Farm-raised vs. Wild Caught Salmon: Which One is Better?

When it comes to the farmed vs wild salmon debate, we need to face the facts and let them speak for themselves.

Consumers deserve full transparency and should know the exact source of the foods they are consuming.There are numerous factors at play in this discussion, including: environmental impacts, dietary and health implications, and the salmon’s quality of life.

So how can you make the best decision for your family the next time you purchase salmon for an upcoming meal? We’re breaking down all the important factors so you can make an informed decision when the time comes.

Wild Caught vs Farmed Salmon: The Environment

First things first, how can purchasing wild caught salmon vs farmed salmon impact the world around us?

Farmed salmon was created out of necessity - high quality wild salmon was typically unavailable due to the long and outdated supply chain. But, is farmed salmon really a better option for the environment? Due to the growing demand for salmon, over-crowded salmon farming pens have cropped up. These farmed salmon are confined to one small area for their full life cycle, creating an increased concentration of pollution from their own waste and unfinished fish feed. This issue causes an uprise of disease in the farmed salmon and leeching of the pollution into the surrounding natural ecosystems. The diseased and imperfect salmon are then discarded: one farmed salmon company reported that they threw away over 10 million salmon- adding over 22,000 tonnes of waste to global landfills. 

While the farmed salmon are cooped up in their pens, wild salmon are able to spread out in the ocean, feeding on their natural diet of smaller fish, shrimp, and other amphipods. Our fishermen are then able to sustainably source them from their natural habitat in the Copper River. Once a year, the Copper River salmon fishing season opens from May - September. Additionally, beyond the benefits of human consumption, the wild salmon ecosystem supports over 137 organisms. Throughout a wild salmon’s life cycle they go on to feed many marine mammals, land mammals, and even the nearby forests. 

Salmon’s circle of life has a 100% usage rate. See how surrounding plants and trees benefit from, and receive nutrients through the riverbanks allowing plants and trees to build a healthy root system preventing erosion.

A huge effort is put into sustainability and safety. Our fishing areas are very limited and many strict protocols are put into place, ensuring a full and healthy wild salmon run for the years to come. Some of the regulations include the length of the fishing net and the amount of time it is allowed to sit in the water. This net cannot exceed 900 feet in length, must be free flowing (not anchored down anywhere), and the meshing must be made of colored line to make it easier for the fish to notice it. Only select areas are open for fishing on very specific days with fishing periods ranging from 12-48 hours. All of these measures are put into place to give the wild Copper River salmon run plenty of opportunities to dodge the fishermen and make their way back home for reproduction. Our local Fish and Game are diligent in their enforcement of these regulations, adding that extra layer of protection to the people and the seas. 

Wild Caught vs Farmed Salmon: The Taste

For you foodies out there, you may already know this, but for the uninitiated, be warned — there’s a stark difference between the taste of fresh, wild caught salmon and the taste of farmed salmon. This is partially thanks to the different food each type of fish consumes and the general lifestyle each fish enjoys over the course of its life.

Farmed salmon is milder and contains more fat, due to the fish’s inactive lifestyles and diet. Farmed salmon meat is also originally grey. In order to try and replicate the bright, natural coloring of wild salmon to make the farmed fish look more appetizing, they’re fed astaxanthin (which can be natural or synthetic). This coloring agent is naturally found in the diets of wild salmon, as it’s produced by algae and other microscopic oceanic organisms.

Wild caught salmon enjoy very active lives and thus contain less overall fat, but are higher in healthy omega-3 fats. While farmed salmon subsist mainly on a fish meal diet, wild caught salmon chow down on what nature intended, including a wide range of prey, from crustaceans to cephalopods. While in general, wild salmon is less fatty, wild Copper River salmon, which is known as the Wagyu of seafood, is prized for its exceptionally high oil content, succulent texture, and rich flavor that melts in your mouth. This is also the reason why all five-star restaurants compete to get their shares of Copper River Salmon each year.

Wild Caught vs Farmed Salmon: The Health Benefits

We all know that salmon is healthy for you, but is some salmon healthier than others? Absolutely! 

First of all, wild caught salmon is lower in fat than farmed salmon, resulting in salmon filets that can sometimes be nearly half the calories. While farmed salmon contains larger amounts of omega-6 fats, wild salmon carries higher levels of omega-3 fats  Although omega-6 fats are still good for you, most people in the US already consume enough omega-6s in their diet, but lack the omega-3s that are required for a healthy cardiovascular system. Cutting back on omega-6s isn’t necessary, but boosting your omega-3 intake is, and wild salmon is an excellent source for that. It’s also higher in minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. 

Due to overcrowding and the concentration of pollutants in farmed salmon pens, the salmon are often fed antibiotics in an effort to reduce disease. These antibiotics remain in their bodies and end up on your dinner table. Because of this pharmaceutical buildup,  research shows that consuming farmed salmon may contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans. A study from Environmental Working Group also found that farmed salmon is often higher in contaminants and pollutants. Thankfully, this has caused many salmon farmers to work on adjusting their salmon feed ingredients in hopes of avoiding this issue in the future.

While all salmon is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D, if you’re looking for a less-fatty fish with fewer calories while still retaining high nutritional quality, opt for wild caught salmon. 

Wild Caught vs Farmed Salmon: The Ethical Question 

Consumers of meat and their byproducts are becoming more and more concerned with the quality of life these animals live during the farming process. They want to ensure that before they enjoy their weekend burger or holiday turkey, that the animal enjoyed as natural and wild a life as possible. The same is true for seafood lovers; increasingly, they're asking how fish are treated or farmed before they end up on the dinner table.

It takes over 20-pounds of fish meal, which is made up of wild fish and other additives, to create 5-pounds of farmed fish.

When it comes to wild caught vs farmed salmon, the difference in quality of life is clear. Wild salmon live migratory lifestyles, traveling thousands of  miles in a ritual that spans many generations of salmon before them. In the case of Copper River salmon, these fish experience at least 4 years of a full and healthy lifestyle before they’re even large enough to be caught by our nets. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, live in a pen for their full life cycle, crowded together. Which do you think is a happier salmon? 

Choosing Salmon

Buying Fresh Wild Caught Salmon

If you've made the decision that wild caught salmon is the best choice for your family, we have some suggestions for you. After all, it's not always easy to find fresh wild caught salmon at your local grocery store. World Bank estimates that, by 2030, more than 60% of all seafood intended for consumption will be farm-raised. So, how do you evade the ever-growing farmed salmon market? Here are some tips:

  1. Avoid “Atlantic salmon” labels. The large majority of farmed salmon is considered “Atlantic salmon,” even if that fish has never seen the Atlantic Ocean in its entire life. 
  2. Keep the month in mind. It’s easier to find wild salmon during the summer months, so make sure to stock up your freezer when it becomes available.
  3. Of course, the easiest way to get your hands on some of the best, wild caught Alaskan salmon, especially the well-known Copper River salmon, is to buy directly from the fishermen. 

At Alaskan Salmon Co., a fishermen-owned e-commerce company, we specialize in sustainably-sourced wild Copper River salmon from Cordova, Alaska. Alaskan Salmon connects you directly to fishermen to provide the highest-quality wild Alaskan salmon, eliminating the extensive, traditional supply chain.