WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WILD AND FARMED SALMON?

James Merryweather

Here is some guidance for Paul F @egPFriend, who on 5 September 2018 posted a Tweet at @ScotSalmonTank asking: “Can’t believe I didn’t know this. How do you know if it’s farmed salmon so I know to boycott?”

Paul will be pleased to know that the choice is not hard to make.

In Britain we have just one native salmon species, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Because of catastrophically declining numbers of these salmon there is no longer a commercial salmon fishery in Britain. Salmon are still being caught by game anglers who are obliged to return them alive to the river where they were caught. So, it’s mostly poachers who get to eat real, wild Scottish Salmon.

The only wild salmon available for the British public to buy are various North American (usually Alaskan) Pacific salmon of which there are five species, usually supplied as frozen steaks of sockeye and keta or, in tins and ready-made sandwiches, pink humpback. When we find wild salmon for sale in the supermarket, we have no idea whether the wild population within which it once swam is booming or declining, but sadly the latter is becoming increasingly likely. The capture and export of some North American wild salmon is permitted, but various populations in the wild today are already extinct, declining or crashing. While we eschew farmed salmon – which more and more of us are doing – as a contribution to the conservation of their wild cousins we should maybe think twice before buying wild salmon. Sadly, it seems probable that salmon should be completely off the menu of discerning consumers.

In the fishmonger’s, the once famous Scottish Salmon has now been completely replaced by ‘Scottish Salmon’. Those read and sound the same, but they are in fact completely different in their origin, appearance and flavour. What I shall from now on call ‘Scottish Salmon’ is the farmed product, produce of cages installed in coastal seas along the entire west of Scotland. The environmental, socio-economic and fish welfare concerns raised by this version of intensive factory farming are legion, and information about them is available at many internet locations. Why not begin with the Scottish Salmon Think-Tank or the affordable book Holes: Scotland’s Salmon Sewage Scandal (no profit only £3 +p&p)?

CaptureJMnew1Every supermarket in the land stocks ‘Scottish Salmon’, which even if you have no wild salmon to compare it with, stands out a mile. It is flabby and orangey-pink (right). We expect salmon to be pink, and even if wild salmon is pink, the pink of ‘Scottish Salmon’ is not its true colour. Salmon flesh is pink largely because of what its owner eats, but farmed salmon do not get the partly plankton diet that colours them. They have to eat pellets. Consequently, ‘Scottish Salmon’ is really pale grey, not what the consumer expects. To give the consumer the expected, the pellets that farmed salmon are given to eat are laced with – not only toxic preservatives and anti-sea lice pesticides, proportions of which get transferred to the food – but also a pink dye, available as various PantoneTM shades, chosen from a SalmoFanTM colour chart. Sockeye salmon is naturally bright red and keta muted pink, but ‘Scottish Salmon’ is variously lurid to pale pink or orange-pink, varying according to which shade of dye each producer farmer for his/her feeding regime.

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Salmon – Sockeye – ‘Scottish’ – Keta

The feature that really makes ‘Scottish Salmon’ stand out from wild fish is the fat: thick bands of fat between the zig-zag muscle layers, much thicker than there ever was in Scottish Salmon proper. ‘Scottish Salmon’ is greasy, which of course helps it cook (self-basting) and (I am told) renders it more succulent, if that is what satisfies the consumer. If it’s not comprehensively labelled, for example as on the fishmonger’s counter surrounded by ice, not in a convenient pack, the combination of colour, texture and fat is the way to tell. Also, the fishmonger rarely has wild salmon for sale, but if s/he does it will be proudly labelled ‘Wild Alaskan Salmon’, whereas if it’s the farmed product (usual), the price label will say just ‘Salmon’ or ‘Scottish Salmon’ and it will be cheap.

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Note the thick fat and orange colour of these LIDL salmon steaks.

‘Scottish Salmon’ in packs does carry the information you require to differentiate it from the wild sort, but you’ll have to search within the small print on the back label. [See my blog on labelling HERE.]

But once you learn what ‘Scottish Salmon’ looks like – orangey-pink and flabby with stripes of fat up to 2 mm wide – you’ll know; and the ironic claim ‘Responsibly Sourced’, printed boldly on the front label, will confirm your identification and you can choose to avoid or actively boycott it.

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