Trip to the Big Apple reveals a shameless salmon "shell game"
by Randy Hartnell
Last month, I was in New York City to be interviewed for a syndicated television news story about the health benefits of omega-3s, salmon as the premier healthy source, and the distinction between wild and farmed salmon.
Andrew Weil, M.D. was my companion and fellow interviewee at the famed Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan. As we roamed among the fish mongers we came upon stacks of boxes labeled “Wild King Salmon,” in an area used by a major regional distributor.
I knew fresh wild King salmon was out of season, so I asked the product’s owner where he was getting it. To my amazement, he admitted, with no apparent shame or embarrassment, that the salmon in the boxes were actually "farmed" wild king salmon.
He went on to explain that the regional supermarket and restaurants he supplies are price sensitive so he seldom pays more than $2.75 per pound for salmon (well below the cost of actual wild king salmon). These retail outlets are certainly aware that many of their customers have heard about the elevated levels of contaminants in farmed salmon, and, given the option, would prefer wild Alaskan salmon. Apparently the mislabeling is good for business—at least the farmed salmon business.
We were shocked at this bald deception, especially since it was being practiced by a major regional distributor who told us that he ships some 60,000 pounds of salmon every week. We were left to wonder how much of this distributor’s farmed salmon—and farmed salmon from other wholesalers—is mislabeled as “wild,” and purchased by well-meaning consumers seeking to avoid farmed salmon.
One thing is for certain: If the distributor’s box says “Wild,” you can bet it will be priced and sold as wild at the retail level, and the store or restaurant will pocket a hefty profit. Presently, there is little oversight and enforcement, and as long as the rewards of mislabeling outweigh the risks, you can be certain it will persist.
This unethical behavior is akin to selling unsuspecting consumers feedlot beef, factory-farmed chicken or genetically-modified corn by labeling them “grass-fed,” “free-range,” or “organic.” It is a betrayal with many victims. The deceived are cheated both monetarily and nutritionally, and hardworking salmon fishermen are deprived of countless sales as dissatisfied consumers and those they influence are discouraged by the inferior culinary experience from making future wild salmon purchases. It’s amazing how many people think they don’t like salmon because they’ve never tasted REAL salmon.
What can you do?
Know your source. Unless you are very familiar with salmon, it is hard to know whether salmon sold in supermarket cases is wild Alaskan or farmed Atlantic. Those who are experienced with both may detect visual differences, and will almost certainly taste the difference.
Generally speaking, wild Alaskan salmon has less marbling, but natural variations among species make this visual clue an unreliable indicator. Taste is a surer test, since its high saturated fat content gives most farmed salmon a notably greasy taste and texture.
Farmed salmon may even smell different during cooking. But, by the time your senses indicate a possible salmon scam, it is too late.
While retailers and restaurants have a significant economic incentive to “look the other way,” it is important to note that some may be unwitting accomplices in this con game. The surest way to know you are getting authentic wild salmon is to buy it from a knowledgeable vendor… if you can find one. At Vital Choice you have my word that you’ll always get what you pay for.