Various effective altruists have suggested that avoiding farmed fish is one of the most important things you can do to reduce the amount of suffering caused by your diet. Fortunately, an almost perfect substitute for farmed fish exists: wild-caught fish. It is very unclear whether eating more wild-caught fish is good or bad for fish. Replacing a food that’s very bad with a food that might be good or might be bad seems like progress.
However, it does not seem like there are any guides for how best to replace one’s farmed fish consumption with wild-caught fish.
I am offering a bounty of up to $500 for a well-written, easy-to-understand guide to replacing farmed fish with wild-caught fish. Questions that might be addressed by this guide include:
- Which, if any, species of fish are always farmed?
- Which, if any, species of fish are always wild-caught?
- How likely are farmed fish to be mislabeled as wild-caught? Are there heuristics to use to avoid mislabeled fish?
- If you don’t know whether a fish is wild-caught or farmed, how do you figure it out?
- How likely is a fish of unknown origin to be wild-caught? Farmed? What factors affect whether it is wild-caught or farmed?
- What are the cheapest ways to buy wild-caught fish?
- What are the best wild-caught substitutes for commonly eaten farmed fish?
- Which fish oil pills, if any, use wild-caught fish?
The full $500 will be paid out for a complete, well-researched, well-copyedited, easy-to-understand guide that is ready to be given to interested reducetarians. Incomplete or poorly edited reports will receive a portion of the bounty depending on my judgment of their quality. Reports with factual errors or which are otherwise very low-quality will not receive any money.
People interested in the bounty are encouraged to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can connect them to other interested people, for coordination and to avoid duplication of work.
Daniel Speyer said:
Are you concerned about sustainability or ecological damage? Wild fish populations are pretty small compared to human appetites.
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Thank you for doing this!
David Speyer said:
Could someone post me a reference to why I should believe farmed fish are suffering? I read the two links at the start of Ozy’s post, but they are about minimizing (days of farmed life) x (farmed organisms)/(pounds of meat). Naively, fish are pretty dumb, so I would think that swimming around a tank with regular food and no predators would be positive utility for them.
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Theres no humane slaughter requirements sadly
My recollection is that it’s a combination of ‘fish farming is really resource-intensive and generally involves killing a large number of wild fish to feed the farmed fish’ and ‘farmed fish don’t get nearly as much space as is healthy for them’, but it’s been a while since I’ve read up on any of this, so could pretty easily be misremembering.
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The farmed fish that eat other fish also do so when they are wild. However, they do so less obviously, but probably less efficiently (farming tends to focus on growing animals/plants to the right size with minimal waste).
My understanding is that they are trying quite hard to use plant-based food for farmed fish as much as possible, although this is often hard.
Are you specifying a geographical scope?
The range of available wild-caught and farmed fish depends very much on what bit of the ocean one is next to.
I doubt this makes a difference. Most of the market treats farmed and wild-caught fish as close substitutes, the supply of wild-caught fish is inelastic, and the supply of farmed fish is highly elastic. So if you switch from farmed to wild-caught fish, you are probably affecting market prices in a way which causes one other person to make the opposite change.
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Hello, I’m not interested in the bounty, but I saw this linked on SSC and wanted to give my thoughts as I used to work in the aquaculture industry:
‘Atlantic salmon’ is code for ‘always farmed’- humans killed off this ecological niche in the 19th century. Anything from Alaska is almost certainly wild- Alaska protects its native industries like any protectionist state, there should not be significant farmed aquaculture going on there. I would imagine that Googling the brand you’re looking at in the supermarket and poking around their website should reveal whether it’s farmed or not.
I too avoid farmed fish, so if the labeling is any way unclear or vague, or doesn’t specifically say ‘wild caught’ or ‘Alaskan’ on it, I automatically assume it’s farmed. I don’t think any other heuristics like type of fish helps, one can Google any fish name and ‘farmed’ and find examples of it. Maybe some niches like swordfish are always wild, but in general most fish species can be grown in a farm. Sorry that’s not super-helpful, I know.
