Your Wild Salmon May Not Be Truly Wild

Your Wild Salmon May Not Be Truly Wild post image

In the market, most seafood is labeled either farmed (aquaculture) or wild (fished).  Apparently many types of fish are raised by using techniques from both methods. For example, Alaskan salmon may be labeled wild even though they originate in fish hatcheries. Are you as disturbed about this as I am?

We need better labeling of fish

Scientists from the UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) have published an article in the journal Marine Policy which asserts the need to add a designation beyond farmed or fished — hybrid.

The hybrid designation would indicate that those fish have been raised using methods from both aquaculture (hatcheries or farms) and from fishing techniques. The importance of this is emphasized by the researchers because it would increase our knowledge of how fish and shellfish are really raised throughout the world.

I want to know if it is truly wild for health reasons

Until the 1970’s polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other synthetic chemicals, were added to paint, plastics, and other products  and have found their way into fish. A landmark study in 2004 found that PCB concentrations were almost eight-times higher in farmed fish because of farm-feed contamination.

Although a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the health benefits of eating the omega-3-rich fish outweighs the potential dangers of PCBs, I’m not convinced.

Additionally, the fats in farmed fish are higher in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids than wild fish.

We need an accurate record of how seafood is raised

According to Mary Turnipseed, second author and a former postdoctoral fellow at NCEAS,

Seafood production is a critical part of global food security, but the way we study and talk about it often obscures how to achieve the thing we care the most about: increasing the supply of sustainably produced seafood to feed a rapidly growing human population. We need to start collecting more accurate data on how seafood is really produced in today’s world, and a first step will be through replacing the old farmed-fished dichotomy with a farmed-fished-hybrid classification scheme.

Aquaculture: farms and hatcheries

In aquaculture, many techniques are used — fishing may be involved in production. For example, Bluefin tuna farms obtain their stock by fishing for juveniles and raising them in cages until they are large enough. These farms also fish for feed, and use 10 to 20 kilograms of feed fish for every kilogram of tuna they produce.

I didn’t know tuna could be farmed — they are so big and out in the ocean! I buy tuna with the idea that it is always wild. I guess not.

According to Dane Klinger, first author and a Ph.D. student at Stanford University,

Farming fish and shellfish is generally a different way to produce seafood than fishing. While fisheries traditionally interact with their target population only at the time of capture, aquaculture, in its ‘purest’ state, controls the entire lifecycle of the organism, from egg to harvest. However, many common types of seafood are produced using techniques from both fisheries and aquaculture.

The researchers examine several popular seafood products that are harvested using a combination of techniques generally ascribed to either fisheries or aquaculture.

The authors reviewed several cases of fisheries (wild) that are augmented by aquaculture (farmed). A percentage of the Alaskan salmon population is raised in hatcheries and then moved to fisheries (and labeled wild). There are hatcheries (farms) that are stocking scallops in New Zealand waters, and hatcheries that are stocking eastern oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.

American lobsters are fed by bait placed in traps until they reach legal catch size. In fact, the amount of bait provided to lobsters in one season is often greater than the volume of lobster catch in the same season, by a factor of two.

Are these fish wild or are they farmed?

That is the question asked by these researchers. United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is the primary source of information about the global seafood industry.

However, the reporting of data from both developing and developed countries to the FAO is incomplete. The researchers feel that adding the hybrid category would help in the global understanding of how the fish are raised.

The traditional categories of seafood production — fisheries (wild) and aquaculture (farmed), do not clearly account for the growth potential and environmental impacts of the seafood industry.

The authors conclude by stating the urgency of adding the hybrid category:

Without these data, transformations in the market for a critical food and livelihood source for billions of people could occur, with global analysts and policymakers being the last to know.

Here’s what is urgent

We need to reduce environmental impacts. In order to do so, we need a more accurate way of tracking and categorizing seafood.  The farms and hatcheries that rely on wild fish for feed and wild juveniles to stock the farm, actually put additional pressure on the ocean.  If large quantities of bait are used in wild fisheries that is even more pressure and we may not have a good picture of the amounts of fish the ocean can produce.

This is important for sustainability in the seafood industry. I would also  like to be sure of where the fish I eat is coming from and whether it is farmed or wild…

or hybrid.

What about you? What do you think about this new category of seafood? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Leave a Comment

  • caroline August 15, 2012, 11:15 pm

    This is so scary! thanks for making me aware…I don’t know how to trust food anymore. it is sad 🙁

  • Pavil, the Uber Noob August 16, 2012, 4:09 am

    Thanks for the posting.
    It seems staying ahead of the curve on understanding what we consume is a never ending task.
    All we want is honesty from our food sources.

    Ciao, Pavil

  • jean August 16, 2012, 6:47 am

    Groan. But, it doesn’t surprise me : ( Well, it makes me grateful that this island we live on really does bring in fresh fish from the ocean. I certainly won’t buy the imported stuff that comes in. Thanks, Jill, for the information.

  • Mary August 16, 2012, 8:43 am

    Thanks for posting about this…’s something I noticed in the store the other day. On a package marked “wild,” if you read further on the label, it said farm raised product. My reaction….what????? It was something I was going to look into, in how that could be and you’ve addressed it for me. I guess we’re going to have to either go fish ourselves or find someone we trust to know where things truly come from. Thanks for keeping us informed.


    • Jill August 16, 2012, 9:46 am

      Hi Mary,
      That is amazing! I never even read the packages of any frozen fish I buy — I will have to look check that out at the market.

