Friday, August 28, 2009

A salmon story

Salmon is a popular fish. Even people who are not keen on fish will deign to eat salmon in some form or another (usually as smoked salmon, with cream cheese on a bagel...) The other day I overheard a woman in a restaurant exclaiming that she loved salmon so much, she would eat it every day if she could afford it. This despite widespread news that farmed salmon is so full of toxins that one should limit, if not outright eliminate, its consumption.

If you do like salmon, then it should be a comfort to you that wild Pacific salmon are in season. Sockeyes are still being caught off the northern coast of British Columbia and in Alaska, and Cohoes are now also available.

Wild salmon has a beautiful deep red flesh, and it is firm and lean, quite unlike the anemic blubber that passes off as farmed salmon. It tends to be less 'fishy' in flavour due to the fact that it swims in open and clean waters, and does not wallow in its own shit. Salmon is a top of the food chain predatory fish, and like all predators it's flesh will contain some toxins, however wild salmon tend to be less toxic then farmed... I don't know where I am on the farmed vs wild debate. As it stands, I think I lean towards wild caught, under sustainable conditions. In any case, I believe that all animal proteins should only be consumed in moderation.

It is a known fact that humans can be unreasonable. Worldwide, fish stocks are plummeting. While some fish (salmon and cod) have caught the attention of law makers and fisheries, and are being closely monitored, others (bluefin tuna) seem to be fair game despite blatant signs that stocks are near collapse... Wild Pacific salmons, long thought as being sustainably managed, were eerily absent from the Fraser River in B.C. this year. Commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon show little sign of coming back to North American coasts anytime soon, though if you miss its flavour you can always travel to Scotland and Ireland where it can be found in season.

There is a sliver of good news for Atlantic Salmon: for the first time in over a century, and after relentless restoration efforts, 41 wild salmon have been spotted in the Salmon(!) River (NY), a tributary of Lake Ontario. And the most recent census for the salmon population in the Gulf of St-Lawrence shows promising numbers for the year-old fry -now, we cross our fingers and pray they survive to adulthood.

So why am I going on about it being wild salmon season only to tell you not to eat it? Well, because, it's also the season for most wild salmonidae: trouts of all kind are up for being fished, though I'm not sure wild trouts are available at a fishmonger; Arctic char is also in season, and it is a more sustainable alternative to salmon.

If you must eat farmed fish, trout and Arctic char may be a better choice than salmon. Both are raised on land based fish farms (as opposed to aquaculture, which are plunked in a body of water, as for salmon). Often twined with other agricultural practices such as hydroponic veggies, land based pisciculture may be a more environmentally sound source for farmed fish.

I am not trying to dissuade you permanently from eating salmon, I just want to encourage you to try other fish, and generally to cut back on animal proteins. Give the ocean, the rivers and lakes a rest, a breather, a chance to recover. Have some more fruits and veggies -remember, it's 5 to 10 portions a day!

Bon app'!


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