Wild Caught vs. Farmed Fish

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Each year, the United States imports about 90 percent 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, there isn't much difference between the two types of fish, so 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. 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. According to Eat Wisconsin Fish, a trade organization for Wisconsin fish farmers, aquaculture (the cool word for fish farming) is the fastest growing form of food production in the world. China ranks number one in aquaculture production and the U.S. ranks 13th, with catfish and trout being the main American farmed fish.

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 higher in omega-3 fatty acids than their wild cousins, as long as their feed is composed of omega-3 fish.

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 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.

Nutritional Comparison

There may be some minor nutritional differences between farmed and wild caught fish, but not enough to proclaim one or there 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 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 quite a bit more polyunsaturated fats, including a little eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) than raw wild salmon. It also has a few more calories. Three ounces of wild salmon has 121 calories compared to three 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 big, old fish. Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel are the fish most likely to contain large amounts of mercury, whereas the farm-raised fish catfish, salmon, and trout are not 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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