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Fish Farming

What is Fish Farming?

Aquaculture—also known as fish or shellfish farming—grows seafood in controlled waters for commercial or recreational use. It takes place in pens in rivers, lakes, streams, and coastal areas or on land using artificial tanks or ponds.

Fish and shellfish that are commonly farmed include: 

  • Catfish
  • Clams
  • Crawfish
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia
  • Trout

Why is Fish Farming a concern?

Like all food, farmed seafood may be contaminated. Diseases can spread from fish in the growing pens to wild fish. Fish may be fed antibiotics to keep them healthy, but these drugs may leak into the marine environment, causing toxic conditions for other species.

Concerns more specific to farmed seafood include: 

  • Improper use of chemicals and pesticides during processing and handling. This can harm workers and consumers.
  • The waste from fish concentrated in one area. This can pollute the water and present biological risks to humans.
  • Naturally occurring toxins in the water, which can contaminate shellfish.

Fish farming has many of the same occupational hazards as other types of farming. It also has hazards associated with working at night and near water.

Who is at risk?

People who handle or eat farmed seafood could be at risk. You may also be at risk if you handle or eat seafood caught near a fish farm. 

All fish may contain traces of contaminants. But research has shown that the health benefits of eating fish in the amounts recommended vastly outweigh any potential health risks from contaminants.

In the United States, seafood farmers follow the same food safety guidelines as land farmers and any other producer of seafood. Both the diets and environments of farmed seafood are monitored and controlled throughout the life of the animal. 

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

  • All seafood has the potential to contain low levels of naturally occurring toxins or manufactured contaminants, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Fish farm pens may be cleaned with chlorine, which can be toxic to workers at high concentrations. 

Reduce your risk

  • Do you eat farmed fish or shellfish?
  • Do you live near a fish farm?
  • Follow federal guidelines for eating fish and shellfish to minimize your consumption of contaminants like mercury. This is particularly true for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and parents of young children.
  • Be aware of local fish and shellfish advisories.
  • If you live near a fish farm and use well water, routinely test well water for chemical contamination.
  • If your well water has high levels of chemicals, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.

Additional Resources

  • Aquaculture
    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    Information and featured news on the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of animals and plants in all types of water environments.
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