Often contemplated among seafood lovers is the fresh, as opposed to farm-raised, dilemma. Is there a right answer?
Choosing one might not be as easy as you think. Focusing on what it entails to put the catch of the day on the serving platter, it turns out, is a conversation with issues for both sides of this seafood quandary.
Aquafarms, or fish farms, are producing large-scale amounts of finned favorites in order to meet consumer demands for seafood. Without addressing one of the largest, perhaps eeriest concerns over aquaculture – the genetically modified fish (salmon to be exact), there are other pressing issues to look at on the fish farm.
Waste from farms are known to pollute surroundings as well as contain antibiotic runoff, which warrants the causal question of antibiotic overuse and how this affects natural systems of disease.
Further, studies from the Environmental Working Group have concluded that levels of contaminants like PCB’s and other toxins are significantly higher in farm-raised types of seafood.
Certain varieties may also contain dyes. For instance, much of farm-raised salmon has an additive called canthaxananthin. This is a synthetic dye used to give it a pink hue similar to fresh salmon, which only has to feed on pink krill to get its natural color. As well as having to have a specialized coloring job to make it look like the real thing, it is also less nutritious, containing less protein and more fat.
Farm-raised fish need food, too, and having to account for this massive, unnatural addition to the main menu can add up. For instance, it can use more than double the amount of feed to generate a few fish portions, so it actually takes more than it produces when looking at it this way.
In addition to using more food, fish farms use up lots of space, too. They can also introduce dangerous bacteria and high nitrogen levels, along with the potential for unintended disease distribution.
Wild-caught fish are not without their worries, either.
One large concern over the fresh commercial fishing industry is the use of harmful netting techniques and equipment that is dangerous for sea and land animals, as well as for the fishers and the environment. The nets that scrape the ocean’s bottom for their catch cannot discriminate between what the fishers are trying to rake in, and what living systems, like reef habitats and plant life, lie underneath.
This also lends to by-catch, or the other sea creatures that are netted up without meaning to be caught. By-catch is actually a large part, approximately 25% of a fishing expedition, and this in turn adversely affects inhabitants.
Another process that negatively affects populations is mariculture overfishing, which aids in depleting the natural balance of ocean life.
In order to refine the way fish farms operate, more responsible practices are underway like advanced waste filtering and trying to purify water conditions. Farmers are also considering other food sources to sustain their farms, like those made from renewable plant sources.
New ways to catch fresh varieties are being incorporated into mainstream practices also, like using more sustainable fishing methods as opposed to damaging ones. According to many in the industry, an area in need of improvement is readily available, internationally consistent labeling techniques for all seafood products.
So, if you feel like you are on a teeter-totter ride of the seafood debate and are not sure which to opt for, don’t avoid the seafood section altogether. The dietary benefits of seafood are substantial cause for being a smart consumer and keeping a few things in mind when buying foods from the aquatic realm.
A key consideration in choosing seafood items is whether or not sustainable farming practices, at the farm or in the ocean, were enlisted as it was being raised or caught. Buying from local fish mongers and markets is a good rule if possible, since they may be more likely to tell you where your meal has originated from.
Since there may not be a constant answer to the fresh or farmed question, attentiveness to the methods that yield the product is always a good choice. Above all, the best option is to do thorough research and choose responsibly produced seafood.
For more information regarding safe seafood, check out the following links:
Do a search for sustainable options at Seafood Watch or download their free app, courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have material available for further understanding fishing and farming methods and also offer labeling advice.
Also, the consumer guide to seafood from the Environmental Working Group offers helpful information.
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