Wild Fish? Farmed Fish? What Should I Eat?

by

IF I AM CONFUSED ABOUT WHAT FISH TO EAT and have spent my life studying nutrition and environmental science, then I imagine most people are confused. I am left with so many questions and had almost given up trying to figure it out.  Until I met Tim O’Shea, the founder of Clean Fish, Inc., a company, aspiration, and a movement that brings together artisanal fishermen and fish farmers and champions them in the marketplace under transparent, traceable brands.

Tim and I took a walk through the hills of San Francisco, past the homes of senators, down through the old army base, the Presidio, where sculptured trails wind through the woods, through the center of George Lucas’ Star Wars headquarters, and down to the Palace of Fine Arts, the home of 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition which displayed the world’s wonders of modern (as of 1915) technology, agriculture and food products.

In a few hours we traversed the worlds of government, wilderness, imagination, and the celebration of progress and technology.  A perfect backdrop for figuring out just what fish to eat in 2011 so we don’t destroy the world’s oceans or poison ourselves with all the progress we have made.

Should I eat farmed fish or wild fish?  Is farmed fish or wild fish better for the health of my body and the planet?  Which wild fish are endangered?  Which fish have too many toxins and will give me mercury poisoning or too many PCB’s?  Which are caught in ways that destroy the oceans by scooping up and killing 10 pounds of extra seafood for every one pound of fish that is kept for sale?

Are all farmed fish the same?  Do farmed fish have too many PCB’s, hormones and antibiotics?  Or worse, by eating genetically engineered “Frankenfish” that could escape through torn nets and interbreed with the wild fish stocks, are we doing more harm than good to our bodies and the earth?

Is there a difference between industrial fish farming factories or “feedlot fish” and sustainable, artisanal fish farming practices?  Should all farmed fish be raised in above ground aquaculture pens to preserve the oceans in their pristine state (oops, too late for that)?

Are monoculture fish farms using sustainable practices enough, or just another form of monoculture crop that doesn’t leverage biodiversity to restore healthy biodiverse living systems?  Should we only be eating fish raised in fish farms that use restorative and regenerative practices, which build up the biodiversity of the oceans and restore livings systems, rather than just “sustain” what is currently a very fragile ocean ecosystem?

And what do farmed fish eat?  Are we raping the oceans of small fish and ocean critters at the bottom of the food chain to feed the farmed fish?  Or are we feeding farmed fish corn pellets and canola oil because the fish pellets are too expensive, leaving us with the equivalent of corn fed fish high in the inflammatory omega-6 fats?

How will we get the omega-3 fats our bodies need to function (and which over 90 percent of us are deficient in) if we don’t eat wild fish or farmed fish fed wild fish pellets?

What is the fish farming equivalent of Michael Pollan’s grass farmer?  Is there a way to create bio-diverse aquatic ecosystems that generates the food (like funky little worms and algae) for the fish to eat so we don’t have to drag the oceans for little fish or grow corn for fish food?

Grass farmers create healthy byproducts such as lamb, chicken and beef from cultivating grass and soil.  What’s the equivalent of grass farming for the oceans so we can eat clean, fresh fish and go to sleep at night with full bellies and a clear conscience?

Can we change fishing practices to sustainably harvest wild fish by changing the equipment fishermen use so they don’t kill 10 pounds of seafood caught in the nets as byproducts for every pound of fish we eat?  Can we prevent genetic intermingling of wild and farmed stocks by farming only genetically bio-identical, local species of fish that belong in the local ecosystem?

It’s enough to make the fish lover throw up their hands and say, “I’ll have the double cheeseburger with fries.”  Eating fish seems impossible if you are interested in staying healthy by getting enough omega-3 fats while avoiding mercury poisoning and destroying the oceans.

And of course there is the industrial agriculture, and feedlot fish producer’s argument that we cannot feed the world’s exploding population without large scale, monoculture crops supported by petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, and hormones and antibiotics.  Food, Inc. also includes Fish, Inc.  Beware.

By the end of our walk through the hills of San Francisco I was left hopeful that we could achieve, as Tim said, a triple bottom line, optimizing natural, human and financial capital.  False dichotomy that something is either good for the environment or good for business is no longer relevant as the science and creativity for creating sustainable, regenerative systems that support local economics, global markets, planetary and individual health have evolved.

Clean Fish is committed to finding, sourcing and distributing the world’s best wild seasonal and farmed fish including Loch Duart Scottish Salmon, Laughing Bird Caribbean White Shrimp, and Peruvian Blue Tilapia.  The founders are also committed to funding and creating new methods of feeding farmed fish creating the equivalent of “grass farms” in the ocean and transforming fishing practices by innovative changes in equipment and fish feed.

