The 5 Best Reasons to Never Ever Eat Factory-Farmed Fish

The 5 Best Reasons to Never Ever Eat Factory-Farmed Fish

While it may seem like a modern invention, “aquaculture,” has been

around for ages – man has been “farming” fish in net enclosures, ponds,

vats, urns and even woven baskets for thousands of years. More recently

though, say within the last few decades, worldwide demand has exploded

and farming fish has grown just as rapidly, evolving into a

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multi-billion dollar industry. Its mission: to produce more fish

quicker, faster, larger and cheaper to meet the insatiable demand for

what once seemed a limitless and inexpensive source of protein and good


Not surprisingly, the extraordinary growth of the fish farm business

has brought with it a number of industrial farming problems that concern

me enough to advise all my patients to avoid factory-farmed fish. While

there are some fish farmers producing eco-friendly and healthy fish,

they are the exception, not the rule, so unless you’re able to purchase

fish from those types of purveyors (usually smaller-scale, artisanal or

boutique-style fish farms), just say No Tanks…that is, no to farmed fish – and here are five simple reasons why:

Read about the trouble with tilapia

1) There’s no such thing as a free-range, farmed fish

In fact, it’s quite the opposite, with fish farm enclosures packing

the creatures in, well, like sardines, leaving little room for the fish

to swim freely or to engage in their normal behavioral patterns. The

result? Stressed fish, who like us, tend to get sick more easily when

their defenses are down. With their immune systems compromised, the fish

become more prone to illness, parasitic infections and diseases, which

then can spread quickly through their over-populated aquatic quarters.

2) Farmed fish are like really into drugs, dude

Next, the sickened fish have to be made well again, with you guessed

it, drugs.  To do this, farmed fish are fed antibiotics, antifungals

and/or pesticides – which means so are you, with every fork-full. Hardly

an appetizing thought. As if that weren’t enough, farmed fish are often

injected with booster shots of sex hormones. Turns out, captive fish

populations tend to produce fewer offspring, so fish farms often enhance

Mother Nature with fertility treatments (i.e., hormone shots, special

feed, etc.) to stimulate offspring production and pump up the yield.

With this in mind the question becomes, what are those fish hormones

doing to our bodies? And is it worth the risk? I don’t think so.

3) Their diet is simply revolting

As is the case with industrially farmed, land-based livestock, top

quality, 5-star feed isn’t on the menu, so what does the average farmed

fish eat? Mostly fishmeal. Sound innocuous enough, that is till you

discover that fishmeal is made up mostly of smaller fish mixed with

(presumably genetically-modified) soybeans, grains and corn. Possible GMO issues aside, the larger issue is that in order to make all that

fishmeal, a tremendous amount of smaller fish are fished out of the sea –

anywhere from 3-to-6 pounds of small fish are needed to produce just

one pound of farmed fish. In addition to being an enormously wasteful

process, it also leaves less food available for wild fish to feed on,

which contributes to their population declines. Oh, and what else do

farmed fish snack on? The carcasses of deceased neighbors floating in or

lying at the bottom of their tanks. It’s not a pretty picture.

4) If you’re looking for nutrition, farmed fish falls short

Even if you could overlook the drugs, hormone shots and

less-than-optimal diet, farmed fish still comes up short in terms of

nutrition, one of the reasons so many of us turned to fish in the first

place. Compared to wild fish, farmed versions can have as much as 20%

less protein, twice as much inflammation-boosting omega 6 fatty acid,

less usable omega 3’s and fewer nutrients overall. In short, wild is


5) Industrial fish farms pollute their surroundings

Numerous studies report that water quality suffers in areas where

fish farms operate, creating something akin to the aquatic version of

agricultural run-off. Decaying fishmeal, diseased and dying fish and

their waste products combine to create conditions that enable bacteria

to flourish, polluting not only the fish farm waters but seeping into

and damaging neighboring wild fish habitats, marshes and wetlands either

by accident, carelessness or poor fish farming methods. Isn’t all this

damage and pollution is too high an ecological price to pay for farmed

fish-on-demand? I believe it is.

So, with all this in mind, what’s the alternative to farmed fish? The

answer is wild fish though the wild stuff is not without its own set of

issues, including over-fishing, dwindling populations and mercury

concerns. To help you make the best possible choices, when buying fish

at the market or dining out, ask questions and find out where your fish

is sourced, and if it’s fished sustainably. Before you buy, check your

choices with the Blue Ocean Institute’s helpful Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood or download printable lists of eco-friendly seafood recommendations from

Read more about our sushi investigation

For more on how to make informed seafood choices, check out School Yourself the Smart Way to Eat Fish.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on

Image: ezu

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After my initial medical training in my native South Africa, I spent 18 months working at clinics in the bush. There I became familiar with the local traditional healers, called sangomas, which kindled my interest in non-Western healing modalities. In 1984, I immigrated to the United States, and became the chief medical resident at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. While there, I became fascinated by the hospital’s addiction clinic, which used acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat people suffering from heroin and crack addiction. Seeing the way these patients responded so positively to acupuncture made me even more aware of the potential of implementing non- Western medicine to promote holistic wellbeing. As a medical student, I was taught to focus on the disease rather than the patient, and as a doctor I found myself treating symptoms rather than the root causes of illness. Frustrated by the constraints of my training, and the limitations in helping patients regain true health, I began a journey of discovery to search for the path to meaningful long-term health and wellness. I began studying nutrition, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, functional medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga. In 1992, I founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in the heart of downtown Manhattan – one of the first-of-its- kind clinics to integrate these varied modalities. As one of my patients, the chef Seamus Mullen told The New York Times, “If antibiotics are right, he’ll try it. If it’s an anti-inflammatory diet, he’ll do that. He’s looking at the body as a system rather than looking at isolated things.”