Aquaculture Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is it safe to eat farmed fish and shellfish?

Yes, farmed seafood is both safe and healthy to eat. In the United States, seafood farmers follow the same food safety guidelines as land farmers and any other producer of seafood, including (1) harvesting from approved waters, (2) following feed regulations, (3) handling and processing under sanitary conditions, and (4) maintaining records. The diets of and environments for farmed seafood are monitored and controlled throughout the life of the animal. In addition, companies producing aquaculture products for human consumption must comply with numerous state and federal food safety regulations and undergo regular inspections.


The primary federal agencies involved with seafood safety include

Farm-raised oysters, clams, scallops, and mussels are monitored by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) in cooperation with several federal agencies. People with certain immune or liver disorders should never eat raw seafood, wild-caught or farmed.

2. What about arguments that farmed fish are contaminated with mercury and other heavy metals?

No farmed fish appear on the “avoid” list due to mercury. These compounds enter and concentrate in organisms largely through what they eat. Just like feeds for other domestic animals, aquaculture feeds are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the respective state Departments of Agriculture, with advisement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). The FDA and state agencies conduct inspections and also collect and analyze feed and fish samples to help ensure adherence to strict state and federal requirements. Formulated feed ingredients used in aquaculture are regularly monitored to avoid possible contamination of feed with methyl mercury.


According to the FDA and EPA, studies show that for people eating the standard U.S. diet, the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids far outweigh the potential drawbacks of mercury toxicity due to fish consumption. There are specific advisories for pregnant women, those trying to get pregnant, nursing women, and children.

3. Are drugs and chemicals used in domestic aquaculture?
Rarely. Because of the success of vaccines to prevent disease in farmed fish, the use of antibiotics and other drugs has been reduced dramatically. While good management practices and vaccines alone are usually enough to prevent or control disease, a farmer may, in consultation with a licensed veterinarian, use a limited number of aquatic animal drugs (including antibiotics) when approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat specific conditions. In fact, only two antibiotics have been approved for use in aquaculture. Drug use in fish, as in land-based farm animals, is subject to strict application requirements. Before a drug is approved for use, FDA requires that it be demonstrated effective, safe for the environment, and safe for consumption.
4. Is farmed salmon injected with dye?
No. In the wild, salmon eat tiny shellfish that contain natural pigments called carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants and precursors of vitamin A. Carotenoids, specifically astaxanthin and canthaxanthin, give salmon flesh its distinctive pigment. Farmed salmon diets are supplemented with natural and/or synthetic astaxanthin similar to the pigment that salmon get in the wild. Both natural and synthetic astaxanthin are processed and absorbed by wild and farmed fish in exactly the same manner. Carotenoids are good for human health and are used in a wide variety of applications, including dietary supplements.
5. Why should I buy farmed fish and shellfish grown in the United States?

It’s good for you and good for the country. From a seafood safety standpoint, the United States has some of the strictest environmental and food safety rules and regulations found anywhere in the world. Buying U.S.-grown farmed fish and shellfish guarantees that your seafood meets rigorous state and federal standards and supports American jobs.

6. What is done to reduce diseases in farmed fish and shellfish?

Fish and shellfish farmers—as well as state and federal regulatory agencies—take many precautions to prevent infection and transmission of disease-causing pathogens and parasites. At commercial hatcheries, juveniles are reared under carefully controlled conditions to prevent the introduction of disease-causing agents from outside sources. Before fish or shellfish are transferred to farm sites or released into the wild, veterinarians and other aquatic health professionals monitor them to ensure they are free of pathogens or parasites. Most states also have regulations requiring fish and shellfish to be screened before they are transferred to another site or released into the wild.


Farmed fish are vaccinated against diseases that have caused problems in the past. Antibiotics are rarely used and, if required, their use is strictly regulated and always administered under the supervision of a veterinarian.

7. What is done to minimize the impact of fish escapes on wild populations?

Farmed fish enter the marine environment in one of two ways—intentionally or unintentionally. Read more about intentional releases of hatchery fish on our stock enhancement page.


Advanced containment systems and improved management practices have dramatically reduced escapes from U.S. fish farms in the past 10 years. Advances in cage design and technology include stronger net material and improved mooring components. Best Management Practices include the use of underwater cameras to monitor and inspect cages, as well as the use of divers to perform hands-on inspections and maintenance. If fish do escape, impacts to the genetic diversity of wild fish are minimized by selecting founding hatchery broodstock from local wild fish so the genetic make-up is similar.

Typically, domesticated fish raised in captivity are poor performers in the wild and few of them are able to reproduce. However, researchers are now working on methods to make cultured fish sterile so, if they were to escape, they would not be able to breed with their wild cousins.


Federal and state permits require containment management systems at all marine sites, and these measures are enforced through regular inspections and audits. Equipment and husbandry will continue to evolve and improve as operators test new designs and materials.

8. What do aquaculture operators do to protect the environment?

In the United States, aquaculture is regulated under stringent federal and state laws and regulations that protect the environment. Through lessons learned over time and by engaging in aggressive research, aquaculture operators have developed commonly-accepted Best Management Practices to minimize any impacts. Operators know it’s in their best interest to maintain a healthy environment for the fish and shellfish they are growing. In some cases, such as shellfish and seaweed farming, aquaculture actually contributes to environmental health by sequestering nutrients and cleaning up the water. In addition to adhering to strict environmental and food safety laws, aquaculture operators work with state and federal regulators to continually monitor potential impacts of their practices.

9. What laws and regulations exist to protect the environment?

Aquaculture operators in the United States must abide by a comprehensive suite of environmental regulations, which differ depending on the type of operation. For operations in marine waters, federal regulations address environmental issues including diseases, discharge, structures, the protection of threatened and endangered species, seafood safety, use of medication, feed ingredients, marine mammal protection, habitat, and consistency with state regulations, among others. Further, state and local regulations address these and other issues. For a table listing most federal statutory authorities for regulation of marine aquaculture, click here (Page 72, Table 4.6).

10. Do aquaculture operations consume more wild fish than they produce?

When aquaculture is considered as an aggregate industry, the answer is no. Globally, aquaculture uses about half a metric ton of wild whole fish to produce one metric ton of farmed seafood, meaning that aquaculture is a net producer of protein.


Feed conversion ratios (the amount of feed eaten by a fish related to the amount that fish provides for human consumption) vary among species, but farmed fish generally are far more efficient at converting feed than wild fish or other farmed animals such as cows, chicken, and pigs.


For more Frequently Asked Questions on aquaculture, see NOAA’s Office of Aquaculture.