Salmon - Wild or Farm Raised - Pepsi or Coke?
if you were blindfolded and asked to choose which plate was wild salmon and which was the farm raised, how would you tell the difference? Please factor in the skill of the chef with his preparation and presentation.
Also, let's discuss sushi/sashimi serving quality/taste differences, as well,
I am sincerely interested in this debate and I have had both versions and can't remember anything outstanding between the two - I just love good salmon, raw and properly cooked.
This is easy for me.
Wild salmon tastes like fish -- more "salmon-y" if you will -- and the flesh is firmer and more tight.
Farm raised salmon almost tastes just like water, very bland, but takes well to heavy seasoning or marinades. The flesh is in many respects looser, or if you prefer, "creamier". The difference in texture can also be attributed to the fact that farm raised salmon is generally fattier.
To me, the two are easily distinguishable. Not even close.
Gypsy, some of the benefits of wild salmon aren't necessarily about the taste, (though put me in the wild tastes better, more firm and stronger salmon taste camp). Wild are much higher in Omega-3s. Farmed have serious pollution issues, overcrowding in pens, escape, and they infect nearby wild salmon fry with sea lice, which means the younger stock gets killed-off before they can grow and reproduce. Farmed salmon is nasty stuff, but unfortunately, it's 90% of what we Americans can find on menus and at supermarkets.
Do you have reference for the points in your post? I used to think like you do, but after a similar question was put to me I have been unable to turn up any primary literature.
Here's a link to a contrary point of view, except that it not address issues of taste.
No, this not primary literature but it has some interesting references. Add to this the huge variations in the areas of the farms (Chilean vs. American vs. European), and it becomes more complex.
re: Richard 16
Richard, there are tons of studies that point to some very real drawbacks to farmed salmon and other farmed fisheries. Start with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's site, or Blue Ocean Institute, Ocean Conservancy. Or just do a google scholar search with an eye towards the citations:
and more. Just focus your search on what part of the argument you are interested in. It's not a "Did man really cause global warming?" kind of conversation. Farming salmon with the inherently bad practices that come with it, so Americans can have their $8 buck slab of salmon at Red Lobster means we risk losing our entire wild stocks. For real.
I took a look and there are lot of articles of differing sources with differing levels of closeness to actual studies with various opinions. The only potential direction I can see is the displacement of Pacific salmon by farmed Atlantic salmon - and while I certainly do not discount the paper, it is written by the State of Alaska which has an obvious bias towards wild salmon.
When I asked for references I should have been more specific. I have plenty to do, and, realistically, am not going to a lot of web searches without more specific direction from someone more attuned to the research, such as you seem to be. IOW, links to specific research/studies. If there are indeed tons of studies, how about posting links to a few rather than just web sites?
And, FWIW, I still (taste wise) prefer wild for cooking and farmed for sushi/sashimi.
Texture. I can tell a piece of farmed salmon a mile away, but that's probably because I grew up in Western WA and have had plenty. Farmed salmon always strikes me as mushy. It's usually blander, but the primary tell is the flesh. Those fish just don't have the texture that comes from the strenuous life of wild salmon.
Ethically, I think farmed salmon stinks-- at least the farming done in my part of the world. Here's one summary of the downsides: http://www.sectionz.info/ISSUE_1/Hidd....
Gypsy I am glad you asked this question. There is a huge difference between farm raised and wild caught salmon. Farm raised salmon contains so much toxin that you are not supposed to eat it more than once a month. The color of the meat of farm salmon comes from coloring in their feed. The harvesting of the creatures that are processed into this feed creates a massive deficite in food for ocean fish actually endangering the population of other species. Farm salmon are genitically engenered to be big and infertal. When these fish escape by the thousands into the ocean they reek havoc on wild salmon populations. All this information is available from reputable sources online. Please look into it I bet you will never eat farm salmon again.
I have eaten MANY salmon in Alaska , all varieties and various preparations.
All were different, all were excellent.
However, on my home turf in Albany NY i purchase only Chilian or Canadian farm raised
Because the Atlantics are consistently fresh and firm while the Pacific wild caught
are soft , smelly and $4 per lb more expensive.
I eat fresh and smoke salmon for the neighborhood and i go through a LOT of salmon.
I have yet to get a good wild caught Pacific salmon locally.
I hope your experience varies!
re: mr jig
You are absolutely Right about Pacific salmon being no good by the time it reaches the East Coast.
This salmon market could explode if someone froze the salmon the best way possible and shipped it east. Trader Joes had some excellent frozen Pacific salmon. But that was 10 years ago, I don't live near one now
re: mr jig
I agree that it is difficult to find good affordable wild salmon in some places. It is occasionally available and when it is I will pay a premium for it. Personally I always found cigarettes delicious but I gave them up because they are bad for me. I feel the same way about farm raised salmon. I would rather not eat it then put the high levels of dioxins and PCBs in my body. The negative effects of farm fishing on the environment don't help the cause much either.
