Aquaculture's Catch: What's in That Fish Taco?


Farmed fish: if it’s not good for the environment or your body, what is it good for?

Aquaculture’s Catch

You may have read about parasite infestations, the use of artificial coloring, and PCB contamination of farmed salmon.

You might also know that farmed salmon typically contains less of those beneficial Omega-3 fats our bodies need, and that the flavor can be inferior to wild salmon.

And you might be aware that open net salmon farming  pollutes the ocean with antibiotics and pesticides from the salmon waste, and that farmed salmon can escape and endanger the wild salmon population.


There are companies working on more responsible ways to farm salmon, but the inherent problem in raising carnivorous fish like salmon means robbing the oceans of wild fish to produce salmon feed, resulting in a net loss of protein. So much for feeding the world with aquaculture.

Aquaculture, however, is not inherently a bad thing. Freshwater fish like tilapia and catfish can be raised in a closed-pond system on a vegetarian diet with little environmental impact. But it’s important to find out where the fish is from. Some fish farmers are raising tilapia on fishmeal to make it grow faster and some fish farms have poor waste management practices.

Many U.S. and Latin American companies are farming tilapia and catfish in sustainable ways. So what’s a pescatarian (or regular old carnivore) to do?

Find out which countries farm fish responsibly. Ask your grocer where the farmed fish comes from and don’t buy it if he or she can’t provide you with that information. Stay informed about local fish supplies and best fish souces.

For inspiration, here is a fish taco recipe that’s perfect when made with sustainably farmed freshwater fish:

Fish Tacos

Serves 4

Slaw ingredients:

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 small carrot, shredded

2-3 green onions, sliced thinly

1/2-1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Honey to taste

Salt and pepper

Fish preparation:

1/2-3/4 lb. farmed tilapia or catfish

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/8-1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or chipotle powder

2 tablespoons vegetable oil suitable for high heat cooking (like safflower or grapeseed)

8 corn tortillas

Garnish: cilantro leaves, avocado, lime wedges and your favorite salsa

To Make Fish Tacos:

Place cabbage in a mixing bowl and sprinkle a bit of salt on it. Massage and squeeze it with your hands to help it release its liquid and wilt. Set it in a strainer over a bowl while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Whisk together garlic, lime juice and mayonnaise. Set aside.

Squeeze all excess liquid out of the cabbage and put it in a bowl with the carrots, onion and jalapeño. Pour the dressing over and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little honey to balance.

On a plate, mix together flour, salt, pepper and paprika or chipotle powder.

Heat a heavy cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Dredge the fish in the seasoned flour mixture, shaking off any excess. Add oil to pan, heat until shimmery and add fish to pan.

Cook for about 2 minutes per side, carefully flipping only once, with a spatula.

Meanwhile, heat the corn tortillas one-by-one on a dry pan, until soft and warm. Wrap them in a clean cloth as you go.

Serve the fish on a platter with the tortillas, slaw, cilantro, avocado, lime and salsa on the side, letting each diner assemble his or her own tacos.

Note: Recipe Copyright Vanessa Barrington 2008

Image: *Cinnamon

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.