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The truth about ‘wild caught’ salmon.

July 26, 2012

Did you know that sometimes… labels lie? (Don’t all keel over at once).


Well, they do. Frequently. Incessantly. It’s quite insulting really, to be fooled by a small, colourful piece of plastic.

But unfortunately, being the innately trusting and good-seeking citizens that we are, we fall prey to this repeated attack on our intelligence.

Especially when things are labeled so sneakily, so bloomin’ abstractly, that we could never be expected to decipher their true meaning.

Let’s look at a case study; one that’s been on my radar lately as I tried to make nice, wholesome choices about the kind of seafood I consumed. (For, when I’m not knee-deep in frigid glacial waters grabbing at Salmon like a deranged gollum, I’m forced to purchase it from the store). Despite my best efforts to buy ‘wild caught’ fish, it seems that this little detail is up for creative interpretation.


This is the image that comes to mind when we see ‘Wild Caught’ emblazoned on the package of a pink, juicy-looking piece of Salmon. However the reality may be more akin to…



Seriously. Salmon can be labeled as ‘Wild’ EVEN IF they’ve been bred and raised in a hatchery – the fishy loop hole? They’re released for a time, to mingle and froth about with their untamed counterparts, only to be recaptured and stamped with the seal of wild approval. Charming. These fish are giving everyone a lesson in English – inhabiting every definition of the word “caught”.

Why should we be hung up on such a technicality? Surely if the farm-raised fish have at least been given the opportunity to fulfil all their scaly dreams, swimming in the open water, inflating their gills with pride as they flirt briefly with freedom…surely this counts for something?

Kinda. It’s swell that they can finally gorge on natures bounty as opposed to the protein pellets they were fed being raised. But the implications of these beginnings linger on into adulthood.

…many to most “wild” salmon actually spend half their lives in hatcheries before being released. While these quasi-wild fish are a better nutritional deal than fully farmed salmon, they still bear the burdens of early exposure to toxins (dioxin, PCBs, etc.) and a less impressive omega 6:3 ratio.

Read more:

How do they become so nutritionally inferior? Like humans, early diet can inform the lifelong health of a fish. And when that early diet consists of protein pellets stuffed with concentrated fish goo, concentrated toxins from that fish goo, antibiotics (to defend against lice), flame retardants, pesticides, copper sulfate (to oppose algal blooms) and unnatural pigments to make the salmon appear a healthy shade of pink (canthaxanthin), there’s reason to hesitate before ordering seconds of sashimi.

I am in the throes of writing a proper (hopefully publishable!) article about this issue, featuring a wonderful interview with the founder/director/enviro-superhero David Cost-Chretian of Australia’s The Canadian Way Salmon suppliers…so i’ll spare everyone the verbose, 2000 word original. BUT! I wanted to share my own preliminary findings on the whole dilemma.

Because it IS a dilemma. One we shouldn’t ignore.

Not only is it incredibly uncool of companies to label fish so deceptively, there are more unpleasant sides to fish farming than meets the gills.

Cop this:

  • Salmon that are raised in hatcheries, then released, actually strain the local ecosystem, gobbling up finite fishy resources and crowding out local, native populations.
  • Those bred and hatched in farms possess ‘inferior’ DNA, thanks to limited breeding stock and a delicious case of inter-familial-sexytime. Or, inbreeding. If they’re romping about in the wild, spreading their slightly-slow genetic code, what are the risks for the true robust Salmon of the wilderness?

And don’t even get me started on fully farmed fish. Ones that don’t even bother with the ‘wild caught’ label; often flaunting a ‘sustainable’ logo to try to make cramming 90 000 fish into a 10×10 meter pen sound remotely healthy. Actually, do get me started. It’s rather enlightening.

  • It’s claustrophobic, living amongst herd of 90 000 fish in a tiny ocean pen. (And yes, i’m changing the collective noun ‘school‘ to ‘herd‘. More dramatic). These insanely close quarters lead to a host of problems such as rampant sea lice, monumental excrement, plague-like diseases and scaly gang rape (imagine being the sole lady amongst 89 000 virile man-fish!).
  • Not only do these unnatural concentrations of fish cause the above issues, they also damage local ecosystems and salmon breeding cycles. According to David, many farms are situated at the mouths of rivers. As the young salmon, not yet old enough to have proper scales, swim past the farms on their way out of the river into open water, they are attacked by a swarm of sea lice – they don’t stand a chance without adequate armour. This decimates wild populations and causes horrific deaths for innocent and (I imagine, heartbreakingly cute) baby Salmon.
  • Did you know that ALL Atlantic Salmon is farmed? Incredible! It’s so fetishised, marketed as the gold-standard Salmon, like a rare and pricey jewel. Not so! It’s certified, intensively farmed, shonky sushi.
  • And the biggest shocker of all – it takes 4kg of fish products to make 1kg of farmed fish. What a wasteful, resource-draining practice.


This all leaves us in a bit of a bind, for I’ll be the first to admit that it’s rather tricky to navigate the muddy waters of seafood labelling.

I have the following suggestions:

  1. Question your produce. This is a blanket rule for everything we consume – being a nutritional sleuth is now a prerequisite for successful supermarket expeditions. Get online, check out the cred of the company, heck, harass them if you have to! It’s worth it to feed your money to deserving parties.
  2. Check out The Canadian Way salmon suppliers. A company with incredible integrity and attention to detail, they are now my main trusted source of glorious, unadulterated sockeye salmon. Other good picks include Vital Choice, Fish for Ever and Safcol if you’re after some quality canned varieties.
  3. Peruse local fish markets; you can then chat to the suppliers first hand and cast a discerning eye over the offerings. Try the Sydney Fish markets if you’re in the area.
  4. Don’t buy Atlantic Salmon! Now you know the depressing truth; it’s all farmed.
  5. Download the Sustainable Seafood App for your iPhone or iPad to help you wade through the best & worst options. Ethical choices at the touch of a finger. (And it’s free).

How do you source happy seafood?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2012 3:52 pm

    Wild planet and crown prince natural are two American companies that do excellent canned fish in Bpa free tins. ….although I may stop buying their salmon products until I investigate further.

    Tis a conundrum though as I am all for buying local yet like to ship in my tins of fish….not so good for the Eco savvy chick that I am!

    I am massively disappointed that tinned Atlantic salmon is actually farmed. Such a shame as most wild caught salmon is rather cost prohibitive. Lucky I adore sardines. Delicious in marinara sauce with a side of sauerkraut for breakfast. Odd…but tasty!

    • Catie permalink*
      July 26, 2012 8:47 pm

      Thanks for the recommendations Holly – haven’t heard of the companies doing BPA free. Excellent!

      And I am totally on the sardine/sauerkraut wavelength…those babies are endlessly, odd-ball-ish-ly versatile!

  2. July 27, 2012 1:27 pm

    I love salmon but have resigned myself to the fact that I must stop eating it as it is all farmed in my area, and that eating it will have negative health benefits rather than the wonderful fishy nutrients.. How sad :(

  3. Nicky permalink
    August 7, 2012 8:17 am

    This was a very interesting read. Thank you.

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