Nurturing, scaling, and re-inventing restorative and regenerative fish practices that provide a delicious, quality, low-toxin fish sources may take a decade to flourish if we drive the demand and support the vision.  If not, we may not have fish to eat and the last wild thing in our diet will have become extinct, with us possibly not too far behind.

Doing a little homework and changing our choices can help us support our health and the planet.  In fact, the most powerful tool to change your health, the environment, and shift global markets is your fork.  You vote with it three times a day and the choices you make control the behavior of biological and institutional corporate bodies.

Here are a few things you can do to help yourself and the oceans:

  1. When possible, eat fish either farmed or caught with sustainable, restorative, regenerative practices.  Check out www.cleanfish.com to find out which brands and companies to choose from.
  2. Stay away from toxic or endangered fish.  Use the Natural Resources Defense Council’s wallet card when choosing fish.
  3. Eat from the lowest mercury fish group and avoid the rest, except for a treat a few times a year if you must.  Also, their warning about farmed salmon is only relevant to “feedlot fish” — not sustainably raised salmon such as Loch Duart Scottish Salmon.
  4. Omega-3 fats are essential for the functioning of every cell in your body and 90 percent of us do not consume enough of them.  Read more about the health benefits of omega-3s.
  5. Consider home testing to see if you are omega-3 fat deficient.  You will see if you need an oil change.
  6. If you are omega-3 fat deficient, take purified fish oil, at least 1,000-2,000 mg of EPA/DHA a day.
  7. Watch me on “The Doctor Oz Show” to learn more about omega-3 fats, home testing and what fish oil supplements to take.

Now I’d like to hear from you.

Are you confused about what fish to eat?

Are you worried about mercury toxicity from wild fish and PCB’s from farmed fish?

Have you found other sources of safe, healthy, sustainable fish?

Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below – but remember, we can’t offer personal medical advice online, so be sure to limit your comments to those about taking back our health!

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.

, , , , , ,

28 Responses to Wild Fish? Farmed Fish? What Should I Eat?

  1. It Jobs January 22, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to undertand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not tht good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he enjoyed it as well!

  2. where to find myers lemons January 23, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    Well I am very much looking forward to your appearance on the Dr. Oz show on 1-26. What I would like to know about is how your questions address the reality that many of us both take salmon fish oil and eat salmon as well. What is the balance between the two? Is it best to take salmon fish oil to avoid the odds of eating salmon contaminated by toxins? If I already take fish oil, is it necessary to also to eat salmon?

    Please accept my thanks in advance for answering this question,
    ERW Bennett
    Carrville, Iowa

  3. beatrice White January 23, 2011 at 2:50 am #

    I think the best thing to do is not to eat fish. I take the omega-3. Today it;s imposible for us to know which fish is the most safe to eat. I always enjoy your articles, and I’M glad you are going to be in Dr Oz show. Thank you for this value information, Bea w,

  4. Lisa January 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    The question I can’t get past is “Do I want to eat a creature that knew the terror and pain of being slowly suffocated to death?” My answer is no. Conveniently, that answer renders moot all the worries about farming vs. wild-caught, the depletion of ocean life, raising corn to feed fish, etc. We simply cannot keep consuming the way we have, with such flagrant disregard for the creatures with whom we share the planet, and expect it not to cause harm. Instead of continuing to struggle with questions the answers to which are all problematic, perhaps it’s time to rethink the questions themselves.

  5. Denise Jacob January 26, 2011 at 4:44 pm #

    I am happy that you addressed this topic but sorry to see you have provided us with lots more questions than answers. I have been choosing fish sparingly, and according to the Defense Council list, and relying on fish oil for Omega 3s for the past few years. Like you, I struggle with the safety and sustainability issues, especially after reading Syliva Earle’s excellent book The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One.
    I am wondering what is being done to meet the current and future demand for fish oil for the supplement market. Is this yet another ethical and environmental concern?
    Do you have any information about this issue?

  6. donald bachman md January 27, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    As far as I know, there are only a few controlled trials that show benefit for cardiovascular improvement in patients with known heart disease, and only limited observational data for skin and musculoskeletal disorders. What would you advise patients with mild cholesterol elevation, assymptomatic coronary calcification scores without clinical evidence of heart disease? Any good references for this population?

  7. Kathleen Castellari January 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    You make Natural Medicine make sense! Thank you so very much!

