Q: I’ve seen barramundi on some restaurant menus. Is it a good fish choice?
A: Yes, very good. Farm-raised by the Massachusetts-based company Australis Aquaculture, this little known white-fleshed fish is marketed as a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to salmon. Native to Asia and Australia, barramundi also goes by the names Asian sea bass, giant perch, bekti, and, dare we say, cockup.
According to independent lab testing done for Australis, a 5-ounce portion has about 140 calories, 2 grams of total fat, and 600 to 800 milligrams of heart-healthy omega-3 fats. Though it has less omega-3s than most salmon, it’s still a very good source, especially compared to some other white fish, like cod and tilapia. Like other fish, it is also a good source of protein and contains nutrients like vitamin D and potassium. The fish are raised without hormones, colorants, or antibiotics and have no detectable mercury, PCBs, or other contaminants, testing has shown.
Organizations that evaluate seafood sustainability list U.S. farm-raised barramundi as an eco-friendly choice because closed recirculating land-based tanks are used. This ensures that the fish do not escape and spread disease and minimizes the risk of polluting natural waterways with uneaten feed and waste, which are common problems in aquaculture, particularly with salmon. The fish are also stocked at “low density,” meaning they are not crowded, which helps keep them healthy.
And unlike salmon, which requires as much as three pounds of feed for every pound of flesh produced (largely from fish meal and fish oil), barramundi needs less than one pound of feed (mostly vegetarian) to produce a pound of flesh. This puts less pressure on declining populations of wild fish, which are used in fish feed.
Australis now has a second barramundi farm—in Vietnam—that uses both land-based tanks and modern sea cages. Though many overseas operations, especially in Asia, do not have a good environmental track record for fish farming, Australis uses sustainable practices there as well. But not all imported barramundi is raised or caught in sustainable ways, which is why environmental groups do not give overseas sources a blanket endorsement.
If your market doesn’t sell barramundi, ask the manager if it can be ordered. For more information on barramundi and where to buy it, go to the Australis website.