Farmed Atlantic Salmon Versus Wild and Sustainable Alaska Salmon. Go Wild.

I’ve never reposted content, but I feel inclined to set this piece at the top of the stack again. It’s that important. This post was first seen in 2013 and it is one of the most read pieces on Angler’s Tonic. Nothing has changed. Costco still sells farmed Atlantic salmon from nasty net pens. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec are all in major battles to preserver wild Atlantics. Norway is the problem that it has always been. Give this a read. Do something about it—only eat wild salmon, Alaska-caught being the most sustainable option. Think about buying and eating wild pink salmon instead of kings. Pinks can be found in abundance. Kings are suffering. If not kings, try wild reds/sockeye from Bristol Bay, Alaska. Here’s the read.

I joined a great group of people last Friday night at Jax, a noted seafood restaurant in downtown Denver. It’s a hip kind of place with a raw bar for the post-work, drop-in crowd, and tables scattered around for those who want to go a little bigger and order a full meal. With nine at the table, we fell into the later crowd.

When the menu arrived I noted fresh salmon as an option so I asked the waiter the  standard question that I ask every time salmon is touted on a menu: Is your salmon wild or farmed?

He started in on the, “It’s farmed, fresh, and really good,” angle. I just raised an open palm to him and said, “Stop. Whatever you have to say about it isn’t anything I want to hear and I’ve done my research so I won’t agree with you. You would just be wasting your breath and our time if you continue.”

“But this farmed salmon…,” he continued before, again, I interrupted with an open palm—as in stop! “Where does your Dungeness crab come from?” I asked. I wanted him to know that farmed salmon doesn’t have a place in my diet and there is nothing that he, nor the farmed salmon industry can say to change my mind. I’m that resolute.

Here’s what real, wild Alaska salmon looks like. Note the natural deep red flesh coloration. That is pure health right there, tasty and full of Omega 3.

A little while later the head chef approached our table and I saw him kneeling and speaking with a gal who spearheads the Western Native Trout Trout Initiative. Obviously my words had infiltrated the kitchen. After the chef left our table discussed the horror of farmed salmon. Then the waiter arrived with a notecard that explained the “merrit” of farmed salmon. One line really caught our eyes; it said, We don’t feed drugs to our fish until they become sick. If that isn’t an ultimate indictment of farmed salmon, I don’t know what is.

The notecard didn’t mention which drugs the farmed salmon industry feeds their fish. Nor did it explain that a farmed salmon’s flesh would be a clear color if it were not fueled with artificial dyes. Nor did it say anything about the incarcerated salmon, held in net pens on the coast of British Columbia, that are infecting wild fish with various diseases and fouling once near pristine saltwater. Nor did it mention the same situation in eastern Canada where the “aquaculture” industry is severely threatening the existence of wild Atlantic salmon. In addition it didn’t mention that by serving farmed salmon the restaurant, Jax, was making a clear statement that it doesn’t support wild fisheries, nor the habitat required to propagate wild salmon. By serving farmed salmon they were

Here are wild Alaska salmon fillets ready to go in the oven. No fake coloration here—unlike farmed salmon, wild Alaska salmon gain this coloration naturally from what they eat in the ocean, meaning herring, shrimp, krill, etc. If you were to eat this wonderful salmon every day of your life you would likely be a smart, happy and long-lived person.

saying that the people who rely on wild salmon for their existence, including First Nations people in British Columbia, natives in Alaska, plus all the commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay, Alaska, and elsewhere, aren’t worth anything. And, of course, they were saying that we anglers, who fuel a thriving tourism economy in the Northwest and eastern Canada—that’s largely based on wild salmon and the wild places they require as essential habitat—aren’t worth anything. Ditto for all the animal species that also require the clean, cold water and pristine habitat that salmon rely on. That would be moose, grizzly and black bears, seals, sea lions, foxes, blacktail deer, eagles, herons, otters, mink, wolves, caribou, etc. Basically, Jax was saying they don’t believe in the natural food chain and the wild outdoors.

