Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon.


Salmon has been a major seafood commodity for people all over the world for decades. The fish has been served on salads, in pasta dishes, grilled to perfection, and stacked on crackers for appetizers. It’s complimented hot plates and set standards high for all other seafood delicates. However, most of America’s salmon dishes no longer fit the label of wild. Today, over 65% of the salmon consumed in the United States is farmed, and unfortunately this percent is rising. Fish hatcheries have been producing fish since the 1800’s, and have made some positive impacts. However it is obvious that farmed salmon are a negative substitute for wild salmon. 

The first Pacific Coast salmon hatchery was established in 1872 on the McCloud River in Northern California which was operated by the U.S. Fish Commission. Prior to that historic development that would change the face of fisheries world-wide, experiments with propagation started in 1862 by settlers and farmers. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Game, “Salmon hatcheries, through the use of controlled water flow, concrete, steel, and artificial diets, are a means of combating losses of fish life caused by environmental changes.” (“Salmon”) Fish are raised in holding ponds either made from net or concrete and are fed specific meals. By the year 1900, over 15 hatcheries were in operation in the state of Washington and 58,000,000 salmon fry had been released. All of which used the same methods of rearing. 

Salmon are raised in hatcheries until they are large enough to survive on their own in the wild. Until then, young fish are raised in large holding ponds and fed vitamin enriched meals. The meals consist of fish products such as tuna viscera, turbot, pasteurized salmon viscera, dogfish, and de-scaled pasteurized herring. Along with this meal there is a vitamin package. There are several different types of vitamins in this package such as ascorbic acid, Biotin, B12, E, folic acid, inosital menadine, niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, and several other chemicals. All of these vitamins and minerals allow each fish to grow and become strong enough to survive in the wild. It may seem beneficial to have healthy and strong fish released into the wild but in reality it’s detrimental. 

Even though these vitamins and chemicals are meant to help these fish grow and become fit enough to survive in the wild, there are some negative effects. Farmed salmon have a higher amount of PCB’s, known carcinogens, and other toxic chemicals in their flesh. These PCB’s are concentrated in the “ground up fish” that are fed to smolt, (baby salmon) in the holding pools. Once consumed the PCB’s are then stored in the salmon’s flesh, which in turn gives the meat a considerably different color than wild fish.  As a result, fish are given canthaxanthin, which gives the meat that bright orange color. According to Miriam Jacobs, a nutritionist and toxicologist at the University of Surrey claims that children and infants are more at risk when consuming these contaminants because their daily intake will be greater than an adult’s. Women who are pregnant and are considering breast-feeding should be careful because toxins tend to accumulate in breast milk. It is thought that if enough of these toxins are consumed, infants could have brain damage and also have trouble with vision. Ultimately, consuming farmed salmon has high risks, especially at a young age. It would take extreme amounts digested to really have an affect but these risks shouldn’t be over-looked and fish hatcheries need to take the initiative to find better and safer ways to raise fish. 

Human health is a small concern when it comes to farmed salmon. It’s the wild fish populations that shoulder the major effects. Farms are located in small bays and inlets, and typically support over 500,000 fish. These conditions provide perfect breeding grounds for the sea louse/lice. Sea lice are small parasites that attach themselves to salmon and feed on their blood. They’re similar to a tick feeding on a deer except, they feed on fish and thrive in the ocean. They’re a salt water organism, so freshwater rivers remain relatively lice free. Fish farms can harbor millions of sea lice at once. When smolt make their downstream run to the ocean they swim by these farms. It is then that they are bombarded by millions of lice. Smolt are usually the size of a triple-A battery when they reach the ocean, so just one sea lice can be deadly to a smolt. With these increased casualties, the numbers of returning salmon will be decreased dramatically. Before salmon farms, sea lice on salmon smolt had never before been documented. 

When farmed salmon are released from hatcheries, they go out to sea and then return with wild salmon to spawn. According to John Dentler and David Buchanan who wrote The Northwest Salmon Crisis, “Hatchery salmon are less genetically diverse than wild populations,”. Because of this inter-breeding between farmed and wild salmon causes off-spring to be more susceptible to diseases such as flexibacter columnaris. Inter-breeding also degrades the overall genetic purity of wild salmon. 

