April 10, 2018 -

A couple years ago, salmon surpassed tuna as the most popular fish in the United States. Atlantic salmon is also extremely popular in Canada. Doctors have told us to eat more of it; our fitness and diet regimens have put it in heavy menu rotation.  Since wild Atlantic salmon are not fished commercially, the only way to satisfy consumer demand is through salmon farming. 

The problem is not all farmed Atlantic salmon is created equal. More than 90 percent of the fresh Atlantic salmon eaten in the USA and Canada comes from giant fish farms that are located in ocean waters (usually sheltered bays), and those farms have problems. Big ones. There are a few farms that grow Atlantic salmon “the right way”. These farms are located on land and use very large tanks filled with continuously-circulated salt water. The land-based farms are the topic of our next blog posting but for now, here are the facts about those farmed Atlantic salmon that are raised “the wrong way”.

• Large-scale Atlantic salmon farms in the United States, Canada, Scotland, Norway and Chile have attracted large numbers of parasites (marine insects) called sea lice that attach themselves to the fish, causing skin lesions and secondary infections, killing the host or rendering meat inedible. The damage these lice have inflicted has caused Atlantic salmon prices to soar in the past 18 months. To get rid of these parasites, farmers doctor their feed with a pesticide called Slice, or emamectin benzoate, which causes tremors, spinal deterioration and muscle atrophy when administered to rats and dogs.

• Large Atlantic salmon farms also use high levels of antibiotics to treat bacteria that cause lesions and hemorrhaging in infected fish. Why is that bad? Overuse of antibiotics, either in farming or for human medical treatment, speeds up the development of antibiotic resistance.

• Farmed Atlantic salmon are fed pellets made out of fish oil and smaller fish, ground-up chicken feathers, genetically modified yeast, soybeans and chicken fat.

• Wild Atlantic salmon get its lovely rose color from eating krill and shrimp. Farmed Atlantic salmon, because it eats those feed pellets, is grey. To make it more appetizing to consumers, farmers add dyes to their feed.

• Studies show that farmed salmon contains up to eight times more PCBs — cancer-causing industrial chemicals that were banned in 1979 — than wild, as well as high levels of mercury and dioxins from herbicides like Agent Orange.

• We’ve all heard that omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for nervous system, heart and brain health. Omega-3 in fish are derived from plants like algae, leaves and grass. Because farmed Atlantic salmon are fed a lot of soy, they are high in omega-6, which you don’t want: Omega-3 fights inflammation while omega-6 promotes it.

• Then there are environmental concerns: pollution from fish excrement and uneaten feed; farms releasing diseases to wild fish stocks; escapees unwittingly released into the wild where there are no natural populations and then outcompeting native fish populations.

Next Up: How to Raise Atlantic salmon “the right way”

Sources: Seafood Watch, Washington State Department of Health, healthline.com, watershed-watch.org