Americans have very different perceptions on wild versus farmed fish, and whether it is grown in fresh or salt water.

A new report, "Aquaculture/Mariculture, US Market Insights and Opportunities," by food industry research firms Changing Tastes and Datassential tracks the survey results of 1,500 consumers and 400 restaurant operators about their preferences for America’s three favorites: salmon, tuna and shrimp.

Nearly half of consumers and 40 percent of restauranteurs said they prefer wild fish and shellfish because it has better flavor, quality and texture, and is free of antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals. For salmon, 57 percent of consumers said they prefer wild caught; it was 64 percent for restaurant operators.

Both believe less than half of the seafoods we eat today comes from aquaculture. Overall, land-based and nearshore aquaculture operations got much lower marks across the board.

Water pollution and impacts on water quality were listed as the top concerns by 66 percent of consumers for land-based fish farms and 58 percent for nearshore. Water concerns jumped to 80 percent among buyers.

The use of antibiotics and pesticides in fish farms ranked as the second concern by 64 percent of consumers and 68 percent for restaurant operators.

Consumers and buyers believe a substantial amount of seafood is already farmed in the deep ocean, and one quarter believe open-ocean mariculture is better for the environment than wild capture fishing.

The report concludes that as more Americans shift to eating seafood, the consumers with no established preferences for wild versus farmed increases.

Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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