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The Great Salmon Debate

Living on the west coast in the second largest city in Canada, one of the biggest controversies in the food service industry is Wild or Farmed . We are talking about British Columbia’s sovereign animal, the salmon. For years plates around the world have hosted many wild specimens of our local bounty and over the last decade the stocks are reducing by the year. Even with our neighbors to the north, in Alaska, we still are having a problem keeping our Salmon supplies bountiful. So in steps to preserve our fish, the industry has creating this phenomenon called aqua culture. They take a species, primarily the Atlantic, and farm them in pens to sell to consumers all year round. Unfortunately activists seem to think that this type of process is harmful to the environment and helps destroy Wild stocks which are in proximity to the farms. Hence we have the great debate.


I am not an activist for either side of the debate. In fact I don’t even eat Salmon. I am a Chef who runs the kitchen of a restaurant who serves salmon on the menu as well as uses it for specials. If you are looking for an article to use as a bulletin board for how one side is destroying the environment or how much the government is paying or not paying, then you came to the wrong place. This article is more about reality instead of a perfect world we do not live in.

Opening Volley The Naturalists

The good news for the activists are, wild number are returning to an acceptable level. The problem is that the price isn’t reflecting that. If you take a scan of restaurants in our fair city you will notice that prices for advertised “Wild” salmon range from $28-$30 a plate. You can’t count Sushi places cause 80% of them use farmed salmon. This is primarily because of the fat content as well as the fresh availability all year round. Seeing as we know that the sauce, veg, and starch don’t really ad up to much, it works out to $4.67-$5 an ounce retail. Here is a little perspective comparison- in 2003 an ounce of silver sold for $5 an ounce.

Another snag with wild salmon is it is not accessible all year round in it's fresh state. Roughly fresh wild salmon are only available from the end of spring to the beginning of winter. So that means that restaurants selling wild salmon all year round are using frozen at some point in time. Their menu will not state this so feel free to ask your server.

The Other Side Of The Coin

Now the only way to get fresh fish all year round is from farming. The species of fish is primarily Atlantic because it is highly docile and have a longer history of domestication. This coupled with efficiently being able to convert food to body weight makes it the chosen fish out of the six Pacific Species. The fish are high in Omega -3 fatty acid which make it a favorite with sushi restaurants everywhere.

In Canada,the Pacific farms are mostly located near the northern tip of Vancouver Island by Campbell river. There are two main farms, Marine Harvest and Mainstream. My only criticism is farmed salmon is not deemed Ocean Wise. Ocean Wise is a Vancouver Aquarium conservation program created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. There are two criteria’s to be deemed Ocean Wise, one is that the species of fish must be abundant in numbers and harvested with no danger to the habitat or other species. Unfortunately the salmon farmers have not quite reached the second goal; although it depends who you talk to.

The one thing you can’t argue about is the popularity of farmed fish around the world. BC exports 350 million dollars in farmed salmon a year. You might think it goes to Asia but it goes to the United States. In fact much like our Okanagan wines we are gaining a reputation for our premier farmed salmon. Now you have to ask why would the US buy so much salmon from Canada when Alaska is their seafood Shangri-La? I think its to send relief to their wild stocks as well as the quality of our premium product.

So Who Wins…….

Well it is no surprise that this world is one big consuming machine. It is only a matter of time before we will not have the option of Wild or Farmed. Farmed fishing is the only way to keep up with the demand of the world’s consumers. We did it with cattle, poultry, pork, lamb and even bison/venison; it is unsustainable to think we are going to be able to fish the natural habitats to meet world demand. The real crime is that through global sourcing we can purchase food products for cheaper than in our own back yard. Currently options available on a wholesale basis are Chilean salmon and Russian salmon caught and sent to china for processing. We saw this before with butter, beef, and currently pork. They can fly it half way around the world and still sell it for less than we can out of our own back yard.

All politics aside farmed salmon will be an inevitable solution to our seafood needs but the activists must keep them in check. Keep them maintaining their standards and working on technology for cleaner, safer, and disease free fish. Next on the block will be cod and halibut, I guarantee.

See Ya On The Flip Side

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