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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Farmed Fish

Tilapia is a very popular fish in this country--it's cheap, mild tasting and easily found in most stores.  There's a very interesting article from the New York Times that gives a lot of information about these fish.  Here are some of the highlights:

According to the article, Americans ate 475 million pounds of tilapia last year, more than 4 times the amount eaten a decade ago.  They're sometimes called "aquatic chicken" because they are so plentiful, easily farmed and have a bland taste.  ("Chicken of the Sea"?)

Tilapia are originally lake fish from Africa.  But during the second half of the 20th century, they were transported to poor tropical countries to control the weeds and the mosquito population.  Now they are mostly farmed in Latin America and China.  But there are some problems that go along with these easily farmed fish.

Those who raise these fish by the thousands, now know that the fish don't mind being crowded in fenced-in areas and will grow quickly on cheap corn- and soy-based feed.  But put thousands of fish in a small lake and things go wrong--their waste pollutes the lake's ecosystem and leads to the demise of native species.  That's why there are many more standards and regulations for tilapia farming starting to be put in place.  This is true especially in this country. 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has a popular sustainable seafood program called, Seafood Watch.  It's a great way to follow your best choices for sustainable seafood.  According to the Times article:
For the moment, Seafood Watch lists tilapia raised in the United States as a “best choice,” tilapia from Latin America as a “good alternative” and tilapia from China as “to be avoided.” Less than 5 percent of the tilapia consumed in the United States is farmed within its borders, and that is mostly whole fish. Dr. Bridson said these rough ratings were largely based on the presence of effective monitoring in those places and how farms disposed of their waste.

Another problem with these farmed fish is that they are less healthy than other fish.  Their amounts of the good Omega-3 (and other) fatty acids are much lower than other fish.  (Salmon has 10 times more.)  The reason?  Fish get these healthy compounds from what they eat in the wild, not from feed made with corn and soy.  Still, they have some of the fatty acids and that's a good thing. 

Should you stop eating tilapia?  I'd say no.  If it's getting you to eat fish more often, then that's good.  There are just better choices that you could make (both taste- and health-wise). 

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