Purchasing organic, GMO-free, local, free-range, and the like can be daunting for many consumers, but with seafood comes an added hitch: Should we be seeking out farm-raised or wild-caught? Which is the healthier option, and are the benefits cost-effective? Jim Thistle, principal of Fjord Fish Market in Larchmont, says the answer isn’t very clear-cut. “Unfortunately, there is just not enough wild seafood in the ocean to be able to both satisfy the population’s appetite and keep the fish stocks at a sustainable level for future generations.”
Farmed seafood, called aquaculture, currently accounts for more than 50 percent of US seafood consumption. The National Aquaculture Association maintains strict guidelines, ensuring all fish farmed in the US are hormone- and antibiotic-free. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration likewise regulates domestic fishing and fish farming to protect local marine environments and native fish populations from over-fishing and cross-contamination. Not every country follows the same guidelines, however, so it’s important for you or your fishmonger to have a solid, reputable supply chain.
Best of the Farm
Salmon Organic: farm-raised salmon tends to have more fat and flavor than wild varieties and are often cheaper by the pound. These are better-suited to thick cuts and broiling.
Trout: Some trout you just can’t get wild unless you catch it yourself. Brook trout, for example, can only be raised in commercial volume through aquaculture.
Oysters and Mussels: Almost exclusively farmed, these briny morsels are sedentary — meaning no chance of escaping to contaminate surrounding wild populations — and filter-feed, i.e., they require next to no feeding and actually purify local waters. Some oysters can filter as much as 10 liters per gram per hour!
Born to be wild
Lobster: Despite aquaculture advances in the last decade, the vast majority of lobsters are still harvested fresh out of the ocean. They tend to live longer, grow larger and have a superior taste to their farm-raised cousins.
Shrimp: As with real estate, it’s all about location. South and Central American imports are excellent, caught wild and often frozen right on the boat. Due to quality concerns, many markets will not stock shrimp or other seafood exported out of Asian regions, however. Talk to your local fishmonger to make sure your shrimp hail from a region with strict fishing and handling guidelines.
Salmon: Wild-caught salmon, when in season, can be delicious but a little pricey. Overall, they tend to be leaner than farm-raised salmon and as such are excellent on the grill.