The Green List: Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon

Alaskan Wild Caught Salmon:
Pacific salmon are comprised of 5 different species of the Salmonidae family: Chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye. Salmon are short-lived, andrelease large quantities of eggs while spawning, creating a high reproductive rate. They spawn in freshwater but live the majority of their lives at sea, returning to their river of birth to spawn, then die. Chinook salmon can grow up to 4 feet in length and weigh up to 110 pounds.

Commercial fishing for salmon began in the 1860s with the advent of canning salmon on the Sacramento River. Due to habitat damage from the construction of dams, logging, and water diversions as well as overfishing, the decline of harvests in the US has been accelerating since the 1990s. Freshwater habitats in Alaska however, do not face the damming, deforestation and development impacts of those in California and Oregon, and remain relatively pristine and.

In contrast to salmon that are caught in California and Oregon, those harvested in Alaska have been augmented by large hatchery operations and appear to be in good health. The equipment used to fish for salmon, usually hook and line, or set gillnets, is highly selective, and bycatch is extremely low because the fish is reeled in as soon as it is hooked, allowing any unintended catch to be released. However, in the Alaska troll fisheries it can still occasionally be a problem.

The establishment of fishery councils, and salmon’s designation as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, has made Pacific salmon one of the most intensively managed fisheries in the world. A certain percentage of salmon must pass upriver to spawn before the fishery is opened each year. Many runs are also supported by the release of hatchery fry and smolts. Pacific salmon can be found year found, but may vary according to season and region. The most common species of Pacific salmon are pink and sockeye from Alaska.

Although salmon species vary in taste, size and weight, they all have an excellent, mild taste that becomes firm when cooked. The meat is a reddish-orange color that turns pink when cooked, depending on the species. They are excellent to bake, poach, grill, broil, or smoke. Try this delicious salmon and pepper recipe from Barbara MacGillivray.

Farmed Salmon: Farmed salmon are typically Atlantic salmon imported from Chile and Canada, with a small percentage raised in the US. Those that are farmed in open pens or net pens in open water can pose extreme risks to other fish and the environment from water pollution, fish escapes and disease. Farmed salmon that operate in open seas can promote diseases and ectoparasites that can affect other wild salmon in the area. The waste from farmed salmon and the amount of uneaten food can accumulate on the seafloor and affect habitats throughout the water column. There are also significant chemicals and pesticides that are given to farmed salmon to treat diseases and sea lice, which can impact local species, as well as affect the levels of PCBs in the fish.

Salmon pens in the pacific northwest are often situated near rivermouths, where sea lice from the pens infects the next generation of young salmon as they migrating out of rivers, swimming past the pens toward the open ocean.

Because of all of the above concerns, the only farmed salmon that can be considered sustainable are those that are farmed in closed tank systems away from the ocean or streams. In closed-tank systems there is no interaction between the farmed fish and the external environment. Tank-based systems also take precautions surrounding treatment of water, removing wastes or pollutants before discharge.

Every pound of salmon farmed requires 3 pounds of feed, which comes from other species of fish. Coho salmon only require 1.2 pounds of feed per pound produced, a much better ratio, and in some cases fishmeal has been replaced by plant-based ingredients. Other fish species like catfish or tilapia, that require little or no fishmeal feed are much more sustainable.

Because of variation in farming practices, it is difficult for restaurants and customers to know what farmed salmon is actually sustainable. If you do not know the method of farming it is recommended you avoid it and choose Alaskan wild caught salmon.

Otherwise there are some other excellent fish choices out there, including rainbow trout, which is extremely similar to the taste of salmon.

Back to Blog »

Go Top