Health Warning: Read This if You Eat Salmon or Other Fish

by Catherine Ebeling - RN, BSN & Mike Geary - Certified Nutrition Specialist
co-authors - Fat-Burning Kitchen

While fish used to be considered a healthy addition to any diet, farmed fish is now barely any better than eating a Big Mac. From both a nutritional and environmental impact perspective, farmed fish are far inferior to their wild counterparts:

Despite being much fattier, farmed fish provide less usable beneficial omega-3 fats than wild fish.

Due to the "feedlot" conditions of aqua farming, farm-raised fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more chemicals than their wild kin.

Farmed salmon, are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color.

Aqua farming also raises a number of environmental concerns, the most important of which may be its negative impact on wild salmon. It has now been established that sea lice from farms kill up to 95% of juvenile wild salmon that migrate past them.

Nutritional differences of farm-raised vs. wild fish:

Farm-raised fish have a higher fat content. It’s not very surprising, since farm-raised fish do not spend their lives vigorously swimming through cold ocean waters or leaping up rocky streams like their wild counterparts. A marine version of couch potatoes, they circle lazily in crowded pens fattening up on pellets of grain-based fish chow. It's a very similar comparison to commercial feedlot grain-fed beef vs grass-fed free range beef or wild game.

In each of the species evaluated by the USDA, the farm-raised fish were found to contain more total fat than their wild counterparts. For rainbow trout, the difference in total fat was the smallest, while cultivated catfish had nearly 5 times as much fat as wild catfish. Farm-raised Coho salmon had approximately 3 times the total fat as wild samples.

However, total fat is not the real issue at hand here -- after all, fatty wild fish is good for you...that's why most of us take fish oil for health benefits.

The problem lies in that farm-raised fish contain more inflammatory omega-6 fats, and a large imbalance of omega-6 to omega 3 fatty acids. In three types of fish evaluated, the amount of omega 6 fats was substantially higher in farm-raised compared to wild fish. The total of all types of omega-6 fats found in cultivated fish was at least twice the level found in the wild samples.

Generally you can figure that farm-raised fish will have 10-30% more fat (and that’s mostly omega-6 fats which you already get too much of) and calories than wild-caught fish.

The fat in farmed salmon contains far less of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids than the fat in wild salmon. Salmon fat is usually rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Not so with farmed salmon!

Disease and parasites, which would normally exist in relatively low levels in fish scattered around the oceans, can run rampant in densely packed oceanic feedlots. To survive, farmed fish are vaccinated as minnows. Later, they are given antibiotics or pesticides to ward off infection.

Sea lice, in particular, are one of the worst problems. While salmon farmers have discounted concerns that sea lice are also found in the wild, at the first sign of an outbreak, they add pesticides to the feed.

Scientists in the US are far more concerned about two studies: both of which showed farmed salmon accumulate more cancer-causing PCB’s and poisonous dioxins than wild salmon.

Tests on farmed salmon at grocery stores which contains up to twice the fat of wild salmon, has found 16x the PCB’s compared to wild salmon, 4x the levels in commercial beef, and 3.5x the levels found in other seafood. Most of these toxins are stored in the fat of the fish, so guess what you are eating when you eat farmed fish?

Farmed salmon usually has dye added to it to improve the looks of the product. Even with the coloring, it never looks as good as wild salmon. These colorings also come with recently documented cancer-causing agents. These dyes have zero health benefits, and have no other purpose than to fool you, the consumer, into thinking the product is naturual looking and flavorful... Don't believe it!

Aqua farms, or “floating pig farms,” put a major strain on the surrounding environment. The fish consume huge amounts of highly concentrated protein pellets and it makes a terrific mess.

Uneaten feed and fish waste cover the ocean floor beneath these farms, which are a breeding ground for bacteria that consume oxygen vital to shellfish and other bottom-dwelling sea creatures. A good-sized salmon farm produces an amount of excrement equivalent to the sewage of a city of 10,000 people. Think about that the next time you swim in the ocean!

Fish used to be a bit of a rarity on the standard US dinner plate. Today it is a common dinner at the homes of health-conscious consumers. Last year, salmon overtook “fish sticks” as the third most popular seafood in the American diet (trailing tuna and shrimp). The increased consumption was made possible by the explosive growth in salmon farming, an industrial system that produces the fish in vast quantities at a price far lower than wild salmon.

Although portrayed as “healthy”, most tilapia sold at restaurants and grocery stores is farm raised, and therefore is not considered the healthiest of choices.

More than half of the fish sold in supermarkets, fish markets, and restaurants are raised in high-density fish pens in the ocean, managed and marketed by the farmed fishing industry. These fish are eaten by over a quarter of all adults in the U.S. and experts predict that the exponential growth of the farmed fish industry will continue. Although it seems like a healthier choice, eating farmed fish is actually almost as bad as eating a fast food burger from commercial feedlot grain-fed beef.

Note that when you're choosing healthier wild fish, it is a good idea to try to limit your intake of fish that are higher on the food chain (such as tuna, swordfish, shark, striped bass, bluefish, etc) to more occasional meals due to the higher levels of mercury in these fish. Fish that are lower on the food chain such as sardines, herring, sunfish, and even trout and salmon have lower levels of mercury and are not as much of a concern.

Caution: it is extremely important for pregnant women to speak to your doctor about fish intake.

If you liked today's topic, this is just a sample of the dozens of nutrition topics that we talk about in our program -- The Fat Burning Kitchen

Mark Dilworth, BA, PES


  1. Having said all of that FARM RAISED FISH IS A GREAT WAY TO FEED PEOPLE AND PROTECT OUR NATURAL FOOD ECOSYSTEM IN THE WILD. So as a consumer, depending where you are and who you are, farm raised fish gives some people choices they never could have dreamed of before. Like tilapia farms in central Africa. Which is all good, Good, GOOD!

    1. I will take your comment into consideration. Thank you for reading My Fitness Hut!


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About Mark


Mark Dilworth is a Lifestyle and Weight Management Specialist and since 2006 he has owned Your Fitness University, Her Fitness Hut, My Fitness Hut, Sports Fitness Hut.

Mark has helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle changes that lead to better long-term health, which includes acceptable body fat and ideal body weight.He does not recommend fad diets, quick weight loss gimmicks, starvation diets, weight loss pills, fat burner supplements and the like.

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