Salmon and sustainability

Food politics
Salmon from Scandinavia

Next time you’re at the supermarket, have a look at the fish counter, or gaze into the plastic wrapped cartons. Chances are, there’ll be a few different species of white fish, some trout and lots and lots of salmon.

There’s a reason for that. Salmon is relatively affordable, in fish terms, it’s very versatile, and it tastes good. People like salmon, and add in the fact that it’s packed with the right types of fatty acids and vitamins, and it seems to be the perfect food.

In many ways, it is. It’s a good alternative to many of the more endangered fish species, and it lends itself fairly well to farming – although not perfectly – and the health benefits are fairly clear. There’s a lot of poor quality out there, though, and you need to be careful about what you’re buying. The cheap stuff is paler in colour, and has more defined lines of fat. Fillets tend to look, well, skinnier. Good quality salmon is firmer of flesh, darker, and should glisten with freshness.

The provenance of the fish is important. Scottish or Norwegian are good bets. Norwegian salmon, in particular, bred in the cold, clear waters of Scandinavia is a superb product.

Much salmon is farmed in some way or other, and there have been disasters in that area, including the complete collapse of the Chilean salmon industry a few years ago because of overcrowding, disease and generally poor management. There are also concerns about the sustainability of farming, as salmon needs protein to grow, and that normally comes from the wild, meaning that production, if it isn’t managed carefully, can ‘cost’ more than it creates. The Marine Stewardship Council rates Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon as ‘3’ because of this, and would like to see more non-wild fish protein introduced into feed to improve sustainability further.

That said, the Norwegians are clear leaders in fish farming, and are responsible for about 60% of world Atlantic salmon production, with a production area of over 1.5 million square kilometres of sea. The Norwegian government licenses and regulates fish farming closely, and this results in improved conditions for the fish, with light stocking common … 2.5% fish to volume is normal in a Norwegian salmon farm.

And the fish itself is wonderful. Rich and sweet, dense flesh that tastes of the clear, Arctic waters it was bred in. There’s a crispness to the taste of a very good piece of fish, something that hints at the strength and vigour of the fish itself, and all of that is there in a good piece of Scandinavian fish.

Enjoy occasionally, but enjoy, you will.