Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
12 Sep

Salmon: Factory Farm vs. Wild

Wild SalmonLast week I noted in my podcast with Jimmy Moore how expensive genuine wild salmon can cost. Since then, I’ve received a healthy number of emails asking for more info, tips, and the real benefits behind buying “wild.”

What exactly are salmon “farms”? How does the farm setting change the nutritional content of salmon? Is there really that much of a difference? Is farmed salmon even worth buying?

First off, salmon farms of some kind make up about 80% of salmon on the market today. (In the United States, the number is higher – 90% by some estimates.) Thirty percent come from traditional hatcheries, and the remaining 50% are raised in aquaculture or “open pen nets” just off shore. Farms can “raise” up to a million salmon at a time. I’ll throw in a visual.

Salmon Farm

Yup, gets more than a little crowded in there.

Because the farmed salmon are largely confined and fed a steady diet of formulated protein pellets, they’re inevitably fattier. “But isn’t that a good thing?” you might ask. “More omega-3s per serving, right?” The answers are “no” and “not really” to the above. I’ll explain.

Many assessments have found fewer omega-3s per ounce in farmed salmon compared with wild salmon, but we know the farmed stuff also comes with a hefty (not healthy) wallop of other fats including omega-6s. We then deal with the problem that the omega-6s and omega-3s compete for the same receptors in our bodies. Consequently, the “net” omega-3 gain will always be less than what you’ll get with a wild serving. Here’s a nifty chart that compares the fat content of some popular wild versus farmed fish varieties (including salmon) from this PDF.

Farmed vs. Wild Salmon

And because the farmed fish are fattier, you’ll get less protein per serving as well.

To truly whet your appetite, I can’t skip the added ingredients you’ll get with a farmed fillet: dioxins, PCBs, fire retardants (those da-n things are everywhere, aren’t they???), pesticides (especially for sea lice), antibiotics, copper sulfate (to take care of algae on the nets), and – oh yeah – canthaxanthin (a dye associated with retinal damage used to make gray farmed fish various shades of “wild” pink).

As for dioxins, PCBs, and fire retardants, they show up in wild varieties as well, but the concentrations are vastly different. Tests have shown that farmed salmon contains 16 times more cancer-linked PCBs than wild salmon. The reason behind this difference? It’s those nasty little protein pellets – nuggets of mostly mashed fish and fish oil. The intense concentration of toxins from the fish feed builds up in the raised salmon over time – from fish farm to your fish dinner. Bon Appétit, by the way!

O.K., so you’re no fan of the farm anymore. To cloud the issue further, a “wild” label may only be telling a half truth. (They’re generally the less expensive “wild” brands offered in your grocery store.) As I described a few months back in Encore on Omegas, many to most “wild” salmon actually spend half their lives in hatcheries before being released. While these quasi-wild fish are a better nutritional deal than fully farmed salmon, they still bear the burdens of early exposure to toxins (dioxin, PCBs, etc.) and a less impressive omega 6:3 ratio.

So, what about truly wild salmon? As suggested, the genuine wild article only accounts for about 20% at most of the harvest. Some of the reasons it’s so darn expensive? The flood of farmed fish (and subsequent drop in asking price) has forced many traditional fishermen/women out of business. Add to this scenario the ongoing destruction of wild salmon populations by aquaculture farms, and we all end up paying a premium for the real thing.

Salmon Farm Sign

Because the farm pens are essentially open, the enormous amount of disease- and parasite- (a.k.a. sea lice – yum!) laden waste is routinely allowed to contaminate the waters around the farm. Add to this environment the megadoses of pesticide-, toxin-, and antibiotic-laced waste, and the farms create a deadly environment for wild stocks that inhabit the areas. For more on the environmental destruction caused by aquaculture farms, check out these resources from the National Geographic, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times.

Your best bet finally is this: buy less salmon in order to afford the real deal. It’s all about bang for your buck after all. A smaller wild fillet will give you equal nutrition with fewer toxins. Additionally, look for Alaskan over Northwestern salmon. And don’t rule out canned salmon for big savings. Apparently, farmed salmon doesn’t can well, which means the majority of canned salmon is wild. (Pink salmon, the most commonly canned variety, doesn’t contain as much good fats as other kinds.) It’s one way to make salmon a more affordable addition to your Primal-style salad!

Finally, if you do choose to eat farmed salmon, the Environmental Working Group (applying EPA health standards) suggests eating no more than one serving of farmed salmon a month.

And, of course, I suggest you ensure a healthy daily dose of omega-3s with a good quality, pure fish oil supplement! (We know: broken record. What can we say?)

