As a wild merman, I tend to get asked this question a lot: “Should I be eating wild caught salmon or is farmed salmon better?” Now I was raised by the tribal merfolk to hunt and feast on our ocean’s bounty, during a time when there was no farmed salmon. But a lot has changed since my mer-baby days, and the modern-day food landscape is vast with options. So when it comes to farm raised or wild anything, there are many factors that contribute to which one is better.
To help answer this question, let’s break down the term “better” into three different questions: Which fish is healthier for me? Which fish is better for the environment? And which fish tastes better?
Which fish is healthier for me?
At the Merfolk University, we learn that salmon are considered one of the healthiest proteins on the planet due to their rich, long chain omega-3 fatty acids. But don’t take the merman’s word for it. Research has shown that omega-3’s help decrease inflammation, lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Not enough? Check out these 17 science-based omega-3 health benefits.
So how does the nutrition differ between farm raised and wild caught salmon? To keep it simple, let’s compare the most beneficial components of salmon: protein, fat, omega-3s, omega-3:6 ratio, vitamin B12, selenium, and niacin.
1/2 fillet (198g)
WILD SALMON: These numbers can vary widely depending on the species, where they’re caught, and what time of year they’re caught. But perhaps the most important determinant of salmon nutrition is its food source. Wild salmon mostly eat small fish, krill, shrimp, plankton, and algae. They also swim freely in their natural environment, which may influence their overall health.
FARM RAISED SALMON: The nutritional profile of farm raised salmon also depends on its food source, which varies from farm to farm and country to country. For example, one farm can be feeding their salmon a grain mixture high in corn and soy, which may lead to a fatty profile higher in omega-6's (linked to inflammatory diseases), while another farm may feed their salmon a grain-free fishmeal diet consisting of fish oil, krill, and other ground fish (higher in healthy omega 3-'s). It may be difficult to know what a farm raised fish was fed at your local grocery store- but the Merman would say: always investigate.
Another factor that varies from farm to farm is contaminants in the water. These poisonous compounds, PCBs, dioxins, and chlorine, lead to higher concentrations in farmed salmon due to the quality of their feed. Some states are addressing this concern by placing regulations on farms, which have resulted in lower contaminant levels in the fish.
Bottom Line: Wild and farm raised salmon have similar protein and fat contents. Farmed salmon can have much higher levels of contaminants, and omega-6 fats, which may offset the health benefits of omega-3s. On the contrary, wild salmon has a much better omega3:6 ratio, and generally has more minerals and vitamins. Most people believe that adding fish to your diet, either wild or farmed, is better than not eating any at all. But until the science shows otherwise, the merman crew will continue to source sustainably caught wild salmon for it’s delicious jerky!
Which fish is better for the environment?
From a macro perspective, this question is the same as the one before. Doesn’t the health of our environment determine the health of all species, including humans? One of the main pillars of the Merfolk culture is the belief that everything is connected. So let’s dive a little deeper here...
WILD SALMON are a keystone species. That means they play an integral role in the health and survival of many other species, including bears, eagles, whales, sea otters, humans, merfolk, coastal redwoods. Wild salmon have been endangered by over-fishing, habitat destruction, warming waters, and other stresses that put the future of salmon at risk. There is no question that without the wild salmon, many other species would be at serious risk.
So does that mean we shouldn’t eat wild salmon? No, instead we should make sure we are getting our wild salmon from a reliable source. Thankfully, many wild salmon fisheries are protected, including the entire state of Alaska where science-based quotas help ensure a sustainable catch every season. Other fisheries are certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). And the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch has a boatload of information on sourcing sustainable seafood.
FARMED SALMON are raised in closed pens either on land, ocean, or rivers. Currently, farm raised fish are fed cheap grains like corn and soy, or fish meal which requires a very extensive industry of fishing and processing smaller fish.
Perhaps one of the biggest risks of farmed salmon, or any farm raised animal, is the use of antibiotics and growth hormones. Forcing animals to live in confined spaces and treating them inhumanely, results in diseased and stressed animals, which then require antibiotics. These chemicals enter the fish and the surrounding waterways, threatening the health of wild salmon at the same time. The fish poop surrounding a farm can kill much of the surrounding aquatic life. No mermaid I know would swim near one of these farmed pens. Check out this Oceana article on how farmed salmon harm wild salmon and the environment.
There are several arguments in favor of farm raised salmon. One is that it’s closer to market, which means lower transportation cost and pollution. However, once you factor in their fish meal requirements, the farmed salmon’s carbon footprint suddenly becomes a big problem. There are some pretty cool research projects out there trying to raise insects to feed farmed fish, but their viability is yet to be seen. The other major argument in favor of farmed salmon is that it provides a lower cost option for a growing population that demands more animal protein.
Bottom Line: If you choose wild salmon, make sure it’s coming from a sustainable fishery like Alaska or has an MSC certification. If you choose farmed salmon, we recommend finding a supplier such as Whole Foods who are now offering sustainably farmed salmon.
Which fish tastes better?
Unfortunately, you aren’t likely to find a consistent answer on this one. There are so many factors that contribute to how a fish will taste: how it was harvested, how it was handled, how it was stored, it’s fat content, how it was cooked, how it was seasoned, and the list goes on. We will say that starting with fresh fish from a store or fishmonger you trust will go a long way in the flavor department.
If you’re not a fan of the taste of salmon, some people find that farm raised salmon have a milder flavor. This is most likely due to the diet of farmed fish, since they aren’t necessarily eating other fish, they themselves won’t taste like a fish.
Bottom Line: Taste is relative. But, which ever type of salmon you eat, wild or farmed, make sure you are getting it from a sustainable source.