  8. Kim January 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    I buy the frozen, individually wrapped Tilapia at Costco. I am following the Daniel Plan through Saddleback Church. How do I know if these are “clean fish”? I did go to the clean fish website, but wasn’t sure how to find them, or if frozen fish were on the site. I learned from your appearance on Dr. Oz that they are a good source of protein (and low cal!) but not so good for the Omega3 fats. Hope to see you again at Saddleback Church! ~Kim

  9. Sharon Roark January 31, 2011 at 10:44 am #

    I’m confused not only about what fish to buy.But all foods in general.

  10. Linda Podell February 1, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    Hi, Dr. Hyman! Love your work. My main problem is I can’t afford that home test. I’m trying to find a biological dentist to take out the mercury from my husband and my mouth. We are in a low income situation. The kind of insurance I have will not cover these things. What can I do to minimize and detox what I can? Thanks so much for all you do.

  11. Sandra Maura February 2, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    I notice that you do not mention arctic krill as a good source of Omega 3 fats. Is there a reason for this (krill being the source of the Omega 3 supplements sold by Dr. Mercola).
    Thanks for your work
    SMaura

  12. LCarlson February 3, 2011 at 11:07 am #

    If you’re in the Twin Cities, check out Sea Change restaurant in the amazing Guthrie Theater: http://www.seachangempls.com/

    They have an amazing selection of sustainable seafood and the staff are very educated on the issue.

  13. ALICE WILLIAMS February 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    I love fish. But the only type of fish i love is game fish, such as brim, speckle trout, and a few of the others . I never like cat fish. By the way is game fish bad for you? 2/8/11 5:49

  14. Pam April 8, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    I went to the http://www.cleanfish.com website to get a list of where I can purchase approved fish, however, nothing showed up within 20 miles of where I live.

    Suggestions? Does Henry’s Market and/or Trader Joe’s carry ‘approved fish’?

    Thank you,
    Pam

  15. Ethan May 27, 2011 at 1:14 am #

    thank you for clearifying the differences.

  16. Ari Maayan August 13, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I am a phycologist (the branch of biological sciences that deals with algae). Eicospentaenoic Acid (EPA) is ONLY made by algae. Fish derive their EPA and DHA (Omega-3 fatty acids) from eating the little critters that eat algae or from eating the algae itself. Creatures like krill eat algae. Much of the krill oil on the market is processed from krill caught in arctic or anarctic waters. It is so heavily harvested it is becoming threatened. Baleen whales rely on it as their food source….nuff said. For many years farmed fish have been fed a commercial fish food which contained fish oil and fish meal. As stocks of fish have become depleted almost to extinction, supplies of these factory fish for making up fish oil and fish meal have become more scarce and therefore more expensive. So the manufacturers of the commercial fish feed began, several years ago, to look for alternatives to fish oil and fish meal. They hit on corn and soy. You’ve already learned that the fish don’t get their omega-3’s from corn or soy……so neither do you. So, eating farm-raised salmon that has been fed a commercial fish feed with fish products subsitututed with corn or soy is not giving you your omega-3’s. So, be warned if you think you’re deriving your omega-3’s from some farm-raised fish. Do your research. Also don’t buy a fish oil supplement unless it says on the label that it has been “molecularly distilled”……..unless you really dig pcb’s and heavy metals.

  17. Eddie September 8, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Does anyone ever answer any of these questions?

    • Profile photo of Mark Hyman, MD
      Mark Hyman, MD September 21, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      Hi Eddie, thank you for your comment. What is your question?

      Wishing you good health!

  18. bandages September 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    This blog Is very informative , I am really pleased to post my comment on this blog . It helped me with ocean of knowledge so I really believe you will do much better in the future.

  19. Sharkopussie September 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    I have given up eating all fish and have never taken fish oil due to the mercury levels and overfishing. I discovered I have problems with heavy metal toxicity, especially mercury, that has ruined my health and I am working on chelation and detoxification. Flax, walnuts, and canola are good safe sources of omega 3 fats, you don’t need fish. Thanks Dr. Hyman, just found your site.

  20. power scooters October 26, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    I visit this site regularly and I love reading blogs posted here. I have this site already bookmarked in my browser. Thanks for this post.

  21. Enlightened November 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I raise my own fish from fingerlings from a clean source (seller) in my aquaponics system where I pump the fish water into grow beds and grow veggies and the veggies clean the water and return it back to the fish in the same system. The fish are fed duckweed and even veggies from the grow beds and any worms and bugs caught snacking on our goodies. It all works out. There is no better way to get a big eye opener about food production than to grow and raise your own. Just a small 40 gallon balcony system produces enough food for 2 people… ad a few chickens and you can go from there. This is a great article and I hope many people are encouraged to take back their lives.