Please provide us with links or citations to these "reputable sources" - you make the assertions; it is up to you to provide the sources. In the past I have looked for backing for these types of claims and have found none. What I have found contradicts your claims, but none of it is primary literature.
Perhaps you have what I've been looking for! (I do have access to most journals via work.)
re: Richard 16
I'm certainly not part of the "sky-is-falling" crowd when it comes to farmed Atlantic salmon, but it certainly isn't a fish I would eat or buy on a regular basis.
Here are some links, FYI.
Thank you for the links! Unfortunately none of them reference primary literature. Perhaps I missed them.
To quote Carl Sagan ("Broca's Brain"):
"I believe that the extraordinary should certainly be pursued. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".
Given the trashing farmed salmon gets, references to actual studies are, for me, necessary.
re: Richard 16
Don't know what happened to my previous post, but let's try again.
The primary problem with farmed salmon is that they are raised in pens that are in direct contact with the ocean. They can escape and either breed with wild salmon (in areas where the same species occurs naturally) or establish themselves as an invasive species (in other areas). Their wastes (including feces, uneaten feed, and unprocessed antibiotics, pesticides, and anesthetics) are concentrated by pen raising and flow freely into the environment, creating a vector for diseases and parasites that can affect wild salmon populations, reducing species diversity in the immediate vicinity of the pens, introducing too many nutrients to the surrounding water (eutrophication), and possibly impacting species such as lobsters and shrimps.
Here's some primary literature that supports the validity of these concerns:
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re: Richard 16
Even before wild vs. caught, you have to distinguish where and type - in fact, even the season makes a great difference in the fat content, and therefore the taste and texture. So a blindfolded test could get really complex. On the west coast, you have mainly Coho and Chinook (King) in either Alaska or Washington to California. (There's also sockeye, like copper river salmon, but they're not a major commercial fish.) They farm mainly Coho in the lower 48, but there's no farming in Alaska. So all Alaska salmon are wild, but not all west coast salmon are wild. On the east coast, you have Atlantic Salmon, which is pretty much all farmed, as the native stock has been fished out.
Each fish and combination of location and season tastes different. What they eat (eg., shrimp vs. herring vs. bugs) makes a difference in their flavor and even flesh color. Coho's are smaller than Chinooks, and generally fattier - except for in the Spring. Coho's are also available in the Great Lakes, having been brought in, in the 1960's and established a self-sustaining population. (But they're eating everything else!)
As far as farming goes, the fundamental flaw is that it takes 3 times the amount of fish, to feed a salmon. There's a growing body of opinion that suggests that farming carnivorous fish is just not a viable enterprise. Here is a good article - I like their headline, "In terms of the marine food chain, farming salmon is roughly analogous to raising tigers for meat: Both approaches are inherently unsustainable."
There was an article a couple of years ago, which I cannot find, about the use of vegetables (soy and canola oil) to feed farmed salmon. They found that the entire benefit of Salmon having omega-3 long-chain fatty acids were gone. Even with a 50/50 diet, the omega-3 content was significantly lessened. I wonder what that fish tasted like... a salad?
The end of the article has what seems like good references.
That plant fed salmon would have lower Omega 3s is not surprising; the same is true for grain fed beef. They are what they eat, and a diet high in Omega 6s (pro--inflammatory) and low in Omega 3s (anti-inflammatory) will result in animals of similar ratios,
Unfortunately the idea that farmed salmon uses three times the amount of other fish may be correct but lacks context. All animals use more resources to produce a pound of themselves. Why would farmed salmon use a higher amount compared to wild? As far as farmed salmon not being a viable enterprise, all we need see is the success of beef. (With the assumption they're talking about financial stability.)
Sure, we could eat the source fish used for carnivorous fish, but who would buy it? Cows consume food (grain or grass) from land that could be used for plant-based human foods but I see no substantial rush to eliminate beef. (Small scale, yes.)
Otherwise, good post!
re: Richard 16
It's the scale involved that creates the problem, whether for beef or salmon. Rather than have only high-priced (market driven) wild-caught salmon, or beef being a specialty food, we want to have cheap salmon and beef that we can eat every day. We eat these things out of existence or out of the format of the ranching processes that have been used for millennia - we create factory farming scenarios, driving down prices, and increasing consumption. It's ecologically unsustainable. It's not the best way to feed the world. It's not that the farmed salmon eat more meat than the wild ones, it's just that there's so many, many more farmed ones that we end up using all the other lower-food-chain fish.
re: Richard 16
I think we need to be careful comparing farming fish and farming cattle. Both industries have an impact on the environment but these industries are different enough that I don't think a comparison is logical. Fact is we don't need more land for vegetables. We do need a stable oceanic ecosystem. This path is too slippery to start down. If someone would like to start a new thread about the ills of cattle farming please do but for the sake of this I think we should stick to talking about salmon.
