Wild salmon is salmon in their natural habitat, caught from the ocean by commercial fishermen. Farm-raised salmon are grown and harvested in cages or pens in salmon hatcheries.

Wild vs farmed salmon has become a topic of debate among several constituents — chefs arguing which tastes better, nutritionists championing which they think is healthier, and environmentalists presence of foreign chemicals and possible diseases in the salmon populace.

In theory, wild salmon is a healthier and more natural choice over farm-raised salmon, but farm-raised salmon are most often cultivated more omega-3 fatty acids and some other benefits their friends in natural waters may not offer.

Comparison chart

Farm-raised Salmon versus Wild Salmon comparison chart
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What it is Salmon raised in sea cages or pens from smolt supplied by a hatchery Wild stocks of salmon harvested from the ocean by boats or shore-based nets.
Pros Lower cost for consumers, quality control of killing/bleeding/filleting fish for freshness, more fish available on the market, additional omega 3. Higher nutritional value, alleged better taste, less contaminates, supports traditional industry.
Cons Prevalence of parasites and disease, interference with wild populations, destructive to commercial fishing communities, more chemical additives and contamination. Environmental impacts (oil spills, by-catch, etc.), over-harvesting, higher cost for consumers, seasonal availability.
Price Depends on the type and geographical location, but usually 1/3rd-1/4th the price of wild salmon. ($5.99 - $34.99 a pound.) Depends on the type and geographical location, but usually 3-4 times the price of farm-raised salmon. ($16.99 - $79.99 a pound.)
Method Sea cages. Purse seining, gillnetting.
Origins 1960 - First salmon farms in Norway and Scotland. 1860’s - Pacific Northwest canning industry emerges.
Market Share 60% - 70%. 30% - 40%.
Annual production Slow growth; rapid growth expected. Stable/stagnant.
Primary Locations Chile, Norway Alaska, Russia, Japan.
2007 Worldwide Production 2,165,321 tonnes 992,508 tonnes

Production Process

Farmed salmon is generally raised in two stages. First, the eggs are hatched and raised on land in freshwater tanks for 12-18 months, producing smolt (juvenile salmon). The smolt are then transferred to floating nets or pens in the ocean, where they are fed pellets and grow for another year or two. A single large sea pen can hold up to 90,000 fish. Modern harvesting techniques involve using wet-well ships to transport the fish to the processing facility, and fish are usually killed by a blow to the head with a pneumatic piston, and bled at the gills. This tightly-controlled harvesting process ensures that the quality of the meat is not needlessly degraded once the fish is dead.

The video below explains how salmon raised is with aquaculture:

Most wild salmon are caught in purse seine nets and gill-nets from their natural ocean habitat, usually as they swim along the shoreline to return to their home streams to spawn. Most commercial salmon boats have refrigerated sea water systems to keep the fish near-freezing until delivery to a processing facility or tender. Quality control varies by region and individual vessels. Most fish freeze to death or suffocate in the fish holds. A single vessel in Alaska may catch more than one million pounds during a productive summer, the season when salmon spawn.

Fish processing plants may produce fresh and frozen fillets, smoke, or can the fish. The entrails/bones/skin of the fish are often turned into fishmeal. In some species of salmon, the eggs are of particular value.

A salmon farm in Norway
A salmon farm in Norway


Many of the wild stocks of salmon are at times “enhanced” with hatchery fish. Just as fish farms are supplied with smolt, some streams and lakes are artificially supplied with smolt - this is called ranching. These juveniles mature in the wild and naturally return to the streams where they were stocked. These fish are essentially ranched fish, but are considered wild by the USDA and processors. Enhanced fisheries have been highly productive in Alaska, Russia and Japan.


Salmon swimming upstream in natural waters
Salmon swimming upstream in natural waters

Wild- caught salmon are considered the fish-industry equivalent of organic produce and are said to be more nutritionally and chemically pure than farmed salmon.

The primary benefit of farmed salmon to consumers is in price and availability. The large-scale production achieved by fish farms makes salmon available to more consumers and drives down the price of wild-caught salmon.


While farm-raised salmon is certainly a healthy food, USDA nutritional data shows wild-caught salmon to be a healthier choice than farm-raised. Wild-caught salmon has less calories, less fat and saturated fat, more minerals, and less sodium than farm-raised salmon. Farm-raised salmon also contain higher concentrations of foreign chemicals, and without artificial dye, the meat would be a pale grey color. However, farm-raised salmon are often known to have more omega 3 fatty acids.

This Daytime talk discusses the farmed vs wild salmon as food:

The general consensus among ocean and nutrition experts certainly lands on the side of wild-caught salmon as a healthier and more environmentally viable choice than farm-raised salmon; however the aquaculture industry is taking steps to address the issues that plague the process. In other words, if farmed with extremely stringent quality conditions like in Norway, farmed salmon may be a better choice as it contains more omega 3.

Environment and Health Concerns

The inherent density of biomass in fish farming leads to common problems with parasites and disease among farmed fish, problems which often spread to nearby wild stocks. To combat these threats, farmed fish are often doused with antibiotics and drugs to control outbreaks. Sea lice and bacterial diseases have been found to wipe out significant portions of wild fish passing by. Even a relatively nascent bacterial development, when gone undetected, may be of serious health concerns to the consumer, especially when eaten raw. A major concern among critics of aquaculture are the fish that escape from pens during storms or accidents. If the fish are non-native species, they will compete with wild stocks. If they are native, they can breed with wild stocks are reduce genetic diversity. Farmed fish are often fed fishmeal and fish oil, which puts pressure on worldwide fisheries, as 1/3 of all commercial fishing production goes towards fishmeal and fish oil. Watch this eye-opening video about salmon when not farmed under proper conditions:

While progress has been made in the aquaculture industry to address the pollution and contamination issues associated with fish farms, such as the development of antimicrobial copper alloys for netting, the consensus among ocean advocates remains that consumers should avoid most farmed salmon.

In many areas of the world’s oceans, commercial fishing has been poorly managed and has led to depleted stocks. While most Pacific salmon fisheries are well-run (2013 was the most productive commercial salmon season in Alaska’s history), there is always the risk of mismanagement and depletion of wild stocks. Commercial fisheries also inevitably lead to small and large oil spills, and other environmental pressures that come with operating so many vehicles on the ocean. By-catch (catching non-targeted fish and mammal species) is another issue, although by-catch tends to be a relatively small issue with salmon purse seining and gillnetting. Animal rights activists have taken issue with the slow death that many commercially caught fish face, however recent research suggests that salmon might lack an adequate nervous system to feel pain.


The wild-caught salmon industry supports many Pacific coastal communities and provides a fairly wide spread of the profits in the industry. The commercial salmon industry remains largely based on small and family-run boats (most fish farms, on the other hand, are owned by large agricultural conglomerates and corporations).

The current worldwide production of farmed and raised salmon would provide about one serving of salmon per year to each person on earth, and sixty to seventy percent of that meat comes from aquaculture. If the various issues associated with aquaculture are mitigated, farmed salmon could fulfill its theoretical promise of easing pressure on wild stocks and providing an affordable and healthy source of protein around the world.

Recent News on Farm-raised and Wild Salmon


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