I have to give Jax’s chef credit, however. As we left the restaurant I garnered his attention for about a minute. He listened as I said, “If you have kids who you want to enjoy the outdoors, and you support wild places and habitat, you’ll take a look at your menu and change from farmed salmon—which pollutes wild fish with disease and parasites and offers no health advantages to your clients—to wild and sustainable Alaska salmon.” I added, “In order to protect the places where salmon exist we have to explain to politicians who implement policy decisions that saving wild salmon and their habitat makes extended economical sense. If you serve farmed salmon you are saying that wild salmon don’t mean a thing and you don’t care if your kids have the outdoors opportunities that we grew up with. Plus,” I concluded, “It makes a lot of sense for you to serve wild Alaska salmon. By doing so you can garner a higher price, a better margin, and you can tout the health benefits of that fish to your clients. They will likely be repeat customers because they’ll understand that Jax took care of their health rather than serving an inferior, unhealthy fish, and that Jax actually cares about the environment and natural systems.”

The chef nodded and said, “I get it. I really do. And we’ll look at the menu and see if there are changes we can make.”

My questions to all of you are these: Do you agree with my position on wild Alaska salmon versus farmed salmon? Do you understand what farmed salmon is doing to our wild fisheries? And, would you stand up like I did and make a statement to every restaurant that serves farmed Atlantic salmon?

I’ll keep you posted on this story and follow up with Jax to see if changes are made. And of note: you can’t walk right down the street from Jax to McCormicks either—their menu offers cedar roasted (farmed) Atlantic salmon. I checked out other restaurants in the Denver area and, unfortunately, I could not find a wild salmon offering, which makes it even more pertinent for Jax to separate themselves from the masses and do the right thing. If  you know of a restaurant in Denver that serves wild Alaska salmon, please let me know and I’ll share that information with our followers.



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40 Responses to Farmed Atlantic Salmon Versus Wild and Sustainable Alaska Salmon. Go Wild.

  1. Mat Trevors says:

    Well done, Greg. I agree 100%. Hopefully the kitchen at Jax comes around, too.

    I’ll admit I’m biased in supporting your opinion: I currently live on the Saint John River & fish on the Nashwaak River in New Brunswick. I’ve seen the effects of the aquaculture industry on wild salmon returns firsthand; as in, we barely have wild salmon returns any more.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Terrifying to think we would lose wild Atlantic salmon to the farm-raised impostors. I fished the Gaspe last fall and fell in love with the landscape and its fish. So much more value in wild fish over time. Here’s hoping we can kill the farmed fish market by telling the truth and letting people know they shouldn’t be eating trash.

  2. todd tanner says:

    I don’t typically order salmon in restaurants. If I’m going to eat salmon, it’s usually stream-side on a remote river over a fresh built fire. But for folks who do want to partake in salmon, either in a restaurant or from the their local grocer or fish market, then wild is the way to go. Why settle for the ersatz route, which is a real problem for our fisheries and far less nutritious, when you can have the real deal? Farmed salmon occupy the same questionable niche as hatchery trout, and we should be doing what we can to protect our fisheries and promote sustainable wild harvest.

  3. Kirk Werner says:

    Totally agree. I’ve been telling my wife for years not to buy farmed fish. It wasn’t until she saw a salmon farm herself that she really appreciated what I’d been trying to convince her of. She was disgusted by the fish stacked shoulder to shoulder in the pen. Then she realized the filth produced and the toll that places on not only wild salmon passing through, but other species that live year-round in those waters. Lord knows what is in the pellets those fish eat…So yeah, stop eating farmed fish because they’re unhealthy for consumption and the environment. Eliminating demand will shut down the operations. Save wild fish by eating them. Yadda yadda yadda.

    • Paddye says:

      Paddye; I am ashamed to say. I am not really a Salmon fan, but I have learned to eat it for the health benefits. I bought a package of two fillets salmon product, 10 oz. skinned and boneless. handy, I didn’t have to handle it much. Just cut the plastic bag and put them on the cookie sheet bake 25 minutes and walla done tasted really good mild flavored two verities. Teriyaki and Citrus. It read- Pre-seasoned Atlantic-Salmon Fillets, the back side read; Ocean-Farmed Atlantic Salmon. here is were stupid came in, after three boxes.( I always wonder) but Not knowing the difference between farmed in the ocean vs farmed in hatcheries were the fish don’t have access to ocean or running fresh water. I guess I thought there maybe a difference. WRONG.. My Grandson went to college in Oregon and took Fish and Game etc. classes BA, Told me never to eat farmed raised fish because of the parasites and worms pollution, etc. Now, with your information I know there is a difference and I will read the packaging more carefully. Thank you for your knowledge and educating me and hopefully others out there.

