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Fresh-Caught vs Farm-Raised Debate

I was reading an article last week about how the annual “salmon run” on Lake Ontario is getting a late start this year and it got me thinking. I love boating and fishing, and there is nothing more satisfying to me than catching the “the big one,” followed by enjoying that at my next meal.

As a boater and fisherman, I am very concerned about the environment (who wants contaminated fish?) and sustainability (many species are overfished and endangered), so I never keep more than one fish.

We all know that fish should be a staple in our diets, rich in protein, vitamin, minerals, and omega fatty acids. However, the concern has always been the risk of contaminants in fish, including mercury, arsenic, antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides.

In New Jersey, where I live, the State advisories indicate that except for summer flounder (once weekly), no other single fish from the New York and New Jersey waters, including off-shore, deep water, should be eaten more than once monthly. When I go to a restaurant, I, more often than not, order fish. I am always warned by my wife not to ask: “Fresh caught or farm raised?” Invariably, the server does not know and needs to check, and recently, the answer I got back was “both”. This was a little confusing and received a chuckle, but I have since investigated where “fresh fish” comes from.

Fresh caught is easy to understand: fisherman simply go out and catch the fish. Many of the freshest and cleanest fish come from northern colder climates (Norway, Alaska, New England and Canada, etc.). These fish, as well as commercially caught fish around the United States, are cleaned and flash frozen on the boat. Although frozen, the freshness, taste, and nutritional value is maintained. Farm-raised has had a bad connotation for years. Farms were typically penned in areas in lakes, near shore and even indoors. The issue was the runoff from local land, carrying chemicals and toxins. The fish were also fed differently than in the wild, leading not only to higher contaminants, but lower omega 3 fatty acids (the ones that protect the heart and blood vessels) and also requiring other additives such an antibiotics for growth. Farm-raised has always been supported by some in order to increase the availability of fish, but also in order to improve sustainability of wild fish populations.

Over recent years, especially in the United States, fish farms have advanced in methods and technology -- they can even be large enclosed areas in the ocean. New methods for feeding the fish more of their natural foods have improved the quality of nutritional value of the fish. For the most part, the contaminant levels are down to safe levels and equivalent to fresh caught…and even fish “afficionados” would be hard pressed to tell the difference by taste. The only warning, however, is that many fish are imported from overseas, particularly China and other countries in southeast Asia, where farming methods are frequently suspect. So, always ask!

The bottom line is that fish is a great food and eating any fish at least once weekly (I try for at least three times weekly) is better than no fish at all.

Check out one of my favorite salmon recipes below.

The dish is versatile and can be cooked on a grill, in the oven, or - my personal favorite - in a smoker.

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