Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Alternative to Farmed Salmon

Everybody sells it. But farmed salmon gets a big fat "avoid" from marine environmental groups such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program. The reasons are many:

* Salmon are carnivorous. It takes three pounds of fish feed to create one pound of salmon, meaning
stressed fish populations are being further exploited to create farmed salmon. Salmon feed can also include wastes from poultry operations or genetically modified soy and canola.

* Because they are raised in confined areas, farmed salmon are ideal hosts for sea lice and other parasites, which they then spread to the nearby wild population. Chemicals used to treat salmon for sea lice pollute the ocean.

* Farmed salmon are highly prone to a host of diseases, requiring treatment with vaccines and antibiotics.

* Farmed salmon frequently escape, threatening wild populations.

* Farmed salmon build more fat than wild salmon, making them prone to accumulate more toxins such as PCBs. Eating farmed salmon can pose a health risk.

* Farmed salmon labeled "organic" in Europe should not be considered "sustainable." These "organic" farm operations are allowed to use chemical treatments for sea lice, for instance, and are still prone to fish escapes and other environmental damage. "Organic" salmon still requires enormous inputs of wild fish as feed.

*The Londong-based Marine Stewardship Council has certified as "sustainable" more than 2,000 seafood products, not one of them farmed salmon, even from their own back yard. They have certified wild-caught Alaska salmon.

So what's the alternative to farmed salmon?

I'm so glad you asked. Seafood Watch recently sent out a notice encouraging consumers to choose farmed Arctic Char instead. Char is in the salmon family and looks very much like salmon. But unlike farmed salmon, farmed char does not harm the environment or pose a risk to human health. Here's what "Seafood Watch" has to say:

"Arctic char are in the salmon family and native to the northern regions of North America and Europe. Though it's available wild-caught, char is typically raised in land-based re-circulating systems which reduce the risk of disease transfer, pollution and fish escapes.

"Like salmon, Arctic char are carnivores that require feed made from wild fish -- causing a drain on the ocean's natural food web. However, the amount of wild fish needed to produce farmed Arctic char is low compared to other carnivorous farmed fish like salmon and this one issue of concern does not warrant a lower overall Seafood Watch ranking."

The wild salmon fisheries of Alaska are still rated a "best choice" by Seafood Watch and are certified sustainable by the Marine Fisher Council. But if you are looking for something different, do try farmed Arctic char. And if your fish merchant isn't carrying it, ask her to start. Try poaching a char fillet and serving it with your favorite tartar sauce.


Jean said...

Great post! I always knew farmed salmon was bad, but it's great to have all the reasons listed succintly and clearly in one place. It's also extremely helpful to have you put a substitute fish as well!

Ed Bruske said...

Jean, I wish farmed salmon weren't on the "avoid" list. But as you can see, people don't want to live without it. That's why Whole Foods and many chefs who claim to be "sustainable" are selling it despite the "avoid" label from the marine scientists. I'm sure some fishing operations are better than others. But until the Marine Stewardship Council puts its stamp of approval on a salmon farm, I'm staying away from it.

Anonymous said...

40% of Alaska's 'wild' salmon is hatchery raised and released into the ocean to eat food (called salmon ranching). These hatchery salmon can also mess with natural wild salmon gene pools. The Marine Stewardship Council should be asked why they ignore these facts - all they do is attack farmed salmon and ignore any risk with salmon ranching. Sounds more like a sponsorship deal than a real concern about the environment. The reason some supermarkets sell farm-raised salmon despite the MSC ranking, is because the supermarkets have done their homework and seen the MSC system for what it is...a paid advertisment for Alaska salmon.