  4. BobWhite says:

    I have a hard time eating any fish at a restaurant, but particularly so with salmon. I agree with what you did at Jax… and a smart chef or restauranteur would make the move to wild salmon.

    This might be helpful next time you go to Jax.

    This is a model of what can be done. The fellow who runs Fish Smart is Josh Nelson, and I’m sure he’d be happy to discuss what he’s doing… an interview with Josh might make for an interesting addition to your blog.

  5. Geoff says:

    Thanks for adding your voice to the Farmed Atlantic Salmon vs Wild Salmon conversation on this site. As you know I support AT in a few arenas and now I can share it in a few new ones. What ever I can do to help educate the massses count me in.

  6. Matt says:

    Excellent post, Greg. I could not agree more. I have bought a box of wild Bristol Bay sockeye the last couple of years direct from a commercial fisherman. Insanely delicious, insanely healthy, and a model of sustainability — both economically and ecologically. You’re supporting wildness and sustainable jobs (a key reason why so many people are opposed to the proposed nightmare called Pebble Mine). And as a fellow disciple of the mighty Atlantic salmon (having caught a few on both sides of the pond), the farmed Atlantic salmon industry makes me want to vomit. Thanks for the great post on an important topic. I sent your post out on Twitter.

  7. Scott Hed says:

    Thanks for speaking out for wild salmon, Greg. As someone who’s been involved with the Bristol Bay / Pebble Mine campaign for a number of years, this is a huge component of our work. For those of you in Colorado, here are a couple of sources you can contact to see if you can get your hands on some wild Bristol Bay sockeye: Matt Aboussie in Boulder ( and Kaleb Walker in Gypsum ( Both of them are commercial fishermen in Bristol Bay, and they market their fish in Colorado. And I’m pretty sure Whole Foods sells wild salmon in their stores too…

  8. beau purvis says:

    Forget all the taste/color,etc. Farmed salmon are killing our wild salmon smolts as they travel through the huge number of open net fish farms in B.C. with their dreaded sea lice and even worse their terrible spreading disease. Unlike wild salmon, farmed salmon also don’t transport nutrients to the tops of streams and rivers. Therefore, that lack of nutrients effect’s every living plant and animal on our west coast.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Excellent observations. Accurate concerns. The environmental woes are serious. Sea lice infestations, polluting the water … there’s just no sense to the farmed salmon industry. And the politicians who get the kickbacks? They’re just way short sided and greedy.

  9. Daryl says:

    100% agree with your stance, good job.

  10. Natetron says:

    I love wild fresh salmon. I only order salmon if it fits those criteria, but i have heard that only farm raised salmon can be sold if being consumed as sushi grade fish. Is there truth to this?

  11. Marian Stumpf says:

    I agree 100 %. Now to convince an entire nation…well, almost!

  12. Arni Jonsson says:

    Wholeheartedly Greg. I am a firm believer in C&R, and a staunch opponent of aquaculture as it exists today. Even though I am a passionte Salmon angler, I don’t eat salmon or any anadromous fish for that matter.

  13. Jeff Holberg says:

    Completely agree. My first exposure to wild salmon convinced me to always buy it when available. Once I learned more about farm raised, I quit buying it, period. Now I try to spread the word at every opportunity.

  14. Travis says:

    Good question Greg, thanks. I completely agree with your stance on wild vs. farmed fish. I applaud the stance you took in Jax’s. I must be honest though, I don’t buy fish in stores or restaurants, I only eat it when I’m home in AK. I actually stood at Freddy’s today, contemplated buying some fish, then laughed because I knew I wouldn’t do it.

