What Does Wild Caught Really Mean?

What does wild caught fish mean?

You love seafood. (Really, what is not to love?!) And you like the sounds of buying wild caught fish. But what does “wild caught” actually mean? Is wild caught seafood better than the alternative? And… what exactly is the alternative?

What is wild caught vs farmed seafood?

It seems self-explanatory. 

Technically, wild caught fish is caught from a natural habitat – a lake, river, or ocean.  In other words, fisherman have to go to where the fish are to catch them. This is the “free range” option. 

The alternative to wild caught fish is farmed fish.

Farmed seafood is bred and harvested in a controlled aquatic environment. That environment might be a pen within a lake, ocean, or river, or in large tanks on land.

Seems simple enough.

However, in Canada, regulations on seafood labelling are shockingly slack, which means that seafood is often intentionally mislabelled with very little repercussions.

Is wild caught always wild?

One study of 181 seafood products across five Canadian cities and provinces found that: 

  • 44% of seafood labels (“sustainable”, “wild caught”, etc) were self-declared. In other words, these labels were not subject to any independent oversight or standard.
  • Of the self-declared labels, 40% could not provide any actual evidence to back up their claims of “wild caught” or “sustainable”.

In another study in the US, DNA testing confirmed that 43% of salmon samples from restaurants and grocery stores were mislabelled – the species or source was incorrect, or both. 

In fact, 69% of that mislabeling consisted of farmed salmon being sold deliberately as wild-caught salmon. 

Bottom line? It is tough to trust what is on the label of your seafood.

Why does it matter?

Well, many of us prefer wild caught seafood for the taste, nutrition, and environmental benefits it offers.

For example:

  • Wild caught fish eat a natural diet, meaning the flavour is more intense, the colours are more vibrant, and saturated fat content is lower. Farmed fish, on the other hand, are typically fed a lower-quality diet to keep costs down.
  • Purchasing wild caught fish tends to support smaller fishing operations in smaller towns.

Is there really that big of a difference? See for yourself:

How can you be sure you are getting wild caught fish?

If you are shopping at a regular grocery store, look for labels from trusted sources such as the Marine Stewardship Council “blue fish” logo. 

But the best way to determine if you are really buying wild caught fish is to ask your supplier directly. They should be able to tell you exactly where your fish is from and how it was caught.

For example, Farm 2 Fork’s wild caught sockeye salmon is caught in cold waters off the coast of Richmond B.C. Our wild caught Digby haddock filets are caught off the coast of Nova Scotia, once frozen, and processed on site. Any reputable seafood supplier should easily be able to provide that kind of location and species-specific information for all their wild caught products.

Be sure you are buying real wild caught fish.

Enjoy the delicious flakey taste of Canadian sockeye salmon – this fish needs very little spice or sauce to bring out its natural flavour.