Tonight I had fish and chips. Not the soggy, greasy kind you buy from the local shop and regret the next morning. These were sweet potato chips with pan fried blue grenadier covered in Indian spices- it was home made anddelicious.
As I was standing in Coles, trying to decide what type of fish to buy for tonight’s delicious dinner, I realised that most of the fish available in your typical supermarket are ‘farmed’ fish, and often in places like Vietnam. Of course, these labels are printed in tiny letters at the bottom of the tag, right underneath the price. If you’re anything like me, you’d see the discounted price of the fish and buy it, not realising where it was coming from.
This then begs the question, what is farmed fish and is it really that bad for you?
Farmed fishing is essentially the process where farmers raise and breed fish in enclosed tanks for the purpose of supplying the world with an ever increasing demand for fish protein- a demand that exceeded $60 billion dollars in 2008, or 33.8 million tonnes. And this demand is steadily increasing by 9% per year since 1975.
So as I was standing there, trying to decide whether to buy the cheaper, farmed fish or the wild caught fish, I pulled out my phone and, with the help of my good friend Google, started to look at some issues with farmed fish. Here’s what I found.
Everybody loves salmon. It is high in DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids, which can increase cardiovascular health and decrease the risk of heart attacks, salmon is also high in protein and low in fat. But a report from the Environmental Working Group, 2003, reported that farmed salmon were contaminated with higher levels of methylmercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls than wild caught salmon. Believe it or not, you don’t want these things in your body.
To give one brief example of why you don’t need methylmercury playing ping pong with your arteries, it can do everything from impair your peripheral vision to make you lose coordination of your muscles in high accumulated doses.
One other major concern with fish farming is the netting system used for open water fish farming. This is the process where fish are kept in wild ocean waters, enclosed in a net. The WWF have several major concerns with this process:
- Wast water can easily leak in, contaminating the fish,
- Enclosing a large number of fish in a small area leads to fish swimming in their own faeces; resulting in algae producing ammonia methane and hydrogen sulphide (two things that can suffocate marine life), and
- A good sized salmon farm produces the same amount of waste as a 10,000 person city.
Ken Stier wrote an article titled, “Fish Farming’s Growing Danger” in the September 2007 issue of Time magazine. In his article, Ken points out that humans like to eat carnivorous fish such as tuna and bass. Farmed tuna and bass need to eat though and, much like you need to feed your kitten or dog, they eat fishmeal. Approximately 37% of all seafood is ground up to feed and support the growing demand of these fishes. I can’t be the only person that thinks this is a waste and unnatural.
In the end though, Google really didn’t make it seem so bad. Maybe farmed fish was cheaper and the health benefits of wild fish didn’t outweigh the cost of the farmed fish.
But then again, did I really want to eat fish that swam around in its own filth? Fish that were high in cancer causing chemicals and support a process that helped to destroy our ecosystem and other fish species.
Believe it or not, I ended up buying the wild fish, Blue Grenadier (but it was on sale- although that didn’t affect my decision). Tonight it tasted awesome, with some garam masala, tumeric, ginger and lemon rind and my sweet potato chips. It was the right choice.
Make sure you are well informed though. Below are a list of ‘sustainable’ seafood. We need to make sure that there is enough seafood for our children in a number of years- these are the most viable choices next time you find yourself standing at Coles or Safeway:
- Blue Grenadier
- Tuna (in moderation)
- Salmon- wild caught (in moderation).