I asked my friend if she ate much salmon. She looked at me with some horror and said, no! It's Atlantic salmon!
Which, okay: I know that twenty years ago when I volunteered at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Atlantic salmon had almost vanished from the wild, and farmed salmon was to be avoided for various reasons—but . . . surely that's changed?
I've done some investigating just now. One thing I turned up was a recent (June 2016) press release that speaks of sustainable wild salmon in Ireland:
No mention of the total population of wild Atlantic salmon, but one has to trust that Inland Fisheries Ireland wants to protect the fish, so the 58,599 or so that are up for grabs must be allowing for healthy stock development.Wild Atlantic Salmon is now available at fish counters around Ireland. This salmon comes from sustainably-managed traditional net fisheries on estuaries and rivers around Ireland, where the number of returning salmon allows fish to be harvested, while maintaining a healthy stock of spawning fish for future generations.
In total, the commercial quota for wild Atlantic salmon harvest is just 11,131 from a total of 58,599 (angling and commercial combined), which makes it a premium and sought-after product. Wild Irish salmon can be regarded as truly organic, having lived its life in the wild, fed on wild fish and krill, and travelling thousands of miles on its long ocean migration, ensuring firm flesh and high levels of healthy Omega-3 oils.
Salmon conservation measures ensure that only appropriately tagged and recorded wild salmon, commercially caught within the state, may be sold. As part of the wild salmon and sea trout tagging regulations, all legally caught wild salmon must have a valid gill-tag (green in the case of draft net, white in the case of snap net fishing) or tail-tag, in the case of imported wild salmon, before processing, and only authorised dealers or commercial licensed salmon fishermen may sell them. It is not permitted to sell rod caught wild salmon within the state or sell wild salmon without a valid gill or tail tag attached.
What about Alaska? Let's take my favorite species, sockeye, which is covered on Public Radio in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Report from mid-June on (at 6:30 p.m., 10 p.m., and 2 a.m.). Here's today's summary: "Catch tops a million, big surge pushes Nushagak to midpoint escapement goal, and the kings are finally showing. Egegik is fishing steady, Naknek-Kvichak is on the hook (waiting on the 'wall'?), and the Alaska Legislature averts a shutdown that would have ended all the fun in a week." I have no idea what any of that means, except that a heck of a lot more sockeye are getting caught than salmon in Ireland: the overall expectation for the season is more than 27 million fish coming into Bristol Bay and, potentially, getting snagged for the chopped-ice floes of Safeway and other supermarkets nationwide.
So yeah, "sustainable" is relative. Many millions of sockeye versus a few tens of thousands of Atlantic salmon? Wow.
And what about farmed salmon? At the Aquarium we were told that most kinds of farmed fish should be avoided (the exceptions, as I recall, being catfish and tilapia). But now I look on the MBA's Seafood Watch website, and several of the "recommended" salmon are . . . farmed! What a surprise!
The recommended Atlantic, however, are in closed pens—not net pens, which is the common practice. Closed-pen farming amounts to only 0.1 percent of all Atlantic salmon farming, so . . . yeah. Never mind.
For sockeye, the recommended methods of capture continue to be drift gillnets, purse seines, and trolls or, for the early-season run, reefnets. The salmon page on Seafood Watch includes 12 "best choices," 37 "good" alternatives, and 15 to be avoided (net-penned Atlantic salmon from Norway, Scotland, Chile, British Columbia, and the Canadian Atlantic among them).
It's complicated, being responsible. Perhaps my friend was right avoiding the salmon in Ireland. And I guess I'm glad we went there before responsible fish-eating was in our collective consciousness. Now, though, too, I'm glad that so many restaurants—hereabouts, anyway: the influence of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is strong—have chosen to serve only sustainably harvested fish. And I try to follow suit myself at the fish market. But now that I've looked at the Seafood Watch website again for the first time in a while, it seems I need to study up . . .
Since I buried the Seafood Watch link in my post, I'll just highlight it here: Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch. It's worth a look.
And for the record, I never buy or order Atlantic salmon—again, for various reasons. One of them probably being that twenty years ago I was well brain-washed. But the brain-washing was for a good cause. For sure. We need to pay attention to the miracle that is the life of this planet.