Wild Salmon Vs. Farmed Raised: Which is Better?

Salmon is one of the healthiest fish available today and is for good reason. It is rich in various nutrients that are hard to find in most foods. On the other end, there have been many reports as to the dangers of consuming salmon due to its high levels of mercury and PCBs. Much of the confusion comes with the differences between wild and farm-raised salmon. As you will see, wild salmon are superior nutritionally and environmentally.

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Photo by clairity.

What’s the Difference

If you were to hold a wild salmon next to a farmed-raised one, it would be extremely difficult to find any differences among the two. Just because the two may look exactly the same, there are huge differences between both between the two. You would have no clue just by looking at them.

Nutrition

Salmon is low in saturated fats and calories, contains high levels of protein and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are consider essential because our body cannot naturally produce them, but can be founds in foods like salmon. It also an extremely good source in other nutrients including selenium, niacin and vitamin B12 along with being a good source in many other vitamins and minerals. Wild salmon is far more nutritious in terms of fat and protein content. Wild fish contain 20% more protein, 20% less fat and are in general much smaller. Even being fattier, farmed raised contain much less usable omega-3 fatty acids and and contain higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids. The lower the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Wild fish in general contain a much more favorable ratio of omega-3′s to omega-6. The ratio for salmon is 15:1 for wild as compared to 3:1 for farmed raised.

PCBs

Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs are a class of organic compounds that are highly toxic. Even back in the 1930′s they discovered just how dangerous it was and several papers were published on it. I can’t believe it took our country all the way until the 1970′s to ban it. PCBs were used as coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and capacitors, plasticizers in paints and cements and a stabilizing additives in flexible PVC coatings. Consuming PCBs has even been linked with causing cancer. Even though they have been outlawed, they are still present in our environment, especially in our waters. Salmon are carnivorous and eat many small fish that contain high levels of PCBs. The levels of PCBs in farmed-raised were 8 times higher than found in wild caught salmon. That is huge considering how dangerous it is to our health.

Coloration

Salmon are generally colored either in either orange, red and occasionally white. They are actually naturally white and only get their coloration from the food they eat that includes krill and small shellfish. Because white salmon would not be as popular, farmed salmon are actually given chemicals to turn their flesh these colors. On top of not being healthy for the fish and humans, it also makes it harder to shop for them.

Disease and Contaminants

All salmon contain slight amounts of parasites and some even contain disease, but not at the same levels compared to farmed-raised. Seeing that they are held in giants nets in the ocean, it’s no surprise that aquaculture of salmon contain more disease. They are also given tons of antibiotics to fight off the diseases that they could be carrying in these closed spaces. It’s scary to think that we have no idea what kind of antibiotics or pesticides are in these farmed fish.

Environmental

I previously discussed the aquaculture farming of fish and it’s various environmental impacts. With so many fish packed together in a net in the ocean, there are bound to be negative impacts to the environment. Excess waste from these fish reduce the amount of oxygen in the water and hurt the nearby ecosystem. Also, whenever farmed fish escape from their nets, they can spread disease and lice that are normally not seen in wild fish. This can really hurt the wild populations by making it harder for young salmon to survive to adulthood.

Taste

If you were to try both farmed and wild salmon, you would notice the difference immediately. I have had both and I can say that there is no comparison. If you are currently eating farmed salmon or are not sure what type you buy, try wild and you will not be disappointed.

Below is a summary of the differences between both types of salmon:

Wild Vs. Farmed Salmon Comparison

Wild Farm-Raised
Nutrition Higher Ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 Fatty Acides Lower levels of protein and much fattier
PCBs Low levels 8 times as many PCBs
Coloration Naturally orange or red because of diet Given pigments to turn color of salmon from natural white
Disease Contain low amounts of lice, disease and contaminations High levels of disease, lice pesticides and given large amounts of antibiotics
Environmental Populations killed off by escaped farmed fish Excess waste and disease harm natural eco-system
Price Slightly higher price Cheaper because already in nets

Varieties

There are several varieties of salmon whether it be from the Atlantic or Pacific. I could list all them here, but this articles does a great job in describing all of the main types of Salmon that we eat.

