Not every salmon is created equal. Beyond discussions on specific species, there are three types of salmon available to a consumer: wild, hatchery or farmed. Deciding which type to purchase and feed a family can be difficult, and while each certainly has its benefits, wild Alaska salmon generally comes out on top.
Wild salmon hatch in river beds, mature into adults on the ocean and then return to their stream birthplaces to spawn the next generation, all without human intervention. Hatchery salmon are raised by human means until they are capable of surviving on their own, at which time they are released into the wild. Farmed salmon are raised in a similar fashion to hatchery salmon, but then are kept in saltwater enclosures until they are ready to be harvested.
The advantage for wild Alaska salmon over farmed salmon comes in its health benefits.
The risk of getting harmful carcinogens is much greater with farmed than wild Alaska salmon, which does not contain high levels of contaminants that can be harmful to pregnant women and children. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) the PCBs and dioxins in wild Alaska salmon are below 1% of the recognized safety levels. Farmed salmon is higher in PCBs, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other academics and scientists worldwide.
Farmed salmon contain more PCBs for two primary reasons. The first is the meal fed to hatchery fish has typically been found to be high in contaminants and the second concerns their body structure. Farmed salmon tend to be bigger, with more fat. Fat stores contaminant, so the amount of contaminants in a farmed salmon will generally be higher.
The advice from EWG to consumers is simple: eat wild and canned salmon – not farmed. Consumers should not eat more than one 8-ounce piece of farmed salmon per month and as much fat as possible should be removed before broiling, baking or grilling the fish. These cooking methods are better than frying because frying doesn’t allow the PCB-laden fat to cook off the salmon.
Farmed salmon typically does have a higher concentration of Omega-3s due to the diet differences from wild Alaska salmon, but that advantage is far outweighed by the risk from carcinogens.
The comparison between hatchery and wild Alaska salmon is one of sustenance, not health. Hatchery salmon often overwhelm native, wild Alaska salmon and some scientists believe hatchery practices actually cause a decline in the wild populations. Improper hatchery operations can also result in inadequate genetic diversity which can have significant impacts on a species.
Make the smart choice: buy wild Alaska salmon. It’s the best option, ensuring a place for salmon fisheries in the human food supply chain and safeguarding your health at the same time.