Salmon: Wild versus Farmed

There is nothing like the beauty of Alaska, fishing quietly – if you think you know Zen you don’t til you are here

Growing up in the salmon capital of Alaska, Ketchikan, where many made their living as commercial fisherman, it is easy to understand why I would have a bias toward wild salmon caught from Alaska. It wasn’t always that way – in fact, growing up I hated salmon – but that is another story. For now, lets skip my love affair with the most amazing food in the world.

Complete with the prejudice came the propaganda about farmed salmon – and armed with those it was easy to think that there was only one real salmon to enjoy – the lovely, albeit expensive wild Alaska salmon.

Perhaps it was the skills with a knife I learned with salmon that led me to be a surgeon

Then in eastern Ontario my family wanted salmon for dinner. The salmon in the grocery store looked lovely – it was fresh, smelled like the ocean, had great color, and was 1/3 the price of what I would pay for salmon in the states.

The first night- grilled salmon – prepped it simply with seasoning, pepper, and some lemons. Thinking I would only have a bite or two, I was surprised by the flavor of it: fresh tasting, as if it had been caught only a few hours before. The balance of the lemons gave the oily nature of the fish a foil, and the simple salmon was consumed almost to the bone.

Two nights later I noticed that the grocery store had salmon on a cedar plank – for $7 per serving (six ounce serving), and nicely placed on the plank which was soaked from the fish. Placed on the grill and watching the lovely soaked cedar give up smoke that would gently flavor the fillet. The smell of the cedar smoke reminded me of planked salmon in Alaska.

Anxious to try the first bite, afraid to get my hopes up too high – the salmon was delicious. Not a king flavor, more of a cross between a red and a silver – but salmon.

When the veil of prejudice lifts, one begins to investigate the propaganda to see if those old “assumptions” have any merit.  The first didn’t; the fish tasted great.

Common Myths About Farmed Salmon

(1) That farming practices cause negative environmental impact. They can – the usual one listed is that the large biomass of salmon raised in the pens – meaning lots of salmon poop in an area. If anyone has seen the salmon run in Alaska, the biomass of salmon is larger than the amount of salmon in a pen. Somehow Mother Nature recovers from the five wild runs up the smallest creeks. The other is the concern about the feed that isn’t consumed by the fish and falls to the bottom of the ocean. The filter feeders are happily consuming leftovers, much as they always do.

(2) They use artificial colors to make them pink. They don’t use red dye number two – they use the same beta-carotene that the wild salmon pick up from the crustaceans they eat. No difference

(3) Some escape from the pens and will compete with wild salmon. Some do, but even when British Columbia tried to introduce the Atlantic salmon to their waters in the 1920’s they were unsuccessful. The Atlantic salmon dont live there.

(4) Sea lice infect the farmed fish and then become a problem for native fish fry. The sea lice come from native stocks, and if found in farm raised salmon are eliminated with antibiotics. They do not endanger the native salmon hatchlings

(5) They use antibiotics to help salmon grow – producing a risk of antibiotic resistant organisms in people. First, they dont, and second – the bacteria that infect fish are not the same that infect humans. While land animals have been the source of many outbreaks of infectious disease between humans, the fish are too far removed on the evolutionary scale. The antibiotics used are not ones that would be used in humans or land animals.

(6) They are genetically modified – well, not yet, and even if they are bred to grow larger faster, this is still not an issue for humans.

(7) They have high levels of PCBs . They no longer do – they did ten years ago, but the feed has changed and levels now are equivalent to wild salmon – and continue to decline. In addition there is no increase in mercury or other industrial pollutants.

Atlantic farm-raised salmon have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. They are a lean protein, and a great source of micronutrients for humans. The levels of industrial pollutants.

The salmon is available year round, it is inexpensive.

This is the Copper River Rip Off – gouging people for the wild Alaskan Salmon. This weekend, when it doesn’t sell it will be half the price.