    I have a question for you. Every August we would go to Valdez and take our little boat out into Prince William Sound. I am fairly certain the silvers we would catch were not truly wild or native because they all returned to the hatchery. But I’m even slightly more certain that they are not farmed. They spend their time maturing in the ocean. What are your thoughts on that situation? I know those suckers were healthy, strong, and tasted GOOD! Thanks

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Thanks Travis.
      I’m not sold on hatchery salmon. It’s another excuse to say that wild salmon habitat isn’t worth saving. Plus, dumping hatchery fish into the saltwater increases competition for the food that wild salmon need to grow and survive. Are those hatchery-raised fish healthy? Yes, they are probably pretty healthy having lived their lives largely in saltwater, and not contained in a pen, eating natural food sources. I’d say eat those hatchery silvers without regret. But I do think there is an issue with hatchery production.

  15. chef mike says:

    One thing I would say is there is NO need to ask for fresh wild salmon in January. Wild Alaskan Salmon season starts in May and goes till they hit there quota usually in Sept. I am a chef, and have been doing this for over 15 years. I strongly agree with what you say about protecting the eco system and the fish them selves. I have been to several aquaculture farms over the years and I can tell you that a lot do what you have said, but I can say I have been to a couple that do not as well. My favorite is Skuna Bay. They are the first aqua cultered salmon farm to awarded with the best aquacultural practices certifacation in the salmon field. I strongly advise all to do your research. Alway know what you are ordering.

    Also another thing to take in is wild salmon supplies are projected to decline in 2012. Acording to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). A survey of fishery conditions and available forecasts suggests that 2013 wild salmon production may decline by as much as 30 percent, or 690 million pounds. That also has a huge impact on the envirment. By having aquaculter farms ran the right way can releve the strain we put on the wild salmon.

    Please I mean no disrespect to you Greg. I have great respect for what you feel. I promise you I feel VERY stongly about keeping the envirment the same. I have dedicated a big portion of my life to get as much knowledge as i can to make as little of a mark as i can.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Thank you for your point of view. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. I do have some points to make, however: Fresh salmon is not the issue. I understand the seasons when fresh, wild Alaska salmon is available. By it during that time and be happy. I do argue that flash-frozen Alaska salmon, which can be found all year long and served at any restaurant, is an entirely superior product to farm-raised Atlantic salmon. Frozen wild Alaska salmon doesn’t have growth hormone in it. Frozen wild Alaska salmon has naturally occurring red flesh full of heart-healthy Omega 3. Frozen wild Alaska salmon isn’t raised in a net pen and doesn’t pollute inland waterways like farmed Atlantic salmon does. Frozen wild Alaska salmon does not contribute to massive infestations of sea lice that devour juvenile wild salmon and steelhead.
      Again, fresh is not the issue. A frozen wild Alaska salmon remains a much more sustainable and reasonable source of protein than a farmed Atlantic salmon.
      Also this: I looked at the Skuna Bay site and it says nothing about how their farm-raised Atlantic salmon get red flesh. I have to imagine they it is artificial coloration.
      Regarding a lack of wild Alaska salmon on the market, I don’t believe that is going to be an issue. If we can grow demand for wild Alaska salmon more of it would hit the fresh market and the frozen market and less of it would be canned. All we need to do to have as much wild Alaska salmon as the market demands is to save critical wild salmon habitat.

      I don’t mean any disrespect either, Mike. So, thanks again for participating in the discussion.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      One other thing. You mentioned the 2012 salmon harvest, not the 2013 harvest. It looks like in Bristol Bay, which supplies a lot of the fresh and frozen sockeye market, the run and harvest are expected to be similar to past years, which means plenty of fresh and frozen quality, healthy wild salmon on the market again in 2013.

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  17. Rory says:

    I think that the best way to protect the wild fish is to not eat them. The best way to drive fish farms out of business is to not buy the farmed fish.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Well, we all have to eat. And to keep the politicians interested in protecting vital habitat we have to show monetary return. That’s why the eating thing is important.
      Thanks for the comment Rory. No Fucking Classic, brother. gt

  18. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree! I love reading posts from those who are as passionate about wild Alaskan salmon as I am! You should check out the story I posted on my blog about a visit to a restaurant who had wild salmon on the menu, which turned out to be farmed. It’s called “Temporarily Insane”… Check it out here.
    Anyway – SO GLAD to have found you! Add me to your email list!

