Gills Gone Wild: Why Free-Swimming Salmon Is Best 

Tastes great, less environmentally chilling

Wednesday, Sep 24 2008

Dear Mr. Gold:

Wild vs. farmed salmon — which do you prefer?

—David Wallen

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Dear Mr. Wallen:

Do you even have to ask? Wild-caught Pacific salmon has flavor, it has marvelous texture, the color is pretty, it cooks evenly, and it feels almost alive in your mouth, whether coho or Chinook or king. The West Coast wild-salmon fisheries are far from perfect — California salmon, for various reasons, all but disappeared this year — but they tend to be at least thoughtfully run, and until Sarah Palin catches wind of it, Alaskan wild-caught salmon comes from perhaps the cleanest, best-run, most sustainable fishery in the world.

A salmon farm, on the other hand, tends to be an egregious polluter, often responsible for more effluent than a city of 60,000 people; an incubator of sea lice and dangerous viruses; and an efficient way to concentrate PCBs and dioxins — “hog farms at sea,” says Taras Grescoe in his recent book Bottomfeeder. Oceans are vacuumed clean by giant ships sucking up sardines and krill to feed the farmed fish, unless they are fed pellets made from vegetable oil — which prevents the salmon from developing a significant amount of healthy Omega-3. They are fed dye to make their flesh a vivid red color, and antibiotics to keep the overcrowded fish relatively disease free. When farmed salmon escape, and millions do each year, the specially bred footballs-with-fins mate with wild salmon, decimating the gene pool. And they taste bad: flabby, soft with pockets of oozing fat and a flavor that is to wild salmon what so-called Classic Coke is to the fizzy bottles of wonder you can still get from Mexico.

Seafood farming is not universally bad — the local Carlsbad Aquafarm oysters, clams and scallops you can find at stands in the Santa Monica, Culver City and Hollywood farmers markets are the best shellfish to come along in years. But farmed salmon is just wrong, even if it is available all year and costs, unfortunately, a small fraction of the wild-salmon price.

Got a burning culinary question?  E-mail askmrgold@laweekly.com

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