A person at the grocery store trying to pick what they're going to buy.

Wild vs. farmed fish: unraveling the truth

As fish consumption increases around the world, so does fish production, and today, more and more fish are being bred and raised in farms. Now we have the option to either buy fish that have been raised in farms, or fish that have been raised in the wild. This begs the very good question: is one option better than the other?

Which one is better: wild or farmed fish?

The truth is, each fish comes with pros and cons.


Both wild and farm-raised fish have the potential to be contaminated. For example, one report published in 2005 found that farm-raised fish in certain areas were exposed to more unsafe contaminants than were wild fish. However, not all wild-caught aren’t necessarily cleaner than farm-raised fish, as many wild fish run the risk of being exposed to certain pollutants and metals in the ocean. While farmed fish may be more likely to be contaminated, it really just depends on where the fish is coming from.


In the past, wild fish had more fat because their diet consisted of other, smaller fish with omega-3s. But today the fish farming industry is catching up, and many farms have started providing fish with the kind of algae that helps fatten them up. While there may be slight differences in omega-3s found in farm vs wild fish, for the most part you can find healthy fatty acids in both fish from farms, and the wild.


A final issue that is repeatedly brought up, and with good reason, is whether or not either practice is more sustainable in the long run. Fish farms in urban environments can grow fish and plants at the same time, for example. But they can also negatively impact their surrounding ecosystems, and they tend to create large amounts of waste that can contaminate surrounding water sources. Catching wild fish has its own environmental problems, though. It affects the fish’s natural environment and the overall fish supply in a given area, and the carbon footprint associated with fishing ‘in the wild’ is pretty large.

Nutrition comparison

Take the popular Atlantic salmon, for example. A serving of salmon is about 3 ounces. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one serving of wild Atlantic salmon contains 16.86 g protein, 2.158 g polyunsaturated fat, and 121 calories. One serving of farmed Atlantic salmon, on the other hand, has 17.36 g protein, 3.303 g polyunsaturated fat, and 177 calories.

Unfortunately, farmed salmon is much higher in omega-6 fatty acids than wild salmon is. Over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3s is a big problem, and can lead to serious side effects like hypertension. Wild salmon is also higher in minerals like iron and potassium.

Who’s the winner?

Although wild-caught fish may be healthier than farmed fish on the whole, that doesn’t mean farmed fish is a bad option. If you have access to wild fish at a reasonable price, opt for it! If all you have in your area is farmed fish, or if the price of wild fish is too expensive to eat routinely, then farmed fish is a great bet as well.

  • “Farmed Salmon vs. Wild Salmon.” doh.wa.gov. Washington State Department of Health, 2016. Web.
  • Jennifer K. Nelson, RD, LD. “Which fish to pick – farmed or wild?” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 9 2015. Web.
  • “Fish: Friend or Foe?” Harvard. The President and Fellows of Harvard University, 2017. Web.
  • “Full Report (All Nutrients): 15236, Fish, salmon, Atlantic, farmed, raw.” USDA. US Department of Agriculture, May 2016. Web.

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