Wild or Farmed Fish?

We are often asked if it is better to eat and feed children farmed organic fish or wild fish. We hope that this article will help you decide what is best for your family.

What is fish farming?

Aquaculture, or fish farming, means that the fish are raised in pens, either on land or in offshore fish farms. It is sometimes referred to as “ocean raised.”

The Pros of Farmed Fish

Farmed fish are often cheaper and more readily available than wild fish. Since farmers can better control the diets of farmed fish, some farmed fish may have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids than wild fish. However, this is not a comparison that is easy for consumers to make. It depends a lot on what the fish are eating. When fish are farmed, there is a lower danger of overfishing (or depleting) the population of wild fish.

The Cons of Farmed Fish

In farms, operators control fish production and diet. The fish often live in close proximity to thousands of others, which can lead to disease and parasites that require antibiotics and pesticides. Farmed fish often contain contaminants. Their feed consists of processed pellets manufactured from other small fish such as anchovies. To keep costs down, many fish farms use cheap fish caught in polluted waters, which can be contaminated with industrial chemicals.

Therefore, farmed fish can have much higher levels of chemical contaminants such as PCBs, which have been linked to neurobehavioral changes in babies and children (Faroon et al, 2000). Farmed salmon is of particular concern. A study of 700 samples of salmon published in the journal Science found that the PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in farmed salmon were, on average, almost eight times higher than the concentrations in wild salmon (36.63 parts per billion vs. 4.75) (Hites et al, 2004).

Critics of this study have argued that this amount is still below the safety guidelines of most countries, but farmed salmon has repeatedly been shown to contain more PCBs than wild salmon and this is of most relevance to babies and children. One study demonstrated that regular consumption of Scottish salmon by children under 5 years would exceed the tolerable daily and weekly intakes of PCBs and other chemicals (Jacobs, 2001).

Since farmed fish are kept in pens, they are at risk of disease, which can also spread to wild populations. Farmed fish can be given antibiotics to minimize this risk. The Center for Food Safety states that farmed salmon are administered more antibiotics by weight than any other type of livestock (Center for Food Safety, 2013).

Wild-Caught fish

Wild fish live in and are fished in their natural habitat – the open water – and they eat a natural diet. This consists of fish lower down the food chain which are generally lower in toxins than those fed to farmed fish.

The Pros of Wild Fish

Some people say that wild fish taste different to farmed fish due to their natural movement and higher amount of muscle. This can affect their taste and texture.

Wild salmon is naturally bright orange because of its feed (krill and other small sea creatures). Farmed salmon is often grayish and manufacturers may add dyes to give the fish a more appealing orange colour. Some studies have found wild fish to have higher levels of essential fatty acids such as EPAs and DHA, although this varies between fish and depends on what the farmed fish are fed (Kris-Etherton et al, 2002).

The Cons of Wild Fish

Wild fishing is harder to police and many stocks of wild fish are caught in an unsustainable way, leading to them being depleted or wiped out. This doesn’t just affect the fish, it affects the entire ecosystem. Wild fish also often travel thousands of miles in order to reach your local supermarket.

All fish have their pros and cons. The benefits of oily fish must be weighed up against the potential risk of contaminants, which is of particular concern to children, especially girls and women up to child-bearing age and pregnant women. It is probably best to limit the amount of oily fish given to these groups, although the data on risk/benefit analysis is still unclear.

Some tips for reducing the risks of eating seafood contaminated with PCBs

Contaminants build up in the fat of fish and animals. Proper cooking methods can minimize exposure.

– Prior to cooking, remove the skin and fat (found on the belly, back and sides), internal organs, tomalley of lobster and the mustard of crabs, where toxins can accumulate.

– Drain the fat whilst cooking instead of allowing fish to cook in its fat.

– Grill, steam, broil or bake fish instead of fried fish to avoid cooking fish in its fat.

– If smoking a fish, fillet it and remove its skin before smoking.


Faroon O, Jones D, de Rosa C. Effects of polychlorinated biphenyls on the nervous system. Toxicol Ind Health. 2000 Sep;16(7-8):305-33. Review. PubMed PMID: 11693948 [Pubmed]

Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ; American Heart Association. Nutrition Committee. Hites RA, Foran JA, Carpenter DO, Hamilton MC, Knuth BA, Schwager SJ. Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon. Science. 2004 Jan 9;303(5655):226-9. PubMed PMID: 14716013

Jacobs, M. Ferrario, J. Byrne, C Investigation of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, dibenzo-p-furans and selectedcoplanar biphenyls in Scottish farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) [Online]


Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS, Appel LJ; American Heart Association. Nutrition Committee. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation. 2002 Nov 19;106(21):2747-57. Erratum in: Circulation. 2003 Jan 28;107(3):512.. PubMed PMID: 12438303 89 [Online]