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What to consider when buying salmon? It's complicated

When deciding what to take home from the fish counter, my selections typically adhere to three criteria:

1. The fish should look fairly fresh.
I'm no expert in this category, but if it's slimy or smells, it's out.

2. Whatever I choose cannot fall under the "avoid" category on the Seafood Watch list.
That's not to say I’m not tempted by spiny tail lobster and imported shrimp, but the social and environmental issues surrounding these options rightfully trump my short-lived hunger cravings.

3. I usually opt for wild caught.
Due to sustainablity issues, for some species farmed is actually the best option. Whenever this is the case I choose something else entirely. No need for additional GMO exposure through modified feed.

Because unfamiliar species require front-end research, what I typically come home with is wild Alaskan salmon. I know what you're thinking. Boring, right? The truth is,  I along with a lot of other consumers find the fish counter confusing. When I'm rushed, salmon is the no-brainer, easy-to-prepare option that fits my criteria. And, it tastes darn good.

Just as I was beginning to think I had my seafood system dialed in, a press-release came across my desk that makes my fail-safe fish a bit more complicated. Timed to coincide with the opening of the Alaska salmon fishing season, Chefs Collaborative, a nonprofit network supporting sustainable food systems, released The Straight Answers When Buying Salmon. The 4-page PDF was designed to help chefs make informed purchasing decisions for their restaurants. After looking at the guide, the information would certainly be valuable to retailers and consumers as well.  

While I was aware of some the shortcomings of farmed fish (genetically modified feed, overcrowded net pens, antibiotics, parasites), I didn't realize there are just as many issues surrounding wild-caught options.

Did you know water wars are currently pitting agricultural priorities against the habitat needs of spawning salmon? "Farmers say they need water from the Klamath and Sacramento rivers for crop irrigation; fishermen say the salmon need the water to spawn," the report says. As water's been diverted, salmon populations have dropped, and in 2008 and 2009 the commercial salmon season was closed.

There's also a proposed gold mine threatening wild Alaskan salmon populations. If the mine begins production in 2016, it could spill chemicals into waterways sending the resident fish belly up. Twenty percent of the yearly Alaskan catch could be impacted.  

You can take action by telling the EPA to protect Bristol Bay and our wild Alaskan salmon populations. Send letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission speaking out against dams in the Klamath River. Also, check out the Chefs Collaborative report and share the information with your friends and customers.

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