Farm Fresh Fish: All About Aquaculture

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If you’re confused about farmed fish, you are not alone. Aquaculture — fish farming — is hailed by some as the saving grace to our future fish supply and called an ecological disaster by others. What makes it so complex an issue is that, depending on what they’re referring to, both parties are right. What’s not in question is that aquaculture is here to stay; half of the seafood eaten by Americans today is farmed, and the number continues to rise. And, done right, it can be part of a sustainable seafood solution. Here are four basic guidelines to clarify which farmed fish are best to buy and why:


  • Best choice. Mussels, oysters and clams. Why? Not only do these mollusks filter the water they’re raised in so that it’s cleaner than it was before they arrived (they feed on tiny, floating plankton), they are also an impetus for communities to conform to strict clean water regulations wherever farms are located.
  • Good choice. Tilapia, barramundi, catfish, striped bass, arctic char, trout and shrimp. Why? These fish are good choices for aquaculture because they are omnivores—they eat both plants and animals—or, in the case of tilapia, herbivores. Many experts view new technology, called Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS), as the gold standard in aquaculture, providing both a pristine environment for the fish and a completely closed system to avoid polluting native species nearby.
  • Worst choice. Salmon. Why? Primarily because the species itself is carnivorous—it takes 8 pounds of wild fish to make 1 pound of salmon—which makes it a poor choice for farming. But also because most salmon is farmed off-shore in net-pens, which can pollute the waters around them and cause unnervingly high levels of toxins, disease and parasites in the fish. What’s more, these farmed fish occasionally escape, spreading disease to native populations and putting the gene pool of wild species at risk.
  • Know your sources. With the Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL ) enacted in 2005, the US government gave consumers the right—and the ability—to know where our seafood comes from. And that’s a good thing, given that there are no international standards for the sustainability and safety of aquaculture operations. There are laws governing the environmental impact for fish farms in the United States, yet in other countries, like Thailand and China, aquaculture has had a devastating effect on coastal eco systems. New international standards are being developed, but right now, your best bet is to avoid imported farmed fish and shrimp altogether unless from credible suppliers you know are committed to sustainability.
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Grilled Fish in Parchment with Cherry Tomatoes & Corn

This grilled fish in parchment recipe is a Nourish Network classic. Flaky white fish, like sustainable barramundi or catfish, are tough to grill, but that doesn’t mean they need to be left out of the summer repertoire. Just wrap them up in parchment (a classic French technique called “en papillote”) with a handful of summer veggies and you’ve got yourself a whole meal on the grill. Not inclined to fire up the grill? You also can cook the fish in the oven at 450  F for 10-15 minutes.


Grilled Fish in Parchment with Cherry Tomatoes & Corn

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Serves 4


  1. 1/2 pound red new potatoes, very thinly sliced
  2. 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  3. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  4. 4 (4-ounce) white fish fillets, such as barramundi or catfish
  5. 2 cups cherry tomatoes, stemmed
  6. 1 cup corn kernels, cut off cob (about 2 medium ears)
  7. 1/4 cup sliced scallions
  8. 3 cloves garlic, minced
  9. 2 tablespoons chiffonade basil
  10. 1/4 cup dry white wine


Preheat grill to medium heat.

Cut four 14-x-14-inch squares of parchment paper. Fold each in half and cut it into a wide heart shape. Then unfold and lay flat.

In a medium bowl, mix together potatoes with 1 tablespoon oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange a quarter of the potatoes on half of each of the parchment paper hearts, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Place a piece of fish on top of each. In the same bowl, combine the tomatoes, corn, scallions, garlic, basil, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and salt and pepper.

Divide tomato and corn mixture evenly over fish and drizzle a tablespoon of wine over each. Then fold over the empty half and crimp the edges. Beginning at the top of the heart, roll the edges up and tightly over onto themselves and twist the end so that the packet is securely sealed. Lay finished packets on a rimless cutting board, a pizza peel or on the back of a cookie sheet.

Using a wide spatula, carefully transfer sealed packets onto the grill and cook for 10 minutes (they should be puffed and golden brown). Use the spatula to transfer the packets to individual plates. Let rest for 5 minutes, then slice open packets (or have diners do it themselves) and serve.


Cook Time: 15 minutes (includes resting time)