Where to Buy

The best way to get wild salmon any time of the year is to check out your local natural store. I sometimes get frozen salmon at Trader Joe’s or other local natural stores that is always wild. They taste just as good as if you were to buy it from a fish market. Always be sure to be vigilant in asking where the fish comes from and whether it is wild or farmed. If they do not know the answer or the price looks a little too low, assume that it is not wild. There have been instances of several fish markets selling farmed fish as wild. You might also be surprised that canned salmon is usually wild. It’s an affordable way to get wild salmon anytime of the year. Once again, check the labels to make sure that it is in fact wild.

Choose Wild Over Farmed

Next time you go to buy salmon, make sure to check that you are buying wild salmon. It is overall just a healthier fish for you and far superior in terms of taste. There are just too many negatives against farmed salmon to make it not worth the slightly lower price. If more people demand wild salmon when buying it, it could start to eliminate many of these harmful salmon aquaculture farms.

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Comments

  1. My wife likes Salmon … that’s what she orders most when we go out to restaurants. Unfortunately, I suspect that most of the times she’s getting the farm-raised variety.

    Next time we actually buy it in the store, I will encourage her to try to find wild Salmon.

    Thanks,
    Todd

    • Pays to Live Green
    • February 16th, 2009

    That’s great to hear Todd. I am always skeptical when I go to a restaurant as to what kind of salmon they use. I have read that 90% of salmon the market today is in fact farm-raised. You could always ask your waiter/waitress, but the majority of the time they will probably not know.

  2. With the demand for fish increasing along with the world’s population there will also be an increased demand for farm raised fish to satisfy the need.

    While I love Salmon, and try to eat wild whenever possible, I’m hoping that we can find a way to make farm raised a more viable option in the future.

      • kyle
      • February 28th, 2012

      Problem with farm salmon are many. The farm fish are raised close to the rivers (in most cases)so the sea lice attacks the salmon fry on their way out of the river. Whole runs have been wiped out. Another issue is that these genetically altered “torpedoes” escape through harsh weather conditions, manmade disasters and predators.
      In a protein deficient world, we do not need a protein source that requires several pounds of protein to feed a farm fish , let alone the red dye, and other “necessary” chemicals that are required.

    • Pays to Live Green
    • February 21st, 2009

    I agree Global Patriot. The biggest problem is that salmon need such a large area and the most cost-effective manner to farm them is in the wild. Even though there are organic salmon the market, they are not necessarily safe either. I really hope as well that a good solution for this problem is discovered soon.

    • indi
    • March 24th, 2009

    i always tell my boyfriend that the wild salmon and the one in the can is better ,he buy the farm raise one because it’s cheap ,but i just don’t eat it sometimes.thank you

    • Pays to Live Green
    • March 24th, 2009

    It’s always a misconception that canned salmon isn’t that good, when in fact it is usually wild and sometimes just as good as what you can find a fish market.

  3. Well I am not a big fish person but my family always goes for the wild salmon. Less additives!

    • Bill Collins
    • September 21st, 2009

    I think I’ll omit all salmon from now on, even the wild. Can’t be sure what you’re buying, and some restaurants will lie to get you to order their fresh farmed fish. I’ll eat lower on the food chain.

      • Pays to Live Green
      • September 21st, 2009

      Bill: I hate it when restaurants don’t indicate whether their salmon is farm-raised or wild and many times the waiters don’t know. It would be nice if restaurants and fish sellers showed exactly where their seafood came from including whether it is wild or farm-raised.

    • BareBeliever
    • November 9th, 2009

    I had no clue that canned salmon is often wild! in fact, that option never even crossed my mind. For now on I will definitely keep some canned salmon in my cupboard – it’s great for salads, easy to turn into patties or meatballs and ultimately a nice alternative to canned tuna (which I know is often high in mercury and sodium content).

