Go Wild with Salmon

We’re still in the throes of summer and I always look forward to putting that piece of wild salmon on the ‘barbie.’  But at $25+ per pound, it takes a lot more consideration if I want fresh King salmon from Alaska.  As most of you know, the current state of the salmon season from California to Washington is in peril. This time of year usually provides a bounty of the fish to satisfy our need for fresh sources of heart healthy Omega 3s.  But several factors have canceled the season here which challenge us to look for alternative types of salmon or other fish to savor.

Now if you’re thinking that Atlantic salmon is your answer – think again.  Due to overfishing wild Atlantic salmon is now extinct, meaning the only type available at market is farmed.  Typical farmed and wild salmon have distinct variations in how healthy (or not) they are for our bodies and for the environment.  Let’s take a look at some of these considerations:

Choose your poisons: Farmed salmon is nearly ten times higher in PCB’s and other toxins than the wild variety.  The fishmeal that is fed to farmed salmon is more contaminated than even livestock feed, according to a study by the European Union.

Pollution contribution: Farmed salmon are raised in open cages, thousands of them in net-pens linked together in the ocean.  The fish pass fecal matter into the sea around them, contaminating the water with as much raw sewage as a town of 65,000 people.  A parasite known as sea lice also becomes a problem with the pens in such close quarters. Antibiotics and other chemicals are then used to treat the disease, all of which can leach into the ocean and infect other wild fish.

It takes a village: Over three pounds of small fish are needed to produce just one pound of farmed salmon.  These fish are an important food source for lots of other ocean life, such as bass, whales, sea birds and seals. Wild salmon eat fish that have feasted on red algae, providing the natural ruby color in their flesh.  Farmed salmon gets its color from red dye.

Un-health food: In addition to the other toxins that have plagued the farmed salmon, the wild variety provides more than three times the amount of Omega 3s than its counterpart.  Wild salmon are not only drug and antibiotic-free, they also have lower levels of harmful saturated fats. According to the U.S.D.A., farmed Atlantic salmon contain 200 percent more fat than wild Pacific pink and chum salmon. Aren’t we eating it for the health benefits?

The news is not all bad when you consider the options for variety in the wild salmon family.  Coho, pink, sockeye and Arctic Char are delicious and affordable alternatives to the renowned King.  When in doubt, ask your local fishmonger the origin of the salmon you choose.  Other options include wild halibut which is local in the West and in season, and California sea bass (not Chilean.) For more help on determining additional safe fish to buy go to www.seafoodwatch.org