Seafood Choices & Salmon

Case Study

Salmon swimming near the surface.

While salmon populations elsewhere have suffered from the loss of their fresh water habitat due to logging, cattle grazing, pollution, and the construction of dams, intact watersheds and effective fisheries management have produced abundant salmon runs in Southeast Alaska. The Alaskan salmon fishery has been certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a sustainable fishery and carries their new eco-label.

Many consumers might guess that it's better to buy farmed salmon than wild-caught, but they are unaware of the possible ramifications to the environment and other fisheries.

Fishermen hauling seine net.

Because salmon are carnivorous, requiring fishmeal in their diet, each pound of farmed salmon requires at least two pounds of wild fish. Critics of the industry believe that this type of aquaculture results in a net loss of marine resources. Also, because salmon farms are prone to disease, the farms commonly use chemical agents to control various pathogens and parasites. Farmed salmon often escape their net cages and can endanger the health of wild fish populations. The antibiotics and other agents used can also have negative impacts on shellfish and other marine life that support other fisheries. Scientists have also found evidence of dioxins and PCB contamination in the fishmeal that is fed to farmed salmon, raising concerns about food safety issues.

Aquaculture net cages in the Pacific ocean.

Certification programs like that of the Marine Stewardship Council exist to certify and label sustainably-produced seafood products like wild-caught Alaskan salmon. Many more fisheries are in the process of being assessed by the MSC according to strict scientific criteria. A greater variety of seafood products with the MSC eco-label will gradually become available throughout the U.S. In the meantime, other efforts, like National Audubon's Seafood Lover's Initiative and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program are providing consumers with up-to-date information on the status of fisheries to identify products that are more likely to come from sustainable fisheries.