Your comments, questions, anecdotes, or additions? I look forward to them!

kuow949, axiepics Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

On the Problems of Cultivated Fruit

Omega-3 Round Up:

Omega 3 to 6 Ratio

Omega 3 Daily Dose

Omega 3 Food Sources

Cooking Omegas

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. doin a project on farmed salmon need some info

    justin weeks wrote on January 25th, 2010
  2. Thanks so much for this article and research. Poor me! I had thought farm raised is better in my head and we always do salmon farm raised once a week since for the past 4wks. Thank God I stumbled on the website courtesy of my wife inquisition.
    Henceforth, I have to request for Wild Alaska Salmon from my local Publix Store or Whole Foods (if I can drive 20miles)..
    but come to think of it, what’s safe to eat again? Chicken? Beef? or Goat? Maybe!
    Maybe I should be a vegetarian….or go back to my village and look for real natural stuff

    Niyi wrote on January 27th, 2010
    • Go for Frozen Wild Alaska Sockeye Salmon fillets. You can’t beat it.

      jim naylor wrote on February 10th, 2010
  3. hey mark need some help with my project its about farmed salmon and the effects on wild salmon and the pros and cons aboit sea farms

    justin weeks wrote on February 11th, 2010
  4. how about certified organic farmed salmon? at least here in europe we have some strict standards that guarantee higher quality and less pollution compared to normal farmed salmon. have a look:

    qualia wrote on April 6th, 2010
  5. Not sure where/how to get great wild Alaskan salmon? Go online to – always the best – always a premium grade wild Alaskan salmon!

    Sara Pozonsky wrote on April 14th, 2010
  6. It appears that I can only consume wild and perhaps the semi-wild salmon. I thought I was allergic to salmon for years, but suspected that it was the dye in farm raised.

    I have since eating a slowly increasing quantity of wild smoked salmon with no ill effect. But, the violence of my bodies previous disagreement prevents me from testing this hypothesis with a farm raised salmon steak.

    I’d rather not have my stomach that angry ever again! Any body else have anything like this?

    Guarani wrote on April 22nd, 2010
    • Why even consider farmed salmon. Wild may cost a little more but it is far superior.

      Jim Naylor wrote on April 22nd, 2010
    • The dyes used in salmon are canthaxanthin and astaxanthin – both naturally occurring colours. If you are eating wild salmon that is pink then it has been coloured by these compounds in its natural environment, from shrimp and krill.

      peter wrote on June 28th, 2011
  7. I have eaten yesterday “Wild” Alaskan salmon that I purchased from Costco. I am experiencing hives the size of quarters and painful itchiness. Has anyone else had this happen to them?

    Sharon DeLaCruz wrote on June 28th, 2010
  8. I’m discouraged.. I don’t think I’ll be eating much of anything anymore..

    Stephane wrote on August 30th, 2010
  9. Stephanie, I know it’s discouraging. So much of our food is either polluted or so processed that you’re actually healthier by not eating it.
    But just keep doing your homework like you’re doing by reading Mark’s Apple.

    Gary wrote on September 9th, 2010
  10. Also keep in mind that there literally is no wild ATLANTIC salmon left. The fishery has died out. The only Wild Salmon is from Alaska! Make sure you always ask. If it’s not Alaskan salmon, it’s not wild. We allow no farmed fisheries in Alaska.

    Here is a link to some great nutritional information on wild Alaskan seafood:

    Sara Pozonsky wrote on September 20th, 2010
    • There is wild salmon on the market from Washington, Oregon, California and Canada.
      Russia has wild salmon runs also.

      Jim Naylor wrote on September 20th, 2010
      • Thank you for your reply. I live in Washington and was quite offended by Sara’s comment.

        I hope people don’t believe everything they read.

        Olivia wrote on October 28th, 2010
      • Also my brother in law goes fishing in high altitude lakes here in Idaho and brings back salmon, catfish and golden trout….all wild.

        We do have fish farms of rainbow trout and salmon here in Idaho but would a fish swim up stream for 50+ miles to a lake?

        After reading this I’m worried I’m eating a ton of chemicals every week. My diets made up of probably 3 whole salmons a week.

        Suvetar wrote on April 12th, 2011
    • Sara Pozonsky owns the Wild Alaskan Salmon Company.

      peter wrote on June 28th, 2011
    • The Alaskan salmon is usually NOT wild. It is “ranches”. Raised like in the picture way above, and then released. Fed many antibiotics beforehand. Hatcheries, where a lot wild salmon come from, also use a lot of antibiotics when fish are young.

