Salmon Organic vs Wild: Which Is Best?

Woman eating salmon and vegetables at table with side dishes on white plates.

Have you ever been at the fish counter wondering which type of salmon to get?

Was wild or farmed salmon better? And what is organic salmon? Is there really such a thing?

So, then, at the fish counter, which should you choose?

Well, wonder no more!

In this article, we cover main types of salmon, what you should look for, and which one is best for you.

Keep reading to find out!

Types of Salmon

Salmon found in markets is either Pacific or Atlantic and wild or farmed.

Pacific salmon includes the species Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye.

While Atlantic salmon includes North American, European, and Baltic salmon. 

However, Atlantic salmon in the United States are endangered due to overfishing, loss of habitat, and pollution.

Thus, it’s not legal to fish Atlantic salmon either commercially or recreationally.

And as a result, it’s only farmed in the US.

Is Atlantic salmon wild in the US, you might wonder?

Well, yes, but only a small number of fish can still be found in a few rivers in Maine.

Wild Atlantic salmon can also be found in coastal areas in Europe and Russia.

Organic salmon is also of the Atlantic family and is farmed primarily in Norway and Ireland.

Lastly, a small share of sustainable and responsible salmon farms have recently popped on the market.

They produce very clean and healthy salmon. More on them below.

Nutritional Value

All varieties of salmon are considered healthy because of the omega-3 fatty acid content and several other nutrients.

However, there are some smaller differences.

Farmed salmon has a little more fat and calories, while wild salmon is higher in protein.

Organic salmon calories can even be found to be slightly higher than in farmed salmon.

Both wild and farmed salmon have a great amount of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, other B vitamins, and phosphorus. 

Current recommendations suggest that you consume fatty fish twice per week.

That assures you get 500 mg of the essential omega-3 fatty acids, namely eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA.

Below is a comparison of the nutrition values between a 3.5-ounce serving of wild and farmed salmon based on the USDA database.

NutrientWild SalmonFarmed Salmon
Calories182206
Protein, grams2522
Fat, grams812
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
EPA, grams
DHA, grams
0.41
1.43
0.69
1.46
Vitamin B12, % DV127117
Selenium, % DV8575
Niacin, % DV6350
Vitamin B6, % DV5638
Phosphorus, % DV2120
DV=Daily Value.

Health Benefits

Besides omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is also high in vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorus.

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and can help prevent heart disease, and may prevent colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin that people on a vegan diet sometimes struggle to get enough of.

It’s important for red blood cells, to help prevent brain atrophy and memory loss, and for heart health.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, it may also play a role in cancer prevention.

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant.

It’s needed for DNA synthesis and a functioning immune system.

And it may also protect against cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline.

Lastly, phosphorus is important for bones, muscles, and a healthy nervous system.

What is Organic Salmon?

Organic salmon is farmed just like regular salmon, but farmers are using a different set of stricter European organic standards.

The organic label requires fish farms to be more responsible.

Thus, they have to recycle their water, use organic feed, and dispose of waste.

And there are restrictions on the use of antibiotics and maximum densities for the stocking of fish.

Furthermore, Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, and growth hormones are not allowed.

In the US, though, since there’s no organic certification available as of yet, there’s no organic salmon.

But according to the USDA, that appears to be in the works.

Can You Find Organic Farmed Salmon in the US?

Because there’s no certification in the US, there’s no such thing as US organic farmed salmon as of yet.

Where Does Organic Salmon Come From?

Organic salmon originates in farms in Europe that are certified organic using strict European standards.

They primarily produce Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish organic salmon.

What About Organic Wild Salmon, Is There Such a Thing?  

No, organic wild caught salmon isn’t organic.

That’s because the water quality and feed source can’t be controlled and proven to meet the standards.

Thus, even though it’s a natural food, it can’t be labeled organic.

Is Organic Salmon Healthy?

Yes, organic salmon is healthy!