As a (former) fishery biologist for the government, I've been trying to stay out of this discussion, much of which is based on false science, non-science, and pseudo-science. I need, however, to respond to one ridiculous assertion that seems to be taking on some credibility - namely, that it's somehow wrong to farm salmon because it takes 3 pounds of "wild fish" make 1 pound of salmon. There are always inherent inefficiencies in the conversion of food to flesh - no animal gains a pound of weight as a result of eating a pound of food (aren't you and your waistline happy about that?). In fact, the ratio of 3:1 for farmed salmon is quite low - the more typical rule of thumb is a 10:1 ratio for each step in a food chain - and likely reflects the energy they save by not having to fend for themselves in the wild. I can guarantee you that wild salmon eat far more than 3 pounds of food for every pound of their body weight. So, there may be valid reasons not to farm salmon (not nearly as many as have been tossed around in this thread), but that is not one of them. In fact, quite the opposite.
I think you misunderstood applehome's post. It is not the proportion of fish that a single salmon eats that is messing up the natural balance in the ocean. It is people coming in and harvesting massive amounts of lower food chain fish. As a biologist you must know that when there are too many small fish more big fish live and eat them and if there are too many big fish then big fish starve and die. Throw into the mix farmers going in and harvesting all the little fish and you end up throwing the entire thing out of balance where big fish populations dwindle and never recover because farmers took a lot of their food away.
Is it not true that farm salmon contain PCBs? Is it not true that the recomendation is that people not eat farm salmon more than once a month? Is it not true that farm salmon escape in massive numbers into the ocean? I don't understand the advocacy for farming salmon without other motives.
If that is the argument you would like to make, and/or the argument applehome and others were making, then we shouldn't be eating wild salmon either, or indeed any higher-trophic level fish, which includes many of the common fish market species. It's the old (not a pejorative term, just that it's not new) "eat lower on the food chain" argument, and it has some validity.
My point was that you can't distinguish between wild and farmed salmon on the basis of depletion of lower-tropic level species - a wild salmon eats as much of those resources (likely more) than does a farmed salmon. Now, if you're saying that the availability of farmed salmon causes people to eat more higher-trophic level fish than they would otherwise and therefore ocean resources are depleted to a greater extent than they would be in the absence of farmed salmon, on a qualitative level that is probably true. But I think it is incumbent on those making that argument to produce the numbers to support the claim that there is actual, as opposed to theoretical, harm being done. I haven't seen those numbers, but if you can point me to them I'll be glad to look.
If you want to generalize your position to "don't eat salmon (or higher-trophic level fish or species of any kind)" that's a different discussion.
With regard to PCBs, which is my current area of research (though not in salmon), my understanding is that there was at one time a problem with PCB-contaminated salmon feed that of course led to elevated PCB levels in some farmed salmon. That particular problem has allegedly been corrected. I've looked into the currently reported PCB concentrations in farmed salmon flesh and run through the standard human health risk equations, using the currently published PCB cancer slope factor (CSF) and also the non-cancer reference dose (RfD), both of which are considered to be quite conservative, i.e., protective. As you're probably aware, cancer risks (which is what we're talking about, for the most part) do not have a "threshold" value, below which there is zero risk. So, yes, consumption of farmed salmon, and any other foods, most of which also contain PCBs, has some risk - but (and this is the important part) for any reasonable amount of consumption, and for far more than one meal per month, that risk is so small as to be negligible in comparison to all the other risk factors, food-borne and otherwise, to which the average person is exposed. Therefore, the recommendation by some that consumers limit themselves to a single farmed salmon meal per month is either outdated, incorrect, or unnecessarily alarmist - or all three. If you have data to the contrary (data, that is, not references to the recommendation, which I've seen) I'd be happy to look at it.
I am not familiar with the numbers of farmed salmon that escape farming operations (again, if you can quantify the term "massive" please do) nor with their fate once escaped. I am curious as to exactly how they "wreak havoc" on natural populations - note that I'm not saying they don't, only that I'm not sure how (or if) it happens. I will note, however, that some people (including you earlier in this thread) have made the argument that they are infertile (which frankly sounds like a good thing in the context of "escape"), while others have claimed that they interbreed with natural populations thereby somehow harming the wild gene pool. Obviously, both arguments cannot be simultaneously correct.