      Duane Yates wrote on September 24th, 2015
  11. Monterray Bay Seafood WATCH guide lists California and Oregon wild salmon on their AVOID list. Click here:

    And another incredibly good article about the consequences of farmed fish escaping into the wild population is here:

    The problem with Washington salmon is that is very close to fish farms in British Columbia. Even though the Pacific Fishery Management Council has allowed some “wild salmon” fishing in Washington to occur, the fish have still been poisoned by fish that orginated in either California, Oregon and in British Columbia.

    The WHOLE problem is these evil open cage fish farms! They are polluting EVERYTHING. If we don’t stop them now, soon the fish in Alaska will be threatened as well.

    I have not done any research about wild salmon in Russia – Ive never even heard of it. However, I will do more research on Russia’s fish population.

    Sara Pozonsky wrote on September 20th, 2010
  12. Wow. I’m amazed at the complete lack of balance in this story and the comments.

    Farming fish is going to be an important part of our future, so best get the right info. Farmed or wild, its a heck of a lot better than most other proteins we happily pig out on.

    This story was not well researched at all, and smells real fishy-kinda like a paid advertisment for Alaska salmon.


    sara dyson wrote on October 20th, 2010
    • I agree with you. Anyone who reads this should be sure to do their own research.

      Olivia wrote on October 28th, 2010
    • If it is going to be an important part of our future, maybe we should raise them in a way that the end product is as healthy as the wild one. Same with beef, how could one possibly think that confining animals in their filth and feeding them boatloads of unnatural food and antibiotics could possibly yield a healthy meat?

      There is plenty of disinformation out there….I hate to tell you, but this article is not a source of one.

      SoTM wrote on February 5th, 2011
  13. Sara, would love to debate that point with you. This is no advertisement – merely the facts of farmed fishing. I am actually offended that you would say that considering the importance of this subject. Farmed fishing is a VERY dangerous practice. The best solution (if you love the taste of farmed fish) is to do on-shore tanks for farmed fish so the pollutants don’t harm our environment – but even still are risking your own health by eating farmed fish that are fed antibiotics and hormones so they don’t get sea lice and can grow huge within a year. At least then, people can choose what to eat and not affect anyone else, instead of helping destroy our planet by supporting the current farmed fishing practices! It’s kind of like smoking – you want to smoke? Do it where no one else is forced to breath your 2nd hand smoke. Your choice – just don’t make the rest of the world pay for your bad choices.
    Obviously I’m extremely passionate about this subject!

    Sara Pozonsky wrote on October 21st, 2010
    • your statements are unqualified and require research. You say farmed fish are fed antibiotics so they don’t get sea lice. First off some fish are farmed in fresh water where they don’t get sea lice – the clue is in the name. How would antibiotics even stop fish getting lice? Lice are parasitic animals not a disease. It is commendable that you are passionate about this subject, but you may get more credibility if you avoid sweeping generalisations and by understanding some of the terms that you use.

      peter wrote on June 28th, 2011
  14. A debate on my (our) health has no place for radical comments like Sara’s. The entire food supply in America is suspect, and we all have to pay attention to what we are being asked to consume. As a side bar, I was just grumbling about what they have managed to do to our fruits and veggies – they all taste like cardboard. I hope some you you are old enough to remember when peaches were sweet and apples soft and juicy.
    Whether or not this becomes an “advertisement” for Alaska Salmon, we still have to get the truth out about what is Nutritious and what is harmful.

    And speaking of advertising, Sara, aren’t you advertising for the farms?

    Lee wrote on October 30th, 2010
  15. thanks for that informative article. it just goes to show again, that natural is better.
    healthy energy

    tom wrote on November 1st, 2010
  16. Wild Alaskan salmon are the best. I believe it comes from one of the least polluted waters.

    Jeff wrote on November 13th, 2010
  17. So many self-annointed experts….

    Washington, Oregon,California and Alaska all have a mix of truly wild as well as hatchery reared stocks of salmon. In WA, OR and CA it has been the hatchery reared stocks which have supported their respective commercial fisheries for years. However, due to the risk those hatchery may pose to truly wild (genetically) runs hatchery operations are currently being reviewed with the potential for substantially reduced releases. That will result in fewer returning fish coupled with a push to selective harvest – meaning truly wild fish identified by a lack of fin clipping will have to be released. So, expect to see less truly wild and/or hatchery origin salmon from those three Pacific states.

    A couple of other facts:

    Pink salmon is not a species propogated in hatcheries. It is a lower quality salmon species that is doing quite well in its normal range.

    WA is currently bringing on line a hatchery for sockeye salmon (Cedar River, tributary to Lake Washington).

