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Which is better wild or Atlantic salmon?

Salmon is one of the most popular and nutritious fish worldwide. There are several types of salmon, with the two main ones being wild salmon and farmed Atlantic salmon. With rising concerns over sustainability and health, many consumers wonder whether wild or farmed salmon is the better choice.

Wild Salmon Overview

Wild salmon live in the wild oceans and migrate up freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. The five species of wild Pacific salmon are:

  • Chinook (king)
  • Sockeye (red)
  • Coho (silver)
  • Pink
  • Chum

There are also wild Atlantic salmon living in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Wild salmon get their diet naturally by eating other fish, crustaceans, and marine life. Their meat has a deeper orange-red hue compared to farmed salmon.

Wild Salmon Pros

  • Higher omega-3 fatty acids – Wild salmon contain higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3s than farmed salmon.
  • Less contaminated – Since they eat a natural diet, wild salmon contain fewer environmental pollutants like PCBs, dioxins, and mercury.
  • Natural astaxanthin levels – Wild salmon get astaxanthin from eating krill and other prey, giving them higher levels of this antioxidant carotenoid that benefits heart and brain health.
  • No antibiotics or pesticides – Wild salmon are not treated with any drugs, chemicals, or pesticides.

Wild Salmon Cons

  • Supply limitations – It is harder to get consistent inventory of wild salmon compared to farmed.
  • Higher cost – Since supply is limited, wild salmon costs over 2-3 times more than farmed salmon.
  • Inconsistent taste – The taste and texture of wild salmon can vary more than farmed.
  • Bones – Wild salmon tends to have more small bones compared to farmed.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon Overview

Farmed Atlantic salmon are raised in contained net pens or tanks located in coastal waters. The top farmed salmon producing countries are Norway, Chile, Scotland, and Canada. These farmed fish are fed a processed high-fat diet containing ground up smaller fish, soybeans, corn, and other land-based feed ingredients to help them grow fast.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon Pros

  • Lower cost – Farmed Atlantic salmon costs a fraction compared to wild salmon.
  • Readily available – Farmed salmon inventory and supply is consistent year-round.
  • Mild flavor – Farmed salmon has a milder flavor that appeals to more consumers.
  • Few to no bones – The meat has been bred to have smaller pin bones and less bones.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon Cons

  • Lower omega-3s – Has only 25-30% of the omega-3s compared to wild salmon.
  • Higher contaminants – Can contain more PCBs, dioxins, antibiotics, and pesticide residues.
  • Artificial astaxanthin – The pink color is from added synthetic astaxanthin rather than natural.
  • Environmental issues – Fish waste and excess feed impacts water quality and wild fish stocks.

Nutrition Comparison

Let’s look at the detailed nutrition profiles of wild and farmed Atlantic salmon. We will look at a half fillet, around 178 grams or 6 ounces raw.

Nutrient Wild (178g) Farmed (178g)
Calories 242 206
Fat 12.4g 9.7g
Saturated Fat 2.1g 2.7g
Protein 27g 26g
Omega-3 Fatty Acids 2.1g 0.7g
Astaxanthin 4.5mg 0.4mg

The key differences that stand out are the higher amounts of omega-3s and astaxanthin in wild salmon. Farmed has slightly less calories and total fat. The protein content is similar.

Contaminant Differences

Several studies have analyzed and compared the contaminant levels between wild and farmed salmon. Here is a summary of the research findings:

  • A 2005 study found wild salmon had 1/5 to 1/10 the levels of cancer-linked PCBs compared to farmed salmon.
  • A 2011 study reported wild salmon had 1/3 to 1/2 the concentrations of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds versus farmed.
  • Research in 2004 discovered farmed Atlantic salmon contained ten times higher levels of toxic, fat-soluble chemicals such as PCBs, dioxins, and DDT.

The consensus from multiple studies over the past couple decades is clear – wild salmon contain significantly lower amounts of environmental contaminants compared to farmed Atlantic salmon due to their natural diet.

Sustainability Comparison

Wild salmon get their natural diet of smaller fish, krill, and marine organisms by swimming freely in the ocean. Farmed salmon are given feed made up of fish meal and fish oil derived from wild-caught fish further down the food chain.

It takes about 3 pounds of wild fish to produce 1 pound of farmed Atlantic salmon. So farming salmon requires removing more pounds of fish from the ocean compared to just catching wild salmon directly.

However, wild salmon populations can be overfished. Atlantic salmon farming, when practiced sustainably, takes some pressure off wild stocks. But fish feed requirements, waste, chemical use, and farmed fish escapes do harm local marine environments.

In summary, eating wild Pacific salmon has less impact on marine ecosystems than farmed Atlantic salmon currently. But wild Atlantic salmon stocks need to be managed carefully for long term sustainability.

Taste Differences

Wild and farmed salmon differ in their natural versus processed diets, habitats, and activity levels. This results in some subtle taste and texture variances:

  • Wild salmon has a deeper, more complex salmon flavor.
  • Farmed salmon tends to have a milder taste and lighter pink hue.
  • The high fat content and omega-3s give wild salmon a richer mouthfeel.
  • Wild salmon has a firmer, meatier texture while farmed is softer.
  • Small bones are more common when eating wild but farmed has very few.

There are also regional differences in wild salmon taste due to their varied diets. Sockeye and king salmon tend to have the most intensely flavored, red-orange flesh.

Cost Differences

Salmon Type Average Cost (USD)
Wild king salmon $25-$35 per lb
Wild sockeye salmon $15-$25 per lb
Atlantic farmed salmon $8-$12 per lb

The costs above are national averages for fresh, whole salmon bought in a grocery store. Wild salmon can cost up to 3-4 times more per pound compared to farmed Atlantic salmon.

There are large regional differences in wild salmon prices due to availability. Wild salmon costs less than half as much in coastal areas like Alaska and Pacific Northwest compared to midwest and east coast US.


In conclusion, wild salmon is generally considered superior to farmed Atlantic salmon in terms of nutrition, environment, taste, and health. However, farmed Atlantic salmon remains popular due to its low cost, year-round availability, mild flavor, and boneless fillets.

Here is a quick summary comparing the pros and cons of each type:

Wild Salmon Benefits

  • Higher in omega-3 fatty acids
  • More natural astaxanthin
  • Lower in contaminants
  • Supports sustainability of wild fish stocks
  • Richer salmon flavor

Farmed Atlantic Salmon Benefits

  • Much lower cost
  • Readily available year-round
  • Milder flavor
  • Few to no bones
  • Takes pressure off some wild stocks when responsibly farmed

Overall both wild and farmed salmon are healthy fish choices thanks to their high protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and mineral content. But wild salmon delivers superior nutrition and health protection. If your budget allows, choosing sustainable wild salmon provides the best flavor and benefits.