Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Farming Seafood to Tough Standards

Whether you call it “fish farming” or go for the more formal term “aquaculture,” people have a variety of concerns about farmed fish. (Yes, wild-caught seafood has its issues too — see our recent post on our new wild seafood ranking program.) Having worked in the seafood business for more than 20 years, I can safely say that one of the biggest changes in the last few decades has been the implementation of the Whole Foods Market Aquaculture standards. Two years ago (in 2008) we launched the toughest Quality Standards for farmed seafood in the trade. Fish farmer who want to work with us must complete a lengthy application detailing all their farming practices (along with a huge list of other things). they must testify that no mammalian or avian by-products are in their feed, that no added hormones are used, and that organophosphate pesticides are never applied. And it’s more than just words — the farm must be certified that they meet our Standards for Farmed Seafood by a 3rd party inspector before any of their fish makes its way to our stores. Not only that, but they must continue to pass annual inspections for as long as they do business with us. Through this process we have discovered some amazing producers. Last week I wrote about some pretty incredible wild-caught Atlantic cod from Iceland. Not to be outdone, the salmon producers in Iceland are providing us with some of the most intriguing farmed salmon available. Salmon raised on land, in tanks, in water heated by geo-thermal springs. This means no escapes, good water quality, and just rich and sweet farmed Atlantic salmon. Currently we are the sole supplier of this amazing yet limited product – found only in our Midwest region stores. Another example is our farmed catfish. We buy 100% of our farmed catfish for all of our stores from one North Carolina producer. They own the hatchery, the farm, the processing plant and the feed mill, providing complete control. You won’t find catfish this clean tasting anywhere else. All around the country, our commitment is strong with local producers. We partner with local trout and tilapia farms in Colorado for our stores there, and many of our southern regions buy farm raised American shrimp from our only domestic shrimp supplier, located in Alabama. So just how tough are our standards? Taking a look at the controversial world of farmed salmon is a good indication. There are thousands of conventional salmon farms in the world; we’ve found four unique producers raising fish on less than ten farms that can meet our requirements (these farms are in Iceland, Scotland and Norway.) As we look to the southern hemisphere, let’s talk tilapia. The majority of tilapia farms across the globe use a hormone called methyltestosterone in production. Whole Foods Market doesn’t allow any added hormones, so we work exclusively with four producers who can meet our requirement for fish free of added hormones — one in the U.S., one in Central America and two in South America. Spoiler Alert (or Special Alert, depending on your point of view!): Some time in the next few weeks (they won’t let me say exactly when), keep your eyes peeled for an incredible value on farm-raised shrimp exclusively from your local Whole Foods fishmonger. With that in mind, here’s the story on farmed shrimp. We source from only three producers and have traceability back to their farms. And these are not your typical farms; our producers meet our standards for protecting the environment by avoiding  mangrove areas to protect sensitive ecosystmes and maintain good water quality. You’ll never find added phosphates or sulfates in our shrimp — we don’t want anything to take away from the sweet, delicate flavor of shrimp raised right. In fact, our shrimp are harvested to order and flash frozen within hours of harvest and you can taste the difference. So how do you know you’re purchasing farmed seafood that meets Whole Foods Market’s strict standards? Of course, shop at our stores! That’s where you’ll find our aquaculture logo — Responsibly Farmed — your assurance that every pound of farmed seafood you purchase from us has been 3rd party verified to meet our standards. These same standards apply for our frozen and smoked offerings too. And remember, if you have questions about our farmed fish, just ask! Our fish mongers are here to help.

Leave a reply

To provide feedback or ask a question about our company, a store or a product, please visit our Customer Service page.

For more information about posting comments to our blog, please see our Comment Posting Guidelines.

46 comments

Comments

Bepkom says …

Currently, the only tilapia we have from the U.S. is farmed in Colorado. We source from other farms, but they’re not local.

E. Matthews says …

Thank You - I have been afraid to eat seafood

Bill Crofton says …

<strong>Sent to Carrie.</strong> Hi; If you stipulate limited protein alternatives in fish feed, how are your feed standards helping to reduce aquaculture's reliance on fish meal and fish oil? Bill

Bepkom says …

Please download our detailed standards at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/aquaculture.php and check out section 3. We are working hard to reduce the pressure on stocks of wild fish. We do this by setting limits on the amount of allowable fishmeal and fishoil.

sue says …

Where do you work with local Tilapia farmers besides Colorado? How about Arizona or California?

