“Where’s the fish from?” and “Is it farmed or wild” are the two most common questions I get from customers at farmers markets. They are important questions and it’s great to see that so many people care about where their fish came from and how it got to Matt’s Amazing Smokehouse, where I currently work. Often, when I tell them that our Atlantic salmon is farm-raised, I get a skeptical look. Some people just walk away. That’s not an unreasonable response if you’re familiar with the issues surrounding aquaculture practices. However, the answer is not as simple as many consumers believe.
No matter your opinion of aquaculture, it’s become an important part of the world’s food production system. Today, aquaculture produces almost as much fish as capture fisheries. That gap has been predicted to close as aquaculture production rises and wild catches level off and begin to decrease. Combined, wild and aquaculture fisheries produce around 160 million tonnes of seafood a year. That’s 20% of the protein for about 3 billion people. To highlight how much that is, consider that Americans get less than 8% of their animal protein from fish. For many, even in the US, seafood means everything. So if we can’t get fish the traditional way, we had better find another; hence the birth of fish farming.
So which is better, farm-raised or wild-caught fish? Both methods of production have costs and benefits. The consequences of both methods are linked in many ways; in fact the pros and cons of capture fisheries lead to the necessity and negatives of aquaculture.
Ever since I declared my Environmental Studies major and started studying marine science and fisheries policy, people have looked to me to tell them if a fish is sustainable or not. After all, having studied this stuff I do think I know what I’m talking about. Occasionally I’ll get a call from a family member at the grocery store, asking if the farmed salmon they are looking at is OK to buy. As I said before, the aquaculture vs. wild is not black and white, so I’m only qualified to answer the question if I have more facts. Honestly, it depends on where the fish is from, where you’re from, and what you think of as “better.” The best thing you can do is learn as much as you can about the issue and make informed and conscientious decisions.