by Sydney Schwartz
"Growing" fish is not so dissimilar to producing any other type of protein. Large scale and irresponsible farming practices pollute water and damage ecosystems, overcrowding leads to disease and the use of antibiotics, and the need to produce product quickly and cheaply leads to the use of growth stimulants and feed programs. Additionally there is the problem of feed, particularly with salmon. To harvest/produce 1 pound of farmed salmon more than 3 pounds of wild fish meal is consumed, putting heavy and unsustainable pressure on forage fish stocks all over the world. Also troubling is the current epidemic of salmon viruses that are quickly spreading from fish farms into wild populations.
Although there is a movement for improvement, the vast majority of fish farming is done outside the United States under unacceptable conditions, so even beyond this immediate issue of the hybrid fish (Frankenfish), I would say that that the best advice SFNYC can give to its members is to apply the same principles to buying fish that they would apply to buying any kind of meat: Shop locally and seasonally when ever possible and when you can not, look for product that is transparent, traditional, fair and clean.
Below is are links to two useful sites for learning more about how to make good seafood choices. I've also included a link to an infographic that I've found is helpful in painting the farmed vs. wild picture for salmon.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has a very complete data base of seafood and assigns values (avoid, good alternative, best choice) based on a number of factors. Most importantly Seafood Watch breaks out species by fishery and takes into account fishing methods so blanket labeling is less of an issue. They also have a useful Ap.
NOAA's FishWatch is very user friendly and provides detailed information about specific fish species including information on fishing rates, species overviews, by catch, flavor profiles and much more.
Sydney Schwartz is a Slow Food NYC Snail of Approval committee member and works with our Producer Matrix partner Sea To Table.