As awareness around food sustainability grows, so does the number of health-conscious consumers. Today, people are pickier with their seafood than ever and want to know where it came from and how it was raised. This is where the debate about wild caught vs farm raised fish becomes important.
Most of us consume fish on a daily basis without knowing it was raised in a controlled environment. So, how do we differentiate between wild and farmed fish and decide which is better?
Below, we’ll explain the nutritional differences between farm-raised fish and fish caught in the wild and explore their benefits and drawbacks.
What Is Wild Caught vs Farm Raised Fish?
Wild-caught fish are harvested directly from the water instead of being kept and bred in captivity. There are many regulations for different fish species to prevent their extinction because fishing is such a favored activity.
Farm-raised fish are bred in pens placed in the sea or ocean and in indoor cages. In the latter case, they eat processed food that can alter their taste and look. As such, some people prefer wild over farmed fish and vice versa. But which is better, wild caught or farm raised fish? We’ll answer this and more below.
What is the difference between wild caught and farm raised fish?
When it comes to wild caught vs farm raised fish, the one factor that makes the biggest difference in their quality is the diet. Both types of fish eat vastly different diets that affect their taste, size, and nutritional profile.
Wild-caught fish feed on algae, crustaceans, plankton, and smaller fish. On the other hand, farm-raised fish eat cornmeal, canola meal, wheat, animal by-products, and fish meat. The diet of farm-raised fish also contains a lot of vegetable oil because fish oil is expensive for fish breeders, resulting in a high amount of omega-6 fatty acids.
How can you tell fish apart based on their appearance and taste?
A balanced diet benefits the fish as much as it does you regarding appearance and well-being. When fish are not fed a wholesome diet, they lose their rich color. This is also why farm-raised salmon, for example, are gray and are fed additives like astaxanthin to develop a vibrant pink color.
The wild caught vs farm raised fish size is also important. Since there are so many fish species, they’re all of different shapes, sizes, and colors. An important thing to remember is that farm-raised fish are always thicker, with more saturated fat, and less colorful than wild-caught.
The taste of wild caught vs farm raised fish also matters when telling them apart. We only think we can’t differentiate between them because we’re so used to eating farm-raised fish labeled as wild-caught.
In reality, wild fish has a more complex flavor profile because of its all-natural diet, whereas farmed fish tastes less “fishy”, giving it a milder flavor. You should try some of our premium wild-caught seafood and tell us you can’t notice the difference in quality!
The Presence of DLCs in Farmed vs Wild Fish
The biggest concern surrounding the consumption of farm-raised fish is the presence of DLCs – dioxin and chemically related compounds. These pollutants are heavily regulated. However, traces of DLCs are found in the environment, including water bodies.
From here grows the concern regarding their presence in fish, both in the wild and controlled environments. PCBs also fall under compounds defined as dioxin-like compounds (DLCs).
They are manufactured organic chemicals used in the past for industrial and commercial applications. Although they were banned in 1979 in the US, it’s believed that residual PCBs remain in our environment and are thus consumed by fish.
What’s the connection between PCBs and farm-raised food?
Since large predatory fish are carnivorous, they feed on smaller fish like common goldfish, guppies, and fathead minnow. If these fish consume PCBs and are fed to homegrown fish, they’ll contaminate them.
There are also other concerns, like the presence of mercury in fish. Does farm raised fish have less mercury than wild caught? Both groups contain varying amounts of mercury depending on the fish's type and size. For example, fish higher in the food chain accumulate more mercury as a result of biomagnification. Follow the guide by the FDA that lists all the safe fish for consumption.
It’s believed that farm-raised fish contain even less mercury due to being highly controlled. Yet, this depends on independent fish farms. Some take cautionary measures to prevent contaminations and exposure to toxins, while others don’t.
Additionally, wild-caught fish naturally contain some mercury. That is due to burning fossil fuels or volcanic eruptions.
Wild-Caught vs Farm-Raised Fish: Which Is Better?
We raised some burning questions above regarding the quality of wild caught vs farm raised fish. So, is it better to eat wild caught or farm raised fish?
The answer is that it depends. In some instances, they are a better option than wild-caught fish. PubMed data published in Dec 2020 has revealed that one portion of farmed Atlantic salmon contains the same amounts of EPA and DHA as wild salmon. Also, it has a higher amount of omega-6 acids but fewer contaminants.
Hence, which is healthier, farm raised or wild caught salmon? Wild-caught fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids but poses a greater risk for contamination.
On the other hand, farmed fish have more omega-6 acids but a smaller risk for contamination. Here are some factors that affect the quality of farmed fish you buy at the supermarket:
- The origin of the farm.
- The quality of the aquaculture.
- The quality of the feed.
- The way the fish is stored.
You’ll get the best-quality fish from US, Canada, Norway, and Scotland fish farms. These fisheries are mounted in salt water, where the fish can swim freely in their natural habitat. On the other hand, Asian fisheries are overpopulated in confined spaces and fed with an unhealthy diet.
You can rely on our KnowSeafood harvesters, who upload their harvesting process from start to finish. We accept nothing less than full transparency on seafood and zero fishy origins.
How to Cook Farmed vs Wild Fish
When it comes to cooking, you should know that farmed and wild fish have distinct textures that call for different cooking techniques. Farmed fish is tender with thick filets, so it’ll taste good even if you fry it at high temperatures. On the other hand, overcooking wild fish will lead to a rubbery texture due to its firm nature.
Generally, you should cook fish at 145 ºF. However, many chefs swear that lower temperatures are key to achieving a soft, buttery texture for fork-tender fish. You can cook farmed fish at 125 ºF and wild fish at a slightly lower temp to avoid overcooking them.
Wild caught vs farm raised fish serve unique benefits for our diet. Wild fish is leaner with a more potent fishy flavor – a true delicacy for food enthusiasts. On the other hand, farmed fish is softer, more buttery, and easier to cook because of the thick filets.
Also, wild fish can be more easily contaminated without the fishers even knowing. Farmed fish is more controlled but has different flavor properties and lacks the beautiful salmon shade, so it needs additives.
Choosing between wild and farmed fish depends on your seafood preferences. Ultimately, you want to buy fish from sustainable farmers that promote eco-friendly breeding methods like we do at KnowSeafood.
If you’d like to cook a delicious, omega-3-rich seafood boil, you can create your diverse seafood box with all the fish you need. Help us on our mission to bring more sustainable and accessible fish products for seafood lovers at affordable prices!