  • Tom Salmon August 16, 2012, 9:59 am

    This is quite upsetting and brings other issues to light.
    GMO crops from big Agra polluting the land for profit.
    GMO’s are wreaking havoc on the livestock and probably
    sickening the American population without the masses
    knowing. If “wild” fish may not be totally wild, were they
    raised on GMO crops? Probably so.
    We need severe legislation so that we know exactly what
    we are putting into our bodies. Thanks for the article, Tom

  • Paula August 16, 2012, 2:31 pm

    Thanks for the information. I had no idea. It gets harder and harder each day to put food on the table!

  • Solveig August 16, 2012, 6:00 pm

    For over 30 years, Pennsylvania Fish and Game has stocked their streams with rainbow trout. So, what’s new? Did they have the hybridization “a la clone based” aquaculture in place in 1980 and before? I would like to see some cites from you if they did. All I see on your blog is stuff from U of CA and West Coast university findings.

  • Caralyn @ glutenfreehappytummy August 16, 2012, 10:00 pm

    this is definitely very disturbing. thank you for raising awareness!

  • Douglas Wallace August 17, 2012, 2:41 pm

    …..sigh ….. does it ever end?

  • Diane Balch August 18, 2012, 11:20 am

    This is very disturbing. I definitely think they need to make a new category. I choose which fish to by using Oceana’s “Seafood Watch” guide. I have a button for it on my home page. They are a pretty reputable organization committed to sustainable fishing.

  • susan August 19, 2012, 10:18 am

    i’m wondering if there is any way of knowing about brands of canned salmon such as those found at whole foods and trader joe’s. i eat a lot of canned salmon and would like to know if it is truly wild or not.

    • Jill August 19, 2012, 12:37 pm

      Hi Susan,
      Trader Joe’s is usually very secretive about their ingredients — other than saying that if it is not on the label it is not in the product — I do not know if they would or could actually tell you if their canned salmon is 100% wild… Whole Foods the same. But I suppose you could try to call them and find out.

  • Sherry August 20, 2012, 2:44 am

    There’s a big difference between farm raised fish a smolts from a hatchery that are released in the ocean and live for many years in the wild before being caught. Fish that begin their life in a hatchery from are much healthier and don’t have the diseases that farm fish have. They are NOT genetically modified. I eat Wild Alaskan Salmon several times a week but will not touch farm raised fish. I live in Southeast Alaska and am greatful we don’t have farmed salmon here. When we have been traveling in the lower 48 and have eaten at restaurants most times the waiters/waitresses do not know whether the fish is wild or farmed. That is “disturbing” to me.

  • Stanley Fishman August 20, 2012, 9:54 am

    This is so deceptive. I did not know this, and I am deeply grateful to you for letting us know.

    I was about to buy some “wild” Alaskan Salmon yesterday, yet I got a strong feeling not to, so I did not. I have found that it is always wise to follow my instincts, especially when it comes to food.

    I think you have just explained why I got that feeling.

  • Mägi August 20, 2012, 2:10 pm

    I admit, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to getting my fish. I live in Alaska and wait for a fisherman to come back from fishing to give me the “wild” Alaskan salmon himself. Guaranteed not from a farm.

    • Jill August 20, 2012, 3:32 pm

      Hi Magi,
      Would that I could!

  • Susan@learningandyearning August 22, 2012, 8:08 am

    Great post! I’m sharing with on my fb page, so that the word can spread.

  • Lisa Y. August 23, 2012, 9:51 am

    Farmed oysters are no different, IMHO, than regular ones. They just grow them intentionally on special piers. They’re eating whatever is in the water. I suspect oysters would be similar too, unless they’re adding their own food to the waters. That’s not likely in oceans for oysters. Fish in a farm of course are different.

    • Lisa Y. August 23, 2012, 9:52 am

      SCallops, I mean…

  • GiGi Eats Celebrities August 23, 2012, 11:42 pm

    Nothing can be trusted anymore 🙁

  • Lisa Cauthers August 24, 2012, 4:46 pm

    I just downloaded the Monterey Bay Aquariam seafood watch app to my phone yesterday. They are supposed to be a good source for responsible and safe fish choices. It doesn’t solve the labeling problem, but it is helpful.

  • Kandy Inglis September 3, 2013, 7:02 pm

    My husband was involved for ten years in a fisheries program in Idaho. Although I am far, FAR from an expert, I would like to point out that without the fisheries programs, there just might not be any salmon left, at least in the Colombia River Basin. It was an inept program begun in the early 20th century, before there was ever such a thing as a “fish biologist”. That being said, I doubt that any salmon in the world is a “pure” genetic strain…that is, untouched by man.

    The river that my husband worked on went from a handful of fish returning to spawn to almost 2,000 fish seven years later. There are ways of telling whether a fish is a hatchery fish or natural (wild), but if we insist on only eating the fish that are natural, within a matter of a few short years, the wild stock would be gone. Gone. This is the price we are paying for the greed of the canneries in the late 1800’s, and there is no simple solution for 100% recovery. The native american fisheries are doing a tremendous job of helping the salmon to recover, and they deserve our wholehearted support. It IS thanks to them that we even know what salmon tastes like. I am all for knowing where my fish comes from, and thankfully we are able to buy it straight from the fishermen on the river. It is local for us, and so we make it a large part of our diet. But I also know that if it wasn’t local, we would eat something else.

  • Kandy Inglis September 3, 2013, 7:18 pm

    My last comment “I also know that if it wasn’t local, we would eat something else” is haunting me =). I really didn’t mean that to sound snarky. Honest.

    • Jill September 3, 2013, 7:55 pm

      Thanks for your second comment — I did take pause when I read that — but there is always more than one aspect to an issue and I welcome comments that add to the information.