I don't have the time or space here to get into the small fish/big fish balance issue, which is exceedingly complex. I don't necessarily dispute what you claim, only that I don't have the data to comment one way or the other. I will note, however, that your argument appears to based solely on the concept of standing stocks and fails to consider the implications of secondary productivity and density-dependent compensation mechanisms, both of which are important considerations, and also suffers from the same issue of theoretical vs. actual discussed above.
Finally, I'm not sure if you're last sentence refers to me or generally to those who hold views other than your own. If the former, note that I have not advocated salmon farming, and indeed recognize that there are some real, as opposed to imagined, problems associated with it (as there are with virtually any agricultural operation).
"if you can quantify the term "massive" please do":
Between 1994 and 1995 salmon farms in Southern Chile reportedly lost several million coho salmon, Atlantic salmon, and steelhead trout (Soto, Jara et al. 2001). U.S. records indicate that 600,000 farmed salmon escaped in the Pacific Northwest between 1996 and 1999, and over a million fish escaped between 1990 and 2000 (Nash, Brooks et al. 2001). Up to 2% of farmed fish may escape in British Columbia each year (Alverson and Ruggerone 1997). In the North Atlantic up to two million salmon are believed to escape annually (Schiermeier 2003). In some years 30-40% of Atlantic salmon caught in Norway have originated from fish farms (Hansen, Reddin et al. 1997; Naylor, Williams et al. 2001).
I know this gets us a bit off-topic, but where would you get wild-caught Norwegian salmon (unless you're posting from Norway, of course), or for that matter any truly wild Atlantic salmon? I can't remember the last time I saw wild Atlantic salmon. Well, actually I can - it was a 25-lb fish (!) I almost landed on the Grand Cascapedia a few years ago, but I mean in a market.
Atlantic salmon I can get because I have a friend with a boat. The wild norwegian thing was posted as a question not a statement. So the answer to my question is no because Norwegian salmon is not available. Thank you Flyfish for educating me.
Let's stay on topic. My ignorance as to the regional availability of certain species of wild salmon has almost nothing to do with the origional idea that farm raised salmon escape and that is bad.
I must correct myself for the post earlier in the thread. I was wrong farm salmon are not infertal. From my recolection it is the breeding of farm salmon with wild that is the risk because of the genetic difference between the two creating salmon unable to survive outside of a farm environment. Frankly I don't know the exact numbers. I don't have the energy to defend a PhD on the issue. What I know I am remembering from lectures I attended in school and articles I have read over the course of my professional career. If you are primarily concerned with seeing the actual research please speak with alanbarnes. He seems to be more of a heavyweight on this topic then me. As far as the last sentence no it was not pointed at you. I did a little skimming online to brush up on the topic and it really seamed that many of those who did not think that salmon farming was as big a problem as it has been made out to be seemed to have alterier motives. Either involved with the industry itsself or with a government that reeps tax dolars from the industry.
I will say that on this topic I am not an expert. I clearly can not go toe to toe with you. It would be easy for you to pick apart everything I say with the arguement that I don't have a bibliography. I therefore find our discussion rather boring. I would be interested to see you and alanbarnes have a discussion about it. The two of you seem to be on more equal footing.
Yes - thanks, k2k. I wasn't saying that wild salmon ate more or less than farmed salmon. Just that once you start farming, you increase the overall number of critters, so the amount of feed increases proportionately. The unsustainability comes in with the effect of this much damage to the lower layers of the food chain. Farming lowers the cost of Salmon, and makes it more available to everybody - but only because the true ecological costs are hidden.
It's true that wild salmon, like farmed salmon, eat many pounds of protein for each pound of meat they put onto their frames. But most of that protein comes from further down the food chain than the fish that are ground up and fed to farmed salmon.
Let's use your 10:1 figure and say that a 20-pound wild salmon needs 200 pounds of protein over its lifespan. Most of that protein will be in the form of krill, a small zooplankton. So a wild salmon takes about 200 pounds of plankton out of the ecosystem.
A 20-pound farmed salmon, on the other hand, will be fed 60 pounds of ground-up anchovies and sardines over its lifetime. Those fish have themselves achieved that weight by eating plankton. So again using the 10:1 figure for wild fish, the farmed salmon takes 600 pounds of plankton out of the ecosystem.
Of course, this is a gross oversimplification. But it serves to illustrate the point that feeding farmed salmon has a greater ecological cost than allowing wild salmon to feed in the open ocean.