    The “fact” which Sara presented that salmon from WA are contaminated by fish farms in BC is, well, laughable. Sara, exactly how does that occur? There is certainly a problem with young salmon from BC being exposed to high concentrations of sea lice as they out migrate but sea lice are a problem because they cause the death of the young fish rather than some form of “contamination” as suggested. Also, all Pacific salmon mature at sea and to varying degrees co-mingle. Oh, and Sara seems to have ignored that WA also has fish farms. Maybe Sara needs to do more research on U.S. issues before she moves on to become an expert on Western Pacific salmon (not exclusively Russia).

    Fact: There simply is not enough wild/hatchery reared salmon available to meet current demand. If you want the really good stuff you will be paying an increasing price. Oh, and the “best” salmon (taste) are those with the highest amount of fat to sustain them in the rivers as they travel to distant spawning grounds; Columbia River Spring Chinook, Copper River Chinook come to mind. fslmonrcherywill

    Larry B wrote on November 21st, 2010
  18. Look – this debate is healthy even though I disagree with some of your points because it gets us talking about a very important subject.

    Regardless of our disagreements, I think we all agree that we need to stick to wild salmon NO FARMED. Always ask your server/seafood market where the fish is from and where/when it was caught.

    Sara Pozonsky wrote on November 22nd, 2010
    • Regardless of our disagreements, I think we all agree that if I was the owner of the Wild Alaskan Salmon Company I would say that we need to stick to wild salmon NO FARMED. Always ask your server/seafood market where I can get Wild Alaskan Salmon Company fish.

      Your statements reveal their objectivity if you state your allegiances and if there is any financial gain to be had by stating them.

      peter wrote on June 28th, 2011
  19. We’ve been buying only wild salmon for a while now. We’ve noticed that it is becoming harder to find. Sams club used to sell it, then stopped, then sporadically carried it, then poof, gone. They have this Norwegian ocean farmed in fjords (??) and of course farm raised from chile. Other stores used to sell wild salmon, excellent quality from brunos (coho) really, they have recently stopped carrying too, only farm raised now. Wal Mart sells frozen, wild caught salmon that is caught in the pacific and processed in China, so I am leary of it. If only the agribusinesses would stop messing with our food. These people have the morals of pimps. They are purposely poisoning us. I’m sure they don’t eat what they sell, they probably all shop at whole foods and have never seen the inside of a walmart where their wallets are fattened daily. That might be your best health choice: don’t shop at walmart, the food is about 90% unhealthy there. Our local one shuttered their fresh seafood and shrunk the produce section, also removed most of the organic/kosher foods they used to carry, all in a 3 month period. I guess healthy eating isn’t profitable? Or they were told to get with the program by someone. Sorry for the rant, the systematic destruction of our populace on multiple fronts (moral, nutritional, financial) really irks me. Fortunately for me, God is on our side, due to our Covenant with Him. He is your best “whole health” benefit. Follow God’s Laws and you’ll be all right.

    Todd wrote on December 11th, 2010
  20. ‘Some of the reasons it’s so darn expensive? The flood of farmed fish (and subsequent drop in asking price) has forced many traditional fishermen/women out of business.’

    Look at a basic supply-demand diagram. High prices are due to limited and difficult supply. If demand is lower for wild salmon (because of consumers substituting farmer fish), that would actually correlate to a lower price.

    shannon wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  21. Being a former Alaskan, I am partial to wild Alaskan salmon, your article sort of cements it in.

    Arlene wrote on March 6th, 2011
  22. Mark,

    What are your thoughts on the new Whole Foods standards for farm raised salmon? Do you think their standards make their farmed raised salmon a healthy choice?


    Brian wrote on March 8th, 2011
  23. The only way you can get wild Atlantic salmon now is if you catch it, or know someone that caught it wild. There is a commercial fishing moratorium on Atlantic salmon due to overfishing (yay earth wtg). 80% of the salmon is farmed yes, the other 20% is most likely Pacific salmon from Alaska, where we haven’t yet depleted the natural resources – that would be Sockeye, Coho, Keta, or King to name a few.

    Two good websites to look at are the Monterey, CA Aquarium’s FishWatch, and the NOAA website –

    Both have very good info on all fish types.

    You may want to consider writing an article on Orange Roughy too – my favorite fish until I found out the non -eco friendly farming methods and decided not to eat it :( They don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 30 years old, and can live to be 100 (yes, these tidbits are on the NOAA website!) Oh…and it’s original name? Slimehead LOL :)

    Chris Tucker wrote on April 5th, 2011

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