Monday, March 17, 2008

There is something fishy with salmon.

I don't know about you but I am always very confused when it comes eating salmon.   Should I eat farmed or fresh? Most articles about eating fish publish charts on safe fish and fish to avoid and I find that salmon makes it into both columns.

Last week my friend and I were discussing the issue, because she, like I, is obsessed with food these days. Our list of foods we eat is ever dwindling.  We were wondering what salmon is best for the environment and our health.  Subsequent to our conversation, she called me up to say that she had just read an article in Eating Well Magazine on the fresh vs. farm salmon debate that helped bring some clarity.  

So I quickly grabbed the March/April issue and began to read the article entitled "The Wild Salmon Debate."  The piece was written by David Dobbs, a salmon angler and author of The Great Gulf, about the decimation of the ocean fisheries.  Dobbs is "a sort of salmon-expert-for-the-day." In his article, Dobbs discussed the differences between types of salmon, location caught and farmed vs. fresh. 

Wild salmon today is all from the Pacific. Why? Because the Atlantic salmon are now on the Endangered Species List.  Salmon from the Pacific can be found in Alaska, British Columbia, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.  

All Atlantic salmon species are farmed and live in net pens of tens of thousands of fish. These fish are vaccinated against diseases because they live in crowded confinement and fed fish pellets of food and additives to make their flesh pink like their wild fishy friends in the Pacific. 

As Dobbs reports, "Farmed salmon holds about 2 to 10 times the levels of PCBs, DDT, dioxins, pesticides, mercury and some other suspected carcinogens that most wild salmon do, apparently because the rich meal they eat contains bits of oily fish in which these contaminants tend to concentrate." These levels are still low (relatively) and that the benefits of eating salmon out way the cost of these contaminants unless you are pregnant, nursing or young. 
However, as he points out, there is a bigger picture to the farmed salmon. Farming salmon is wreaking havoc on the environment.  With the expansion of farmed salmon, there appears to be more and more problems emerging.  Many of the fish escape and disrupt the spawning of the wild salmon.  Sea lice that have infested farms are now spreading to wild populations killing many wild salmon.

Dobbs concludes that wild salmon is the way to go. It may be seasonal, inconsistent in taste and more expensive, but these trade offs are small in the whole scheme of things.

So I thought I was set.  Wild salmon was all my family would eat.  But then last week the Pacific Fishery Management Council stated that the wild salmon in the Pacific West fisheries, were at an all time low.  The managers are discussing cancelling the early seasons of ocean fishing for chinook salmon off the coast of Oregon and Northern California because of a collapse in stock. 

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle on March 12th, "only 63,900 fall run salmon were documented spawning in the Sacramento River in 2007, far below the 122,000 to 189,000 objective the council had set."  And to make matters worse, the number of jacks (two year old fish that return to the river to spawn) are at an all time low. Frighteningly, officials expected 157,000 jacks but only counted 6,000.

So now I was really in a tizzy. First I moved my family to eating more fish. Then, only wild salmon. Now, heck, what am I supposed to do? The salmon stocks in the Northwest are collapsing, I can't figure out which way is up.  So stealing a line from Dr. Suess, one fish, two fish, red fish, who knew fish?  

So I decided to contact Dobbs and get his take on the issue. Dobbs, who in addition to writing for Eating Well and other outlets, writes his own blog called Smooth Pebbles where he covers various health issues. 

He explained to me that this truly is a confusing issue. "To make it easy, just think Wild Alaskan Salmon -- these are Pacific salmon but unlike Pacific Northwest salmon, the Alaskan salmon have habitat undamaged by dams (which are doing in many salmon) and are extremely well-managed so that they are not overfished."

Dobbs told me he considers farmed salmon disastrous and the only salmon he eats is wild Alaskan.  And now so do I.

So next time I go shopping, I'm looking for the mukluks on my fish.


Jen said...

Melissa - Great Post! I've been confused about this topic and you've given me the gift of clarity, with a bit of humor at the end...thank you!

cog4444 said...

Thank you for clearing up the salmon issues. We will only buy Alaskan Wild Salmon! If you can't find it at your local market, door to door organics gets it directly from Alaska and will deliver it with the organic veggies. Also, while we are on the fish issue, I heard that togol chunk light tuna is better than albacore because they are smaller fish and have less mecury. Whole foods carries it.

Anonymous said...

as a former ak fisherman and seafood lover i'd like to let you know there are many different types of pacific wild salmon, coho, silver, sockeye, kings, pinks the list goes on. and some of these are now living in the great lakes on the "wild" atlantic salmon that are now in the pacific from escaping from farms, (sneeky bastards) they all taste diferent and a many people from the pacific NW will inly eat one. I wont tell you which one bcuz it will only drive theprice up.

but to chek out what is "safe" go to

hope this helps