Undiluted enjoyment of salmon? Questions and answers

Being culinarily versatile, salmon is very popular and has become an integral part of many a menu. But it has its dissenters too. Chefs are often asked: is salmon healthy or toxic? Is farmed salmon better than wild salmon? And how sustainable is farmed salmon?

Young salmon in a breeding tank
Fresh salmon on ice

What´s it all about?

🐟 Is salmon good or bad for you?
🐟 Wild or farmed salmon - which one is better?
🐟 How sustainable is salmon?
Salmon eggs

Farmed salmon, wild salmon, organic salmon – raw, pan-seared or oven-baked: few edible fish are quite as popular as salmon. A large proportion of farmed salmon comes from Norway. In 2022 alone, the country accounted for around 1.3 million tonnes of salmon – around half of global salmon production. Salmon is not uncontroversial, precisely because of its immense production volume. Overfishing, fishing methods and fish farming are just some of the key themes in the debate. How healthy is salmon from aquaculture? What is actually the difference between fishing and aquaculture? And restaurateurs are asked one question in particular again and again: is salmon toxic?

Is salmon bad for you?

If you google ‘salmon’, you will get hits such as ‘Is salmon good or bad for you?’. This fear stems from water pollution, in other words toxins that find their way into the fish via the food chain and then ultimately onto our plates. So is this true?

Simon Nesse Økland, Group Communications Officer at Bremnes Seashore, stresses that strict controls are applied to guarantee the quality of both the water and the fish. The Norwegian fish farming company supplies METRO among other things with salmon fillets for its METRO Chef own brand. ‘The Norwegian Institute of Marine Research regularly tests our salmon,’ says Økland, bringing the corresponding website to our attention. ‘There are absolutely no indications in the samples of toxin levels above the permissible limits.’ Bremnes Seashore additionally performs its own checks – the company uses 200 samples a day to monitor various values, from the finished fillet to the bacteria content on the production hall floor. Risk groups and expectant mothers can seek information themselves concerning the consumption of certain foods. Nutritional advice is offered by institutions such as the European Food Safety Authority.

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Aquaculture – better or worse?

What exactly is aquaculture? And what’s the difference between wild salmon and farmed salmon?

Aquaculture or aquafarming is the controlled cultivation of aquatic organisms, in this case fish. The fish go through various stations, starting as an egg in the hatchery tank, then moving to bigger and bigger pens where the salmon become freshwater fish. This is not dissimilar to in nature, where salmon hatch in rivers, i.e. in fresh water, then migrate to the sea. Except that in aquaculture, this occurs in a controlled manner in pens that imitate the natural living conditions, under the watchful eye of humans and in accordance with the most stringent hygiene conditions. After around 48 weeks in fresh water followed by a further twelve in the hatchery, by which time the fish weigh approximately 500 grams, they are placed in a special transport ship and are relocated to larger pens in the sea.

From the hatchery tank to the ocean

How high is the stocking density and how big are the pens?

The Bremnes Seashore sea pens measure 160 metres in circumference and are between 40 and 70 metres deep. ‘We have low stocking density of 100,000 to 120,000 fish,’ says Simon Nesse Økland, Group Communications Officer at Bremnes Seashore, ‘which is less than the industry standard.’ The fish can choose how deep they swim, and the natural ocean current flows through the nets unhindered.

Fish oil, fishmeal, feeding: a problem?

Another criticism levelled at aquacultures is that they are not a solution to overfishing as the fish are often fed fishmeal and fish oil. After all, salmon need fish as food themselves. So how accurate is this?

It is true to say that salmon are predatory fish. They cannot survive without food from marine sources, in particular marine proteins. But wherever possible, salmon farming companies such as Bremnes Seashore endeavour to use alternative plant-based raw materials. Some of the fish oil otherwise used is substituted with algae oil. And strict self-imposed rules such as not using soya sourced from the rainforest reduce the carbon footprint overall. At Bremnes Seashore, fish that could otherwise be consumed by humans is under no circumstances fed to fish.

How sustainable is farmed salmon?

What conditions does land-based salmon farming have to meet in order to be considered sustainable production?

In addition to fishmeal and fish oil ideally not being used as feed, an important role when it comes to the sustainability of farmed salmon is played by energy and water consumption. For example, the wastewater must be sufficiently cleaned and is ideally reused within the system. This is the case at Bremnes Seashore – biological filters treat the water used in the hatchery tanks again and again, resulting in 98% of it remaining in the cycle. Other requirements are stipulated by government institutions, certification bodies and internal inspectors, and compliance with these is checked in close to 100 audits a year.

How many antibiotics are there in salmon?

Bremnes Seashore uses absolutely no antibiotics: ‘We have not used antibiotics since 1992,’ says Økland. He emphasises that the focus is on fish health. He cannot categorically rule out the use of antibiotics in the future, but the decisions are always made on the basis of the current circumstances. For the time being, though, antibiotics are not an issue as the fish are protected against diseases by means of vaccination – each fish is given a jab for seven different diseases before transitioning from the hatchery to the sea.

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