Farmed or wild? Salmon debate demystified

Plank-Grilled Sweet Soy SalmonPlank-Grilled Sweet Soy SalmonI like salmon for its flavor and healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but when I read about the recent outbreak of disease in Chilean fish farms and the collapse of the Chinook salmon population south of Alaska, I knew I had to reconsider my fish consumption.

The debate over wild-caught versus farm-raised salmon is more relevant now than ever and I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering what I should eat.

Luckily, in the March/April issue of EatingWell magazine, writer David Dobbs explores the controversy surrounding farmed salmon in "The Wild Salmon Debate." The article gave me the information I need to make the best choice for my health and the health of the environment. And I found several delicious salmon recipes, like Plank-Grilled Sweet Soy Salmon and Salmon Burgers with Green Goddess Sauce. Yum!

So what did I decide to buy? I took my lead from Dobbs's research, which details the life of both a wild salmon and a farmed salmon. I suggest reading the full article to get detailed information, but at a glance here are two important facts to think about:

  • The way the fish are raised and what they eat are some of the factors to consider when determining whether farmed salmon or wild salmon is the best choice for you. The contrast between their existences is stark-wild salmon's natural life cycle takes place in the rivers of Alaska and other West Coast waterways, while farmed salmon are raised in crowded net pens and are fed fish pellets that contain an additive to make their flesh pink.
  • Dobbs, a self-described chemophobe says that even though the levels of PCBs, DDT, dioxins, pesticides, mercury and other suspected carcinogens are two to ten times greater in farmed salmon than in wild salmon, the health concerns about farmed salmon are too insignificant to worry about. It's the environmental effects of farmed salmon that make it a difficult choice.

The bottom line?

A low-impact solution of raising fish in floating, solid-sided tanks would avoid the drawbacks of net pens. But until more sustainable farming practices are put in place, Dobbs recommends we eat wild salmon, in season, between May and October.

So how will you know you're buying the fish you want when you go to your grocery store or fish market? Get the information you need to make sustainable seafood choices and find the right labels in EatingWell's Green Choices: Seafood Buyer's Guide.

By Michelle Edelbaum

Michelle is the associate editor of interactive for EatingWell Media Group. In between editing and writing, she enjoys sampling the tasty results of the easy, healthy recipes that the EatingWell Test Kitchen cooks are working on.

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