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Farmed: Good for You and the Planet

US - University of Arizona professor Kevin Fitzsimmons has a passion for aquaculture. He has devoted his career to correcting what he believes is a stigma placed on fish farms based on misconceptions that have been amplified by environmental groups.

Fish farming and aquaculture, the method of harvesting fish in farms for commercial sale, is quickly taking over the seafood market and replacing commercial fishermen. Though it has been practiced in Asia for hundreds of year, American aquaculturists have struggled to convince environmentalists, health experts, and the general public that farmed fish is equal in quality and health to wild fish.

"We can no more feed the world by hunting and gathering fish out of the ocean than we can by hunting and gathering on land. I mean if we were all out there hunting deer and buffalo we’d be in pretty bad shape," said Professor Fitzsimmons.

Arizona alone is home to more than 30 fish farms that produce an average of 500,000 pounds of fish a year, according to the Arizona Aquaculture Association. Arizonan fish farms produce mainly catfish, tilapia and trout.

Half is Farm-Raised

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) estimates last year nearly 50 percent of fish consumed in the world was farm-raised, with the amount increasing each year.

Certain demographic trends have led to soaring numbers of seafood consumption in the United States in recent years, most importantly numerous studies suggesting the health benefits of fish. Fish are high in protein, low in fat, and full of Omega-3 fatty acids as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids, making them a staple in a diet-crazed society.

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"If anything the farmed fish typically is better quality because you schedule the harvest, you schedule the processing, you can have trucks there with ice, it’s much better."
Professor Kevin Fitzsimmons, University of Arizona.

In an attempt to maximize the health benefits, consumers have been wary of farmed fish which many believe are inferior to wild fish.

Fitzsimmons says that quality-wise there is very little difference. "If anything the farmed fish typically is better quality because you schedule the harvest, you schedule the processing, you can have trucks there with ice, it’s much better. If you go take the fish out of a cage or a pond or a tank and take it right to the processing plant, that’s going to be better than someone who’s going to drag it under water for a couple of hours dead, bring it up on the boat then take it to shore and process it. I mean it’s several days old. You’re calling it fresh and it’s been dead for a long time."

He adds that although farmed fish have been shown to have less Omega-3s than wild fish, it is still the second-highest source. Farmers have improved the feed given to the fish to add more of the fatty acids, but increasing them more would further increase the cost by around 3 percent, an increase farmers try to avoid.

View the AzBiz.com story by clicking here.

Ellen Hardy

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