If you love to eat salmon, the first fresh fish of the year is truly welcome. But the prices are outrageous, $35 per pound at the market or $65 per plate in a restaurant. Would you pay that much for a salmon spawned in a fish farm and later released to be a so-called "wild" salmon?
If you buy Copper River salmon, you might have paid fancy prices for a farm-bred fish. After all the negative press around fish farms, spending that much for a farm-bred fish is a depressing thought. Today, when the first wild salmon of the year is flown into Seattle, blogfish brings you the odds.
The proportion of hatchery fish in the "wild" salmon catch is not widely publicized. Hatchery breeding doesn't really fit with the glorious stories of why Copper River wild fish are truly the best. The promotions usually run something like: "spawned in a cold mountain river, after swimming many miles upstream." So it's hard to get exact numbers on hatchery supplementation of wild salmon production. Here's what I could find.
Overall, the Copper River catch is 24% hatchery origin. This is mostly sockeye, and the sockeye are 25% hatchery origin. So far as I can find, there are no hatchery chinook (king) salmon in the Copper River catch, so it looks like Copper River kings are all wild fish, except for possibly a small number of strays.
So if you want to stay away from farm-spawned fish in your fancy Copper River "wild" salmon purchases, go for the more expensive kings. If you go for sockeye, you have a 1 in 4 chance of getting a hatchery fish.
It's an open question, whether hatchery fish are really inferior as seafood. Even hatchery salmon put on most of their growth after release, so it might not matter a lot. But the hype around "wild" salmon sure doesn't tell the truth about hatchery salmon, and I really think people ought to know what they're buying. They can decide for themselves if they want to pay fancy "wild" prices for a farm-bred hatchery fish.
Image: spawning "wild" salmon at a hatchery. Note orange eggs flowing out chute at bottom.