Elaine says …

I've always avoided farmed salmon due to the excessively high levels of mercury found in them. How do I know your farmed salmon isn't high in mercury as well?

Bepkom says …

Fortunately, most farmed fish are low in mercury. They live for a relatively short time so they don't accumulate as much mercury as some species of wild fish. We offer information about this in all of our seafood departments. You should pick up one of the 'Mercury in Seafood' brochures and check it out for information on which species typically have the lowest levels.

Catrina says …

Thank you for going above and beyond if you will....it has gotten so confusing on the farm raised vs wild caught.....thanks for making it clear that it is ok to buy farm raised..from you anyway :)

Jeff B. says …

<strong>emailed Carrie</strong> It's great that you use Seafood Watch for your wild fish. But is your farmed fish on the Seafood Watch green list? Since you're already using Seafood Watch for the wild list, why aren't you using their benchmarks for farmed fish too?

Bepkom says …

We have already developed industry-leading standards for aquaculture (fish farming) with strict requirements for each farm that supplies Whole Foods Market. Monterey Bay Aquarium has evaluated general practices in fish farming, but does not evaluate individual farms and thus cannot fulfill our unique needs for ranking farmed seafood.

Asics Gel DuoMax says …

Can I simply say nice to read a help to discover person who essentially understands exactly what they're discussing on the internet. You certainly learn how to bring a major issue to light and enable it to be important. Even more people should learn it and understand it aspect of the story. I can't believe you're not very popular as you actually have the gift.

ctlefood.com says …

well, that's a good way to put it before plating it. nice insights. works well for clientele explanation and information resource option...

Amy says …

What about PCB's in your farmed salmon? We are looking for some healthy fish for our 3 yr old.

diaen says …

It takes a lot of small fish to feed farmed fish, and I've not heard of those small fish being farmed. So, ironically, to farm a fish, one must feed them a lot of wild caught small fish. I understand that pound per pound, it takes several pounds of wild caught small fish for a single pound of farmed fish. Can you please speak to this practice and Whole Foods standards?

Barbara Aliza says …

All the info on Salmon sounds good, but you don't give specifics about what the salmon farmed in inland tanks are fed. You say what they are not fed. But what they eat is important. Please advise.

says …

@Barbara I reached out to Carrie Brownstein on our Quality Standards team and she offered the following response: "Whole Foods Market’s standards for farmed fish and shrimp prohibit certain ingredients from being used in feed, such as poultry meal, and require that fish meal and oil is sourced responsibly. We also prohibit antibiotics, parasiticides, and hormones from being included in feed. To check out the details of our feed standards, please visit http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/aquaculture.php. The ingredients used in feed will vary from farm to farm and species to species depending upon the nutritional requirements of the species and the availability of ingredients. Feed includes sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. As far as plant-based ingredients are concerned, many farmers use soybean meal. Grains can include wheat flour or rice bran. Some producers of farmed fish use corn, for example, while others don’t. As we mentioned in our seafood blog, in thinking about the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in one’s diet, it’s important to think about one’s entire diet, including the sources of fats one consumes (such as cooking oils). Fish is a good source of lean protein. But it’s a good idea to eat a varied diet that includes fish that are high in omega-3’s, such as salmon and sardines. We encourage you to check our seafood blog, where we discuss this issue in the context of tilapia http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2008/07/my-aquaculture-journey/#more-367. "

Mimi says …

I have been reading that farm raised Scottish salmon is the most contaminated salmon there is. It really bums me out because flavor wise, it's my favorite of them all. Is there a difference between this contaminated salmon and the Scottish Atlantic salmon WF carries? If so, what is the difference? Is there artificial coloring added to the WF Atlantic Salmon? Thanks for your help!

says …

@Mimi I reached out to one of our experts, Carrie Brownstein, and here is her response. "Hi Mimi, If you can tell us more specifically what kind of contamination you’re referring to, then we can comment on the specifics of what we require. For example, our standards for farmed salmon require testing for contaminants, such as mercury, PCBs, and dioxins/furans. And we don’t allow any antibiotics or artificial pigments to be used in feed. Please check out our detailed standards at: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/departments/aquaculture.php."

