5 Tips For Buying The Freshest & Most Sustainable Salmon

by | Jun 13, 2011
Wild Alaskan Salmon

Wild Alaskan Salmon

Natalie Mann is the founder of Ambrolio Foods, a website dedicated to delicious and healthy foods. A nutritionist with a degree from Cornell University, Natalie has spent decades working in the food industry. As a parent with two sons, she also has firsthand experience with finicky eaters, dairy allergies, and gluten intolerance.

5 Tips for Buying the Freshest & Most Sustainable Salmon

by Natalie Mann

Buying salmon used to be easy.

Fresh-fished salmon was abundant, prices were reasonable, and warnings about overfishing, water pollution, and PCBs weren’t making headlines.

In 2011, all that has changed.

More than half of the salmon purchased in the United States comes from fish raised in man-made farms. Prices are much higher, and sustainability and safety are pressing concerns.

To lend insight into your next salmon purchase, here’s a quick guide for buying the freshest and most sustainable salmon possible.

5 Tips For Buying The Best Salmon

1. Fresh fish, including salmon, should NOT smell.

If the fish counter and surrounding area smells ‘fishy,’ walk away and don’t make a purchase.

If you don’t detect any odors at the counter, but your salmon smells fishy when you open the package at home, return it.

2. Fresh salmon should glisten, not look dull.

Salmon should look bright and shiny. Its flesh should be firm, clean, and evenly colored. Natural white marbling on the fish is an indicator of good omega-3 fatty acids. (See photo)

3. Wild Alaskan salmon is the most eco-friendly.

Many resources, including the Environmental Defense Fund, cite wild Alaskan salmon as the most sustainable choice. Fresh, frozen at sea, and canned salmon from Alaska are all good options.

4. Fresh, wild Alaskan salmon is a seasonal item.

In Alaska, the salmon fishing season starts in May and ends by late-October. Outside of this time you will only find good smoked or canned salmon.

5. Farmed Atlantic salmon should be avoided.

Farmed salmon are raised in large, densely packed pens that pollute surrounding waters with waste and chemicals. In addition, farmed salmon are more prone to illness in crowded net-pens, and antibiotics are often used to treat disease.

Farmed salmon have elevated levels of PCBs. The Environmental Defense Fund has issued a warning to limit the consumption of Atlantic salmon. This warning pertains to everyone, but is particularly important for young children. See the EDF site for specific details.


  • In 2011, our salmon choices impact our oceans as well as our bodies.
  • At the seafood counter, ask questions. Farmed or wild? Previously frozen? How fresh – delivered when?
  • At restaurants, ask if the salmon is delivered daily and whether it’s wild or farmed.

What do you consider when buying salmon?

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18 Responses to “5 Tips For Buying The Freshest & Most Sustainable Salmon”

  1. DadsPlan says:

    I agree with the article, and strive to buy Wild Alakan when I can…however, it should be noted the following article (I kept this) offered, not so much a different opinion, but an opinion not so scathing of non-Wild. An example would be, “By going wild, you’ll get a firmer, less fatty fish. While it is still just as healthy as farmed, Santerre says the wild variety is a slightly gamier-tasting fish”.

    ok really, “..still, just as healthy as farmed?” Is that making “farmed” a defacto standard for “healthy”, and that wild is just healthier? Isn’t that the equilvalent of saying, “Organic Produce is just as healthy as Conventional”.


  2. Ashley K says:

    I learned about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch App for Android and iPhone when searching for the best type of salmon to search for at the store. It is really handy, and if I’m not sure, I make sure to ask!


  3. Ashley, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood app is a great tool.
    Here’s the link for salmon at http://bit.ly/37G84
    Seafood Watch agrees that farmed salmon is not a healthy or sustainable choice.

    DadsPlan – I read the article that you posted, and don’t agree with its conclusions. It fails to mention that farmed salmon contains high levels of PCBs, and a warning not to eat very much of it.

    Of course, wild Alaskan salmon is expensive. But canned salmon from Alaska is a great alternative, and definitely less costly.

  4. Nick says:

    I much prefer farmed over wild salmon. There is no way you can tell me sending fleets of diesel burning boats into the wild using non selective harvest methods is better than a grown for consumption salmon. The best way to save wild salmon is to leave them in the wild not eat more of them.

    • Roger Whitaker says:

      Yes indeed Nick you are a voice of informed reasoning amoungst the sea of nonsense, wild salmon consume 10-12 times their weight in forage fish and have a much higher level of heavy metals (mercury etc) as a result, farmed salmon are now being fed an ever growing proportion of vegetables (soya, micro algae) and the amount of forage fish killed to feed them is vastly less per kg of farmed fish than wild fish which consume a lot more energy chasing their prey and hence consume a lot more fish

    • Carly says:

      The amount of pollution that comes from a fish farm far outweighs the amount of pollution that comes from mass catching wild animals. Educate yourself. Please. Learn about how detrimental to miles of coast lines the fish farming industry has been. It releases copious amounts of waste into concentrated areas and the farmed fish are often fed foods that are not sustainably produced, which just perpetuates the issue further. The boat pollution from fossil fuels is microscopic compared to the pollution from fish farms. Stop assuming, start researching.

