Fishing and Seafood Farming

By: Co+op

Fish and seafood are excellent sources of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals. But with all the warnings about buying fish these days (mercury levels, threatened species, farmed and fresh fish), it can be hard for fish lovers to know how to make the best seafood choices. So how do you navigate the waters?

Farmed vs. wild-caught fish

Fish farming, or aquaculture, has been the fastest growing sector of animal food production in the world since 1970. Farmed fish, raised in netted cages in coastal waters, currently provide almost one-third of all seafood sold, and estimates are that half the fish consumed worldwide will be farm-raised by the year 2025.

Fish farming allows the U.S. food industry to meet international demand without further depleting over-fished populations. However, it’s not without its problems: pesticides and antibiotics disturb the natural ecosystem, and creating feed for farmed fish depletes populations of other marine life.

Likewise, though wild-caught fish is often more nutritious, industrial fishing threatens wild fish populations, and fishing with “drag nets” can disturb other marine species and ocean floor ecosystems. Once the fish are caught, they’re also often shipped long distances from sea to store.

In both types of fishing, forced labor and human rights violations have been brought to light involving companies sourcing fish around Thailand and Taiwan. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has a Seafood Slavery Risk Tool that can help you steer clear of these abuses.

At the fish counter

So what’s the best choice? It depends on the fish—and the fishery. Ask at your co-op's seafood counter about fish farms that use water filtration systems and natural fish foods that won’t pollute surrounding ecosystems. When purchasing wild-caught, look for fisheries that use methods like hook-and-line fishing, trap fishing, and longlining, rather than trawling.

You can also look for the Marine Stewardship Council's "Fish Forever" label, which assures that the fishery uses sustainable practices. And if you’re still not sure what to choose, the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers ocean-friendly seafood recommendations on both what to choose and what to avoid.