A reasonable point, but it's based on the incorrect assumption that adult salmon feed primarily on krill (euphausids) and other zooplankton. Based on the sources I have immediate access to (the FRBC volumes on fishes of Canada, which you're probably familiar with), with the exception of sockeye, that's only true for early life stages - a large part of the diet of adult salmon is other fish. That's certainly the case for Atlantic salmon, which is really the species at issue. Even accepting your 200 lb vs. 600 lb difference to be true - and I recognize it's only intended to illustrate your point - that does not, in and of itself, mean that the difference necessarily has either short or long term consequences for the larger marine ecosystem. It may, but simply establishing that there is a difference does not make that case.
On the other hand, I don't take issue with your earlier post pointing out problems related to wastes, antibiotics, and pesticides associated with salmon farming. As I said, there are in fact real problems associated with salmon farming - but there are a number of imagined ones as well.
I'm curious about something and would appreciate your thoughts on this question.
Lets start with the assumption that one is going to eat salmon.
Given that, I have these questions:
1. Is it better ecologically to eat farmed or wild salmon?
2. Do the health benefits of eating farmed salmon outweigh the potential toxicity of eating farmed salmon, not taking into account any possible environmental impacts of salmon farming?
With regard to (1), frankly I don't know. As others have pointed out and I have agreed with, there are real environmental issues associated with salmon farming. Leaving aside the very valid points about farming an upper trophic level species for a moment, it's important to recognize that any agricultural operation has significant environmental impact, whether it be a cattle ranch, cornfield, or backyard garden. A wheat field is a very different environment from the prairie, or whatever, it replaced - but we (most of us anyway) accept that as a largely unavoidable impact of the need to raise food for humans, which of course leads us into several other arguments that take us off-topic.
It's important to recognize that harvesting wild salmon is not without its own environmental impacts. Atlantic salmon are essentially hors de combat, of course, and they always will be because there's no large-scale way of restoring their spawning habitat, at least in a practical timeframe. As a sportfish, yes (marginally), but not as a viable commercial species. Pacific salmon have their own well-documented problems, and further reduction in stocks due to commercial fishing will have consequences, and not just for marine ecosystems. Anyone who has waded a salmon stream on the Alaskan tundra (as I have), thigh-deep in spawned-out dead and dying salmon stretching along both banks for many miles, would have a new appreciation for the energy resources that those salmon transfer from the ocean far inland to that ecosystem, which is essentially a biological desert except for the rivers and their immediate environs. As those resources are reduced it won't be just the oceans that suffer - the impact will be far greater elsewhere. How would we propose to replace that function and how ecologically responsible is it to harvest for our own consumption a species that is already severely stressed?
These are very difficult questions, and I honestly don't have an answer for you. I don't think anyone does, though that of course doesn't mean there's any shortage of firmly held opinions.
Question 2 is considerably easier - unless one plans on eating farmed salmon for every meal (and maybe even then), the risks based on the reported concentrations of contaminants that I've seen are really minimal, and I don't hesitate to eat as much salmon, farmed or otherwise, as I care to. Now that doesn't mean that some farmed salmon at some times couldn't have higher, potentially harmful, levels of some contaminants, but that can be true of wild fish as well. I think it's important to maintain perspective when talking about risk. I don't have the numbers exactly, but when I did the calculations I recall the excess cancer risk from eating, say, one farmed salmon meal a week to be well less than one in a million. That's the same risk level that EPA considers acceptable for members of the public living near hazardous waste sites, for example. Remember that for every 1 million people, 400 thousand of them are going to get cancer at some point in their lifetime - how concerned should someone be about the difference between 400 thousand and 400 thousand and one? Another way to look at it: what's a one-in-a-million risk of death anyway if we convert it into more familiar terms. Well, I've done those calculations as well, and (for example) it's the risk of dying in an automobile accident if you drive only several miles on a highway. It's the risk of drowning if you spend 10 minutes in a canoe. The average person doesn't think anything about accepting those risks, and so it is (for me, anyway) with eating farmed salmon.
With regard to the benefits of eating fish, that's well outside of my expertise, but virtually everything I've read tells me that they are significant (even for farmed salmon with their apparently different nutritional composition - something I think is open to debate, but not with me) and I accept that.
FlyFish, I'm glad you're putting up an evidence-based argument (and happy that the moderators are not deleting your contributions). As an agricultural (crop and environmental) scientist, I now and then wander into discussions on these boards. But less now than previously. Some hounds are very well-informed and quite open to considering well-supported differing points of view. Others strongly defend positions – right or wrong - based on what seems to be emotion and popular opinion. In terms of crops and among others, misperceptions abound regarding crop cultivar improvement ranging from traditional breeding to genetic modification (e.g., someone upthread thinks that all farmed salmon is genetically modified). Good luck.
re: Sam Fujisaka
You and FlyFish do this for a living, so it's kind of a busman's holiday to participate in debates like this one. Especially when the rules of engagement are fluid to say the least. Me, I'm just a dilettante. But please allow me to express my appreciation for the information that those of you who are truly well informed bring to the party.
