windmill on a hill above a sustainable seafood farm producing carp in Turkey

Are farmed fish real food?

posted by Veronique Koch on 01 February 2013

Recently 100 Days of Real Food, the popular website and Facebook community that champions limiting processed foods for a healthy lifestyle, posted a blog about common “highly processed foods to avoid.” This list included some of the usual suspects like artificial foods, refined sweeteners and even refined grains. But what struck me was finding “factory farmed meat and seafood” on the list.  And interestingly, 2013 is the first year that humans officially eat more farmed fish than wild caught fish, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


The reason farmed fish were included on the ‘foods to avoid list’ is that some farmed animals often live in poor conditions, are fed a diet different than what nature intended (for example, corn) and are often given antibiotics and hormones. Yes, under those circumstances farmed animals are not the best choice if you are looking for food as close to natural as possible. But there are many ways to farm fish, so writing off farmed fish altogether is a bit unfair.


This diversity of farming methods is exactly what Dr. Ted Caplow and Dr. Andy Danylchuk set out to explore in the film Fish Meat. They visit an offshore seabass farm, a bluefin tuna ranching site, an inland trout farm, and even a traditional carp farm. Carp farms consist of a windmill driven tank where the fish can eat vegetarian feed. That doesn’t sound highly processed to me.


Growing fish that feed lower on the food chain, like catfish, tilapia, or shellfish also means that fish farmers can feed their stock their natural diets, more vegetarian (like algae). Or, in the case of shellfish, some are filter feeders! More oysters, please!


Over 70% of the world’s wild fish species are either fully exploited or depleted, making it critical that we learn the best aquaculture methods, to meet the ever-growing demand for seafood. But, as Dr. Ted Caplow points out in Fish Meat, there are a multitude of factors that go into making a fish farm sustainable.


For fans of 100 Days of Real Food, the answer to eating food that isn’t highly processed is to know where your food comes from. Readers are encouraged to check the labels on products to make sure they are “real foods.” The same goes for aquaculture. Choose your fish farm wisely. Knowing where you fish comes from is a good start. The COOL law (country of origin labeling) helps you know which country the fish was farmed in. As a very general rule, fish farming in the United States is more heavily regulated. You could even look for farms certified by the BAP (Best Aquaculture Practices), which can be found in places like Target and Winn-Dixie (a full list can be found here).


We hope 2013 can be a year for people to vote with their forks and eat real food, regardless of where they come from.

2 thoughts on “Are farmed fish real food?

  1. Kal says

    All farmed fish are not harmful, but like any food that you get from a grocery store, it’s very hard to find out where it came from. Catch it yourself!

    1. Veronique Koch says

      If you have the luxury of catching your own fish, that is definitely the best way to know if you are eating seafood from a sustainable fishery! And it is fun, too.

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