There are six different species of salmon consumed in the U.S.-Chinook (or “King”), Sockeye, Coho, Pink, Chum (or “Keta”), and Atlantic. They all look similar to each other; however, the Atlantic Salmon fillet is drastically different from the other five species. When it comes to Atlantic Salmon, there are five important differences that most restaurant menus, fishmongers, and suppliers don’t broadcast to consumers.
1. ALL ATLANTIC SALMON FOR SALE ARE FARMED- RAISED AND MOSTLY FOREIGN.
WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO?
Very few wild Atlantic Salmon exist today.
Salmon swim upriver to spawn and reproduce but dams have blocked Atlantic Salmon from swimming upriver for ages. It is rare to come across an Atlantic Salmon in the wild, let alone be allowed to harvest one for consumption
This means that the "Fresh Grilled Atlantic Salmon" featured on the menu never swam in open waters or swam upriver to spawn. All Atlantic Salmon are considered crops at fish farms.
Atlantic Salmon farms are domestically located in Maine and Washington, while Canada, South America (primarily Chile) and Europe (primarily Norway) have many farms. While the U.S. raises Atlantic Salmon, we primarily don't eat our own fish because consumers’ demand is too great for our country to support. Instead, the U.S. primarily consumes imported Atlantic Salmon, a lot of it!
2. CHILE IS OUR PRIMARY SUPPLIER OF ATLANTIC SALMON.
Atlantic salmon are, well, native to the cold areas of the Atlantic ocean. Yet, our biggest supplier raises these fish in the warmer areas of the Pacific ocean. That’s a little fishy, right?
Total U.S. Atlantic Salmon Imports in 2014 by country, according to the USDA
Chile 279,004,000 lbs.
Canada 104,399,000 lbs.
Norway 57,657,000 lbs.
United Kingdom 34,060,000 lbs.
According to the USDA Reports in 2014 , the U.S. imported over 539 million pounds of foreign Atlantic Salmon (valued at over $2.3 billion US), over half of which was imported from Chile. Meanwhile in the same year, the U.S. exported over 11.5 million pounds of U.S. raised Atlantic Salmon (valued at over $37.2 million US).
IS THIS A GOOD THING?
There is much controversy among farmers and consumers about the aquaculture regulations in Chile. There is concern on whether the growing number of fish farms in Chile, especially in the Patagonia region, are doing more environmental harm than good (extensive amounts of antibiotics being used, escaped fish, seafloor bottom pollution from accretion of fish waste, wild fish eating farmed fish feed, etc.). There is also concern about regulation enforcement.
3. FARMED ATLANTIC SALMON ARE ARTIFICIALLY COLORED.
Atlantic Salmon are available in a variety orange and red hues because they have to be artificially colored. Just like the paint supply store, fish farmers are given swatches of orange and red so they can choose their ideal shade of fish flesh. Atlantic Salmon need to be artificially colored because of the diet they receive at the farm.
WILD SALMON DIET
Wild salmon have pink/orange meat because their diet of krill and shrimp are high in pink/orange pigments called carotenoids. These naturally occurring carotenoids color the salmon's flesh pink (carotenoids in brine shrimp are also the reason why flamingos are pink!).
ATLANTIC SALMON DIET
Farmed salmon are not fed shrimp or krill. Farmed salmon are fed "fish pellets". Fish pellets are made up of a variety of protein supplements such as fish meals/oils, chicken bones/feathers, and grains that plump up the salmon to market weight in just a few months. To make the salmon's flesh a vibrant, attractive pink for consumers fish pellet producers need to add synthetically made carotenoids to the fish feed (either canthaxanthin or astaxanthin).
Without these artificial colorants, Atlantic Salmon fillets would be a dull grayish color. It is mandatory in the U.S. for all Atlantic Salmon labeling to mention the use of artificial colors.
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4. ATLANTIC SALMON ARE TREATED WITH ANTIBIOTICS
Atlantic Salmon are big fish that excrete a lot of waste. If the cages are not located in an area with strong tides, waste can accumulate. To prevent and treat diseases and parasites from waste accumulation, farmers have to incorporate antibiotics into the fish feed.
The biggest threat to fish farms are sea lice. Sea lice begin life as a louse in the water column. As the louse matures, it will hook onto the Atlantic Salmon and begin a parasitic relationship - feeding off of the salmon’s mucus, blood, and skin. Sometimes, but not always, sea lice can be treated solely with antibiotics.
QUANTIY AFFECT QUALITY
There is concern over the quantity of antibiotics used throughout fish farms. In 2013, Chile's National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service reported that a whopping 990,000 lbs of antibiotics were used among their fish farms. Meanwhile, Norway grew more salmon that year and required a far lesser amount of antibiotics- 2,100 lbs.
* Salmon raised in the Faroe Islands are not given antibiotics
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5. ATLANTIC SALMON ARE RAISED IN SMALL CONTAINED AREAS AND IN HIGH DENSITY
All wild salmon are migratory fish and they build up their flesh from intense swimming.
Atlantic Salmon are raised within sea cages, also referred to as sea pens. In each sea pen there are hundreds of fish and very little available space, if any, for open swimming. These sea pens are not designed for animal welfare-they're money makers first and foremost.
While wild Alaskan salmon is the best (for taste, domestic economy, animal welfare, etc.), not everyone is willing to pay the $16+/lb for a wild fish. At the same time, what are you really buying/supporting when you purchase "Fresh" farmed Atlantic Salmon at $6/lb from another country?
Everyone's sushi and omega-3 fix can't be supported from wild populations sustainably so someone has to make a sacrifice, right?
Now that you know these fish factoids, perhaps you have a better concept of these amazing fish. Next time you see Atlantic Salmon and Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon, you'll know that there are more differences between the two fillets than price.
Keep in mind that there are other options! See Domestic Omega-3s: There Are Other Options Than Imported Atlantic Salmon.
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