Did you know that, according to PETA, more than 40 percent of fish consumed per year are raised on farms?
And no, we’re not talking about quaint, hillside farms, where salmon meander in crystal-clear, lapping waters. Because that’s not always what the term “farm-raised” means.
Instead, we’re talking about how the term typically denotes the sourcing of fish from aquafarms, designed to house them in an artificial environment, where light, food and -- yep -- even growth and reproductive activity can be controlled.
While aquafarms may conjure a fresh and innovative ideal, PETA points out that it’s quite the contrary; in fact, these types of farms may pose a dangerous threat to the consumer.
If aquafarms are overcrowded and kept in filthy conditions, fish (also known as your dinner entrée) may be prone to debilitating injuries, infections, diseases and parasitic infestations.
“Just as the flu spreads more quickly if carriers are in close quarters with others, the cramped conditions on aquafarms mean that fish are constantly catching serious and often fatal infections and diseases from one another, including sea lice infections in which animals' faces are often eaten down to the bone,” explained Jane Dollinger, media liaison of PETA. “Fish are also constantly colliding with each other, leading to wounds that make disease transmission more likely. As a result, as many as 40 percent of farmed fish die before going to slaughter.”
Cookbook author, television host and restaurant owner and chef John Shields, who specializes in cooking with seafood, adds that to prevent the spread of disease, aquafarmers often feed fish with chemicals and antibiotics.
“There are very large amounts of antibiotics used to keep farm-raised fish healthy, because it’s a very unnatural thing to have fish jammed into pens,” Shields said. “I’m not crazy about a farmed salmon. The wild is better than the farm-raised salmon.”
As PETA reports, the chemically-laced fish feed and cramped pens are likely the cause of elevated levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are hazardous industrial compounds as well as high dioxin levels found in farm-raised fish.
“Fish are fed huge doses of antibiotics, and eating their flesh means exposing yourself to PCBs, dioxins and mercury. Studies have also shown that a 130-pound woman will be 40 percent over the EPA cutoff for safe mercury levels if she eats just one six ounce can of white tuna each week,” said Dollinger.
Further, PETA details that aquafarms may contain as many as 50,000 salmon per enclosure. In other words, a two-and-a-half foot fish is confined during its entire lifespan to the dimensions the size of a bathtub. Trout farms are more crowded -- as many as 27 full-sized fish have been reported as crammed into the size of a bathtub.
“It's important to serve responsibly sourced seafood if we expect to have wild fish populations available for future generations. A majority of seafood species worldwide are threatened,” added Shields. “If both consumers and food service operators do not consider the source of their food, the populations of wild seafood will decline to a point of non-recovery.”
Need some help in obtaining information?
Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Check with your grocer before purchasing filets or question the restaurant chef about the sourcing methods of fish.
Other guides, like those from the Environmental Defense Fund, rate seafood according to contaminant levels as well as recommended servings each month.
Inevitably, we truly are what we eat: when consuming chemically-fed, aquafarmed fish, we could potentially be ingesting contaminants and other toxins. The next time you’re set to order the salmon, tuna, seabass -- what have you -- when dining out, remember: consider the source.