Whether you love it or leave it, fish and other seafood are vital to a healthy, well-balanced diet. Fish is the richest food source of omega-3 essential fatty acids. It is also rich in vitamins A and D, selenium, magnesium, phosphorous, and protein. Fish is a heart-healthy food, its nutrients work to normalize heart rhythm, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood vessel function. Fish is also a brain booster. Its combination of nutrients promotes normal brain development, and assists in the function and proper transmission of electrical nerve impulses to and from the brain. Eating fish once or twice a week has been reported to possibly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, stroke, depression, and other chronic conditions.
Still not convinced to eat fish? Maybe you’re hesitant to eat fish for reasons other than flavor or food preferences. Disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and radioactive materials released into the environment after the Fukushima earthquake from the nuclear plant nearby raise genuine concern for the health of our oceans and natural food sources. With growing concerns of mercury, pesticides, and other contaminants in fish and its habitats, we’ll take a look at the different sources for raising and acquiring fish, and which fish species are healthy to eat and which ones are most likely to contain toxins.
Over 50% of fish consumed globally are farm raised. Commonly referred to as fish farming, fish and shrimp are typically raised in contained ponds or tanks. The advantage is that farmed fish grow at much faster rates, and thus typically contain low levels of mercury. Fish farm standards vary. Farmed fish are fed fish meal, which may also contain feces and GMO products. Fish raised in crowded conditions are more prone to disease, and are often fed antibiotics. China and other Asian countries have been cited for not only feeding raw sewage to farmed fish, but raising and processing fish in nasty conditions, and holding or transporting the fish in contaminated ice. The good news, select grocery stores such as Whole Foods Market, have developed high standards of raising and feeding the fish they sell and hold their fish suppliers to this standard, furnishing consumers with non-GMO; hormone-, preservative-, and antibiotic-free; quality fish and seafood. Check your grocer’s website for their seafood policy and standards. When possible, buy local. Buying from local producers affords you the opportunity to visit the farm or at least ask how the fish were raised, what they were fed, and if antibiotics were used
Wild Caught Fish
Wild caught fish, thriving uncontained, in their natural habitat, are generally considered to be a healthy, more nutritious fish than aquaculture produced. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon and Atlantic mackerel offer a healthy boost of omega-3 and have been reported to be low in contaminants, thus being among the healthiest fish to consume. Before consuming fish caught in local lakes and rivers, instead of the deep sea, it is wise to check local advisories about its safety. If no advisory is available, the Harvard School of Public Health advises that you limit your intake to 6 ounces or less, per week of fish caught from local waters, and do not consume any other fish during that week.
Aquaponics to the Rescue
As the effects of environmental hazards escalate, we can’t help but wonder if healthy, uncontaminated fish from natural sources will remain readily available. Fortunately, there is a superior way of controlling the water quality and environment fish are raised in which produces naturally clean and nutritious fish. Meet Aquaponics! Aquaponics is a sustainable agricultural science which combines methods of aquaculture (fish farming) with hydroponics (growing plants without soil). This highly efficient, natural food production system works in a complete, balanced cycle yielding quality produce (lettuce, basil, etc.) and healthy fish. Tilapia is one the most commonly raised fish species in aquaponics, at present. The fish in contained tanks supply natural fertilizer for the plants floating in rafts on the surface of the recirculating water system. The plants, in turn, provide clean freshwater to the fish. This innovative combination of raising produce and fish conserves water; efficiently utilizes space, without compromising the health of the fish it produces; and involves no pesticides, antibiotics, or chemicals.
Aquaponics is gaining popularity with hobby farm enthusiasts and those in the sustainable food movement. Aquaponic systems and plans ranging from compact, home systems to large commercial greenhouses are available in abundance on the Internet. To learn more about DIY aquaponics, visit www.friendlyaquaponics.com. Friendly Aquaponics has a newsletter, educational materials, system plans, and conducts training sessions for those interested in aquaponics throughout the United States.
If you’re not interested in raising fish, but want to purchase aquaponic fish for dinner tonight, it’s not widely available. Randy Campbell, an aquaponics producer of 8 years in Elora, Tennessee states, “Fish is not the primary focus in aquaponics, but it is a necessity. Fish is the fuel for the vehicle.” So, it is more likely for you to find Aquaponic raised lettuce or other produce in your local market than fish. Campbell also said, “aquaponic fish cost twice the amount to produce than imported farmed fish. So, it is not likely that you will find aquaponic-raised fish available in your local seafood markets.” Campbell also told us that state regulations determine whether producers can sell aquaponic fish at local farmers’ markets. For the most part, aquaponic fish are sold whole (live) to consumers direct from the producer. Aquaponic fish are also sold directly to local, discerning restaurants. If you want to know if aquaponic fish are available for purchase in your area, call your local county extension office or do a search online.
For more information on which fish should you avoid and which are safe to consume, plus a tasty recipe, read rest of this story in the 2015 Farmers’ Almanac! (page 178)