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Farmed or Wild? 5 tips for buying seafood.

Guest post by: Heather AllenWild VS Farmed. While these terms can conjure up profoundly different images -one of a free, happy salmon and the other sad, hor
Feb 25, 2014 | Heather Allen

Wild VS Farmed. While these terms can conjure up profoundly different images - one of a free, happy salmon and the other sad, hormone-stuffed fish crammed into a tiny pen- the differences between the two might not be as disturbing as you might expect. Farmed fish ain't so bad. SAY WHAT? I know, I too had that franken-fish image engrained in my brain, but before you go stocking up or cursing me out, allow me to explain.

Not all farmed fish are created equal and it's tough to understand this fishy business. *Pun totally intended. Wishy-washy marketing terms and misleading advertising can leave consumers frustrated and even more confused about their choices. And yes some fish farms are atrocious but not all. In an attempt to get a taste of the bigger picture I turned to fish expert Kristin Donovan at Hooked Fish store to get the inside scoop.

All About Hooked Fish Store

Hooked fish store first opened in Leslieville, Toronto in 2011 by husband-wife duo Kristin & Dan Donovan. As chefs & seafood lovers, they were frustrated with the poor quality of seafood offered by the conventional supply chain and the lack of information about where their food was actually coming from. This drove them to bypass the traditional supply chain, buy directly from producers and open up two Hooked locations in Toronto. By cutting out the middle man, Kristin & Dan's supply reaches the doors of Hooked within 24-48 hours of being caught. That's 3-10 days ahead of the conventional supply chain!

I'll paraphrase here, but this is the gist of my chat with Kristin.

Farm Vs Wild. Give us the 411.

 Wild fish is fantastic however poor fishing practices have put the natural supply in serious jeopardy. Hooked carries only fish and shellfish from clean-water, healthy stocks, that have been caught using methods which do no harm to other species or the surrounding environment.Their farmed fish have been carefully vetted: slow growth rates, low population densities, no hormones or antibiotics. It's important for consumers to understand the source and sustainability of the products they buy as not all fish farming methods are created equal.

Which methods of fish farming do you want to avoid and which do you want to support?

Open-net-cage fish farming: AVOID :(

The most common and controversial practice of fish farming. It has raised environmental concerns around the world. This practice involves a floating net in the ocean that holds up to a million fish in an area the size of two football fields.

Problems with open-net-cage fish farming:

  • Overpopulation can lead to health issues and damaged fins, leaving fish vulnerable to disease
  • Diet: As an easy and cheap solution, many farms feed their fish pellets containing animal by-products, grains, soy, and GMO products. These fish are often overfed to increase growth rates so they can hit the store shelves quicker and increase profits.
  • Disease & pollution: unsanitary conditions caused by overfeeding, overpopulation, feces and pollution of the seabed under these nets creates disease and leaves wild stocks open to contamination and put native species at risk.
  • Antibiotics & Pesticides are required to keep farmed fish healthy due to these unsanitary conditions.
  • Escape of farmed fish non-native species (Atlantic salmon in the Pacific waters of B.C) pose a serious threat to native species and disrupt the eco-system.

Closed- captivity Aquaculture: Hooked Approved :)

This involves raising fish in land-based closed tanks. These tanks create a natural eco-system for the fish and use proper filtration systems. Hooked supports this method for the following reasons:

Benefits of closed- captivity aquaculture:

  • Eliminates spread of disease to wild fish
  • Reduces or eliminate disease outbreaks
  • Eliminates escape of non-native species into an eco-system
  • No use of antibiotics or growth hormones
  • Eliminates pollution from feed, feces and contamination of the seabed under farms.
  • Eliminates marine mammal deaths caused by interactions with nets in the ocean
  • Low population density, improved quality of life.
  • Organic feed
  • Ocean wise recognized
  • Reduced exposure to heavy metal toxins such as mercury

Are you affiliated with any regulating body for sustainable fishing practices?

Hooked is a partner of Ocean Wise. This is a non-profit Vancouver Aquarium based organization dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. They work directly with producers, markets, vendors and restaurants to ensure quality and sustainability.

*Not to be confused with other not-so fish friendly labels using the terms "wise" or "smart' choice carried at conventional grocery stores.

Fresh Or Frozen. Which is best and what are the benefits?

Fresh is great but modern freezing techniques have come a long way in their ability to preserve nutritional content and freshness. If your fish is properly frozen it can be just as good as fresh. Kristin specifically recommends buying "dry" scallops in order to avoid chemical preservatives commonly used to reduce spoilage and make them appear firmer and plumper. The term "dry" means they are harvested, shucked and immediately frozen on the boat to lock in their quality and avoid those nasty chemicals.

Are farmed fish really fed orange coloured pellets to make their flesh a brighter orange?

Salmon naturally obtain their pink-reddish colour through their natural diet of krill, plankton and other small organisms. These organisms contain high amounts of beta-carotene and astaxanthin (natural-antioxidants responsible for giving red, orange colours found in food and nature.) Responsibly raised farm salmon consume these same naturally occurring compounds in their diet however, other companies may use synthetic versions in high doses in order to obtain a certain colour in their product.

Do you take healthier fish options into consideration?

Hooked carries smaller, younger types of wild fish, such as halibut, to avoid high levels of heavy metals (from being in the ocean for so long) and also because it contributes to the sustainability of the eco-system. Large, mature fish have earned their 'right of passage' so to speak and should be left in the wild to reproduce genetically strong offspring and keep our fish population healthy.

Fish is a great source of lean protein and heart-healthy Omega's 3's, but choosing the right source is just as important as the nutrients it offers. The effects of improper fishing methods can wreak serious havoc on your health & our eco-system. So yes, I am giving you another thing to consider when trying to make healthy decisions but it truly is important! Take this opportunity to empower yourself.

"Every time you spend money, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want." - Anna Lappe

 Here are some tips to make your trip to the fish counter a little bit easier.

Top 5 Tips for Buying Seafood

1. Ask questions

Now that you've got the information, ask your supplier about where their fish comes from and their farming practices. Visit fish markets such as Hooked, as you will rarely find sustainable fish & seafood in your conventional grocery stores and the staff at specialty stores really know their stuff!

2. Buy Ocean wise

They strictly adhere to sustainable and healthy fishing practices. They work directly with restaurants, markets and producers to ensure quality and help keep our oceans clean.

3. Be portion wise

You can support sustainable fishing practices even on a shoestring budget by keeping your portions in check. Protein portions should be around 3-6 oz (the size of a deck of cards) not the supersized 8-10 portions we've become accustom to. Good for you wallet, waistline and our fishy friends.

4. Turn to your trusty smartphone for help

Apps are available to help keep you in the know. They can help you make sustainable decisions by listing restaurants, markets and vendors in your area and also allows you to browse different species of fish to see which ones are okay to put on your plate and which should stay in the sea. My top 3 picks include Ocean Wise, Seafood Watch and SeaChoice .

5. Switch it up

Big fish, small fish, red fish, blue fish! Eating a variety of fish and seafood from different tropic levels help prevent over-fishing, maintains a balanced eco-system and gives your body a great variety of nutrients.

Want more info? Check out the documentary Salmon Confidential for an in-depth look into the impacts of improper fish farming practices off the coast of British Columbia.

Hooked has 2 locations for your shopping pleasure:

Leslieville - 888 Queen Street East, Toronto ON

Kensington - 206 Baldwin Street, Toronto ON


Feb 25, 2014 BY Heather Allen
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