Nothing says “Pacific Northwest” like a salmon sizzling on a barbeque in the summer. Salmon is an iconic food in the Pacific Northwest and we can’t seem to get enough of it. From 2000 to 2004, Americans consumed an average of about 284,000 metric tons of salmon annually. They're willing to pay a high price for special runs such as Copper River salmon from Alaska.
But wait – aren’t salmon endangered? Should we be even be eating them at all?
The answer is yes, especially if you’re buying wild Alaskan salmon. Runs of wild salmon in Alaska are over and above their historical levels. Eat all the wild Alaskan salmon you can find—they’re good for you, and the fish populations are not in trouble.
Salmon fishing is an important part of our economy and eating salmon connects us to our heritage. Salmon have sustained human communities for generations, fueling entire ecosystems as they swim up to 1,000 miles upstream to where they hatched, lay their eggs and then die, continuing the cycle of life in healthy rivers and streams.
In the lower 48 states, salmon populations have been drastically reduced by over-fishing, dams, logging and water diversions. This has led to listing some species of salmon on the endangered species list.
Salmon need cold, clear water to thrive. In Washington state, The Nature Conservancy is working to restore forests on the Olympic Peninsula so that they provide shade and filter the water for our rivers and streams. In time, this conservation work will lead to recovery of wild salmon populations.
Some salmon you see in stores is actually farmed salmon, rather than wild. What exactly is the difference? Farm-raised salmon live their whole lives in pens, can breed disease, and are fed fishmeal that can be highly contaminated with PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls. The name itself should let you know that these chemicals are not a good thing to ingest!
On the east coast, the only real wild Atlantic salmon are currently in Nova Scotia, so if you’re seeing Atlantic salmon in the store, unless it says Nova Scotia wild salmon, it’s probably farmed fish.
Salmon is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, the good kind of fat, which means it’s not only good for your heart but can reduce excess inflammation in our bodies that can cause chronic illness. Even one small serving of salmon contains a full day’s dose of Vitamin D, along with a whole host of other nutrients.
Canned salmon is a good option, since it’s usually wild caught. And both wild and farmed salmon typically contain low levels of mercury. In short, salmon is good for you. Eat up and enjoy!April 03, 2012
Barbara French manages The Nature Conservancy in Washington's volunteer program. She lives in Seattle, where she's constantly spawning new opportunities for community engagement.