Wild Caught vs. Farmed Fish

Swai Fish

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Each year, the United States imports about 90% of the fish we eat. That means most of the fish you see on your table came from somewhere else and you may not know if it was farmed or wild caught.

From a nutritional standpoint, both farm-raised and wild-caught are healthy sources of protein and essential fatty acids. So for the most part, your choice between farmed or wild caught fish will have to do with economic or environmental issues.

Wild-Caught Fish

Wild-caught fish includes all fish and seafood caught in nets, traps, or with fishing lines, among other methods. Humans have harvested wild fish and seafood for millennia. Fish and shellfish are considered renewable resources, because under normal conditions they can replenish their populations naturally.

The problem, however, is that an increase in the demand for fish and seafood is causing overfishing. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration watches over fisheries in the United States and uses scientific methods to manage fish populations to prevent overfishing. That's certainly a good thing, and one way to help sustain wild fish populations is to increase the availability of farmed fish.

Farmed Fish

Farmed fish are raised in enclosed areas or tanks. About half of the seafood consumed throughout the world is farm-raised, and aquaculture (the cool word for fish farming) is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. According to Eat Wisconsin Fish, a trade organization for Wisconsin fish farmers, China ranks number one in aquaculture production and the U.S. ranks 13th. Catfish, trout, salmon, tilapia, and hybrid striped bass are the five most farm-raised fish in America.

Farmed fishing may be beneficial because it can take pressure off over-fished areas and allow depleted wild fish populations to return. Farmed fish, such as salmon, can be as high or higher in omega-3 fatty acids than their wild cousins, because their feed is composed of plants, grains, and fishmeal, which contains omega-3s and makes them fattier.

The Downside of Farmed Fish

Aquaculture can have an effect on the environment. While fish farming in the U.S. is regulated, that's not the case for all other countries. Since the U.S. imports most of its fish, it's difficult to know if the fish you're buying came from a sustainable farm or not.

As far as flavor, color, and texture, there may be slight differences due to the types of feed given to the farmed fish, but that's not really a downside, just a difference and matter of personal preference.

Nutritional Comparison

There may be some minor nutritional differences between farmed and wild caught fish, but not enough to proclaim one or the other as unhealthy. For example, if you compare the nutrition profile for raw farmed channel catfish with raw wild channel catfish, you'll find the wild catfish has more vitamin D and potassium, but the farmed fish has slightly more polyunsaturated fats. The wild catfish has a little more protein and the farmed has a few more calories, but all in all, either fish is a healthy choice.

In the case of salmon, raw Atlantic farmed salmon has more polyunsaturated fats, including more eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, compared to raw wild salmon, because it is fattier. It also has a few more calories. 3 ounces of wild salmon has 121 calories compared to 3 ounces of farmed salmon that has 177.

Which Fish Are Safer?

One of the biggest concerns with eating fish food is the potential for mercury contamination. But the species that are most prone to mercury problems are large fish. Swordfish, tilefish, shark, ahi and bigeye tuna, and king mackerel are among the fish most likely to contain large amounts of mercury, whereas catfish, salmon, and trout are less likely to be a concern.

A Word From Verywell 

Unless you're a vegan or vegetarian, it's important to incorporate more fish and seafood into your diet because it's high in protein, zinc, and healthy fats without being high in calories and saturated fats. Both farm-raised and wild-caught fish are good choices for a balanced diet, the choice you make will probably depend on your views on the environment and sustainability. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch is an excellent resource for seafood recommendations and the environment.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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