The Wild Salmon Debate

By David Dobbs, March/April 2008

A fresh look at farmed vs. wild.

"This is such a thorough, informative, and valuable--not to mention very well-written--article. Thank you! It is just what I was looking for to get the facts on this matter. Thank you and bless you, David Dobbs. "

The Environmental Effect of Farmed Salmon

Farmed salmon’s environmental effects are less flattering. I wish it were otherwise. I love the idea of sustainable farm-raised fish. That’s why I cook a lot of catfish—it’s splendid just oiled and floured, better yet grilled with some Southwestern or Asian seasoning, and my pleasure is enhanced because I know it is raised in sustainable closed systems that emit little pollution.

The news on salmon farms, however, gets worse by the year. The industry’s expansion since 1980 has put hundreds of salmon farms on cold-water coasts in Europe, Asia and North and South America, raising hundreds of millions of fish. About 85 percent of these are Atlantic salmon. A decade ago, we knew that Atlantics sometimes escaped from pens, but it was not clear how many escaped or whether they messed with wild salmon or wild-salmon habitat. Now we know that millions escape, that they disrupt feeding and spawning behavior of wild salmon in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, that they enter and even colonize streams, and that they directly compete with both native Atlantic and Pacific salmon. Though they don’t crossbreed with Pacifics, they can disrupt their spawning. Confirmed too are suspicions that farms spread disease and parasites to wild salmon stocks. All this adds to the tremendous pressure already on wild salmon stocks from habitat loss and overfishing.

This, then is the part of the formula that has changed for the worse: the environmental variables associated with farmed salmon look far less attractive than they did a decade ago, even as the industry has almost tripled in size.

More on the Environmental Impact of Farmed Salmon »

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