Because farmers follow stricter rules, the fish may have less residue than conventionally farmed salmon.

But it’s not clear what those differences are.

Where Can You Buy Organic Salmon?

Buying organic, you can count on the organic salmon price to be a bit steeper than for regular salmon.

Responsible salmon farming is not called organic, but the premise is similar.

By inputting organic salmon near me in a search engine you can shop online or find local vendors in your area.

Here’s some local availability of organic and responsibly-farmed premium salmon:

  • Organic salmon Whole Foods: Responsibly-farmed
  • Organic salmon Walmart: May have responsibly-farmed canned salmon
  • Organic salmon Tesco: Organic and responsibly-farmed salmon in the UK and Ireland
  • Organic salmon Waitrose: Scottish organic salmon in the UK

You can also buy organic canned salmon online from brands such as Organic Ocean. 

Where Does Wild-Caught Salmon Come From?

Wild salmon in the US refers to wild Pacific salmon that is caught primarily in Washington State and Alaska.

Although a small amount is caught in Oregon.

While it’s prohibited to catch wild Atlantic salmon in the US, it’s still caught in coastal areas in Europe and Russia.

Is Wild Salmon Healthy?

Yes, wild salmon is healthy. It’s high in protein, nutrients, and essential omega-3 fatty acids.

Because they swim more and eat a more varied diet, they’re also lower in fat than farmed salmon.

They may however be high in persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs, DDT and dioxins, and heavy metals.

However, the levels are still lower than in other wild caught fish higher in the food chain such as swordfish and shark.

What Is Farmed Salmon?

Farm raised Atlantic salmon is equivalent to farmed salmon in the US.  

By conventional practices, the farm raised fish live in cramped conditions in enclosures or tanks in the ocean.

These cramped conditions predispose to the spread of diseases and parasites.

So, to control disease, they’re often fed antibiotics and sprayed with pesticides.

And according to the Washington State Department of Health, several problems are associated with fish farming:

  • Waste polluting the ocean
  • Diseases spreading to wild salmon
  • Interbreeding of Atlantic and Pacific salmon from runaways
  • Health effects and resistance from routine antibiotics use

Salmon farms in Norway and Canada have stricter regulations, while farms in Chile are considered more liberal.

According to the Seafood Watch, Chilean farms used nearly 1,800 times more antibiotics than Norway while producing 50% of the fish.

And since antibiotic resistance is a concern with the overuse of antibiotics, it may be better to avoid Chilean salmon in favor of US and European fish. 

Is Farm-Raised Salmon Bad for You?

Because of the problems outlined above, there’s some concern that residue in farmed fish may impact human health as a trickle-down effect.

However, according to the USDA, salmon is considered safe for human consumption.

And because the health benefits still outweigh any concerns, it’s recommended to eat even farmed fish twice per week.

Farmed Salmon Toxic Debunked

Although earlier studies showed high levels of contaminants in farmed salmon, later studies haven’t confirmed this. 

Because of recent regulations regarding farming practices, fish meal now includes more plant-based and less marine-sourced byproducts and fish oil.

That has resulted in lower contaminant levels in farmed fish and wild salmon may now be higher in heavy metals and contaminants.

And, according to the USDA, wild and farmed salmon now have similar amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.

Since these concerns aren’t included in anyone’s advertising policy, there’s a watchdog for that.

To read more about which region produces the best and worst fish, visit Seafood Watch.

Wild Salmon vs Farmed Salmon Color

Because wild salmon eats a varied diet rich in krill and small shellfish, it’s naturally pink in color.

The pink color comes from the natural carotenoid pigments called astaxanthin and canthaxanthin.

These pigments are antioxidants and precursors to vitamin A. 

They can be produced both naturally and synthetically and are also sold in health food stores.

A stark visual to determine if they’ve been used in farmed salmon is its color.

Farmed salmon, not fed pigment, would be whitish.

