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Atlantic Salmon - From the farm to the plate

We eat farmed chicken, farmed cattle, farmed wheat - in short, we do not go into the woods to make our salad. The farm raised salmon controversy is trumped up, because without farms, the world population would be a fraction of its size.


Farmed food is not optional, but a requirement, and in third world countries, salmon is the number one source of protein. Farmed raised Atlantic salmon has played an important role in addressing world malnutrition. There is not enough wild salmon to feed billions, even if every single one was harvested.

Fillet of wild red salmon, species common to Bristol Bay

But in every controversy, there are two sides with two different views of the same problem. This controversy has those who farm Atlantic salmon on one side and those who harvest wild Pacific salmon on the other … and then there are those who make a living off controversies. I will call them the ‘paid to complain people’ and the paid to complain people help neither group because they missed the problem and instead, focused on the sensationalized.

These paid to complain people have things to say - like pollution, like lice in the meat, and other unpleasant observations about the fish farming industry. There are some grounds to their concerns, but the same things can be said about all of the products in our refrigerator. Every bite we take comes with the risk of disease, insect manifestation and environmental degradation. Case in point, the Food and Drug Administration has a requirement for the maximum number of insect body parts in a pizza and that requirement is not zero.


It is remarkable, albeit inevitable, that man learned how to farm the ocean. The ocean was the last, great piece of real estate to be harvested and only ten years ago did ocean farming become commercially viable. Presently, salmon farms are in Washington, Norway, British Colombia and Chile, and for the time being, the world’s desire for fresh salmon year round has been satiated.

In ten years the market for wild Alaskan salmon has been replaced by farmed raised Atlantic Salmon. Why? One reason is wild Pacific salmon is in season only one month a year. The other eleven months, wild salmon is only available frozen or in a can. Not many opt for canned salmon when fresh salmon is at the seafood counter ready to be wrapped in white paper.

Farmed Atlantic salmon fillet

Note it has peach colored flesh, not red. The color is artifical. The same chemicals used for 'suntan in a bottle' are used to color the flesh and make farmed Atlantic salmon marketable.

Wild Pacific salmon fillet

The color is red and natural. The red color comes from krill, the tiny shrimp the salmon eat in the ocean.

But what is in that white paper? The natural flesh color of farmed Atlantic salmon is an unappetizing and unmarketable whitish gray. Salmon farmers add chemicals to the food pills, which causes the flesh to become pink. You can see the difference in color when wild and farmed salmon fillets are placed side by side. Farmed salmon is peach colored, not red, and wild salmon is a deep red.

Wild salmon, ready to be smoked

Though the difference is obvious when the two are side by side, the consumer can not see the difference in grocery stores because special lighting is used. To the unwary buyer, it is just another choice of fresh fish available in the winter months, summer too. Even smoked salmon, a staple of Jewish diet, is farmed.

When tasting farm raised salmon in comparison to wild Pacific salmon, the taste is different. Farmed salmon does not have the same texture or taste as wild salmon. That is because farmed salmon is caged and does not have to survive four years in the ocean.

Some describe farmed salmon as having a ‘mashed potato’ texture and “taste like a fish, but don’t know the kind.” You know wild salmon when you taste it.


But given the shortcomings of farmed salmon, those shortcomings can be made to magically disappear in the consumer’s eyes with an effective marketing program and farmed salmon marketing voodoo starts with the name, Atlantic salmon.

Feeding food pills to farmed Atlantic salmon. The food pills contain antibiotics, pesticides and chemicals to change the color of their flesh.

Atlantic salmon sounds wild. In fact, the name is not a lie. Atlantic salmon are the species the farmers grow because they can not keep Pacific salmon alive in cages.

Atlantic salmon is not a true salmon. It is of the trout family. It is common knowledge that salmon die after spawning, but Atlantic salmon are different.

Both species are born in fresh water. Both swim in the ocean. Both return to where they were born to start anew. But the similarities end there. Atlantic salmon swim again after spawning. Pacific salmon do not.

Are there wild Atlantic salmon? Yes, but they are in trouble on the developed eastern coast of the US. The pristine fresh water, which they need to spawn, has been polluted or the rivers blocked with dams making the annual salmon run an impossible event. Salmon do not choose new spawning grounds. They just grow old and die, without reproducing.

Few wild Atlantic salmon are left. A troubled river in Maine had one salmon return - a male, the loneliest fish on the planet.


Marketing farmed Atlantic salmon is an operation of deception. Taking the name of an endangered wild fish for a man-made product is a questionable tactic. The consumer is confused and the fish farm operators want them that way.

The paid to complain people have much to say, but the point of the controversy is money. Wouldn’t you pay more for a wild fish, over something farmed? Most would, but the marketing firms would rather not make the distinction between farm raised Atlantic salmon and wild Pacific salmon. During the month of June and July, when wild salmon is available fresh, consumers still choose farmed salmon because they do not know the difference.

Wild salmon or anything wild for that matter, should be priced at a premium because the supply of natural things is finite. Conservation only works if pricing reflects the supply. That is not happening with wild Pacific salmon.


Oh my! So worried you're eating the farmed stuff and forgot what the flick is about.



The picture is bigger than just farmed fish. Find out how foreigners got to call the shots in a US town.


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