  19. I completely agree with you about habitat and salmon conservation. However, its absolutely crazy to think everyone should eat wild salmon. Lets assume that tomorrow everyone in the world shared your opinion magically. Farmed salmon is terrible/the devil (which it is, I dont disagree) and they will only eat wild salmon. Demand would outpace availability instantly and price would go through the roof. You would end up with a bluefin tuna environmental disaster. Salmon would be poached and habitat woud get worse. Fewer salmon would return to spawn and the biomass and nutrients brought from the sea in the dying salmon carcasses would be lost. Sure, if you are well off you can eat wild salmon, grass fed beef and make your point and your “difference” in the world. Its just not sustainable at scale. Maybe advocating for eating tilapia or catfish is the answer maybe its silver carp? I don’t know. But telling the whole world they should be eating the fish you are trying to save sounds crazy to me. Just ask the bluefin tuna how that whole supply and demand thing worked out. Regulation or not, the market can decimate a species and its only sustainable until corruption and greed take over. I’m fine with telling people to not eat farm raised salmon. I know they are full of antibiotics etc. but they can’t be as bad as pink slime or whatever mass produced beef has in it. Our problem is we have too many people with the means to buy meat and no sustainable, healthy and humane way to do it. I’m not a vegetarian and I am struggling with all the same choices everyone else is who cares about the environment. For now, until there is a better alternative, my choice is to not eat the fish I’m trying to save farmed or not. Even though I disagree with you I still value and respect your dedication and desire to save habitat for our children.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      I think there’s a stopping point for all consumption and that is dictated by the price point. I think everyone should eat wild salmon if they can afford to. Buying and eating feedlot Atlantic salmon is bad for everyone—supporting farmed Atlantic salmon means you support environmental catastrophe. Buy wild salmon. Eat wild salmon. Support sustainable fisheries and the future of wild salmon and steelhead in the Northwest and wild Atlantic salmon in the Northeast and elsewhere.

  20. Wayne Hart says:

    Absolutely the Best article i`ve ever read regarding wild salmon versus farmed salmon.Kudos to the author.I sportfish for Atlantic salmon here in Nova Scotia,Canada and I realize how much Farmed salmon is negatively affecting our Wild salmon stocks.If they don`t put a stop to ocean pen raising of salmon it is going to wipe out the wild salmon stocks.If they want to “farm” salmon,then do it on land.The farmed salmon in my opinion,don`t compare in taste to the wild salmon.Instead of consumers gettin all the nutritional benifits of eating salmon the are consuming (probably unknowingly) very unhealthy food.Personally I practice catch and release when fishing for salmon,doin my small part to help the wild stocks, for the future anglers to enjoy.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      Thanks for the props. And thank you for returning wild salmon to the water. In Alaska it’s a little different because some of the runs are super strong and taking some fish out is fine. But, overall, yes, let all wild fish go.

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  23. Tina says:

    I called Junz and Kimono in Parker, CO, both are serving farmed salmon. I used to eat at these places regularly. I started having health problems due to a multitude of bad foods I had been eating. I’m eating very clean, now, and have no source for enjoying one of my favorite foods, salmon shashimi. It’s not an option to go back to how I was eating; my health is vibrant again…a testimony to healthy, organic eating.

    Please advise if anyone finds a place in Denver that is serving or selling wild caught salmon.


  24. Penny Huffman says:

    New to salmon education and find the posting very informative. Last month I tasted the best salmon I had ever eaten. Purchased at Whole-Foods Market. My friend said it was Atlantic Salmon. Question: is there such a thing as fresh Atlantic Salmon? Probably an oversight on my part, but I did not see fresh Atlantic salmon available for purchase. Would like to purchase for myself to cook if possible. Thank you.

    • Greg Thomas says:

      I would expect to win the lottery before getting a wild Atlantic salmon from any store. The only way you might get one is by catching it in Quebec or somewhere else where they still keep them, or buying one of a First Nations person. If you buy it at Costco, Whole Foods, Sams, etc., it is a farmed Atlantic and poison. Stick with wild Alaska salmon if you can.

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  26. Carol says:

    Costco sells wild caught Alaskan Sockeye salmon. It’s individually packed & quick frozen.
    I also buy quick frozen wild caught salmon from Sitka Salmon. Both of these taste delicious.
    Thank you for spreading the word on such an important topic. I will watch for Jax to change the menu before dining there.

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