Often wrong but never in doubt,
Alan, you're right about the busman's holiday. On the other hand, you and many others are certainly far, far from being dilettantes. A key to science (beyond generating evidence in repeatable ways) is being able to fairly consider that evidence, and even then, being aware of the possibility that one's conclusions are erroneous. I'm not particularly well informed in some general sense, but do weigh in where I think I have something to say. Thankfully, most of my/our posts are not controversial, have to do with the joy and fun of cooking, food, and eating, and provide a needed and welcome diversion from work.
re: Sam Fujisaka
Sam and Flyfish (and anyone else, for that matter) -
The original article I pointed to seems to be making the point that farming carnivores for food is not a good idea. Whatever the ratio 3:1, 10:1, you're changing the form factor and concentrating all the trace elements, from mercury to PCB's, but you're not really increasing the density of proteins or overall food value. With cows and pigs, etc, herbivores, you are increasing the food value density (calories, nutrition) by concentrating carbs from grass, corn, etc. into proteins and fats.
So there is this basic argument that says that salmon farming may be economically viable, in that we're changing the lower-form fish form factors into a more desirable product for human consumption, but the question remains - is that a viable activity, from a eco-system sustainability perspective?
I'm sorry that I'm not a scientist, but this article makes sense to me. It's differentiating a really basic, millenia old human activity (raising meat from grains) from one in which we're farming to raise meat from meat.
I know that the argument seems to say that we shouldn't be eating any meat that is high on the chain - and that may or may not be the case. But nevertheless, there is a major ecological impact, when we decide to farm meat from meat. Is this wrong?
Here's that article again for your reference:
I look forward to your telling what's wrong with my thinking here (really!).
I completely agree with you. I prefer my food to be overall lower down the food chain -- meaning I eat lilttle meat, more fish, lots of vegetables, lots of fruit, little to no processed and fast foods (other than my well declared but rare trips to the other side).
One of the things I've worked on in the Amazon Basin is the problem for indigenous groups eating fish that have high concentrations of mercury that comes from leaching of naturally occuring Hg from slash and burn agricultural fields (no, it is not from gold mining). People eat higher up the chain fish because they're bigger and usually taste better.
I don't think there's anything wrong with your thinking - these are perfectly valid points and it is good to discuss them. Let's accept for the sake of argument that farming an upper-trophic level species such as salmon is not an environmentally responsible thing to do, and in all honesty I think a good argument can be made for that. I would only point out that because something may be irresponsible from the perspective of energy efficiency, it does not necessarily make it unsustainable, or even environmentally damaging. There's a question of scale that needs to be considered - certainly a single moderately-sized (whatever that is) salmon farm is not going to precipitate the collapse of oceanic ecosystems, however morally irresponsible it may be. On the other hand, using all of our coastlines to farm salmon will (I assume) lead to very dire consequences for those same systems. If you agree with those two extremes, then the logical conclusion is that there is some point at which salmon farming is sustainable, and, beyond that, a point at which it is not. Where that point is, and where the current level of salmon farming is with respect to it, are very difficult questions that I do not pretend to have the answers to.
With regard to the increasing concentration of toxic and other trace elements with each step in food chain, that concept is known as biomagnification and it has been (and continues to be) studied extensively. Not all contaminants are biomagnified, but there certainly are a considerable number of bad actors that are - two of which you've already pointed out. Again, I think it's a question of scale and relative risk - in our modern industrial society virtually everything we eat contains some contaminants, so it's not simply that we're biomagnifying contaminants but rather what those final concentrations are and whether we should be concerned about them. And as Sam points out in his post below, it's not just farmed species that can be problematical.
This might be a good place to thank you all for contributing to this (for me, at least) thought-provoking and educational discussion. It's good to be able to talk about these difficult questions without anyone becoming difficult themselves. Thanks particularly to keith2000, ipsedixit, alanbarnes - and especially to applehome and Sam Fujisaka, whose posts I have followed and admired here for a long time.
re: Sam Fujisaka
OK Sam, maybe not all are GM, but the USDA does not require GM labeling for the consumer . So how would you know if you have an Aqua Bounty Technology fish or one that is not GM? Regarding quality, wild vs. farmed is a world of difference in color and texture for me, so wild is my choice, so is coke with real sugar.
