The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Don’t Eat Farmed Salmon!

July 17th, 2009 · 7 Comments · Posted in dinner, Sustainability

Wild-caught sockeye salmon from Alaska

Wild-caught sockeye salmon from Alaska

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.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Your comment may have to wait for approval to be published to ensure that we don't accidentally publish "spam". We thank you for understanding.


  • megwolff

    I had my very last fish meal back in February, but I will warn everyone I know that does eat it about the farm raised. Thanks. FYI, Food, Inc. is finally playing in Portland, Maine.

  • rwthompson

    Totally agree on this. My wife and I took our honeymoon in Alaska, and saw how the fisheries work first hand. Alaskan salmon is by definition wild – farmed salmon is illegal there. Hatcheries are used however.

    Sockeye is my favorite, seared quickly to medium / medium-rare. If you have a Trader Joes nearby, they usually have a good (frozen ) selection of a variety of species of wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

    Another ecologically responsible farmed fish is Rainbow Trout. It is a delicious cousin of the salmon.

  • bronwyn

    No antibiotics in this farmed salmon.

    And how many pounds of anchovies or beef or chicken do you think it takes to make a pound of human?

  • kimsikes

    Haha … my husband and I had dinner at Coastal Flats and I asked the server where they source their salmon. He said it was farmed and was very quick to follow up with “but they’re less prone to disease than wild-caught fish”. Hm, could it be the anitbiotics??? Silly corporate chains …

  • Ed Bruske

    Bronwyn, New Zealand has one of the best fisheries in the world. Still, while some aquaculturists have taken laudable steps, there is nothing sustainable about salmon farming. And you’re right, we could probably eliminate a lot of problems if humans just stopped eating.

    Kim, I love it when restuarant people just make stuff up.

  • Ed Bruske

    Meg, glad to hear Food Inc. has made it to Portland. Hopefully everyone will see it at least once.

    RW, I definitely concur on the rainbow trout. Trout farms exist all over the country. I think we even have some in Virginia. It’s a delicious fish, too often overlooked.

  • Carnivorous?

    Farmed salmon are carnivorous, you say. Well, what do wild sockeye eat? Better yet, what do 1.5 billion hatchery salmon in Alaska eat? All eat fish meal. Same stuff. No story here.

    And then someone says “good to eat Rainbow Trout”. What to Trout eat? Answer – fish meal too.

    As for salmon color – the same pigment is eaten by wild, farmed and hatchery salmon. No story here either.

    If you simply ‘like’ wild salmon better because it makes you feel good, then just say so. But don’t mix in bogus information that is distorted to scare the consumer away from a healthy product.