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Mercury in Fish: Farmed/Farm Fish vs. Wild Fish

Updated on February 21, 2014

Mercury in fish has been the subject of much debate in recent years. Health conscious individuals have chosen fish as a means of decreasing or eliminating red meat intake. With the consumption of seafood on the rise, the FDA strongly advises limiting fish consumption due to mercury exposure.

Although it has been found that mercury poisoning in farm raised fish is higher than fish from the wild, no distinction has been made by the FDA. With these mixed message, many people are becoming confused and not eating fish at all, feeling that the dangers outweigh the benefits.

In America, 75% of the population do not consume at least two servings of fish a week. This is the minimum amount recommended for good health. A government release in 2004 about the potential health risks of eating mercury exposed fish caused a ten percent drop in tuna sales the following year. But even in light of these facts, most experts agree that the benefits of eating fish, far outweigh the dangers. In other words, people would be healthier if they increased their intake of fish to at least two servings per week.

Studies have shown that two servings a week will reduce the risk of death by 17 percent. Some of the best sources of nutrient rich fish are mackerel, herring, halibut and salmon. They contain long-chain omega 3 fatty acids that have health benefits in the body that omega 3’s from plant based sources lack. They also have been found to improve blood vessel function and are one of the best foods you can eat for heart health.

Choosing the quality and quantity of fish is important because of toxic exposures to mercury, pesticides and chemical compounds that have seeped into waterways. Large fish such as swordfish, shark and king mackerel who feed on smaller fish accumulate the largest amount of these toxins. If you are breast feeding, pregnant or want to get pregnant, the FDA recommends no more than 12 ounces of low mercury fish per week. The best way to reduce exposure is to buy smaller fish like salmon, sardines, tilapia and trout.

Another way to reduce toxic exposure is in the preparation of fish. When done properly, toxic exposure can be decreased by 35%. Removing the skin and cutting off as much of the fat as possible will decrease the risk because this is where most of the toxins settle. Bake, broil or steam your fish to liquify any remaining fat and allow it to drain off. Discard any remaining juices. You can substitute white wine or broth to make the sauce.

It is most likely that the fish you are eating came from a farm. If you enjoy salmon you should be aware that the cancer causing toxins dioxin and PCBs are said to be 10 times greater in farmed salmon than wild salmon. They are higher in saturated fat and lower in omega 3 fatty acids and they also have been genetically modified to increase appetite for faster growth. The toxins in farmed fish are especially dangerous to the brain development of fetuses and nursing babies. Antibiotics and other drugs used to treat disease in fish have also been found in farmed fish.

Eliminating fish completely from your diet may not be the best choice. While avoiding toxins that pose health risks is important, the health benefits of eating two servings of fish per week far outweigh the risks. In fact, studies show that eating 2 servings of fish per week can decrease the risk of all disease. To receive the maximum health benefits from fish, choose wild fish, eat the recommended weekly amount and use the suggested guidelines for preparation.


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    • RTalloni profile image


      8 years ago from the short journey

      Whoa. I was glad to read your last sentence since that is what we try to follow!

    • suppee profile image


      9 years ago from Cheshire, England

      Hi, This is so Scary! I used to eat fish alot- but then I heard about all the mercury etc- and that salmon was really quite bad , I cut right down, None of us know what the long term effects are , fo any pollutats that we take in all the time- but they won't be goos! Great Hub.

    • Ken Devonald profile image

      Ken Devonald 

      10 years ago from Edinburgh

      Here in the UK I remember the government commenting on mercury in tinned tuna. Basically the message was that mercury was taken up in the oils in the fish. Now our government representative for tinned tuna claimed that eating tinned tuna was fine because the oil broke down when the tins were processed! Duhh! Why do we vote in people who cannot understand basic science, that an element is not going to be destroyed by heat treatment?

    • Kulsum Mehmood profile image

      Dr Kulsum Mehmood 

      10 years ago from Nagpur, India

      Great info on fish steve. Also tinned fish contains 10 times as much calcium in it as compared to the fresh fish. Thank you for a very informative hub.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      My husband is an avid fisherman and is trying to get more wild fish in our diet. I've never been too fond of fish since my father ate it almost all the time. Now, I'm finding very good recipies out there to make it taste less fishy.

    • Lynne and Chad profile image

      Lynne and Chad 

      10 years ago

      Great Hub Steve,

      Thanks for sharing such important information. There is so much confusion out there and it's important that we educate ourselves and share our knowledge with others.

      Lynne and Chad

    • glassvisage profile image


      10 years ago from Northern California

      I would have been surprised to hear that we shouldn't eat fish at all. I love it, being a pescatarian... I can't say if it's benefited me at all, but I do love tuna sandwiches!

    • Renegade Coach profile image

      Renegade Coach 

      10 years ago from Langley, BC

      Excellent hub. I think you are right; we don't want to eliminate fish from our diet. That would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes though we need to add supplements to help us get our quota in. Fish is brain food after all.

      I listened to a lecture by a Dr. Chido a while back. He said that the North American population was deficient in omega 3 and if you weren't eating at least 3 fish meals a week your weren't getting enough. He came right out and said he felt that it was more important that a multi vitamin! I've used a long chain omega 3 supplement for years. The company is based in Halifax and goes up under the polar ice cap to get their fish. It is also assayed for heavy metals. The process to do this may put the price up but I'm okay with that. For more information feel free to contact me at

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      10 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Good hub, Steve. I'm aware of these dangers and typically eat the wildest and freshest fish I can find.

    • GoldCoastAnnie profile image


      10 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Thanks for this hub, this is a subject I have wrestled with. Coming orginally from the UK, I have a taste for cold water fish. In Australia most of the local fish is reef fish and they serve shark (flake) as the fish shop special. More recently they have been serving up fish like the Mekong Delta Catfish and calling it other names, though I believe they have now stopped this practice. I try to buy fish from New Zealand which is caught in their clean waters - or so I hope.

      I like your tips, these make sense, I shall cook as you suggest - close to what I do anyway, but I didn't discard the juice. Thanks for a very informative hub.

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 

      10 years ago from Oregon, USA

      friends don't let friends eat farmed salmon. For starters, it tastes like DIRT!

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 

      10 years ago from London

      Thanks for an interesting hub. It is a worry for us, as we are a real fish-loving family. We especially eat a lot of seafood and tuna, which my two-year old also loves. It's difficult to know what to believe, but reading information like this makes me think that maybe we need to consume less of it.

      Food for thought!

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      10 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      About fifteen years ago, our son was suffering through severe allergies and we went on a pretty strict diet- no meat, only fish from Northern Waters. The doc believed that salmon, in particular, from Northern Waters contained less mercury than that of Southern Waters. Thought I'd mention it, fyi... Thanks for the Hub.


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