Friday, January 24, 2014

A quick story about Salmon.

On my NOLS instructor course we paddled from Port Hardy, on the north end of Vancouver Island to Bella Bella and then took the ferry back. British Columbia is an amazing place, somehow it lacks the scale and grandeur of Alaska - which I tell people is my drug of choice - But it is amazing in its own right. 

We paddled past a number of different salmon farms. I had never given salmon farms much thought before this, and so paddling with a bunch of people who had either paddled in the area before, were already experienced outdoor educators, or had been exposed to salmon farms in the past, I had the opportunity to learn a lot and I did. 

I learned that Farmed Salmon is a much different fish than wild caught salmon. The farmed salmon are kept in large pens, and they are crammed in the pens so they can't really swim as much as a regular salmon. Which means the fish can't really swim, and living in such close proximity to other fish all the time dramatically increase the spread of disease. Because of this, the fish are fed antibiotics. Also, since the fish can't hunt - salmon are meat eaters - they are fed the equivalent of salmon chow, which is made up of about 70% fish/fish oil and bound together with wheat or some other vegetable based binder. Because of this unnatural diet the fish don't get that nice pink color. So they add dye to the salmon chow. 

So after learning all this I came up with a plan. We should paddle over to one of the farms in the middle of the night, and let the salmon free. I was very proud of this plan for the three seconds it lasted until it was shot down. You would think a plan like this would be shot down because it is illegal. But no, that wasn't the problem. The problem was that we - of course - were paddling in the pacific ocean, and locked in the pens were Atlantic salmon. If we did that we would be releasing an invasive species (which I have come to learn isn't that big of a deal because thousands escape every year and have been found as far north as Alaska.) Why Atlantic salmon you ask? It's a long story but really it comes down to this. It is Norway's fault. I finally decided that the situation was un-winable, and claimed from then on I was only eating shrimp. One of the other instructors said "Oh you can't do that, for every pound of shrimp caught there are 6 pounds of bycatch!" Bycatch is fish that is caught along with the shrimp and killed needlessly. Sometimes you can't win. 

This all came to mind this morning when I saw this. 

Farm raised organic salmon - we will just ignore the fact that it is once again Norway's fault. I read this sign and thought to myself, "How can something be farm raised, and organic?" Well, I came home and did some research. It turns out that the definition of organic isn't as strict as one might think. You can read about it here, it is actually pretty depressing. What it boils down to is they can still do the same practices as non-organic farm raised salmon, they can even feed them the salmon chow I spoke of, but they have just slightly higher standards. They can use the chemicals, and dyes, but less of them. 

The advantage of farm raised salmon - for the consumer - is the cost. As you can see above, organic farm raised is $10.99(us) a pound. Less than a week ago I bought wild caught salmon for $16.99 a pound. That is a tremendous difference in price, which is why people buy farmed salmon. the disadvantages of of farmed salmon I think I have already made clear, but if I haven't, read about it here

Here is the thing about Americans - and I am going to get hate email about this, it may be true of other cultures as well, but I don't live in other cultures so I don't feel comfortable criticizing them - If given the choice, Americans will always choose the option that is good for the environment. I am not kidding. If you give an American two options and you say, both of these are effectively the same, but option A is good for the environment, and B is bad for the environment, they will always choose A. Well, they will always choose A if they are the same cost! There has been a massive amount of research that proves it, I am not making it up. We want what is right, but we don't want to pay for it. 

I am willing to spend what money I have to pay for it. That is why I bought the wild caught salmon a week ago. Though, in all honesty, I had an ulterior motive. Farm raised salmon doesn't have as much Omega 3 fatty acid as wild caught. 

Okay, I started this saying it would be a quick story about salmon, and I am going to end it with a second quick story. In 2008 I worked a NOLS course in Prince William Sound. We were spending our last night of the course in a large bay with a huge beach. Floating in the bay were a handful of small commercial fishing boats. One of the boats drove straight into the beach, its metal hull scraping the rocks with little to no impact. He called to one of our students, who came running down to the shore line. He handed her three huge - wild caught! - salmon and we feasted. In talking about it with one of the other instructors I asked why he thought the fisherman did that. He said simply, that it was marketing. Those students would go back home and remember how amazing fresh caught salmon was, and then they would go out and buy it. It was brilliant in its simplicity. I am heading back to PWS this summer, and I will be bringing the makings of sushi with me. I've done it before and it is amazing. The best fish you have ever had.

Oh, and by the way, we are almost out of tuna. Not in the cabinet, the planet. If you could mention to the Japanese to lay off the maguro.