Sunday, May 13, 2007

Premium wild salmon--raised in a fish farm?

Do you want to know if you're getting a salmon that was raised in a farm for a year when you buy wild salmon? Blogfish is likely to be the only place you can find out.

Do you care if your wild salmon dinner was spawned in a bucket, hatched in a tray and raised for a year in a concrete pond and fed salmon chow? Would you even call that a wild salmon?

What if you paid top dollar for wild salmon, only to find out that your fish was raised for a year in a fish farm (called a hatchery)? Is that the premium product that you intended to buy?

Would it bother you to buy a fish after reading a story about swimming far upstream to spawn in cold, clear mountain water, only to learn that people pulled them out of a trap, knocked them on the head and sliced them open to mix eggs and sperm in a bucket?

The contaminated feed issue has people wondering about wild salmon. What type of fish get to be called "wild" salmon? And the answers to this question can be unsettling, especially since so many salmon live part of their lives in captivity.

Scientists are careful not to call salmon wild if they're raised by people for part of their life cycle. For a scientist, there are three main types of salmon, wild, farmed, and hatchery. But fishermen and the seafood industry call salmon wild if they're caught in the ocean, no matter how long they actually lived free.

How many salmon spend part of their lives in fish farms, before being caught and sold as wild salmon? Comprehensive numbers can be hard to find, but here's what I've found for you so far.

In Alaska, fish hatcheries are the source of about 25% of the so-called "wild" salmon. In Washington, Oregon, and California, fish hatcheries are the source of about 75% or more of the so-called "wild" salmon. In British Columbia, the best information I could find says about 25% of "wild" salmon come from hatcheries. The proportion of hatchery fish vary with species and locality.

So far as I know, NOBODY distinguishes between hatchery fish and truly wild fish when they sell salmon. So when you buy salmon, you're taking a chance on getting a hatchery-bred and hatchery-raised fish when you pay wild fish prices. The odds of winning your bet vary depending on what you buy. Let me know if you want to learn the odds for some important fish like next week's Copper River kings that will sell for maybe $35 per pound at the fish market, or $65 per plate in a restaurant.

6 comments:

aaron said...

Mark,
sligthly off topic but related to the "wild, hatcher, & farmed" classifications: do you know what current regulations say about whether hatchery fish can be counted as a part of the wild population for issues like ESA compliance?

At one point I know there was a pretty violent debate about whether hatchery fish could be counted as part of the "wild" Klamath River Coho population. Do you know the current ruling on this? Can hatchery fish be counted as part of the population?

Mark Powell said...

Ongoing debate, with most biologists saying hatchery fish shouldn't count and some landowners and resource users saying hatchery fish should count. I don't think it's resolved, and probably subject to revision as we learn more and as political fortunes wax and wane.

Islander62 said...

Should there actually be a fourth type of classification called "ranched salmon"? They would fit in as follows:

Wild salmon: spawn naturally in rivers, offspring hatch in the river, migrate to sea, return to rivers, or are caught

Hatchery salmon: spawned by humans, reared for about 6 months in the hatchery (depending on species), released to a river, migrate, return to rivers or are caught

Ranched: spawned by humans, reared in a hatchery, put to sea in a netpen where they are aclimatized before being released, return to the river where they are caught. This is a huge industry in Alaska

Farmed: spawned by humans, reared in a hatchery, put to sea in anetpen where they are reared until fully grown, then harvested.

The difference between the 4 types is time spent in "captivity". Apart from clipped adipose fins, electronic tags or DNA analysis, it is impossible to tell the first 3 apart and all could be sold as "wild".

Your thoughts?

Mark Powell said...

Ranched salmon, distinct from hatchery salmon, neither of them wild even thought they're called wild. Makes sense to me. Thanks for letting us know about what's going on in Alaska.

More in the category of "these are your so-called wild fish."

thomas said...

You probably are already aware of a ruling concerning the difference between hatchery and wild-spawned fish. There's a good story in the P-I.

gamefan12 said...

This really bothers me if i can be getting fish that was breed in a farm. I do not think this is right at all.
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