After decades of unrestrained commercial fishing devastated North America’s salmon populations, the advent of fish farming promised to be both environmentally and economically beneficial. Today we know that farmed fish like salmon and trout are nutritionally deficient when compared to their wild caught counterparts. While wild Pacific Salmon are renowned for their extremely high levels of naturally occurring Omega-3 fatty acids, farmed fish which live in cramped, netted pens become fattier and thus deliver less usable anti-inflammatory Omega-3’s.
In addition, farm-raised salmon and trout have been found to contain higher amounts of harmful Omega-6 fats. These pro-inflammatory Omega-6’s promote unhealthy conditions in the body and consuming farmed salmon or trout directly increases their presence. The totality of scientific research regarding the nutritional value of fish shows that fish farming irrefutably reduces the naturally occurring and beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids, while also increasing the concentration of harmful Omega-6 fats.
Fish farming has other consequences for both the fish being exploited and the humans unwittingly consuming them. The spread of diseases and parasites, while diluted by the vast expanses of rivers and oceans in the wild, is confined to the enclosed borders of a fish farm. Without the extensive use of antibiotics and pesticides, fish farms would quickly become the breeding ground of infected fish populations. Although scientists lobbying on the part of the fish farming industry are quick to claim that chemically based pesticides and medications pose no threat to human beings, there is mounting evidence to the contrary. Two introductory studies in Great Britain and Canada have indicated that farmed salmon accumulate toxic dioxins and caricinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB’s, at a far higher rate than their equivalents in the wild. Another study in 2003 concluded that farmed salmon found in American grocery stores contained 16 times the PCB content as wild salmon, while similar research in Canada, Ireland and Great Britain is taking place.
Successfully deceptive marketing campaigns and an uninformed consumer base has allowed farmed salmon to assume 50% of the world’s market share, despite the numerous, serious health concerns inherent in fish farming. The increasingly powerful fish farming industry has gone to great lengths to conceal the fact that synthetic pigment is widely used to give farmed salmon the distinctively vibrant and fresh appearance of wild salmon. The chemical canthaxanthin is added to the fish feed to provide a pink hue, despite links between its usage and a slew of health issues like retinal damage and its banning as a tanning agent.
Fish farming as it currently exists is not a viable alternative to commercial fishing, simply because of the direct health threats the practice poses to human populations. We cannot, however, simply revert to the destructive and selfish fishing practices of old, practices which nearly led to the extinction of many species of salmon and other fish. Instead, it is imperative that responsible fishing methods are introduced, perfected and standardized, methods which ensure that wild fish are harvested in accordance with our responsibility to the environment.