fish still originate from natural waters, farmed fish are becoming widely available.  

Are farm-raised fish safe to consume? 

Many times, people assume that wild-caught fish is healthier because it seems more natural. Farmed fish is just as healthy and just as safe – and in some cases even safer – than wild-caught. 

The habitat on fish farms is closely monitored to create optimal conditions. Fish farmers work with veterinarians to make sure the fish are healthy.  

In contrast, we know that parts of the oceans and lakes of the world have a high level of contaminants. This unfortunate condition impacts the fish who live in these waters. For instance, bottom-feeder fish may be exposed to pollutants in their environment. These contaminants may be passed on to humans when the fish is consumed.  

What do the fish eat? 

Fish in aquaculture systems are given feed that is formulated and balanced for optimum nutrition with very little chance of contamination. The fish reach market at a younger age, usually 9 to 12 months, which further reduces the risk of exposure to environmental pollutants. 

Is farmed fish nutritious? 

Seafood is a healthy form of protein. It is low in saturated fat and cholesterol.  According to the FDA website, fish are part of a healthy eating pattern and are a good source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron and other minerals like selenium, zinc, and iodine. 

Fish raised in aquaculture facilities still have all these healthy attributes. Farmed salmon, in many cases, are richer in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than wild-caught salmon. Farmed salmon may have more of these beneficial omegas because of the formulation of their diet. 

Is fish farming sustainable? 

Absolutely! Aquaculture is very efficient – meaning that it takes fewer resources to produce protein. Many people in the world today have more protein in their diet thanks to fish farming. Aquaculture also protects wild fish populations from overfishing. 

When you enjoy farmed fish, you can be confident that you are having a safe, sustainable – and delicious– meal!