Farm Raised vs Wild Caught Salmon: Which One is More Sustainable?

If Americans were to get a report card from our planet, based on the type of salmon we’d eat, we’d get a failing grade. This is because up to 90% of the salmon we eat is farm raised. As we’ll see in this article, our farmed salmon consumption can bring about a range of environmental and ethical concerns. 

In the farm raised vs wild caught salmon debate, wild caught salmon is the more sustainable option. Let’s take a look at why.

What Does “Sustainable Salmon” Mean?

Sustainable salmon is similar to other types of sustainable seafood. It simply means that the salmon is caught in a way that will ensure that more fish will be available now, and for decades to come. 

Not only are healthy populations of fish prioritized, but sustainable salmon means that the environmental impact is minimal, too.  

What about farmed salmon—does sustainable salmon farming even exist? Well, kind of. It’s considered that aquaculture (fish farming) systems that are closed off to the outside ocean are better, simply because they don’t have a direct impact on the environment. 

However, as we’ll see, there are still many concerns to consider, even with the most environmentally-friendly ways of farming salmon. 

The Environmental Impact of Salmon Farming

1. Disease and Infection

If and when farmed salmon escape (which might happen more often than you think), they can spread parasites and viruses, putting wild populations at increased risk for health concerns. Additionally, they may compete with wild fish stocks for food. Interbreeding may threaten genetic diversity, too. 

Even within the aquaculture system, sea lice infestations are being reported at an astronomical rate, and leading to an ever-growing number of salmon deaths. In 2019, farmed salmon mortality was four times higher than it was in 2002, much of it due to Lepophtherius salmonis, sea lice that eats a salmon’s skin, effectively eating it alive.

2. Pollution

A range of chemical inputs are used in salmon farming operations. These include antifoulants (a net coating used to control sea lice), pesticides, and antibiotics. 

Farmed salmon operations—especially open net-pen salmon farms—can release these chemicals, in addition to waste products like feed and feces. This has been shown to alter the surrounding biological diversity and harm nearby flora and fauna.  

3. Dwindling Wild Fish Stocks

When we think of the environmental impacts of salmon farming, one of the most important things to consider is that salmon are hungry, and they’re hungry carnivores. Their incredible, mouth-watering pink color? It’s the result of a voracious appetite for smaller fish, particularly shrimp. 

For many salmon farming operations, shrimp isn’t on the menu. Fishmeal is, though—and lots of it. For just one kilogram of farmed salmon, around three kilograms of fishmeal are required. 

This means that farmed salmon requires three times as much protein as it produces. 

But the biggest problem is the fact that fishmeal comes from wild fish. These wild fish, or forage fish include species like anchovy, herring, menhaden, and sardines, and in some areas of the world, up to 98% of fish stocks are harvested to feed farmed fish.

When 20 million tons of wild seafood are used every year for fishmeal in the salmon farms, it leaves very little for the other marine food species that require these smaller fish. It depletes the ecosystem, and leaves it less resilient and stable. Not only that, but it’s taking a food source and income stream away from humans, too.

Wild Caught Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

How Sustainable Wild Caught Salmon Is

Speaking of humans, let’s talk about a type of seafood that can be enjoyed with a clean conscience: sustainable wild caught salmon.

Wild caught salmon consumed in the U.S. is typically sourced along the Pacific Rim coastline, all the way from South Korea to California, Russia, and Alaska. A migration happens every year in late spring, where hundreds of millions of salmon head to inland waterways. 

Roughly 200 million salmon are caught until the end of the season in September. Considered to be the better option for the planet, many of the sustainability benefits of wild caught salmon are also the same reasons it is best to avoid farmed salmon.

Simply put, wild caught salmon haven’t been treated with pesticides, or exposed to other contaminants. Populations haven’t been held in a confined area, where disease and bacteria are rampant. Nor do they produce an abundance of feces in a concentrated space, meaning there’s no concern of nutrient pollution problems.   

From a planetary perspective, wild caught salmon is best. Alaskan wild caught salmon is even better. 

Why Alaskan Salmon is A Sustainable Choice

  • It’s regulated.
  • One of the biggest criticisms of farmed salmon is that it’s wildly unregulated. Between unregulated antibiotic use and no official guidelines for pollution released into the ocean, many salmon farming operations are a free-for-all—and it’s costing our planet a lot.

    Not only is the U.S. a recognized global leader when it comes to sustainable seafood, but Alaska specifically has strict regulations in place to protect clean water and habitats, restore community streams, minimize pollution and contaminants, and support those working in the fishing industry. 

    This makes Alaska one of the world’s last strongholds for healthy stocks of wild salmon. 

  • It’s healthier.
  • According to the Environmental Defense Fund, and based on contaminants like mercury and PCBs, farmed salmon should only be consumed one time a month. 

    How does Alaskan salmon fare? According to them, it’s one of the safest options—and can be safely consumed at least once a week! 

  • It supports natural ecosystems.
  • Put simply, wild salmon are a key part of a healthy river ecosystem. Think about it, they’re an essential source of protein for bears. Beyond that, during spawning they release nitrogen, an essential nutrient for the plants and trees that grow near the riverbed. 

    They support the human ecosystem, too. Commercial fishermen in Alaska benefit from roughly half a billion dollars every year from the wild salmon run. 

    So then,who supports salmon fishing? Well, it’s only beneficial from the standpoint that wild salmon populations can’t keep up with global salmon demand—so farming is required to feed hungry mouths.

    However, there are obviously many problems to tackle before farmed salmon can be consumed in a way that’s sustainable. 

    Currently, when it comes to sustainable salmon, the best thing you can do for our planet, your health, and the salmon themselves is to choose wild caught salmon, especially when it’s from Alaska. Wild caught salmon tastes better and is better for the environment, too. Try fresh wild Alaskan salmon delivered to your door today! Made up of fisherman families, Alaskan Salmon Company cuts the middleman and provides the highest quality of seafood to everyone. 

    Fishing Wild Alaskan Salmon

     

    References

    • https://www.sunset.com/food-wine/flavors-of-the-west/salmon-farmed-or-wild
    • https://www.bonappetit.com/story/difference-between-wild-caught-and-farm-raised-salmon
    • https://www.msc.org/en-au/what-we-are-doing/our-approach/what-is-sustainable-seafood
    • https://thefishsite.com/articles/nearly-50-000-salmon-escape-from-scottish-fish-farm-after-storm-damage
    • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/11/global-salmon-farming-harming-marine-life-and-costing-billions-in-damage
    • https://www.livingoceans.org/initiatives/salmon-farming/issues/environmental-impacts-open-net-pen-salmon-farms-benefit-the-ocean
    • https://livefrankly.co.uk/food-drink/caroline-bennett-sustainable-salmon/
    • https://www.livingoceans.org/initiatives/salmon-farming/issues/industrial-fish-meal-and-fish-oil-fisheries
    • https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/13/515057834/90-percent-of-fish-we-use-for-fishmeal-could-be-used-to-feed-humans-instead
    • https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/02/global-sustainable-fishing-initiative-agreed-by-14-countries
    • https://www.msc.org/what-you-can-do/eat-sustainable-seafood/foodies-guides/sustainable-salmon
    • https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/home/library/pdfs/ak_wild_salmon.pdf
    • https://www.treehugger.com/farmed-wild-salmon-which-is-best-1204009
    • https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/7534_Health_Alerts_seafood.pdf
    • https://matadornetwork.com/read/wild-farmed-salmon-sustainability/
    • http://www.fao.org/3/y5648e/y5648e00.htm