So, you like to eat fish. Who doesn’t? But if you’re more of a catch-and-release type of fisherman or your wife won’t let you fish as often as you like, you may find yourself eating store-bought fish. With that comes the age-old question: What are you really eating?
Well, the answer is simple, but not really. You may hope that you’ll get wild-caught fish, which is what you imagine most fishermen doing. But the reality is most of the fish you buy in-store will come from aquaculture, better known as fish farming.
You may be thinking about a cute area of open water where some old man in overall flings fish feed over the schools of fish who swim around happily. That’s what farms are after all, right? In fact, fish farms are way more complicated than that.
What is fish farming?
Fish farm are used to mass breed fish that are held in tanks outside of water or enclosures within the water. Fish farming is designed to be a solution to food shortages. Unfortunately, circumstances like overfishing, growing human populations and overall poor practices have been wrecking the oceans and wellbeing of fish.
So, just like some individuals began farming animals like chickens and cows, some people believe that aquaculture is the solution to these shortages. Rather than pulling a beautifully pink salmon from the big ocean blue, fish farmers breed and grow salmon, tilapia and many other fish for the sole purpose of human consumption.
As you might assume, fish farming is pretty successful and extremely efficient (even if dedicated fishermen do not want to admit it). However, fish farming poses a lot of challenges in terms of health, cruelty and environmental impacts.
Confused yet? I know. You’re probably thinking “Is this good or not? Just give me the answer!” Unfortunately, that’s something you won’t find here. Fortunately, you will find some cold hard facts so that you can make up your mind about it yourself.
Advantages of Fish Farming
There are some advantages associated with moving toward fish farming as a means to meet the demand for fish as a source of food. Some of the benefits are outlined below.
Potential to Feed Large Populations
As the human population grows (and if you didn’t know that it’s booming, where have you been?) so does the need for sources of food, especially sources of protein. While trying to help meet that need through wildlife fishing may sound nice, it’s actually wearing out the ocean. Humans are fishing too quickly for nature to keep up, leaving many of these species endangered.
Fish farms, however, are designed to be more efficient than wildlife fishing. Because the farmers can control water quality, limit the threat of predators and feed the fish on their own schedules, more fish can be produced and harvested. With this technique, humans will be able to feed more people while the natural fish populations replenish.
More Affordable Fish
Fish farming has a second benefit, and that’s the price for the consumer. This one isn’t as complicated.
Overall, farmed fish is easier to get so it costs less than wild-caught fish. The less of a species there is, the more manpower and labor is needed to catch them. The more effort it takes to catch a particular fish, the more expensive it will be.
With fish farming, you bypass all of that and control supply and demand more efficiently. That way, you can actually afford to eat all the fish your doctor recommends.
Potential Health Benefits
Eating fish can provide plenty of health benefits. Fish have omega-3 fatty acids in them which are believed to prevent heart problems.
Some studies also suggest that pescatarian diets may help prevent diseases such as colon cancer. By making fish farming more available, more people can incorporate fish into their weekly meals and reap the benefits that a fish-heavy diet provides.
Disadvantages of Fish Farming
Although there may be some benefits to fish farming, don’t jump in the tank so soon. Many folks also have some reservations about fish farming.
One of the biggest concerns about fish farming is whether it hurts the environment. Now, I know I just mentioned that fish farming exists as an alternative to exhausting the ocean’s resources by over-fishing.
But that is only true to a certain extent. Larger breeds of fish, such as salmon, feed on smaller fish like anchovies. That means that we still have to exhaust a lot of wildlife in order to produce some kinds of fish farms.
There are also concerns about pollution. Rapidly growing fish populations also produce large amounts of waste that can contaminate the water.
Contaminations in the water of any kind can threaten the marine ecosystem. That means that fish farmers will have to develop creative solutions to limit these contaminations.
Animal Welfare Concerns
As a fisherman, you probably have a strong respect for fish and animals in general. Fishing is a way to connect with nature. Some animal-rights groups have voiced concerns about the treatment of fish in these farms.
For one, large amounts of fish are held in very small enclosures, preventing them from swimming long distances or living natural lives. The fish that live in farms are also more likely to contract diseases and deformities. There’s even some evidence that the fish that live in farms have depression, which can show up in the physical characteristics of some of the fish.
Finally, although some studies argue that fish cannot actually feel pain, we don’t know whether or not this is true. It may be a real problem for fish to be kept in tanks their whole lives.
Potential Health Concerns
There are some concerns that farm-raised fish will not pose the same health benefits as wild-caught fish, and may even come with some health risks instead. Because diseases spread between fish in fish farms far more easily than it does in the wild, there may be risks to humans.
Most farms treat their fish with medicines or antibiotics to prevent diseases. However, we also don’t know how that can impact the people who can consume them.
That’s not all — some researchers think there may be a difference in the nutrients of farmed fish compared to wild-caught fish. However, that will take more research to determine completely.
Your best bet for getting your fish-fix in when you can’t catch one yourself is just to vary your choices. Try to purchase a mixture of farm-raised and wild-caught fish and stay as educated as possible.