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Jul. 7 2009 - 9:20 pm | 149 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Farmed salmon? Not a fan


Salmon populations on the West coast of North America have sunk to dangerously low levels as our appetite has stayed voracious. Coho from the Fraser River are endangered and paltry chinook numbers have prompted US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to close the California and Oregon fisheries for a second year in a row. The shrinking populations made farming Atlantic salmon in floating pens more appealing than catching local wild stocks. It may have even seemed like aquaculture was the ticket out of fishery collapse, then research suggested otherwise. Parasites in these impromptu salmon cities may kill off the wild pink salmon in a few generations, while waste may be choking their neighbors.

Market demand for wild and sustainably farmed salmon has the potential to drive innovation in sustainable fisheries, but not as long as the fans of farmed fish hang around. Or, rather, one fan in particular: the SalmoFan. It’s a color chart to help determine how much astaxanthin and canthaxanthin to add to farmed salmon’s feed, displayed as a splash of pinks numbered like paint chips. I think my kitchen is #22. Astaxanthin is a pigment in algae that turns its predators pink. It’s why shrimp are rosy, and why shrimp-eating salmon are, too. (In contrast, tuna meat is red from the myoglobin in their muscle, not decapods in their diet.)

Loads of foods have colorants–that boisterous vermillion of fruit-on-the-bottom strawberry yogurt, the rich caramel of curry paste, even Miracle Whip uses color to get it that particular shade of white. Nor am I surprised by tinted smoked salmon, as its blaring coral looks more like it was plucked from a bed of day-lilies compared to the dull tones I get from my home-smoked version.

The trouble is, astaxanthin makes up as much as a quarter of the cost of the farmed fish’s diet–which means consumers are charged for what amounts to food coloring.

That takes the fishcake.

My indignance stems from an assumption that with a whole food like salmon, the vibrance of the flesh is a natural consequence and indicator of a healthy life. It baits the consumer: The salmon are pretty; everything is okay. It’s like how we color margarine to look like butter or color cheddar to look like traffic cones. But in this case, we’re paying to pretend that farmed salmon is comparable to the wild ones, or even that the two co-exist, while research shows that aquaculture may be driving down local populations.

An outcry in the color difference between fresh and farmed salmon led to tinted salmon requiring a ‘color added’ tag. The market may have demanded healthy salmon, but they got salmon meat labeled ‘healthy-looking.’

Photo:  Edward Tufte

Posted by Krista Zala


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