Mimi says …

<strong>Reaching out. Please await response. </strong> I read through your fish/salmon farming standards and have a much better understanding of the difference between WF farmed Atlantic Salmon and the conventional farm-raised salmon. My only question left unanswered would be regarding their feed. Are they also fed things like soy and corn in addition to the fish and fish oils? Thank you for your help!

Doug Brazil says …

Much of the talk on nutrition now seems to revolve around issues of inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods. Nutrition Data (nutritiondata.self.com) lists Atlantic farm salmon as being "strongly inflammatory" which is not good. However the data may be outdated. Other articles indicate the reason for the bad rating is that most farmed fish are fed a diet rich in Omega-6 vegetable oils, leading to a fish that has relatively low levels of Omega-3. Has any testing been done on the Whole Foods Atlantic Farm salmon to determine where the fish is on the "inflammatory" scale ? Thanks. By the way, it is very tasty stuff and would be hard to avoid despite the results. Doug

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DOUG - We do not currently test or rate our foods based on an inflammatory level and encourage each person to make decisions based on their own dietary needs. A great resource is our Aquaculture site, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture. This site will have a link to our Farm Standards for Farm-Raised Salmon for more information.

Adam c says …

What are the levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in the farmed Salmon as compared to the wild Salmon? Thanks for being awesome, Whole Foods!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ADAM - Thanks for your question. Unfortunately, our company does not have this information. I would suggest reaching out to a vendor to see if they have conducted these studies. Wish we could have helped!

pat kowalski says …

Are your farm raised fish fed GMO Corn, or any GMO foods??

Jodi says …

Is the salmon produced in Iceland Sushi/Sashimi grade? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing fish at −35°C (−31°F) for 15 hours, or at −20°C (−4°F) for 7 days to kill parasites. Is this normally done to achieve Sushi/Sashimi grade salmon? Can I buy the farmed raised salmon from Iceland from your seafood department and make Sushi and Sashimi? Thanks

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PAT - Due to the prevalence of the GMOs in the commodity grain market, and the limited availability of verified non-GMO feed, we cannot require the use of only non- GMO feed for animal products (including meat, dairy and farmed fish) sold in our stores. We encourage shoppers who are looking to avoid products from animals fed GMOs to choose organic meat and dairy products (since organic standards prohibit the intentional use of GMOs), farmed molluscs such as clams, oysters, and mussels (since no added feed is used when farming these species), or wild-caught seafood. Hope this helps!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JODI - Since our products vary between store locations, I would suggest reaching out to your local seafood department to see if any of their salmon would qualify as sushi grade. They'll be happy to help!

Adam C says …

Thanks Nikki! How can I find the contact info for the Icelandic farmed Salmon vendor?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ADAM C - This blog post is a couple years old, so I am unable to find this info for you. I would suggest that you call your local store and speak with the Seafood department to see if they have a vendor from Iceland. Since our products vary between regions and stores, it appears that this particular option David speaks about was featured in the Northern California area.

Corinne Dimmick says …

Hello, I'm pregnant and really paranoid about eating fish from the ocean. So my questions are based on the mercury content and omega 3 content on any land based farm raised fish/shrimp that you sell. Just wondering about the mercury content and the omega 3 content in the land farm raised salmon?Also wondering if the shrimp that is farm raised in tanks on land or in the ocean? Ever since Fukushima power plant explosion I'm scared to eat fish from the ocean d/t fear of contaminants of radiation. So now I'm pleased to find out that there is land based farm raised fish. One last question, I haven't seen any other land based farm raised fish, other than salmon at my local whole foods. Is there any other fish that you get that is land based farm raised? Thank you, Corinne

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CORINNE - Unfortunately, we do not have the majority of the information necessary to answer your questions. I would suggest reaching out to a vendor directly to see if they conduct studies on mercury content. Also, you can see where the shrimp is farmed from if you check with your local seafood department at your local store. Since our vendors vary between locations, we cannot make an overall statement for all vendors.

