As you may or may not have noticed, we added wild Alaskan salmon to the menu last week when we rolled out our new Wild Salmon Salad. Not only is this dish delicious, but it’s really good for you (fish comes with a lot of omega-3s), and it’s a really high quality product.
What makes it high quality?
Two things really – the fact that it comes from Alaska, and the fact that it’s wild (vs. farmed).
When it comes to eating fish, there are 2 big things to be concerned about – methylmercury and PCBs. These aren’t the only issues, but they’re the most important ones. And as you’ll see below, you don’t have to worry about either of them when you’re eating wild salmon from Alaska.
Methylmercury levels are highest in large fish grown in more industrial areas
Methylmercury is a toxic substance that is dangerous for a developing fetus (especially during the early months of pregnancy), and it comes from industrial pollution. Coal-burning power plants emit large amounts of mercury into the air, it falls to the ground through rain, and then it ends up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans. When mercury gets into water, microorganisms convert it into methylmercury, which is easily absorbed by the human digestive tract.
Methylmercury is ingested by all fish grown in waters near industrial areas, and it accumulates in large, predatory fish as they eat lots and lots of small fish. Shark, swordfish, and albacore tuna tend to accumulate levels of methylmercury that are dangerous for pregnant woman, which is why women who are pregnant or might become pregnant are advised to limit their consumption of these types of fish.
Methylmercury levels tend not to be much of an issue for salmon because they’re not that high up on the fish food chain. They are carnivorous, but they eat mostly krill (tiny crustaceans) and very small fish.
That being said, higher levels of methylmercury will undoubtedly be found in salmon that are raised or live naturally in more polluted areas. And this is where the Alaskan thing comes in – Alaska is geographically isolated and therefore has much lower levels of industrial pollution. Therefore, its waters tend to be very low in methylmercury.
So this is why you don’t need to worry about methylmercury levels in the wild Alaskan salmon we serve here at Dig Inn:
- Methylmercury is less of an issue in the first place because salmon aren’t that high up on the food chain (especially the smaller pink salmon that we serve).
- Our salmon come from Alaska where methylmercury levels in the water tend to be the lowest.
So we can safely check off box.
Levels of PCBs are highest in farmed fish
PCBs (short for polychlorinated biphenyls) are toxic chemicals that were once used in manufacturing (they were banned in 1979). Today, our rivers, lakes, and oceans are heavily polluted by these and many other chemicals (coming from industrial emissions and agricultural pesticide runoff), even though many of the most dangerous ones have been banned for years. Since PCBs pose the biggest risk to our health, it’s helpful to use the acronym “PCBs” as shorthand for all of the dangerous toxic chemicals that are found in our waters today. Suffice it to say, these are chemicals that you should do your best to consume in only very small amounts.
Unlike methylmercury, which is stored in the muscles of fish, PCBs accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish as they move up the food chain. Levels of PCBs therefore depend on four things: the fish species, where they grew, how fatty they are, and what they were fed.* Because of the last 2 factors especially, farmed fish are most at risk, and farmed salmon is especially risky because it’s one of the most industrial fishing industries.
Farmed salmon are raised very much like cattle in feedlots – they’re confined in overcrowded pools filled with antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals, and waste. Also like cattle, they’re fed lots and lots of food to make them grow as quickly as possible, which makes them more fatty. Instead of live krill and small fish, their food comes in the form of pellets, which contain fish meal and oil** because fish grow best when they’re fed proteins and fats from other fish. However, because of the way that these pellets are made from smaller farmed fish, they tend to have very high concentrations of PCBs. And because farmed salmon are fed massive amounts of these pellets in order to speed up their growth, they tend to have much higher levels of PCBs than wild fish.
Wild Alaskan salmon is therefore much safer than farmed salmon for three reasons:
- They grow in Alaska where the waters are the least polluted.
- They aren’t fed food pellets.
- They tend to be less fatty because they grow at a natural pace.
So we can safely check off the PCBs box as well.
Wild Alaskan salmon is therefore much safer than farmed salmon from elsewhere
For these reasons, the wild Alaskan salmon served here at Dig Inn is a high quality product that you can feel good about eating. You don’t need to worry about methylmercury or PCBs, so you can just focus on loading up on high quality protein and healthy omega-3s – and on how delicious the dish is!
* Please note that this post relied heavily on the chapters on fish in Marion Nestle‘s excellent reference, What To Eat, for much of the information about the fish industry. While this book was published in 2006, not a whole lot has changed since then in regard to methylmercury and PCBs.
** In addition to soy protein, wheat, vitamins, minerals, as well as meal from leftover meat and bones of cows, pigs, and other animals raised on industrial farms. Gross! (also from What To Eat)