The oceans are under duress from overfishing and pollution. Global fish stocks are in steep decline. The price for high quality fresh fish continues to increase at the same time that more and more studies are coming out showing the demonstrable benefits of a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids. People want fish for the delicious taste and the health benefits and are willing to pay for it, even though there may be serious questions regarding the whole industry.
The demand for salmon especially has remained high as it has been shown to have some of the highest levels of precious, brain boosting omega-3. Hence, where there is demand, a supplier will work to meet that need. Our stores are filled with frozen and fresh salmon, restaurants and sushi bars all feature salmon on their menus and it appears that supply is meeting demand.
There is just one problem. The vast majority of that salmon, over 90 percent, is farm-raised. Most of the supply is currently coming from Norway and Southern Chile. It is usually labeled as ‘Atlantic Salmon.’ It is rarely labeled as farm-raised. Even if it were labeled as such, it is doubtful that most consumers would know what that means, or care.
When I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1999, I started to eat wild salmon fished out of the the Northern Pacific Ocean off the California, Oregon and Washington coasts and from Alaska. I gradually started to eat it more and more and during the fishing season when you could buy it fresh for seven or eight dollars a pound, I would eat it two or three times a week. I noticed the effects on my health from eating a regular diet of fresh salmon. I felt more energized and happy, and my hair, skin and nails had a healthy glow.
I became curious about the history of the Native Northwest cultures and their ancient relationship to salmon, reflected in their art, traditions, songs and rituals. I studied how salmon had sustained entire tribes for millennia. I learned about the science and biology of the fish and their amazing ability to swim for thousands of miles into the ocean and return to their original breeding ground. I read about the history of dam building in the American West and the devastating impacts of dams on salmon populations.
The ancient and recent history of the Pacific Northwest is so intertwined with the story of salmon that numerous books have been written about it. Sometimes people I meet wonder why I am so passionate about salmon and so vehemently against farm-raised salmon. A salmon is a salmon is a salmon, right?
No! Unfortunately, many consumers around the world have no education regarding what they are eating and restaurant owners, fish market sellers and others are trying to protect their bottom line. As far as they are concerned, the consumers’ ignorance is not their problem. Buyer beware.
The massive problems with farm-raised salmon have been written about extensively, though much education remains to be done, judging from how ignorant the average consumer remains and how often these fish appear on menus. Salmon were designed by nature to swim freely in wide open oceans, for thousands of miles. They most definitely were not designed to be crammed into aqua pens with hundreds of thousands of other fish, swimming in a muck of antibiotic laden fish feed, feces, and sewage. Farm-raised salmon have much lower levels of omega-3 and significantly higher levels of PCBs, mercury and DDT- all of them toxic and carcinogenic compounds.
Additionally, the aqua pens consist of nets which trap sea lions and other mammals. The toxic waste from the farms is often discharged directly into coastal waters, severely damaging fragile coastal ecosystems.
The decline of wild salmon is one of the worst ecological and biological tragedies of our era. The emergence of this farming industry to fill the gap between supply and demand is a horrible development. These fish even have to be dyed pink so that unsuspecting consumers believe that they are eating the real deal.
I’m quite sure that some of my friends and acquaintances have in the past seen me as elitist and pretentious for saying I will only eat wild salmon. So be it. I know what real wild salmon is. It’s not just that so called ‘Atlantic Salmon’ is a poor substitute. It is no substitute at all. Shame on the industry and the sellers who continue to peddle these creatures.