Salmon has been a mainstay of royal table cuisine, and has been classed as the “king of the fish ”(Greenberg, 2011). In his book, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food, Greenberg notes that at the present time, 170 billion pounds of wild fish are caught around the world every year, and that this is “the equivalent in weight to the entire human population of China” (Greenberg, 2011). Wild salmon make up a percentage of this, and are intensively farmed due to their nutritional characteristics and desirable taste (FDA, 2015). The purpose of this paper is to take an in depth look at various aspects of wild salmon farming from an ecological standpoint. Aspects covered include the history of Atlantic salmon, related species, wild salmon farming practices and challenges, conservation efforts, the economic, sustainable and environmental impacts, and how today’s salmon differs. My main argument for making wild salmon sustainable is that dams are one of the main reasons for their demise. I will be discussing this point in detail during the course of the paper.
In the early 1800s, all the common New England Atlantic salmon runs north of the Hudson, were exhausted. By the late 1800, it had been eradicated from 3 of the 5 largest salmon populated rivers (Connecticut Rivers, Merrimack, and Androscoggin). Generally speaking, due to over farming, from 1900-1950, there was a severe and continual decline in the voluminous supply in all the rivers. By the 1950s, America’s primary dispersion of Atlantic salmon was, other than several residual populations, restricted to the Maine’s coast’s eastern third (NOAA Fisheries, 2016).

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According to the FDA U.S. Food & Drug Administration, salmon are are part of the Salmonidae family (species). The genus Salmo, that incorporates Atlantic salmon, is part of this family, as is the Pacific salmon containing genus Oncorhynchus. Salmonids display a regular characteristic comprising: “an adipose fin just in front of the tail on the dorsal side” (FDA, 2015). Salmo salar, the Atlantic salmon, is different to Onchorynchus sp, the Pacific salmon. This is in respect of: taste, certain geographical conditions, appearance, and so on. After going back to spawn in the streams that they hatch in, Onchorynchus sp and Salmo salardo not die, and are able to return to the sea. Conversely, Pacific salmon and other Onchorynchus genus members, die within a several weeks or days of spawning. Generally speaking, all the fish discussed in this paragraph represent bony fish which are caught from the wild for commercial purposes (FDA, 2015). At present, wild salmon is also fished by recreational anglers (FDA, 2015).

Long-term salmon conservation’s greatest challenge is to discover and defend the best undamaged rivers which are still remaining. If this natural salmon habitat is lost, then reclaiming it is economically expensive, and doing something about it is difficult as it involves politics. To that end, conservationists need to concentrate on salmon strongholds: rivers which boast the less strong human impacts as well as native salmon stocks where the salmon are in good health. The targets which are the easiest to address are in areas such as Alaska, and northern British Columbia’s Pacific Rim (Rahr, 2016). I believe that if areas such as Alaska are addressed first, then it could pave the way for more difficult regions.

The salmon Atlantic range have drastically decreased in most parts of Atlantic Canada, New England and Europe (Greenberg, 2012). Greenberg notes that at one time, every year around 100,000,000 Atlantic salmon larvae were born in the Connecticut River. But that has now changed: too much fishing and the construction of many dams have had a very negative effect on this reproduction (Greenburg, 2012). 3. Dams are regarded as being one of the largest causes of salmon decline. There are countless dams across the US which obstruct the water’s natural flow.
Due to the changing and slowing natural flow of water, dams can generate an insufficient downstream water supply, elevating the temperature of the water, and enabling too much silt to build up. If the dams are hydroelectric, they can halt the salmon from swimming upstream for spawning. Furthermore, they can lessen the quantity of young salmon which can migrate to the ocean successfully (PBS, n.d.). Clearly, this is one of the crucial matters that has to be addressed in the fight to conserve wild salmon.

As it stands in 2016, all local fish shop or supermarket Atlantic salmon is farmed. Greenberg demonstrates that the procedure through which this farming is carried out poses a threat to the wild salmon’s future both in Connecticut and the Pacific. He also notes that a different method (possibly closed system wild salmon farms) should have been chosen to domesticate salmon. This is because of 1. the elevated pollution levels from the salmon farms; 2. the risk of farmed salmon getting away and cross-breeding with stocks of wild salmon, and 3. the quantity of wild fish that are required to fulfill the needs of farmed salmon feeding (Greenberg, 2011).

