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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RMN = Retail Me Not
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

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Farm Raised vs Wild Caught Fish on Organic Living Journey

The American Heart Association has recommended eating fish at least two times per week as part of a heart-healthy diet, because fish contain a hearty amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat shown to encourage healthy cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. If you’re not getting enough Omega-3’s in your diet, it’s time to go fish shopping!

As you shop for fish, you are presented with two options (and usually a price difference): wild caught or farm raised? Is one a better choice than another?

fish farm

Aquaculture (fish farming) is the industrial production of fish from egg to market in a net-cage, pond or contained system. Net-cages may hold up to one million fish in an area about the size of a football field. Farmed fish is an extremely popular product, thanks to its lower price point, and about 2/3 of the salmon consumed in the US is farmed.

Wild Caught

Farm Raised


Free-swimming in native waters

Confined to solid or net pens, in ocean or on land


Algae, plankton, krill, other wild fish (carnivorous fish)

Fish meal, grains, soy


No human intervention

May be treated with antibiotics


Methylmercury (MeHg)

Methylmercury, PCBs, organochloride pesticides, dioxins, PBDEs

Total lipids (fat)

6.4% (salmon)

16.6% (salmon)

Farmed Fish

Not all Farmed Fish are Equal – Just like any other farming practice, it can be done responsibly, reducing the impact on the environment and creating a healthy product, or it can be done poorly, harming the environment and creating a poor quality product.

Toxins from the Water – Fish farmed in ocean waters are kept closer to shore where toxin levels (PCBs, pesticides, PBDEs) are highest due to agricultural runoff and industrial waste. Farmed fish show significantly higher levels of toxins than their wild caught counterparts. Example: a study showed a lipid-adjusted contaminant level for PCB’s of 21.31 for farmed salmon vs. 0.0001 for wild salmon.

The Problem with Fish Meal – Farmed fish are fed fish meal, grains, soy (likely GMO soy), and byproduct feed (byproducts from poultry processing such as feathers, necks and guts) – not their natural diet. “Fish meal” is made with ground up fish bones, guts, and other fish processing byproducts. Fish meal increases the fish’s fat levels, which is concerning because toxins are stored and accumulate in fat. More fat = more toxins.

“Color Added” – Have you seen “color added” printed on your store-bought salmon package? If you haven’t noticed, start looking. This is a common practice. Wild salmon eat plankton and krill, naturally occurring sources of astaxanthin, giving wild salmon their rich coral coloring. Fish meal just doesn’t do that. Unless food coloring is added to the fish feed, the farmed salmon would look greyish white. Synthetically-derived astaxanthin and canthaxanthin (another type of pigment) are added to the fish meal.

Sea Lice and Pesticides – Parasitic sea lice can easily flourish in fish farms, harming the fish and causing infections. Sea lice in farmed fish communities have been shown to affect wild fish populations, specifically wild salmon. Adult salmon can usually handle a few sea lice, but young salmon are killed by as little as three sea lice. More sea lice = more dead wild salmon. Fish farms control sea lice with pesticides like emamectin benzoate, which bioaccumulates in fatty tissues.

Bacteria, Viruses, and Antibiotics – Farmed fish are more likely to develop infections and illness such as Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN), furunculosis, and Bacterial Kidney Disease. Farmed fish are fed antibiotics and vaccinated to control these illnesses.

Organic Farmed Fish – Right now, there are no standards for certifying organically farmed fish.

Sustainable Fish

How do you know if your farmed fish is “good” or “poor”? The best way is to know your source and research their aquaculture practices. Need to make a quick selection and don’t want to research aquaculture while standing at the seafood counter? Looking for “sustainable” fish may be a good start.

“True sustainable operations minimize environmental impacts like pollution, disease, and other damage to coastal ecosystems on which wild species depend. They also avoid using wild-caught fish as feed, a practice that puts enormous additional stress on wild fish stocks.”

National Geographic, Sustainable Seafood: How Do We Balance Our Tastes with What’s Right for the Oceans?

Not all retailers stock sustainable fish options. Streamline your shopping trips by knowing where to find the “good stuff”. Greenpeace, which obviously has very high standards on sustainability, ranked seafood retailers in their recent “Carting Away the Oceans” report. Top three retailers: Whole Foods, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s. Bottom three: Kroger, Publix, and Bi-Lo.

Wild Caught Fish

Although fish can be responsibly farmed, this is not a common practice, and it’s difficult to find a healthy farmed fish. Avoid the risk and choose wild caught fish instead! Just as the name suggests, wild-caught fish are born, raised, and harvested straight from their native habitat – no fish meal, no antibiotics, no overcrowding. Wild caught fish will have some noticeable benefits over farm raised fish.

Omega-3’s: Wild-caught salmon have a better ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, about 6 to 9 Omega-3’s to 1 Omega-6. This is the desired ratio for a heart-healthy diet.

Toxins: across the board, wild caught fish have less toxins than farmed fish. A study showed that wild fish had significantly lower levels of PCBs, organochloride pesticides, PDBEs, and dioxins than farmed fish.

What About the Mercury?

Methylmercury is a toxin that may be found in fish and is known to be harmful to brain development. The FDA recommends that women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children avoid fish with high levels of mercury. How do you know which fish to avoid? Rule of thumb: the higher on the food chain, the greater the risk. Since methylmercury bioaccumulates, it will be more present in larger, predatory fish (fish that eat other fish). Smaller fish (sardines, for example) will have the least amount of mercury.

I found a sensational resource for checking the mercury, sustainability, and Omega-3 levels of different fish: the seafood selector from the Environmental Defense Fund. This guide will even tell you a recommended number of servings per month, based on sustainability and toxin levels. Check this out, bookmark it on your phone, and keep it handy!


I am a believer in the power of Omega-3’s! About five years ago, my husband’s bloodwork came back with HIGH triglyceride levels. His doctor recommended adding a fish oil supplement. After three months of fish oil (and some dietary changes) his levels were cut by 66%.

Yes, both wild and farmed fish contain Omega-3’s…BUT…it’s not just the amount of Omega-3’s that are important, it’s their ratio to Omega-6’s that truly matters:

Farmed Salmon: 1:1

Wild Alaskan Salmon: between 6 and 9:1

If you’re eating fish for the Omega-3 benefits, farmed fish is not going to be a big help. It has too many Omega-6’s because of their feed-based diet. As with grass-fed vs. conventionally raised beef, the animal will always be healthier if it was raised and fed the way nature intended.

Farmed fish are higher in fat and, as a result, higher in Omega-3 fatty acids (and Omega-6’s). However, this higher fat content also holds the potential for significantly higher toxin levels. Personally, I will choose wild-caught fish as often as possible to avoid the toxins. What are your thoughts? Have you found any great, affordable sources for wild-caught fish?

fish farm 2 pictured: farmed salmon (left), wild salmon (right)

Next week…

Omega-3’s are fantastic for your health, and, if you don’t get enough in your diet, a fish oil supplement is a fantastic option. Are all fish oil supplements the same? Why do some cost 10x as much as others? And what’s the deal with krill oil? Next week, we’ll look at fish oil supplements! This is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.