Pablo, although we agree that all farmed fish are not genetically modified, I'm surprised about the labeling. A few years ago the FDA in the US was sticking to not labeling GM products; but I thought that that had changed, especially in light of the substantial bars to approval of GM foods and required labeling in almost all of the rest of the developed (and much of the developing) world. Are the definitely GM Aqua Bounty salmon are now on the market in the US and are not labeled as such? If that is the case, what market share do they have as opposed to most of the other farm fisheries that do not use the ABT fish? The farmed salmon available here in Colombia are from Chile and are definiely not GM - and would have to be labeled if they were.
re: Sam Fujisaka
Sam at this point, unless it's labeled specifically Non-GM, I assume it is GM. The US is seriously behind the rest of the world, e.g. COOL codes for the consumer only started being enforced last month by the USDA. I have no idea how many customers ABT might have but I do know they are not the only ones "GM"ing fish. And if they are not "GM"ing the fish, they are "GM"ing the fish food because it's cheaper. For me I would rather take my chances with blue fin tuna sashimi laden in mercury than a GM salmon any day.
No, you would not prefer mercury poisoning!!!!!!!!!!
We're working to find ways to address the serious, real, present day, and direct negative health and child-development effects of mercury consumption of indigenous populations in the Amazon who eat riverine fish high up the food chain in a system in which mercury leaches down from their slash-and-burn agricultural plots. This is a real, real-time human and human development problem! Not a luxery middle class concern. More like life and death, or reduced life potentials!
Your GM salmon pose no threat to you as a consumer. Inserting a gene that turns off a genetic signal to not grow allows faster salmon growth - but does nothing else. Genes are not clever enough to become Hollywood monsters; but are one of a carefully monitored tool-kit to helping solve the problems we all face today and in the future.
re: Sam Fujisaka
The gene programming I am not so concerned with, it's more the patent owners of gene therapy. Monsanto is the the type of monster people should really fear.
Unfortunately for me, I don't get to eat as much sushi as I would like, so as an adult male, mercury poisoning from fish is not likely going to happen. Our wild salmon days may be over in California, season was canceled this year. Previous years have been rather bleak, I doubt next year will be any better.
Okay applehome, Nova lox
Nova or Nova Scotia salmon, sometimes called Nova lox, is cured with a milder brine and then cold-smoked.
Name aside it came out really good. Better than anything I've purchased off the shelf and better than my last attempt using wild Coho salmon. The fattier farmed salmon really has a nice texture and a mild flavor.
We attend a weekend gathering every year in Kentucky at which the Saturday night feast features grilled steaks and a baked whole salmon. This year's salmon was obviously a farmed one: pale, flaccid flesh, barely salmony and rather muddy flavor. At the cook's request I had contributed a simple stuffing I'd learned about years ago in Alaska (basically cubed dry bread, Heinz chili sauce, onion and celery) which helped quite a bit, but one serving was plenty for me. Yes, the cost of a whole Alaskan salmon is considerably more than what you'll pay for a farmed fish, but I'll either pay it or go buy something else.
For me, there are just too many variances in how one single fish can taste when prepared in different manners and tasted wearing a blindfold to even try to consider the taste differences in different fish of the same species, whether farm raised or not. I also tend to avoid salmon in restaurants simply because it's something that is best served at the peak of finished preparations, and the chance of that is MUCH higher at home than in a restaurant.
For me, I have to base my decision making on facts and information available to me and (hopefully) use plain old fashioned simple logic. The bottom line is that there is NO species of fish (or any other critter) I've ever heard of that is native to a farm environment. Managing a fish farm, whatever the species, is a very challenging job. How much antibiotic? How much pen crowding? How to limit the build-up of waste and feeding by-products in the water to keep it below toxic levels to the fish and the consumer. LOTS of problems!
The other side of the coin is that the natural waters in which salmon live is now universally impacted on by man and our disgraceful polluting habits. Salmon, unfortunately, have not developed a scientific approach to their environment that allows them to analyze the water they swim and breed in and either avoid bad water or wear protective devices. Pity the poor salmon!
Probability lies in favor of wild salmon being the safer dietary choice, so that's what I buy. And it is getting more and more difficult to find wild caught salmon. Consequently I don't eat it that often, but when I do, it is a joy! As a possible rationalization, let me add that that probably enhances my enjoyment. After all, anything you can eat five nights a week becomes commonplace. On the other hand, there was a time when we ate huge "elephant foot" size abalone five nights a week, courtesy of my husband's scuba diving, and the joy they brought to my taste buds stayed right up there!
As for sashimi, I live in the Dallas area of north Texas. There are no oceans within comfortable walking distance. I have more than my share of marginal food tolerances/intolerances. Therefore I don't eat raw fish unless I'm someplace where I can walk out the door and watch the rest of the catch being off-loaded from the fishing boat. Been there, done that, the memories are amazing...! '-)
Oh! And for the record, Coke. Made with sugar, when I can find it.
