Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Is That Really Wild Salmon?
How can you tell the difference between wild and farmed salmon? I read that sometimes salmon labeled "wild" is really farmed.
Answer (Published 10/19/2006)

In 2005, the New York Times sent a reporter to buy salmon advertised as "wild" at eight stores in the city. The Times then had the salmon tested and learned that six of the eight pieces of fish, some of which sold for as much as $29 per pound, were farmed, not wild.

The latest chapter in this dispiriting story comes from Consumer Reports August 2006 issue. The magazine's representatives did the same thing the Times reporter did, but in this case bought fish from markets in several states, first in the summer of 2005, then in November and December of 2005, and a third time in March, 2006. The Consumer Reports shoppers bought both farmed and wild salmon and then had them tested for the tell-tale coloring (astaxanthin, a natural carotenoid pigment) added to the feed of farmed salmon so that their flesh will be pink, not gray. Wild salmon flesh is pink because of the crustaceans and algae they feed on. Farmed salmon have a different diet – fish meal and fish oil that doesn't contain the natural pigments.

Of the 27 pieces of salmon bought in the summer – the height of salmon season - all were correctly labeled. But of the 17 pieces of fish bought in November and December (after the season ends), seven turned out to be farmed. In March, shopping was confined to the stores that had sold the mislabeled salmon. This time, all of the "wild" salmon purchased turned out to be farmed. In two stores, the salmon was described as "organic,"a misnomer because no fish are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Unfortunately, there's no way to tell at a glance whether salmon is wild or farmed, and you certainly can't go around having fish tested. Once you've eaten wild salmon, you may be able to recognize the taste – it's stronger than farmed salmon; the flesh is firmer, too. Bear in mind that you're most likely to find wild salmon between the months of May and September, when the Alaska commercial harvest is in progress. But if the published reports cited here are representative, anything marked "wild" from November through April probably is farmed.

I recommend eating wild Alaskan salmon because it is delicious and a good source of health-protective omega-3 fatty acids. I also have concerns about potential contaminants in farm-raised salmon, although I recognize that this is a complex issue and some farms no doubt have purity standards and raise a good product.

If wild salmon isn't readily available where you live, you can order it online from one of my favorite sources, Vital Choice Seafood ( The wild Alaskan salmon available from this source is flash-frozen when caught and comes from sustainable, well-managed ocean fishing operations.

If wild Alaskan salmon is too pricey for your food budget, you can buy canned sockeye (red) salmon in the supermarket; it's all wild (sockeye can not be farmed) and will give you the same omega-3 fatty acids found in fresh or frozen Alaskan wild salmon. You can also get the same fatty acids from other cold water fish including, mackerel, sardines, herring, and black cod.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here