Claims about the health benefits of eating more fish can do more harm than good, according to a Canadian study.
Health claims appear to be exaggerated, and many of the studies ignore the pressures that increased consumption is putting on dwindling global fish stocks, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal article.
“Governments and industry are urging consumers to eat more fish because it’s healthy … but where do we get this fish from?” says Associate Professor Rashid Sumaila of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia.
With the collapse of many fish stocks near the United States, Europe and Japan, there is now pressure on developing countries to increase foreign access to their coasts or to export catches from local fishermen.
“In both cases, the local markets of developing countries, where basic nutrition and health are challenging, are deprived of an important source of protein for the benefit of the developed world, whose main problems are diet and physical inactivity,” the researchers write.
The report was co-authored by marine and medical researchers and co-authored by noted Canadian writer and environmentalist Farley Mowat.
The researchers say that while there are studies showing a benefit from consuming omega-3s from fish oils, there are also studies that suggest that the benefits are minimal and that fish eaters are already leaning towards healthier lifestyles.
“In contrast to the uncertainty in the scientific literature about the value of omega-3s in fish oils, there is little doubt about the severity of the fishing crisis and the prospect of persistent collapses in fish stocks,” the researchers write.
The article says there are alternative sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as algae and plants, but warns that more clinical studies are needed before their widespread use is endorsed.
The researchers also reject an expansion of aquaculture because their protein-rich feed for some fish species such as salmon requires between 2.5 and 5 kilograms of fish for every kilogram that the farm ultimately produces.
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