This article may contain links from our affiliate partners. Please read how we make money!
The demand for sustainable seafood options is growing larger as consumers are becoming more informed and conscientious. You may ask yourself, what is the difference between wild-caught salmon vs farm raised salmon? Or is there even a difference at all?
Some people prefer farm-raised salmon because they see it as a simple, affordable option. Others see wild-caught salmon as healthier, more sustainable, and they will not eat farm-raised salmon at all. But, which one is better: wild-caught salmon or farm-raised salmon?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this debate. Both wild-caught and farm-raised salmon have their advantages and disadvantages. While there isn’t a straightforward answer, it’s still important to learn about the issues so you can make an informed choice at the grocery store.
So, How Are Salmon Farmed?
On a technical level, the difference between wild-caught salmon and farm-raised salmon is pretty simple. Farm-raised salmon are raised on factory farms, and wild-caught salmon are caught in the wild. However, the environment is VASTLY different on a fish farm than it would be in the wild.
So, how did we get fish farms? People started farming fish because high-quality wild salmon was hard to find. Unfortunately, environmental concerns followed soon after. Because of the growing demand for salmon, over-crowded salmon farming pens have popped up. Farmed salmon in an over-crowded pen are confined to one small area for their entire lives.
Since the salmon don’t have as much space to move around, there’s an increased pollution concentration from their own waste and uneaten fish feed. When this occurs, it’s a recipe for an uptick of disease in the farmed salmon, and it can spread pollution in the surrounding natural ecosystems. So what happens to the sick and imperfect salmon? They’re discarded, and this creates waste issues that concern environmentalists.
Are Wild-Caught Salmon Better for the Environment?
Now that you’ve learned about the environmental issues associated with farm-raised salmon, you’re probably wondering if wild-caught salmon is REALLY a more sustainable option. The short answer is that it depends. Over the past few decades, wild salmon stocks have shrunk down to just half their size.
In areas of the U.S., like the Pacific Northwest and Canada, many wild salmon populations have diminished or completely disappeared. The causes of these population declines are human activities such as overfishing, deforestation, pollution, and destroying salmon’s natural habitats. Overfishing poses a serious threat to the remaining wild salmon in these depleted areas with a higher demand for salmon.
So what’s the solution? You can judge your salmon based on where it is coming from.
The most sustainable type of wild salmon comes from Alaska, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. In Alaska, wild salmon runs are healthy and well-managed. The population isn’t in danger of diminishing anytime soon.
There are legally enforced caps on how many fish each boat may catch to prevent overfishing. In 1990, Alaska even banned salmon farming, and there’s evidence this initiative is working. In 2018, the sockeye salmon run produced 62.3 million fish in Bristol Bay, Alaska. This is the largest run on record, dating back to 1893.
If you’re interested in having sustainable seafood that you can trust, try wild salmon delivery. There are delivery services that allow you to avoid eating farmed salmon by buying from a fishmonger who brings generations’ worth of experience and only sells wild seafood.
Wild Caught vs Farm Raised Salmon, is There a Taste Difference?
You’re not alone if you’ve ever been stumped at the seafood counter because you’ve been thinking about the wild caught vs farm raised salmon debate. You may wonder, is there a difference in taste?
The answer is absolutely. There’s a big difference between the taste of fresh, wild-caught salmon and the taste of salmon. The difference can be attributed to the different food each type of fish eats and the lifestyle differences.
Farmed salmon contains more fat, and farmed salmon meat’s color is originally grey. To replicate the bright, natural coloring of wild salmon to make the farmed fish look more appetizing, they’re fed a chemical known as astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin, which can be natural or synthetic, is produced by algae and other microscopic oceanic organisms. Wild salmon eat algae and other oceanic organisms that give them that bright, vibrant color.
Wild-caught salmon have active lives, and therefore they have less overall fat. Wild-caught salmon is also higher in healthy omega-3 fats. You can also see the difference when comparing two different fillets:
Read Also: Can You Freeze Salmon?
Wild-Caught Salmon Appearance:
- Thinner and leaner fillets
- A deeper reddish-pink color because of a healthier diet
- Fewer and smaller white stripes in the flesh. These stripes are fat striations.
Farm-Raised Salmon Appearance:
- Thicker and fattier fillets
- A paler pink color
- More visible fat striations with more white stripes in the flesh.
Most people are used to eating farm-raised salmon, and Farm-raised salmon is typically more affordable and accessible. Some people may prefer farm-raised salmon because it is a taste they are familiar with.
Is Wild-Caught Salmon Healthier than Farm-Raised Salmon?
As we mentioned before, some people may like farm-raised salmon because they are used to the taste. But, if you’re trying to be health-conscious, wild-caught salmon might be the way to go. Wild-caught salmon is leaner and packed with more beneficial omega-3 fats.
Here’s the nutritional breakdown, according to HealthLine:
Wild-Caught Salmon (113 grams)
- 22 grams protein
- 5 grams fat (8% DV)
- 39 mg calcium (4% DV)
- 1 mg iron (6%)
- 99 mg cholesterol (33% DV
Farmed Salmon (113 grams)
- 23 grams protein
- 15 grams fat (19% DV)
- 10 mg calcium (1% DV)
- 0.3 mg iron (2% DV)
- 60 mg cholesterol (20% DV)
The most notable difference between the two is that farmed salmon contains a lot more fat than wild-caught salmon. Wild salmon also has higher amounts of natural minerals, such as calcium and iron.
Because of environmental and dietary differences, farmed salmon may contain more potentially harmful contaminants than wild salmon. Since farmed fish are more susceptible to infections and disease, they are often given antibiotics. Because antibiotic use in aquaculture is not always controlled, there have been cases where unregulated use of antibiotics became a problem.
Antibiotic use is not only an environmental problem but also a health concern for consumers. Ingesting traces of antibiotics over the long term can cause drug resistance and even the disruption of gut flora. If you’re concerned about antibiotic resistance, you can purchase salmon that comes from countries known for their decreased use of these medications.
Do Your Own Research, Make an Informed Decision
Sustainability is a complex topic, and deciding to buy farm-raised or wild-caught salmon based on these factors is complicated. We wish we could say that farmed salmon is bad, and you’re better off with wild-caught salmon. But this topic has more layers than that. We recommend you do your own research by asking yourself these questions:
- Where is the salmon coming from?
- Is this area over-fished?
- Or is this area known for managing its salmon population?
- Is this price in my budget?
- Where is the salmon coming from?
- Is this an area known for crowded fish pens?
- Does this site limit its use of antibiotics?
- Is exposure to antibiotics a concern for me?
Resources to Learn More
Learning about sustainable seafood can feel like a full-time job. The wild caught vs farm raised salmon debate could change in years to come, with new farming techniques. There is a lot of information to unpack, and what may be true in 2021 might have evolved in five years.
One of the easiest ways to check the sustainability of your seafood is to use Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. This simple and easy-to-use search engine can help you find the best choices to add to your dinner plate.
Also, if all of this talk of seafood has made you hungry, why not pair some fresh salmon with our delicious Quinoa and Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables or make one of these Pescatarian Meal Prep Ideas.
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.