Don’t Eat Farmed Salmon!
July 17th, 2009 · 7 Comments · Posted in dinner, Sustainability
Originally I was going to title this post “Salmon with Bearnaise Sauce” because that’s exactly what you see in the picture. Whole Foods was selling beautiful fillets of fresh, wild-caught sockeye salmon from Alaska and I couldn’t resist. I found a container of bearnaise sauce we’d made some time ago in the fridge and we assembled the dinner you see hear, the salmon, cooked in a hot skillet to crisp the skin, accompanied by southern-style collard greens out of the garden and steamed kohlrabi. I even bought a bottle of rose wine for a rare treat. The salmon was exquisite.
But then I turned to my Google reader and found that all sorts of bloggers were suddenly writing about farmed salmon. That is the salmon you typically see in the grocery or at the seafood counter. It might say “Atlantic” salmon, but that’s the fish species. It doesn’t describe how the fish was raised. Atlantic salmon isn’t caught wild any more. It’s all fished out. It’s usually “farmed,” meaning grown in pens in ocean water, raising a host of environmental issues.
The most recent ruckus started with a fairly innocent and even humorous blog post by food author Michael Ruhlman about eating out at the Cheesecake Factory. Responding to a newspaper review of the chain eatery, Ruhlman decided to have a meal there himself to see if was really edible. In the end, he thought the salmon with miso glaze was surprisingly good. But here’s the catch: the salmon Ruhlman ate almost assuredly was farm-raised, not at all what we would consider “sustainable.”
We’ve ranted before about the drawbacks of farmed salmon–the use of antibiotics to fend off diseases, the pests these farms spread into the surrounding oceans waters, the escapes from salmon farms to pollute the wild population, and the use of other wild fish stocks to feed the salmon, which are carnivorous. They cannot be fed a simple vegetarian diet.
It’s on this last point that Tom Philpott at Grist has written a particularly compelling damnation of farmed salmon. Chefs who tout themselves as serving only “sustainable” seafood have been singing the praises of farmed salmon certified as “organic” by the European Union. But even the European rating agency, Marine Stewardship Council, has witheld its “sustainable” certification from salmon farming operations. It’s not just the environmental degradations posed by salmon farms. By some analyses, it takes nearly four pounds of wild fish such as anchovies to create a pound of the salmon flesh you see at the seafood counter. Now, industrial fishing operations are scouring the world’s oceans, vacuuming up anchovies and krill to feed farmed salmon. Krill are the microscopic organisms on which so many larger fish–even whales–feed. They are they foundation for much of the world’s ocean life.
And the salmon aren’t just eating anchovies or krill. Sometimes they are getting a boost in protein from chicken manure. How appetizing is that? Plus we know that farmed salmon need a dose of artificial coloring to give them the pink hue they would normally attain if they were feeding in the wild.
We don’t spend much time thinking about krill. But imagining a world without them, just to support salmon farms, is truly a scary thought. Read the fine print on those fish labels. Reject farmed salmon. If you want to eat a farmed fish, choose barramundi or catfish or tilapia raised here in the U.S. instead.
Read more great stories about how we are taking back our food system at Fight Back Fridays.