  22. who can write my dissertation May 24, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    This blog is really very interesting and easy to understand the information provided in it. It is very nice to view this blog and it’s nice to see the best information cited here.
    Thank you.

  23. Sue A January 6, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    You asked excellent questions, many of which I am sure your readers have never considered. Most of which the average consumer have never even remotely considered!

    But you really did not answer most of them, instead this was really just an article marketing this company Clean Fish and promoting the sale of your supplements and your appearance on Dr. Oz. If we have a moral objection to the way fish is farmed and our oceans are abused, and choosing not to eat fish – we are pretending if taking a fish oil supplement is the answer.

    I am fortunate to have considered all of these questions in my own life, because my daughter is a Vegan with a degeree in Marine Biology – I listen to these arguments against eating fish and seafood on a regular basis. I appreciate you bringing these issues to readers attention…but the only answer is not to eat fish or seafood or their by-products, including supplements made from killing them. What I would have expected to read in an article like this, are suggestions for nutritional alternatives to eating fish, seafood and fish oil supplements that are NOT bad for us or bad for the environment.

    I don’t know whether your visit with Dr. Oz is already taped – but if not – ask him why he used to advocate for eating USDA Certified Organic and warn against GMOs and recently, made a 180 degree turn and referred to organic food consumers “elitists” “snooty” and “snobs” in a recent article in TIME magazine! Dr. Oz also has amazing opportunities to educate his viewers about subjects such as GMOs and the horrible damage they cause to our environment, and yet he seems to have fallen into the habit of just saying whatever his producers decide he should say and he seems to do very, very little actual research into the subjects he addresses in his show. Take statins, don’t take statins – eat organic, don’t waste your money on organic – the list goes on and on.

    • Profile photo of HymanStaff
      HymanStaff January 15, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

      Thank you for your post, you sound like a very informed consumer. I think a lot of the television doctor shows are trying to show all sides of an issue and the consumers needs to make an educated decision for themselves. Sometimes just asking the questions will get one to find their own answers.

      To your health,

      Dr. Hyman Staff

  24. Sue A January 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    You asked excellent questions, many of which I am sure your readers have never considered. Most of which the average consumer have never even remotely considered!

    But you really did not answer most of them, instead this was really just an article marketing this company Clean Fish and promoting the sale of your supplements and your appearance on Dr. Oz. If we have a moral objection to the way fish is farmed and our oceans are abused, and choosing not to eat fish – we are pretending if taking a fish oil supplement is the answer.

    I am fortunate to have considered all of these questions in my own life, because my daughter is a Vegan with a degeree in Marine Biology – I listen to these arguments against eating fish and seafood on a regular basis. I appreciate you bringing these issues to readers attention…but the only answer is not to eat fish or seafood or their by-products, including supplements made from killing them. What I would have expected to read in an article like this, are suggestions for nutritional alternatives to eating fish, seafood and fish oil supplements that are NOT bad for us or bad for the environment.

    I don’t know whether your visit with Dr. Oz is already taped – but if not – ask him why he used to advocate for eating USDA Certified Organic and warn against GMOs and recently, made a 180 degree turn and referred to organic food consumers “elitists” “snooty” and “snobs” in a recent article in TIME magazine! Dr. Oz also has amazing opportunities to educate his viewers about subjects such as GMOs and the horrible damage they cause to our environment, and yet he seems to have fallen into the habit of just saying whatever his producers decide he should say and he seems to do very, very little actual research into the subjects he addresses in his show. Take statins, don’t take statins – eat organic, don’t waste your money on organic – the list goes on and on.

  25. how to improve your memory February 15, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    I’ve been surfing on-line more than 3 hours as of late, yet I never discovered any interesting article like yours. It’s beautiful worth sufficient for me. In my opinion, if all website owners and bloggers made just right content material as you did, the net shall be much more useful than ever before.

  26. Philip Kemp September 18, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

    Hello Dr Hyman, I am an expert on aquaculture and have just retired from a 30 year career in aquaculture education and extension. I can answer one question at a time.

    One question you asked is easily answered, regarding the feeding of fish … there is four to five times as much forage fish from the ocean required to grow wild salmon than farmed salmon. With this fact, would not the question change to whether farmed fish should be favored over wild fish?

Leave a Reply


four − = 0