I spent some time at Safeway this evening reviewing the various salmon products available to a small mountain town consumer in Colorado. Surprisingly, there were at least 19 salmon products that I was able to find on the shelves. Not bad for one of the most landlocked spots in the USA! The options ran the gamut from canned farmed Atlantic salmon to flash-frozen wild caught Alaskan sockeye. What’s the enviro-friendly shopper to do? Let’s take some of the mystery out of shopping for salmon. I’ve ranked the following list based on my arguably subjective assessment of sustainability, cost, health benefits, and taste.
Sustainability ranks first. If a food item is not sustainably produced, you should think twice before buying it. In terms of sustainability, I have given preference to Alaskan wild caught salmon. The Alaskan wild salmon fishery has been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.1 Farmed salmon suffer on the sustainability front, as the presence of farms does tremendous harm to local wildlife.
Distance of travel is germane to the sustainability discussion; salmon traveling to Denver from Juneau voyage under 2,000 miles to my table, whereas a Chilean farmed salmon makes a 5,000 migration from the net to the grocery store. More fossil fuels consumed equals less sustainable.
Manner of preservation also factors in. In my opinion, frozen salmon is least sustainable, followed by refrigerated fresh salmon, then canned salmon. Cans need no refrigerated trucking, and can be recycled! Fresh, locally caught salmon would be the most sustainable option, but is one that we sadly lack in Estes Park.
Health benefits are important to note. Salmon is all-the-craze right now because of the beneficial effects of high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. In terms of omega-3, each salmon species generally provides different levels of omega-3s. According to NAMI, Atlantic farmed salmon provides the most omega-3s per serving, followed in decreasing order by Chinook, pink, sockeye, coho, chum, and smoked salmon. By way of comparison, only anchovies and some mackerel provide more omega-3 per serving than even chum salmon.2 I also understand that farmed salmon tend to be higher in mercury and PCBs (carcinogenic flame-retardant chemicals) than wild caught fish.3, 4, 5
Taste is probably the most subjective qualification for any food item. I mean, some people enjoy tripe, liverwurst, or even vegemite. As a vegetarian, I have avoided all but locally caught fish for the last five years…so my opinions on this matter are relatively useless. I enjoyed salmon cakes in my fish eating days, though. Moreover, unscientific polling of my friends, relatives, and the butcher at Safeway have led me to believe that wild caught Alaskan salmon, fresh or frozen, taste better than their farmed Atlantic cousins. Farmed salmon, lacking a natural diet, enjoy the slightly disgusting characteristic of being dyed to that lovely salmon pink. While the dye likely has no health or taste ramifications, I find it unappealing.
Cost is a simple analysis. In the absence of other compelling reasons to bump cheap salmon down the list, I have ranked cheaper salmon higher on the list.
For the analysis (PDF), click here! Best choices are listed at the top, and poor choices towards the bottom.