A chief critic of salmon production via ocean net pens, University of Toronto professor, Martin Krkosek, notes that in regarding the sustainability of wild salmon, farms that are closed-system, are a great step forward. This is because the majority of these systems do not involve disease, parasites, pollution, disease, and waste material (Bland, 2013), and cannot contaminate other wild fish. It is my personal view that closed system farms would be far more beneficial for wild salmon sustainability.

The US processing and aquaculture activities of the sector making up salmon farming was responsible for a direct output of $371 million, and imparted provincial GDP.1 $134 million. The sector relating to the processing and capture activities of wild commercial salmon in the US was responsible for a direct output of $216 million, and a GDP.2 of $67 million. The sector responsible for the output of salmon sport fishing in the US was responsible for around $231 million. And the US provincial GDP.3 contribution was $116 million (Farmed and Dangerous1).

The farming of salmon is regarded as one of the most toxic and destructive systems within aquaculture. The salmon farming industry utilizes cages with open nets which are put straight into the ocean. Here they are susceptible to the parasites, disease, chemicals and farm waste. Within the industry, it is common for countless farmed fish to escape, and natural predators such as sea lions and seals meet their death in the cages, as they are naturally drawn to the fish pens. Rearing salmon, a carnivorous fish, demand a high protein diet. This protein has to come from wild fish, and this has a negative effect on the environment. To that end: “more kilograms of wild fish are used to raise salmon than farmed salmon produced, depleting wild fish stocks rather than supplementing them” (Farmed and Dangerous, n.d.). Moreover, most operations dealing with salmon farming have to keep parasites and disease in check, and are, therefore, dependent on the use of pesticides, antibiotics and vaccines. These toxic substances which are passed onto humans who consume the salmon, are used by the operators in order to meet the high demand for farmed salmon and to ensure that the activity is profitable (Farmed and Dangerous, n.d.).

According to Kathleen McKeoghain (2016): “the wild salmon our ancestors ate is gone. What appears on our dinner plates today is a genetic dilution of a once mighty fish.” The native Atlantic salmon, which used to be found in seas, rivers, and the North Atlantic Ocean, has now become the impostor species: farmed salmon. This is derived from genetic hatchery livestock, and unlike salmon’s native antecedents, it does not contain the wild hereditary variation. The wild salmon enjoyed by past generations since prehistoric times has now vanished. The salmon that is now available is just a genetic dilution of this once magnificent fish (McKeoghain, 2016).

This genetic stock transformation has been going on for decades. This is because due to restocking programs, salmon that are farmed are discharged back to their native waters. This is for the purpose of lowering the negative effects of wild salmon over-fishing, and as a result of unintentional defective containment within the sea net cages.

In summary, native salmon have become effectively extinct due factors such as over fishing, sea net caging, toxins, and the construction of dams. My main argument for making wild salmon sustainable is that dams are one of the main reasons for their demise. This has been backed up by research within this paper which shows that they block the water’s natural flow, and as they change and slow the natural flow of water, they can generate an insufficient downstream water supply, bringing up the water temperature, and facilitating too much silt to build up. And in the case of hydroelectric dams, they can halt the salmon from swimming upstream for spawning, and reduce the quantity of young salmon that can reach the ocean. My perspective on salmon farming is that conservation measures should be taken in areas such as Alaska to start with, as they are the easiest. I feel that moving forward. the best option for salmon farming sustainability is the use of closed-system farms. I do not feel that the current harmful and unsustainable method of industrial production using net-cages should be used due to all the negative repercussions and environmental drawbacks.

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  • Farmed and Dangerous (n.d.).“What is Salmon Farming?” Retrieved from
  • Farmed and Dangerous1 (n.d.). “Economic Impacts.” Retrieved from
  • FDA (2015). “An overview of Atlantic salmon, its natural history, aquaculture, and genetic engineering.” Retrieved from
  • Greenberg, Paul (2011). Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. USA: Penguin Press
  • McKeoghain, Kathleen (2016). “Atlantic Salmon Is Basically Extinct: You’re Eating a Genetically Eroded Version.” Alternet. Retrieved from :
  • NOAA Fisheries (2016). Retrieved from
  • PBS (n.d.). “Fish Fate—Major Reasons Salmon Are in Trouble.” Retrieved from
  • Rahr, Guido (2016). “Why Protect Salmon?” Wild Salmon Center. Retrieved from