Something Fishy

661479269_45dd1ef125_o.jpgA special dinner seems appropriate for Easter weekend, or at least to mark the beginning of spring (first day of spring was March 20). I don’t eat ham but I am thinking of other pink foods … there sure is a lot of salmon out there. But is it OK to eat?

In a recent issue of Eating Well, David Dobbs addresses this question, explaining how and why the answer has shifted dramatically over the past decade or so. The long and short of it seems to be that many commercial fisheries (such as catfish farms) are beneficial for the species in nature, and have little impact on the environment. But Atlantic salmon fisheries are another story, and the choices consumers make now will have long-range impact on the fish.

This is not like deciding whether you want free-range versus conventional chicken for tonight’s dinner; that’s a decision with limited echo. To decide that you may as well eat farmed Atlantic tonight, however, is to decide, in a very real sense, that you may as well eat farmed salmon, and farmed salmon only, forever.

Dobbs’ article offers a detailed and fascinating walk through the lives of typical wild salmon and typical en masse farmed salmon. It points out that the expansion of the salmon farming industry over the past two decades has placed hundreds of farms on cold water coasts, raising hundreds of millions of “fake” fish. At the start of the industry expansion they didn’t know much about how this would affect fish populations, but now they do.

Millions [of farmed salmon] escape, they disrupt feeding and spawning behavior of wild salmon in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, they enter and even colonize streams, and they directly compete with both native Atlantic and Pacific salmon. … Confirmed too are suspicions that farms spread disease and parasites to wild salmon stocks.

There is a hardly a comparison in taste between farmed salmon (color enhanced with feed and often bland tasting) and Pacific wild salmon (more orange, really, than pink, and incredibly tasty). But the farmed stuff is available all the time and is much cheaper. I think I’ll go with Dobbs, though, hold out for the wild salmon—May through October—at $15+ a pound.

The debate over sustainable seafood is confusing. At present, the USDA has no organic certification program for seafood. For sound environmental information, Eating Well suggests we visit Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. And, at the seafood counter, look for the following labels:


Photo credit Don Harrison via flickr.

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