Since beef, pork and chicken tend to dominate the American diet, you may be more familiar with terms like “grass-fed” and “cage free” than with the terms used to indicate how your seafood was sourced. Seafood is either farm-raised, meaning raised much like commercial animal farms in an enclosed operation, or wild-caught in open water. But how do these processes differ, and is one process better than the other?
Wild-caught seafood involves several different fishing methods, including trawling—towing a large net behind a boat—and fishing lines. While there are great health benefits to consuming seafood sourced from its natural environment, most fishing methods pose a great risk with regard to bycatch, or the unintended capture of other species such as dolphins and sea turtles. The trawling method involves towing a net behind a boat, sometimes along the ocean floor, which not only results in bycatch, but also damages ocean floors and reefs. Fishing lines can also become tangled in the surrounding environment or around other ocean animals.
Wild fishing is also heavily dependent on fishery management to ensure that the populations of fish and shellfish aren’t being fished faster than they can regenerate. Unfortunately, nearly 85 percent of all worldwide fishing stocks are being fished at or beyond their limit, and farm-raised seafood can help to take the pressure off of wild populations.
However, because farm-raised seafood is raised similarly to commercial animal operations, there are similar health risks resulting from unnatural living conditions. Farm-raised fish are kept in cages or tanks enclosed in natural open water environments, and, similar to industrially-farmed animals, the stressful and crowded living conditions often require the use of antibiotics to prevent illness. Some farms also use pesticides and growth hormones in their operations. Those potentially harmful pollutants, and sometimes the farm-raised fish themselves can escape into the natural environment beyond the farm, posing a risk to surrounding environments and wild fish populations.
Considering these facts, even despite the risks that trawling and fishing lines present to the environment, many argue that wild-caught seafood is healthier than farm-raised seafood for much the same reasons that free-range, grass-fed animals are healthier to eat than those raised in industrial operations. Wild-caught fish contain more natural vitamins and nutrients. They are less fatty, contain less sodium, and are not subjected to growth hormones and antibiotics. However, depending on the species, wild-caught seafood can have significantly higher mercury levels, whereas mercury is not an issue in farm-raised fish.
But regardless of whether your seafood was farm-raised or wild-caught, the most important question is whether the process was sustainable. Greensbury Market ensures that all its products are approved by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, which defines sustainable seafood as “seafood from sources, whether fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production without jeopardizing the structure and function of affected ecosystems.”