Wendy says …

Pat, in reading your response concerning GMO and earlier responses, am I correct that some farms use grains (corn, wheat) and soy products, and that these may contain GMO grains? I come to WFM for organic meats and other products specially to NOT eat GMO foods. Are you saying that your farmed fish may very well have GMO products fed them? If that is the case, I would so hope that in the future, non-GMO farming become as available non-GMO beef and chicken.

joseph says …

Hi I'm concerned about hormones, antibiotics and coloring that being used in farm raised salmon Could you please give me the facts on these 3 issues? thanks Joseph.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JOSEPH - We have very strict quality standards that include no artificial colors for any products sold in our stores. In regards to aquaculture, there is no use of antibiotics, added growth hormones and poultry and mammalian by-products in feed.

Bill Craig says …

I didn't see a reply for the question about PCB's in your farmed raised salmon. It was posted on 1/11/2011. Is there PCB's in the farm raised salmon?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BILL - Sorry for the oversight in answering! If you’re concerned about PCBs, but would like to continue eating species like farmed salmon, we can recommend that you try either wild-caught salmon, which typically is lower in PCBs or try another species of farmed fish that is fed feed with less fish oil in it, such as catfish, tilapia, or molluscs, which do not receive any added feed at all. Our standards for farmed seafood do set a limit for contaminants, such as PCBs and we’re working with the individual farmers to meet the goals stated in the standards.

Joan Black says …

I've been buying Whole Food's farmed salmon (I'm in Michigan) and I like it. But, unless I missed it, I didn't read anything about its essential fatty acid content which content is the reason that I'm buying it. Can you tell me about the essential fatty acids in your salmon? Thank you.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JOAN - We do not have this information. You can check with your local store and they might be able to find this info from their vendor.

Robert Comeau, MD. says …

I would like to know the concentration of Omega 3 compared to wild salmon Vs. your farmed salmon?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ROBERT - Farm raised salmon typically contains about 35% more fat than its leaner wild caught counterparts according to the USDA Nutrient Data Library (http://www.ars.usda.gov/main/site_main.htm?modecode=12-35-45-00), making it a better source of Omega-3s. All of our farmed salmon is required to adhere to our stringent aquaculture standards, which set a standard for the minimum level of Omega-3s required per serving. This is to ensure that that the levels of Omega-3s will not be compromised, even if any feed ingredients are changed by the farmer. To learn more please visit: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture.

Paula Cochran says …

For the record, I am a 100 % supporter of Whole Foods. I have shopped your store for 12 years and love it and as long as your doors are open, I am a lifelong customer. I want to ask a question on farmed salmon. Salmon have a unique metabolism that allows them to immediately convert AA (arachidonic Acid) to an off the chart level if fed grains. This is a terrible scenario for anyone with any kind of inflammatory condition such as achy joints, arthritis, diabetes etc. What are your farmed salmon farmers feeding their salmon? I look forward to your answer. Thank you.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PAULA - The farmed salmon feed will differ between farms but it can include grain. Check with your local store so they can reach out to the vendor to see what feed they use.

james fuller says …

since our are becoming so polluted with everything you can think of[ I would prefer farmed seafood to wild caught food. no worry about disease either..i am interested in all farmed seafood to no what I am getting.would like more info. on salmon' and shrimp, ,crabs

Paulo Rodela says …

Question: how to you ensure lowest possible level of mercury on your farm raised salmon? Thank you.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@PAULO - Fortunately, most farmed fish are low in mercury. They live for a relatively short time so they do not accumulate as much mercury as some species of wild fish. And if they are fed fish, it is usually types low in mercury. You can find detailed info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/food-safety/methylmercury-seafood

Yolanda says …

There was an article just released about farm raised salmon. I really enjoy Atlantic; don't necessarily like Sockye that I purchased from you which is wild caught. But now I'm concerned about Atlantic again since it's farm-raised for the reasons identified in the article: https://www.yahoo.com/health/8-reasons-to-be-wary-about-ordering-salmon-108027528468.html Can you say that this doesn't happen with the producers that you work with?