TLDR- it has to specifically say ‘wild caught’ and/or Alaskan
Always figured a wild animal has higher utility than a farmed one. Battery farming is the uncanny valley step before vat grown meat.
I don’t have the time or the desire to create the entire guide you want, but I do have a few quick tips and facts people may find useful:
The most farmed fish are Atlantic Salmon, Carp, Tilapia, and catfish. If you want wild caught salmon, look for labels that say Alaskan Wild Caught: those are not guaranteed to be accurate, but there just really isn’t much of a domestic salmon industry outside of Alaska, so they are your best bet. Avoid Atlantic Salmon altogether, they are almost certainly farmed. Look for Pink, Sockeye, or Chum Salmon: they are almost always wild caught, hardly anyone farms them. King and Silver (or Chinook and Coho, different names, same fish) Salmon farming is on the rise, so watch out. Pink salmon is probably your safest bet, as its the cheapest variety of Pacific salmon, so there may be less pressure to fake it.
But here is the really fun fact: you might assume that a Fillet-o-fish from McDonalds or those frozen fish sticks at the local Wal-Mart are farmed fish: after all, they’re cheap! But in almost all cases they’re wild caught! Most fast food fish sandwiches and a great deal of frozen “fish” products are made from Alaska Pollack, which is almost entirely wild caught. The Koreans figured out how to farm them a couple years ago, but as far as I know the industry is still quite small and domestic. Pollock are these small little fish that school in huge numbers, and come almost entirely from Alaskan or Russian waters. Just check the label to see if it says Pollack it’s probably wild caught.
If you want to be almost certain you’re eating wild caught fish, you should order fish directly from Alaskan fishmongers. Fish farming is illegal in Alaska, and it has some of the best managed wild fisheries in the world. They also provide a majority of US domestic seafood production. If you find a good Alaskan fishmonger, they are the least likely to sell you farmed fish: honestly, most would have to go out of their way to get some. Try Great Alaska Seafood for a start.
Egg Syntax said:
When I researched this issue some years ago, I came to the conclusion that the most ethical choice varied by species. For many or most species, wild-caught is the better choice, but for others (trout is the most commonly-cited) it’s actually a better choice (environmentally at minimum, and sometimes for the overall wellbeing of the species) to buy farmed.
I realize I’m making an unsupported claim here (it’s been long enough that I don’t remember any of my sources); I’m just suggesting that those looking into the issue may want to consider this possibility in their research.
I haven’t done the exhaustive research, but it is my understanding that wild fish volumes would not be sufficient to replace our farmed fish appetite.
However, when doing my own limited research into the sustainability of fish farming, and having just about given up on the idea of a future containing fish for anyone but the richest countries, I came across this TED Talk:
It is about the only sustainable fish farm in existence. It is “extensive” rather than “intensive” fish farming, using a large amount of land, and manages to produce an enormous amount of very high quality fish, with no feed required, at the same time as being a bird sanctuary. The birds actually eat 20% of fish stocks, but they are able to cope with that loss without any issues.
The farm is able to exist because it lies on former marshland, and is also near the mouth of a river, which is partially diverted. The fresh-water source from the river is used to replenish the ponds, which are flooded by seawater at high tides. Not sure how it works in practise, but the fluctuating salinity and rich atlantic waters mean that it is the perfect breeding ground for plankton, but also shrimp and other bottom feeders, which the fish feed on.
I would be fascinated to see some research about where else this sort of farm could exist. At the moment no one seems to by trying to replicate its success, but surely there are a lot of marshlands along the coast which are not being used for agriculture, that could be converted.
Many fish oils are a by-product of the “trash fish” industry, that processes large amounts of wild (but small) oily fish into animal/fish farm feed. It is hard to gauge where most fish oils are from, but I understand that Jarrow Max DHA is derived from wild caught sardines and anchovies. There are other brands specifically marketted as sustainable, such as “Wiley’s Finest”
Former marshland (= flat) that lies near the mouth of a river is typically prime real estate.
Did anything come of this? I would appreciate this for my own purposes, and would even do some cost sharing for the research.