Fish farming doesn’t seem like a bad idea as it may prevent a progressive ocean destruction. But fish farming is not seen positively and, slowly, it gains more detractors than supporters. Why is there this negative view about fish farming? There are many factors that feed this idea. Firstly, stocking rates in sea cages can be too high. A small space for too many fish can easily become a breeding ground of infectious diseases.
Secondly, in order to prevent an epidemic, manufactures have to “poison” breeding fish with chemicals. The most popular are antibiotics and biocides, because they keep fish alive. However, the environment in which fish is kept also seems really unhealthy.
The third reason for the bad press that fish farming receives focuses on food that fish eat. Wild fish usually get plankton rich in omega 3- so on. However, captured animals are fed with grains in their floating farms, especially with soy. This goes against nature, because fish would never encounter soy in their natural environment. Soy, corn and other grains are nutritionally poor compared to the variety of smaller fish and other sea creatures that an average wild fish would find and consume in their life. And not only that, this “artificial” food may promote inflammation. Traditionally, fish has gained a good reputation for their anti-inflammatory properties as they are rich in omega 3. Their food, plankton, found wildly, plays a key role in it.
What is plankton?
Plankton are a diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against the current. The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters. They provide a crucial source of food to many small and large aquatic organisms, such as bivalves, fish and whales.
A recent study lead by professor Douglas Tocher at Stirling University in Scotland came up with a worrying outcome (2). Tocher explained to BBC News that “About five years ago, a portion of Atlantic (farmed) salmon of 130g was able to deliver three-and-a-half grams of beneficial omega-3. This is actually our weekly recommended intake. Now, the level of omega-3 has halved”. It is just an example on farmed salmon, however and unfortunately this practice affects the rest of farmed fish.
At this point a question comes up. If farmed fish have been fed with grains, corn and soy, do they preserve their anti-inflammatory benefits? The answer is clear as corn, some grains and soy are pro inflammatory ingredients in a human diet. So, they “may” worsen diseases and inflammation in the body.
Finally, something else to think about when you consider farming methods. As a general practice, farms add colourants to the feed, to make the flesh pinker, fresher and attractive at the fish shop.
Which option is better for your health? Wild or farmed? Wild fish seem a healthier option, although polluted oceans may compromise the quality, especially a high concentration of toxic mercury. Without going into more details about the sea pollution, organic farming looks safer. It has some control on the stocking densities, the cleanliness of waters and also on food given to the fish. Of course, the artificial colourants are prohibited.
As the last note, yes, farming can be a good idea to preserve the aquatic environment, but sometimes a high demand for wild seafood drives fishing manufactures to illegal practices such as bottom trawling, cyanide fishing or muro ami (1).