We've been working on this for quite some time, but have moved up the schedule to help get a bit more variety into all those meals you're cooking!
Although we are often asked to provide fish, I've never been quite sure about the wild vs. farmed fish decision. I just didn't feel right offering a product if I hadn't fully researched all aspects.
In the past, the two fish that I personally felt comfortable eating were wild Alaskan cod and salmon. The Alaskan fisheries are some of the best managed fisheries in the world and were listed as very sustainable. As recently as 2015, Alaskan cod fisheries achieved 'level 1' sustainability - meaning they were SO stable and sustainable they no longer needed frequent monitoring to maintain certified sustainable status.
Basically, Alaskan cod and salmon were supposed to be the most sustainable fish you could eat.
Just months later the ocean temperature increased enough to disrupt the food chain for many northern fisheries. This has impacted the gulf of Alaska such that the entire cod fishery had to be closed!
The further north fisheries haven't increased in temperatures quite as much, so they are still open at reduced levels, but I have to question the sustainability of just about any for ocean based fish destined to our dinner tables.
In the end, I didn't feel I could support wild fish as a sustainable part of TC Farm's mission.
Finding a well raised farmed fish was a challenge - you'll see below why I am so grateful to finally have the fish we are able to offer!
I've included more research and information below, but for those who just want the best in aquaculture, you can add the Salad and/or Fish samplers to your next delivery by logging in.
The fish sampler will include some salmon as well as trout. Most of the trout is steelhead, which is very similar to salmon and can be cooked just the same. Some of you will get lucky and receive some rainbow trout to sample as well. Rainbow trout fillets are thinner and a bit more oily.
The salad mix (learn more about it here) is a great value, it will include a full pound bag of mixed baby salad greens which are grown in harmony with the fish.
Remember to order these, you must be logged into your account on the portal
While I talked about how unsustainable wild fish have become above, I think it is worth mentioning that farmed fish are typically much worse. Here are a few things I learned in my research:
Kind of by definition any farmed fish is going to be eating something different than it would have foraged for in the wild. However, what I didn't realize is that most farmed fish are fed the waste products from factory farms (think: chicken offal described in this study investigating the risk of salmonella contamination in the fish as a result)
Most farmed fish live in giant nets and the vast majority (88%) are from Asia. Domestically, they are often in formerly pristine streams. In order to keep the fish alive in crammed nets with questionable feed, there are a lot of under-regulated applications of medications and other chemicals put into the water.
What do you think the impact is on our local lakes and streams to have so much factory farm waste and other chemicals dumped into them?
Farmed fish are also often farmed in polluted waters since they are convenient or the natural fishery has collapsed due to all the pollution.
I was surprised to learn that Roundup and even more toxic herbicides are required for most farmed fish production to stop excessive algae growth or that other toxic insecticides are commonly used to treat parasites.
Who wants to eat fish raised in polluted water?
Even Canada, a major fish exporter, has mandated closing all salmon ocean based farming due to the massive pollution and environmental damage it is causing to their oceans
I was frustrated with the options for farmed fish, but I thought there MUST be someone else who feels the same and has created a better alternative.
Thankfully, I didn't have to search too far -- Superior Fresh is a certified organic farm in Wisconsin that is excited to serve our members.
I'll be honest, I was a little harsh when I first talked to them and demanded more details and insights into their production than they typically share. I wanted to know exactly what was in their proprietary feed and a full list of any inputs used in their farming operation. Very few operations would share such information, but I was happy with the level of transparency we were afforded.
Instead of factory animal byproducts, our fish are supplemented with organic grains and wild caught fish. I get that grains aren't natural for salmon to eat, but as part of a healthy diet, it reduces the pressure on the ocean's natural resources.
The farm uses clean Wisconsin well water and the water goes from the fish house out to the green houses for the plants and then back again.
Having clean water without parasites or other pests means none of the toxic chemicals are needed. 99.9% of the water is recycled in the system, so we aren't causing damage to our local lakes and streams like other farmed fish productions.
Because of the healthier diet, Superior Fresh's testing shows a higher amount of Omega-3s than other farmed salmon or even many wild caught samples.*
* In 2019, Superior Fresh obtained fresh samples of farmed Atlantic salmon from five different producers and samples of wild Sockeye salmon directly from a Midwest seafood distributor. They sent fillets from these fish to a laboratory to test for omega 3 fatty acid content. On average, fillets from the Superior Fresh Atlantic salmon contained 3200mg of omega 3 fatty acids per 100g serving while omega 3 fatty acids in fillets from the five other Atlantic salmon producers averaged just 1400-2100mg per 100 g serving. Mean omega 3 fatty acid levels in wild Sockeye salmon were just 1.8 mg per 100g serving. Superior Fresh is currently waiting for the results of their 2020 survey of omega 3 fatty acids to contrast fillets from Superior Fresh Atlantic salmon against other competitors from a different distributor in the Midwest region.
If you’ve followed my research and posts, you know I am a big advocate of transparency. Too much of our food system is build on sleight of hand or outright deception. Sadly, this is as true at the big box chain stores as it is at the farmer’s market or natural food stores.
Color is a big part of this.
We get asked all the time why our herb bacon isn’t pink. The pink color we expect in bacon or ham comes from the nitrates, so that color isn’t natural in the product. Our herb bacon has no celery powder nitrates, so it is more gray in color. I am sure many of our members wondered if there was something wrong. In reality, the gray color indicates it is a healthier bacon, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, color has been used to deceive consumers in many ways. Check out my recent article on the orange colorants used in grocery and farmers' market egg yolks. These are added to trick the consumer into thinking those eggs are raised on green pasture and are thus healthier and raised to a better welfare standard. They also use claims like ‘pasture raised’ which don’t actually mean what you’d expect them to. In that article, I talk about how the colorants themselves, while deceptive, are safe. I link to an EU study that seems pretty clear on the subject. However, I have a real issue with the deception they can cause: consumers are paying more based on the artificial yolk color, but the eggs are not actually being raised the way they were lead to believe.
In the case of farmed fish, the same anti-oxidant supplements are used to get the color we’d expect from salmon or trout. One effect of reducing the pressure on the ocean by feeding organic grains is that the fish will have a lighter color than if it were fed exclusively wild caught fish. By adding extra anti-oxidants to the feed, we can ensure the color of the fish is what we as consumers would expect.
Before I researched what colorants were used in the egg yolks or farmed fish, I really struggled with the idea. Once I learned exactly what products were used, I wasn’t concerned from a health perspective, but I am concerned about the lack of transparency in some products.
You’ll see that our fish are clearly farm raised, so everyone knows that. The packaging also clearly states the use of the anti-oxidant supplements who’s primary purpose is to get the color we’d expect from salmon or trout. If only those grocery ‘pasture raised’ chicken eggs were afforded the same level of transparency.