Description: Salmo salar is the salmon that most people are familiar with. This is the workhorse fish that is found everywhere from sushi bars to small-town cafes.
Habitat/distribution: Atlantic salmon technically range from Scandinavia to Canada, and most places in between. However, massive habitat degradation and overfishing in the past several hundred years have claimed most wild populations. Today, only remnants exist in most places in the wild.
Method of harvest: Today, the overwhelming majority of Atlantic salmon available in the market is farmed- more than 99%. While small wild commercial fisheries exist (mostly in the UK), these contribute little to overall supply.
Season: Farmed Salmon is available year-round, with few to no interruptions in supply. Wild Atlantic Salmon is rarely available, and only in strict seasons.
Size: Farmed salmon range from five to more than twenty pounds.
Product Forms: Whole, gutted; “D-Trim” Fillet (skin-on, scale-on, belly on); “E-Trim” (skin-on, scaled, belly off)
Cooking characteristics: Farmed Salmon, thanks to a high-protein and high-fat diet, are the perfect hearty fish. Very good raw, marinated, or cooked in any number of ways. Salmon do not fry very well, on account of the fat content, but aside from that, they are one of the more versatile fish. Wild salmon have orange-red meat because of their diet, which is typically rich in shellfish. Farmed salmon, in order to achieve the same color, are given some type of astaxanthin along with their feed. Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring compound present in wild salmon, shellfish, and other life.
Sustainability: Salmon are one of, if not the largest and most valuable commodity farmed fish in the world. Unfortunately, given the vast quantities reared and ‘conventional’ salmon farming practices, there are more than a few sustainability issues. First, salmon are typically raised in floating pens in open bays. Cage density is usually quite high, which means that antibiotics are sometimes necessary to combat diseases against which salmon have few natural defenses. Moreover, transmission of these diseases to (dwindling) wild populations is an ever present risk.
Added to all this is the issue of feed. Salmon require approximately three pounds of feed to add one pound of flesh. While this is not exactly a great feed-conversion ratio, the real problem is in the source for the feed. Very large wild fisheries exist for no other reason than to produce fish feed (eg. Peruvian anchovetas and jack mackerels as well as the Atlantic and Gulf Menhaden). As salmon production continues to grow, these wild ‘forage fish’ stocks are plummeting. Luckily, more and more farms are researching alternatives to forage fish.
Norwegian- Norway was the pioneer in salmon farming, and over the decades has maintained a certain reputation beyond most other producing countries. Norwegian farms are typically ‘conventional’, with wide use of floating pens in fjord areas.
Scottish- Scottish salmon is the preferred salmon for use in sushi bars, as the fat content is generally superior.
Bay of Fundy