Hard to change the mind of an Alaska Native — but salmon speaks

Tonight’s dinner- a lovely salmon with pineapple glaze (because I’m fancy)

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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  1. Cam Dean says:

    Did you copy and paste your facts, misinformation is deadly. You live in Arizona and you have found a taste for environment unfriendly fish. Lets try your Facts out — lets grab 10 million animals from the African Savannah, not native to Arizona ( you posted false facts Atlantic salmon are being raised in the pacific ocean, its happening beside my house) lets put them in flimsy cages and hope they don’t escape!! lets hope for no crazy storms ever!! Oh coastal waters are prime storm areas well O.K, just a few million escape, my coastline is 27,000 km long what could be the problem, the farmed fish they would not compete for the same food, they would just travel back to where they get they got food at a restaurant that had served them so well, well it doesn’t work that way. I’m Sorry. (wow your facts are off) How would you like it if your native population of animals had to compete with an invader (Australia Cane Toads, feral cats & goats, Most tropical islands Rats and pigs) — they use antibiotics its in there food wrong again.. Where did you get your information? How about where do these fish defecate, most salmon travel freely therefore their crap doesn’t combine like a kitty litter box. This is exactly what happens in fish farms they crap so much it kills the ocean bottom, its nothing but a desert in one of the most alive water ecosystems we have in our world, so now the fish are competing for food and destroying the ocean native plants and fish crabs shellfish that live under and around massive amount of poop. Take a dump every day in your garden see how it turns out. Now my personal favourite, your biggest false fact, Sea lice. they place these Fish Farms directly outside of rivers that the native salmon run up and mate, the salmon fry’s come down and pass these farms cause they have to its an inlet they have no choice. While the farmed fish are trapped in there cages millions of them they produce sea lice at a extreme rate, it kills many of them, trying to get an accurate account of how many wild salmon fry are killed I would say 10x the amount it only takes a single sea lice to kill a young fry or debilitate it (easy prey). This can be avoided, sure it will be harder and more expensive We as people should care enough to make this happen. These fish farms are now being looked at by NAFTA for breaking the environmental act 3 governments signed (even my Canadian government asked them to be moved from fish spawning area’s but money talks) I love that you tell people to eat healthy , this is needed with a fast food nation. But copy and paste from a pro fish farm website, It will do more harm than good. We may have to pay a bit more but a sustainable future is better than no future at all.

  2. Dr. Terry Simpson says:

    Born and Raised in Alaska – thank you.
    No evidence if the fish escape they can live in the Northwest – the BC government tried that years ago- and it didn’t work. Last year there were reports of 144 fish that were not Pacific salmon – unless you have reports of more, and that is from BC
    When you see a salmon run – as I did, and do yearly – it is millions of salmon – and to say that because they travel freely ignores that when they spawn they are going into the river.
    The fish farms are 12 miles from any river outlet. The farms are inspected for sea lice once a week. If there is a lice infestation they are treated with medicine in their food- an anti-lice medicine, which often people call an anti-biotic.
    With aquaculture as with agriculture and heliculture there will be challenges that are met – always will be. Some of what you cite were old challenges that have been met, and dealt with.
    Sustainable- Alaska only produces 25 million salmon a year- that is not enough to feed a hungry planet.
    And yes- the farms should be monitored to make certain they are not polluting or causing a problem. They should never be given a free pass.
    I don’t copy and paste- thank you –
    I agree with concerns- but want real information, not just old information re-hashed.

  3. Grady Kittleson says:

    Thanks Cam, I just read the good Dr’s attempt to validate farmed salmon and was pleased to see your response. Not only is farmed salmon an environmental disaster in the making their product is unhealthy. The majority of farmed salmon contain piscine reovirus, a virus which attacks and damages the heart of the farmed salmon. The concern is that this virus will be passed to the wild stocks creating heart issues that may well impact on the abillity of wild salmon to complete their migratory spawn. Therein lies the environmental disaster in waiting. Meanwhile the diseased farm salmon is sold to the super market without any knowledge as to what effect, if any, the piscine reovirus will have on those consuming farmed salmon. I for one would not consider that a good reason to endorse farmed salmon as a healthy food source.

  4. Terry Simpson MD says:

    This deserves an article- which I shall post but here is the summary: the virus has been found in wild and farmed salmon. The virus does not infect mammalian cells (like people). The diseases as a rise of farming and agriculture that affect humans come from animals and not from fish. Anyone who has seen how wild salmon spawn know that salmon come in close proximity in the wild, much like farm raised – during that time in their life cycle. And the virus has been found in many salmon, but not all who have the virus have the hart inflammation – nor is there definitive evidence that the virus is the cause of that disease – but it is correlated.

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