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The Wild Salmon Debate

By David Dobbs, March/April 2008

A fresh look at farmed vs. wild.


READER'S COMMENT:
"Great article. Salmon is perhaps my favorite food. I'd love to see an update to this article. Did this prediction hold true, "the several river populations of pink salmon that must run the Broughton gauntlet could be 99 percent extinct by...

What Does it Mean for Your Health? What Farmed Salmon Eat and How They’re Raised

But perhaps you ordered a farmed salmon—that is to say, an Atlantic species. Virtually all Atlantic salmon sold in North America come from farms. They could hardly do otherwise, for overfishing and the damming and pollution of rivers in Europe and North America have destroyed the once-great wild fishery for Salmo salar, native to the North Atlantic and all its shores. Wild Atlantic salmon are now on the Endangered Species List. Because they grow faster than most of the Pacific species and better tolerate the crowding of the net pens, farmed Atlantics account for about 85 percent of all farmed salmon worldwide. (Some farms raise Pacific chinooks because they sell for upward of $20 a pound.)

The fish before you, then, represents the union of egg and sperm surgically extracted, quite possibly at different facilities, and shipped separately to its birthplace, which is likely a hatchery and fish farm in British Columbia or Washington, or possibly Scotland or Japan, or perhaps Chile or New Brunswick or New Zealand.

No matter where it’s hatched and raised, this salmon is still an Atlantic salmon. Once fertilized, the egg is incubated and hatched. The fry spends a year or so in freshwater tanks gradually made salty. Then your fish, some 8 to 10 inches long, is vaccinated against an array of infectious diseases, which are a constant threat in the crowded net pen into which the fish is now placed. The pen—a bowl-shaped net, essentially, with its rim at sea level—is about 30 to 100 meters across. It holds tens of thousands of fish. Instead of roaming the seas and swimming hundreds of miles to spawn, these fish never travel more than a few yards. Here in its pen your salmon fattens up on fish pellets. The pellets contain fish meal, fish oil, perhaps grains, and invariably an additive to pinken the fish’s flesh—usually astaxanthin, a carotenoid derived from commercially grown red yeast or algae. Given bountiful food and little work, your fish grows apace. When it’s a couple of years old and a couple of feet long and weighs 8 or 10 pounds it is netted, killed and packaged, iced and shipped.

How to Choose Between Wild Salmon and Farmed Salmon »



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