But since no one wants to buy whitish salmon, farmed salmon feed is routinely supplemented with these pigments.

However, there are chemical differences between natural and synthetic pigments.

And synthetic pigments aren’t considered GRAS, or safe, by the FDA.

But because they’re cheaper and don’t seem to cause harm to humans or animals, they’re widely used in conventional farming.

In organic farming, on the other hand, synthetic pigments aren’t allowed, and instead, natural pigments are used.

Natural pigments are also used in responsible farming.

Is Atlantic Salmon Healthy?

Yes, even though there are some health concerns regarding farming practices, farmed Atlantic salmon is still considered a healthy food.

And it’s preferred over meat.

See the Nutritional Value and Health Benefits sections above.

Does Farm-Raised Salmon Have Omega-3?

Yes, farm-raised salmon has about the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids as wild salmon and may contain fewer heavy metals.

This is because of a change in regulation mentioned above.

However, farm raised salmon is also higher in omega-6 and saturated fats than wild salmon.

These fatty acids are considered more inflammatory.

Best Farm-Raised Salmon

Newer types of responsible aquaponic farms in the US farm salmon and organic plants under one roof.

Although the fish isn’t labeled organic yet, they’re responsible farmers.

They closely monitor water quality and recycle waste to form a sustainable ecosystem.

And unlike ocean water, the water doesn’t contain heavy metals or agricultural runoff.

And since the fish are fed a non-GMO organic diet, have more room, and are healthier, there’s less need for routine chemicals or medication.

Responsible farms with similar practices producing the highest quality salmon can be found in New Zealand.

Wild-Caught Salmon vs Farm-Raised Pros and Cons

The table below describes the pros and cons of wild caught and traditional farm-raised salmon.

TYPE OF SALMONPROSCONS
WildHigh in omega-3s and nutrients
Lower in omega-6
Health benefits
Naturally pink color  
Expensive
Harder to find
Contaminants & heavy metal residue  
Conventional FarmHigh in omega-3s and nutrients
Health benefits
Less expensive
Easier to find  
Environmental concerns
Contaminants & heavy metal residue
Synthetic color added  
Organic FarmHigh in omega-3s and nutrients
Fewer chemicals & residue
Health benefits  
Unavailable in the US
Expensive
Natural color added
Aquaponic Farm/ Responsible FarmHigh in omega-3s and nutrients
Fewer chemicals & residue
Health benefits
Expensive
Not extensively available
More difficult to scale
Natural color added  

How to Incorporate Salmon into Your Diet

Salmon has a delicious flavor and can be incorporated into your diet in many ways.

It can be baked, grilled, sauteed, or pan-fried.

If you want to make an organic salmon recipe, you can use responsibly farmed salmon or wild fish as part of your ingredients.

Canned salmon can be used as a less expensive option in place of fresh salmon, tuna, or chicken in salads. 

Tips for Lowering Your Intake of Contaminants

The best ways to lower your intake of contaminants such as PCB and dioxins in salmon is to:

  • Remove the skin before cooking
  • Cut away any visible fat along the back, sides, and belly
  • Only eat the fillets
  • Grill, broil, or bake
  • Let the fat drip off while you cook and don’t use it for gravies or sauces

This method doesn’t lower mercury which is bound to proteins in muscle tissue.

Final Thoughts

Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, selenium, other B vitamins, and phosphorus. 

It has anti-inflammatory properties and can prevent heart disease, colon, prostate, and breast cancer.

Conventionally farmed salmon can be high in contaminants, especially if produced in Chile.

Wild salmon is naturally pink but may be high in heavy metals.

Newer responsible farms are entering the market with high-quality products using fewer chemicals.

To be on the safe side, remove the skin, cut visible fat, and don’t use drippings for gravies when cooking.

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DISCLAIMER

All rights reserved: Heselholt Group, LLC. We have no affiliate interest in where salmon arefarmed.

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