Food activists vs. farmed fish: who’s right? Reply

My go-to meal when dining out is broiled salmon with a side of rice and some veggies.  Add a glass of pinot noir, and I’ve got a healthful and tasty meal.

The food activists, however, are eager to tell me that I am overloading on PCB’s, mercury, and antibiotics, particularly if – as is usually the case – the fish was raised in a tank or a pen rather than caught in the open ocean.  Farmed salmon is one of those food commodities that the food busybodies love to hate.

“Wild-caught” is as important to fish, in their view, as “organic” is to any terrestrial food.

Farmed or wild-caught?

Farmed or wild-caught?

Farm-raised fish is evil as far as Mike Adams, a.k.a. “The Health Ranger,” and numerous bloggers are concerned.

“Fish farming (is) killing off native species; boycott farmed salmon before it’s too late!” screams a post on Adams’ website.

Too late.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, about two-thirds of the salmon eaten by Americans every year is farm-raised.  Most of it is imported from Norway, Chile, or Canada.

Science, fortunately, has debunked the scare stories about farmed salmon.  Harvard professors have estimated that that the health benefits of eating salmon far outweigh any risk from PCB contamination, for example.  EPA, FDA and the Institute of Medicine have all found the risk from mercury in fish is so hard to pin down that they can’t recommend any limits on seafood consumption by adults.

But there is always the hipster appeal of paying more for wild-caught.  It makes the buyer feel good and it tastes better, right?

Not so fast.  The Washington Post recently staged a blind taste test, with several of its food writers, local chefs, and a seafood wholesaler sampling ten brands of salmon, ranging from the humble $6 per pound frozen, farmed fish from Costco to some fancy $20 per pound wild-caught varieties.

The winner?  You guessed it – the inexpensive stuff from Costco.

“Farmed salmon beat wild salmon, hands down,” the Post reported.  In fact, of the ten fish tested, the top five were farmed.  (Details at

The tasters expected to be able to tell the wild fish from the farmed product, but couldn’t.  “None stood out and said, ‘Buy me,’ ” sighed a chef.

One flavor the tasters liked was the tang imparted by the 4 percent salt solution used to pack the Costco fish.  Is it cheating to add a little salt to fish?  Well, no – the Japanese do it all the time, especially for sushi, one of the chefs noted.  Costco’s Norwegian fish farmers are just enhancing their product a little bit.

To me, the bottom line for consumers is simple:  buy what you like.  If you are just looking for some nice fish for dinner, and you have a Costco membership, grab it there.  Otherwise, shop around for the best price.  If you really think buying wild-caught salmon will help save the world, go ahead.  Just don’t kid yourself that you’re getting a safer or better-tasting fish.

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