    • humanchick
    • February 13th, 2010

    It’s very easy to tell wild from farm raised salmon- Wild salmon spend their short lives eating krill and swimming like heck to avoid being eaten by other ‘higher on the food chain’ predators such as bigger fish, and especially during spawning season, swimming upstream and avoiding being eaten by otters, bears, etc. who gather to feast while the masses of wild salmon swim by, often in shallower waters. All this exercise produces a lean fish, and due to the krill a much deeper color. Put side by side wild and farmed salmon don’t even look related due to the lower -almost non-existent-to-the-eye fat content of wild salmon. And the flavor is deep and has an almost piquant flavor.

    • Greg Lambert
    • April 28th, 2010

    What a crock. This article is simply inaccurate. As a scientist, i have done the comparisons myself and know the numbers provided in this article are not accurate. The only area that can be debated is taste and that is up to the diner. I personally prefer the taste of farmed but that is my opinion.
    As for PCB’s it is completely dependent on which bodies of water the fish come.
    True, farmed salmon is pigmented but i never hear people complain about the dyes used in Coke or Pepsi.
    Many studies have been conducted and the fats listed in this article do not jive with multiple studies. I susoect the author of this article has an issue with farmed salmon and is trying to spread misconceptions.

      • Pays to Live Green
      • April 28th, 2010

      I am in no way trying to spread misconceptions. I just don’t feel it’s right that farm salmon needs to be feed food so that the color of it’s flesh matches that of wild. Also, Just because people don’t complain about dyes in products doesn’t make it good for us to eat. So many products we eat have tons of preservatives and products that are not good for us, but people still eat them.

      There are also environmental impacts by keeping large amounts of fish in such a small place. Your point about PCB’s is actually off. The reason for the high PCB levels has more to do with the feed they eat and the high levels of fat these fish have. PCB’s are in high concentration in the fish feed they eat and the high levels of fat allows for easier storage of the chemical.

      Farmed salmon is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s done sustainably, while not be detrimental to our health. At the moment, many are not and people should be aware of that. If we come up with a more sustainable way to farm salmon, I am all for it.

    • Sam Martinez
    • June 14th, 2010

    I found out the difference the other day when i went to Meijer and paid $20 /lb when I would normally pay far less at at Country Market. Though I was shocked at the price difference I was also shocked at how RED the more expensive meat was; it looked like a beef steak and it had a much more distinct, and better, flavor to it. I also noticed that it retained more of its natural juices when I cooked it on the grill that the other more light pink-colored salmon I was used to buying.

    I will now always opt to pay the higher price for salmon.

    • Greg Lambert
    • December 9th, 2010

    Yes PCB’s do come from the food an animal eats but essentially that is dependant on the body of water. Farmed fish have far better Feed Conversion Ratios than their wild cousins and some companies are below the 1kg of fish meal/oil to create 1kg of muslce. Wild salmon are close to 3 and even 5 to 1 depending on the species and habitat.
    Again, if you prefer wild salmon that is fine, just make sure you prefer it for the right reasons. Wild salmon is simply not able to meet consumer demand and thus farmed salmon must make up the difference.
    Also the pigments used in feeds to give the orange color is chemically identical to the pigments wild fish consume in their diets.
    Are you also concerned with the large amounts of fish in one place during spawnign season in the wild? Funny how the decomposing bodies of Pacific Salmon in the wild are considered “good nutrients” but areas near farmed pens are demonized.

    Where i live, Farmed Salmon is available fresh year round vs wild salmon seasonally and mostly of the frozen variety creating a large fuel footprint. Humans have evolved from those who chase food to those who raise it as a matter of need and efficiency.

    • Fishdude
    • January 29th, 2014

    75% of salmon consumed in the u.s is farm raised in fact. many of the points on this article are wrong and apparently made up to support wild over farm raised. to make a long story short if humans hadnt started farm-raising salmon there would be no salmon. they would be extinct from over harvesting and man made damns making it impossible for them to return to their breeding grounds. look into more then just this one source before making your minds up about an important issue.

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