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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Fishing for Facts on Fish Food

Air Date: Week of

Many listeners were curious about the impacts of feeding chicken to fish in a recent aquaculture story. Living on Earth’s Bridget Macdonald dredges up some answers on the real chicken of the sea.


YOUNG: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young.


YOUNG: Time to answer some questions from you. Quite a few listeners thought there was something a bit fishy in our recent story about farm-raised salmon. We heard about a new type of fish farming that got the seal of approval from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.

The part that raised questions was the news that the feed for these fish will include chicken. Kay Klippel hears us on Amherst, Massachusetts station WFCR. She wrote, “Do you think feeding farmed salmon chicken pellets is progress? These aqua-farmers are just pushing the problem of where our food comes from back to land.”

Others wanted to know about the nutritional value of these chicken-fed-fish and whether they might be tainted by antibiotics or hormones. All good questions. So we sent Living on Earth’s Bridget Macdonald fishing for some answers:

MACDONALD: It’s not as appetizing as “chicken of the sea”, but meal made from fermented, ground up poultry feathers is a common ingredient in commercial fish food.

The owner of Aquaseed Corporation Per Heggelund said he buys a high-end commercial food for his Seafood Watch-approved salmon. It’s made primarily of vegetable proteins. But because the recipe is proprietary he conceded it might contain some feather meal as well. It’s also possible that any feather meal in the mix could be a byproduct of chicken farms that use hormones and antibiotics. But down the line, Heggelund said the company plans to phase out feather meal entirely.

When it comes to essential fatty acids, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health said farmed salmon typically contain twice as many Omega three’s as their wild cousins. That’s because a farm-raised salmon knows where its next meal is coming from, so uses less energy and stores more fat than a wild fish, which is always on the hunt.

No matter where their protein comes from, farm-raised salmon get their essential fats from fish oil supplements, not unlike the Cod liver oil capsules that many people take with their own meals. And there is no guarantee that supplements – whether you take them, or they’re fed to salmon – come from sustainable fisheries. I’m Bridget Macdonald.



For more on plant-eating fish, click here.


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