A lot of people have been asking us what's the “best” seafood to eat. Words like “best,” “safest,” “healthiest,” and “most sustainable” don’t have one objective definition across the entire seafood industry, so we’ve broken the question down to focus on one key aspect. Farmed vs wild: which one is better?
While there are always exceptions to the rules, wild caught seafood is typically healthier, more sustainable, and more trustworthy than its farmed counterpart. We could write a whole chapter on the problems with farmed fish (and we just might), but today we’ll stick with two important concepts: fish feed and slave labor.
Fish feed is made up of other, smaller fish. In other words, the fish farming industry is adding the step of wild catching smaller fish to process into pellets and feed to farmed fish. But fish feed needs to be cheap since it’s an input to the final product, so it is often fished for and processed by slave labor. (Check out this story that broke in 2015 uncovering a web of slavery in today's modern seafood industry).
Take a look at the above photo. See how the salmon on the left is a bright pink, while the one on the left is more muted? There's a reason the pinkish hue on the left fish is called "salmon pink." That's because the left fillet is wild caught salmon, while the right fillet is store bough Atlantic farmed salmon. Turns out, the most expensive ingredient in farmed fish feed is the pink dye. We're paying more to get fish to look the way we think it's supposed to!
To regulate a healthy farm and keep product valuable, antibiotics, dye, and other unknown chemicals can be added without consumers' knowledge. On the other hand, wild-caught fish have consumed smaller fish naturally, without the added steps of labor and without added chemicals.
But the fact of the matter is that we need sustainable fish farms to account for our growing seafood hunger. There are several fantastic farms combating the industry standard of cheap fish feed for farms, ranging in size and fish variety. There are backyard aquaculture systems like Scott Hendly's Whisper Farms in Pasadena, CA, where tilapia grow in a closed aquaculture system and the fish waste is used to nourish plants and produce. There are also larger farms changing the industry, like McFarland Springs Trout Farms in Susanville, CA, where trout feed on algae-based pellets, instead of eating more questionable fish.
In summary: what matters most is knowing where your fish comes from. As we like to say, with traceability comes accountability. If you want to make sure you’re making the right choice with the fish you eat, make sure you can find out where it came from, and choose wild caught when you can!