Understanding the difference between wild vs farmed salmon is crucial for your health and that of the environment. Although you’ll be eating the same species of fish for either, their lifestyle and food consumption vary so greatly that the differences between wild-caught and farm-raised salmon on people and the environment are enormous.
The Basics: Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon
Before we explore the many areas that farm and wild-caught salmon diverge, let’s first establish their habitat differences.
Wild salmon live anadromous lives, being born in freshwater streams, living in the ocean as adults, and returning to the same freshwater stream to spawn. Some species of salmon travel hundreds of miles between their breeding ground and the ocean. Once in the ocean, they may swim for up to another 1,000 miles.
In contrast, farm-raised salmon live in small pens without having the chance to exercise their migratory instincts. They live either in freshwater or saltwater, but not both.
Examples of where farmers put their farm-raised salmon fish pens include:
Feeding Habits of Farmed and Wild Salmon
In the wild, salmon feed on insects and small fish in freshwater upon birth. Once they travel to the ocean, their real feast begins where they have an array of foods to choose from, including:
- Polychaete worms
In contrast, farm-raised salmon don’t have access to these foods in their pens. Instead, farmers control their diet by feeding them high fat and protein food, sometimes made with synthetic ingredients in addition to fish.
Examples of what fish pellets may contain that farmers give their salmon include:
- Poultry droppings
- Chicken feathers
- Chicken fat
- Genetically modified yeast
Farmers will also feed their salmon corn and other grains to beef them up, all of which can contribute to higher risks of obesity for people that consume farm-raised over wild salmon.
Differences in Color and Texture
Because of the low-quality and unnatural diet that people force farmed salmon to consume, these fish have a naturally grayishgreyish meat color.
To overcome this unattractive quality, salmon farmers introduce carotenoids in their fish’s diet. Perhaps surprisingly, these carotenoids aren’t harmful to humans—on the contrary, they come from yellow, orange, and red plants.
However, carotenoids aren’t a part of a salmon’s diet. In some cases, salmon farmers may use other dyes to make their salmon’s meat more attractive.
In contrast, the wild-caught variety will have a healthy, bright pink color when comparing farm-raised salmon vs. wild-caught fish. These colors come from wildfrom a wild salmon’s food sources, particularly krill—a shrimp-like crustacean.
Furthermore, wild-caught sockeye fish will have bright red meat if fishermenfisherpeople catch them when they’re ascending a river to spawn. With the help of their krill consumption, they turn this bright red color to attract a mate—a process that farm-raised salmon don’t have the chance to experience.
Wild-Caught vs. Farm-Raised Salmon Breeds
Almost all farmed salmon is the Atlantic salmon species, meaning you’ll have little opportunity to try the array of salmon species on the planet by only eating farm-raised fish.
In contrast, most Pacific salmon are wild-caught. Examples of these wild-caught breeds include:
- Chinook (king)
Of course, it’s also possible to purchase Atlantic wild-caught salmon.
Nutritional Value of Wild vs Farmed Salmon
Wild-caught salmon is superior in most ways when it comes to its nutritional value. It has less fat, fewer calories, and is mostly devoid of the toxins that farm-raised salmon often contain. Wild-caught salmon also contains high levels of vitamin B12, vitamin D, and selenium.
The reason that wild-caught salmon has less body fat is because of the high-quality foods they eat, coupled with being a muscular fish from swimming hundreds or thousands of miles.
Furthermore, although both wild-caught and farm-raised salmon have heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, farm-raised salmon has over double the amount of saturated fat.
Farm-raised salmon has a lot of other negative health consequences as well. They often contain persistent organic pollutants (POPs), a hazardous compound that’s slow to degrade and detrimental to fish and human health.
Certain strains of POPs like polychlorinated biphenyls can have up to 16 times higher concentrations in farm-raised salmon than wild-caught.
Furthermore, farm-raised salmon have higher levels of omega-6s, which is a bad form of fat. They also increase your exposure to dioxin compounds, which increases the chances of getting an infection.
So, before you get excited about the farm-raised salmon nutrition information they display on the package, it’s important to reflect on all the harmful qualities they try to hide.
Diseases in Farmed and Wild Salmon
Wild-caught salmon have a relatively low rate of disease. In contrast, farmed salmon have a high susceptibility to disease, which is undoubtedly in part because of their poor nutrition and tight living quarters.
Infectious salmon anemia (ISA) is one of the most common diseases in farmed salmon. It affects a salmon’s gills, causing them to swim at the water’s surface and gulp at the air. ISA ultimately leads to death.
Sadly, diseases often spread rapidly to other salmon because of how close quarters these salmon are. Furthermore, since fish pens are in open freshwater or saltwater, farmed fish diseases can spread into wild salmon populations.
As a result of widespread disease, salmon farmers sometimes inject the fish pens with antibiotics to prevent their salmon from getting ill and improve their profit. While research on the impact of such antibiotics on humans is ongoing, evidence suggests that this can have negative health consequences on people.
The Verdict: Is Wild-Caught or Farm-Raised Salmon Better?
When comparing wild vs farmed salmon, wild-caught salmon is hands-down the better choice for both your and the environment’s health.
Farm-raised salmon live in artificial environments. They have tight quarters and eat pellets made with synthetic food, frequently leading to disease outbreaks.
Therefore, the next time you’re picking out salmon, we encourage you to choose the wild-caught variety. Furthermore, children and pregnant women should only eat wild-caught salmon, given that the Environmental Protection Agency says that farm-raised salmon isn’t safe for frequent consumption.
Ocean farmed salmon producers recognize the importance of a sustainable environment for the production of ocean farmed salmon while meeting the long term growing global demand. This new industry has embraced the concept of continual improvement and has made, and continues to make much progress..
It is important to point out that farmed salmon are not injected with dyes and do not contain dyes but are fed a diet rich in Astaxanthin with the same nutrient levels as found in the wild.
Astaxanthin is a common dietary component in agriculture and aquaculture feed and is a vital nutrient for the fish. It is a natural and necessary nutrient that allows many fish, including salmon, to circulate and oxidize blood. Without Astaxanthin, salmon could not grow to maturity. In the wild, Astaxanthin is ingested through a salmon’s diet-like krill. In addition to Astaxanthin’s role in the salmons overall health, it turns the flesh of the fish red.
Also notable is that Astaxanthin is also found in other types of seafood including shrimp, lobster, and trout. Additionally, the poultry industry commonly adds Astaxanthin as a supplementary pigment to enhance yolk color in eggs.
The Salmon farming industry is committed to producing sustainable salmon. Ongoing initiatives have resulted in the development and implementation of strict industry standards that have exceeded those imposed by government.