Me too. And until this year, wild was easy to come by (at least for those of us in NorCal who have boats and/or friends with boats). I was just walking along the American River this weekend, and the redds that are usually dense with salmon this time of year are empty. Maybe the complete closure of the season will allow stocks to rebound, but it's extremely worrisome.
Both in Japan and Germany, I remember small trout farms built into streams on the side of hills. I have no idea about how sustainable they were, but I do remember that the fish were delicious and cheap. In Japan, I remember one large pool setup for fishing - I'm not sure that this is any different than stocking a pond with fingerlings. I've read that the freshwater farms of tilapia and catfish, where the feed is vegetation, are sustainable when done correctly. I think these are perfectly good fish to eat - not a wild chinook or even a nice haddock. And there's nothing like a real stink-bait caught channel cat, as far as catfish go. Nevertheless, for a sustainably farmed protein, catfish and tilapia are quite useful.
No animals were nature-designed to be domesticated and bred for food. But over the years, we have managed to create ecologically sound practices for raising some amazingly delicious meat. I don't think that all aquaculture is bad, any more than all ranching is bad. But our constant quest for more for less has created factory farms and franken-animals. I think it's a matter of crossing a line into an unsustainable process that creates a low quality product - for high profits. Unfortunately, with Salmon, I think that the line comes pretty quickly, which I believe has to do with Salmon being carnivorous, and relatively high on the food chain.
Perhaps we could all go back a step to how our grandparents ate. Steak and salmon were so ridiculously expensive that they were something reserved for really special occasions. Not everybody could afford to eat them. Well... that's not going to happen, not with the number of people involved in making profits from selling steak and salmon to everybody today. But by buying only the best sustainably grown beef, the best wild caught salmon, and only periodically, we can maybe help keep the nasty parts of the business from growing just that much faster. And on a day to day basis, we buy the cheaper and yet sustainably grown meats, including certain fish and chicken. It's not a 100% thing, at least, not for me. But it's a goal.
Alan, sorry to butt in, but since pedantry is on the menu, all salmon, trout and char are part of the same subfamily, Salmoninae. Salmo and Oncorhynchus are two genus' within that subfamily. You can find species of salmon and trout within both of these genus'. Here is a link the the NCBI Taxonomy viewer (I hope it works here):
If you put your cursor over the names (without clicking) a pop up will appear showing which taxonomic level it is.
I can tell regular farmed salmon pretty easily by taste (look is already a giveaway but we are not allowed that in this discussion).
But I think I would probably have a harder time distinguishing between really high end sustainably farmed salmon e.g. a well brined Loch Duarte (for nigiri sushi) vs say a wild salmon from Pacific NW / Canada.
The fact is we should not be eating salmon farmed or otherwise.
To quote from an interview with Taras Grescoe the author of the book, "Bottomfeeder, How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood," "Salmon from these farms tends to be full of persistent organic pollutants, [some of which] are highly carcinogenic. Salmon farmers grind up smaller fish like anchovies, sardines and anchoveta to make the pellets -- all of which should be going to feed humans, not making deluxe fish, especially in the context of food riots -- and salmon farms have been proven to spread disease and parasites like sea lice to wild fish populations, among them sea trout in Ireland and wild salmon in British Columbia.."
The entire interview is here:
No-one has mentioned consistency.
Farmed Salmon and Trout, I would think, are generally consistent in texture, taste and colour in line with what one would expect from an industrial product. I've never hesitated in ordering Salmon or Trout on a night out knowing that my meal came from a pen.
The flesh of wild-caught Salmon and Trout varies from divine to rose fertilizer. The meat ranges from firm, deep red to mushy white pulp. Sex, exterior colour and body shape offer some indication of condition, but even the brightest, most silvery fish often disappoints.
I dunno about that. While the color and "look" of farmed salmon is generally pretty consistent, there can be variances in taste. Some farmed salmon taste pretty good (not like wild), while others are like pink tofu.
And, yes, the variances in wild salmon can be extreme. It's what happens when your diet depends on the forces of nature and not your handler.
It's not a matter of diet but one of life stage. The last part of your statement, "the forces of nature" puts it nicely. As mature Salmon move inshore they stop feeding and begin using up their bodies. They go from bright silver to dark or gaudy depending on species and sex. The flesh goes from firm red to flaccid pink to mushy white. The transformation is quite rapid in the spawning stage.
There is an interval between silver and onset of colour that the flesh is edible but varies in quality. External colour gives some indication as to what's inside, but a silver fish may still be off. Males tend to keep their tone longer.
The process seems to be a function of time, not distance, so that even fish caught some distance offshore are suspect in the fall.
Everything I describe here applies to Great Lakes Salmonids landed by angling. However, I can't see the situation with West Coast commercial catches being any different.
The same applies to Trout, but many of them live to spawn again.