  5. What do you think of this salmon farm? I have purchased their salmon and I usually do not buy farmed but they look responsible. http://www.blackpearlseafood.com/

  6. DadsPlan says:

    To address Nicks concern of resource intensive commercial fishing vs
    farmed…I can’t make an argument against that – however, there are biological benefits to eating wild salmon. Wild is very high in Omega-3 fatty acid, and has the right ratio of Omega3 to Omega6. The 3 comes from their wild diet. Feeding farmed fish corn-meal *(for carbs) and soy (for protein) based feed, the cheapest way…doens’t supply the Omega3, but plenty of Omega6, which is actually very unhealthy, 6 acts as an artery stiffener – 3 as an elasticizer. In the right balance, your cardio-vacular system maintains the correct plyability. Too much 6 leads to cardio vascular, and coromany issues. We all get so much 6 (from all the commercial corn/soy fed chicken, fish and cattle) we need the wild salmon (or high potentcy Omega “3” pills), to get us back in balance. Don’t get me started on the chicken/beef industry!

  7. DadsPlan says:

    Regarding blackpearlseafood, I’m a bit skeptical. You can put me up in 5* Hotel, make me comfy, feed me organic pastries – and I’ll be happy, satisfied, and most of all, get fat quickly. Much like the farm rasied salmon, whose diet is engineered for fast growth (aka: fast seel/fast profit). Organic feed or not – if the salmon aren’t eating other fish – they aren’t storing the vital nutrients that make them the most healthy for us. And yes, there is the old mercury/bio-accumluation/up-the-food chain issue – but if you get salmon from area you know aren’t toxic with heavy metal (Alaska), you get the best of everything.

  8. Tracie – interesting question re: blackpearlseafood

    I checked back with the Seafood Watch at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

    Here’s what they say: “Avoid” salmon farmed in open net pens. Salmon farmed on land in “closed” or “contained” farms is a viable alternative that points the way to a more environmentally-friendly future for salmon farming. http://bit.ly/37G84

    My understanding is that blackpearlseafood is raised in open net pens, not closed tanks that are on land. Therefore, not environmentally friendly.

    And I agree with DadsPlan re: healthier choice. While the waters in Alaska stay clean, wild Alaskan salmon is still a better choice vs. salmon fed an organic man-made feed.

  9. eeva says:

    What about Norwegian salmon?

  10. Marcela says:

    I read an article recently stating how a lot of the fish we eat is labeled incorrectly. There are other fish that look like salmon once it’s cut up and at the fish counter!

    I read that buying the whole fish is best and then having them clean and portion it for you.

    Great tips!

  11. Eeeva, my understanding is that Norwegian salmon is also farm raised in open floating pens. The name of the salmon refers to the country its raised in: Scottish Salmon, Chilean Salmon, Norwegian Salmon, etc.

  12. DadsPlan says:

    Not to leave Salmon, but I think everyone would be interested in this tidbit on global aquaculture. Yikes.


  13. We eat a lot of salmon and we purchase at Whole Foods. We usually spring for the wild Alaskan, which is the most expensive, but so fatty, you don’t need to eat more than about 4 oz. to feel full. We pay anywhere from $18 to $24 a pound (which I admit is pricey.) Yesterday they gave me a piece of keta salmon to try when I purchased the wild Alaskan, so I could try both side by side. The keta was tasteless and might be good for someone looking for very mild fish, but for us flavor is important.

    Whole Foods carries only one brand of farmed salmon they get from Norway and it carries their seal (responsibly farmed). Whole Foods says it’s the only place they will purchase farmed salmon and we should feel good about eating it as they have high standards.

  14. Last night we had our first of several meals of sockeye salmon, ordered and overnight shipped to NH. It was costly but I doubt that we will ever have anything but this type of salmon again.

    We have been to AK three times, have gone halibut fishing, and we are now planning a salmon fishing trip for July 2014. I certainly hope we can catch, flash freeze and ship back to NH as we did the halibut! We are so looking forward to our next, great fishing adventure!

  15. I have a problem with wild anything in this age of sustainability. The most responsible thing to do is farming. Granted, it must be done responsibly to be worthwhile, but in a fully populated world, I see killing and selling wild products as poaching. The way to maintain a healthy wild is not to hunt it, but to create farms instead, to provide what people wish to buy without depleting the wild. Put another way, “wild” food is “stolen” food.

  16. Mary Foster says:

    I usually order wild-caught fish here [link removed] I`m fully satisfied with quality and I like this blog

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