Farm raised or wild-caught? For years, I had been led to believe that farm-raised fish was always better. Recently, I have researched this further to discover that farmed raised is probably not best.

In this age of better health and trying to incorporate more fish in our diets, we also need to be responsible and well-informed fish eaters. A 2013 report from the Earth Policy Institute said worldwide production of farmed fish now not only exceeds the production of beef but that consumption of farmed fish is soon to exceed consumption of wild-caught fish.

Tilapia is near the top of the list for fish eaten in the United States and the fourth-most consumed seafood after shrimp, tuna and salmon. Tilapia is not a single species of fish but rather a common name for dozens of species of cichlids. Much tilapia is now farm-raised rather than wild-caught.

One reason for tilapia’s popularity is that they are short-lived and are primarily vegetarians. Salmon are carnivorous and consume other fish. So when farmed, salmon will eat upwards of five pounds of small fish to produce one pound of salmon, creating a net loss of protein.

The main problem with farmed fish is where they come from. Fish farms in the U.S. and Canada use tanks with closed recirculating systems -- a cleaner system with filters and regulated foods. However, most tilapia consumed in America is imported from Latin America and Asia (particularly Ecuador, China and Taiwan). China produces 40 percent of the world’s tilapia with 40 percent of its exports going to the United States.

ABC News reported this week:

“Troubles with tainted products from China continued Thursday, as US health officials halted the import of farmed seafood from that country.

“‘The FDA is not allowing the import of these Chinese farmed seafood products until importers can prove that the seafood is free from harmful contaminants,’ Dr. David Acheson, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s assistant commissioner for food protection, said during an afternoon teleconference.”

“He identified the banned fish as catfish, basa (similar to catfish), shrimp, dace (similar to carp) and eel, which he said may contain chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic.”

The Environmental Defense Fund says China and Taiwan’s tilapia farming is a concern due to water pollution and use of chemicals.

A July 2009 report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the safety of food imports from China stated that, “Fish are often raised in ponds where they feed on waste from poultry and livestock,” and cited an increased rate of FDA rejection of fish imports from China between 2000 and 2008. (Forty percent of the tilapia imports from China were rejected in 2007-08.) Food and Water Watch also drew attention to this rejection of fish and shellfish.

The best way to know for sure if seafood is ecologically sound and safe to eat is to check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch;” available as a cell phone app. Before getting hooked on fish -- consider the source!

Reach Lynn Youngblood at