Because they are less “authentic” farmed salmon are bought and sold in greater numbers due to lower prices and easy access. As a result, they have dramatically impacted the wild salmon market in a negative way. Depending on which market, wild salmon is sold from $15-20/lb. A considerable amount more than farmed salmon which can be half that. It’s obvious which option consumers are going to choose. Bristol Bay, Alaska is home to the world’s largest wild Sockeye salmon run and a multi-million dollar commercial fishing industry. Today Bristol Bay’s fishery brings in over $325 million whereas in the late 80’s it was $800 million. In the 80’s farmed salmon supplied 2 percent of the world’s supply, then in 2004 it grew to 65 percent. Farmed salmon has caused several commercial fishermen to go out of business or has wiped out fisheries all together. The commercial fishery in Bristol Bay is the backbone for the people who live in that area. Without salmon, Bristol Bay would lose a major part of its identity. 

Commercial fishing boat in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo by: Camille Egdorf

Yet there are those who disagree and say that farmed salmon have only helped the wild fish numbers and have no negative effects on health. Odd Grydeland, the president of the British Columbia Salmon Farmer’s Association states,” You’d have to eat a horrendous amount of farmed salmon to reach the levels high enough to cause damage.” Although his statement is conceivable, he is still acknowledging the fact that eating farmed salmon has risks. From that statement alone consumers should be cautious about farmed salmon products. Charles Santerre, an associate professor of foods, nutrition and science at the University of Purdue made a statement about a study called, “Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon.” He claims that, “The study demonstrates that farmed salmon is very low in contaminants and meets or exceeds standards established by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.” He also continues to say that the risk of cancer is very low. Although, these oppositions make a good point, there is still some concern. Yes, the risk is low, but there are more problems than just health related. What about the wild salmon themselves? What about the commercial fisheries?


Farmed salmon have helped wild fish numbers in different ways, but it’s obvious that the risks outweigh the benefits. Wild salmon genetics have been degraded, numbers have been decreased, sea lice infestations have been increased, diseases have gone rampant, markets have been corrupted, and problems with health are possible. The wild salmon populations in the lower forty eight have diminished to almost non-existent. It is important that the government and the citizens of the U.S. work together to protect one of the world’s natural wonders. According to Nick Jans, writer for USA Today, “Wild Alaska salmon remains one of the last abundant, relatively pure and wild foods available. Why on earth should we weaken our economy and threaten a precious natural resource-all so we can eat an imported, inferior substitute?” Those words should be considered by everyone regardless if they eat salmon or not. Instead of eating a chemical enhanced piece of trash, choose a pure and wild piece of goodness. Wild salmon are one of the world’s natural wonders because they return year after year to spawn in the same rivers in which they were born. They feed all the wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, such as bears, eagles, birds, and locals who rely on them for subsistence. To use and produce a substitute for these amazing creatures is foolish and will assist in the extinction of salmon all together. 

Photo by: Mike Caranci

Due to all these problems and current issues it is obvious that farmed salmon are a negative substitute for wild salmon. People should recognize these problems and do everything possible to support wild fisheries, which in the end would not only complement the plate but also benefit the commercial fisheries, the wild fish economy, subsistence living, and ultimately wild salmon themselves. When people go to the store to buy salmon, instead of grabbing the nearest package of salmon, people should check the label to make sure it’s wild, and if anything else just ask for it. Farmed salmon are a negative substitute for wild salmon and the more people who know this, the better off everyone will be in the end. 

Works Cited



Salmon and Salmon Hatcheies

Dentler, John and David Buchanan. “Are Wild Salmonid Stock worth Conserving?” The Northwest Salmon Crisis. Oregon Sea Grant,1986:pgs. 131-132. 
Anderson, Jennifer. “Save salmon by eating it, shoppers told: New Seasons campaign aims to protect Alaska’s threatened fishery.” The Portland Tribune. 15 July, 2008. 

Milstein, Michael. ” PCB test pits farmed salmon vs. wild.” Environmental Working Group. 29 July, 2003. 19 April, 2009. <http://www.ewg.org&gt;. 

“The price of salmon.” PAN. March 2001. 19 April, 2009. <http://www.pan-uk.org&gt;. 

” Purdue food expert: Benefits of farmed salmon outweigh risks.” Purdue News. January 2004. 27 April, 2009.<http://news.uns.purdue.edu&gt;. 

. Olympia: Washington Department of Fisheries, 1977.