March 11, 2022

Wild & Local vs. Organic & Farmed: Knowing what goes into your salmon source

Watch Captain Steve talk about eating beyond organic status.

One of the greatest perks of buying wild-caught salmon is that you can know where your food is coming from. As a society that has endless options of “farm-raised”, “free range” and “organic” alternatives for practically every product in every aisle, shopping for clean, healthy options at the grocery store can very easily become an overwhelming and confusing task.

What about wild salmon - Is it organic?  With wild-caught salmon, there is no question that you are eating the cleanest, most natural wild fish that money can buy. While many farm-raised salmon are stamped with an “organic” label, it is still a product that has been tampered with in some fashion by man. 

Captain Steve Kurian of the Alaska fishing vessel The Ava Jane clarifies that while wild-run salmon do not receive the “organic” label, it is, in a sense, a way to eat beyond the “organic” lifestyle.

The USDA explains the organic certification process as follows:

“USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.”

Yes, you are reading that right; the “organic” label is essentially a marketing tool for confirmation that a product unavoidably raised or grown by man is following some type of guideline to keep it as close to the naturally occurring products as possible.

With wild-caught salmon, none of these requirements are even necessary to the survival or life cycle of pacific salmon. From eggs in a river bed to the last stretch of their journey back to their home river to spawn, wild salmon live an untouched, unaltered life, nourishing themselves with whatever food sources they have available to them in their natural world. Because they are as truly “wild” and “natural” as it gets, and do not need to be monitored by organizations like the USDA, they will never have a need to be labeled “organic”.

On the other hand, we see labels like “organic” slapped onto farm raised products (and are often pushed towards these options even more so than wild salmon) every day. Why? Sometimes it is due to well-meaning, but misguided, concerns about endangering the wild salmon population.  (More about that topic in the blog: How do you know the fishery is sustainable?)  Other times it is due to a lack of understanding about the nutritional difference between wild-caught salmon and farmed salmon (even if it is labeled “organic”). 

Captain Steve, while he admits that he is no expert on the subject, says that the key difference between wild and farmed salmon is omega 3 and omega 6 ratio. The balance between these unsaturated, or “dietary fats”, are what put seafood at the top of the list when it comes to being a highly recommended food to have in your diet regularly. Heart health, prevention of cancer, and other healthy claims made about salmon consumption are all that much more feasible when you are following the recommended ratio of omega 3s and 6s. However, with many farmed salmon today, the feed they are given is sourced from grains, an unnatural diet source that contains much higher amounts of omega 6s and throws off the ratio that makes wild salmon considered to be so healthy in the first place.

So then, how do you find the cleanest, healthiest salmon option available to you, especially if you live in an area where wild salmon is unavailable?  What if “organic farmed salmon” is all that seems to be available at your local grocer?

Find a known producer or small fishery to source your salmon from (hey, that’s us!). The closer you can get to a small, fisherman-direct source, the more likely you are to have access to salmon that is actually as clean (or wild) as possible. Smaller fisheries are able to have much more control over their sustainable fishing practices and are able to more consistently deliver a quality product to you, every time. Larger corporate brands have a much larger potential for the quality of their product to suffer, so it’s best to stick with the fisherman-direct companies you know the face behind! As a team of less than 10 employees led by Captain Steve Kurian and Co-Captain Jenn Kurian, we at Pride of Bristol Bay are proud to be a fisherman-direct company that provides the cleanest, top quality wild salmon - literally - from our nets in Bristol Bay, Alaska to your door anywhere in the Lower 48.

While we’re on the subject, how do I also source other clean, natural proteins? As a Pennsylvania born & raised local who grew up with a butcher shop in his backyard, Captain Steve has learned a thing or two about responsibly sourcing your own wild protein over the years. And while he has been a part of this self-sustaining lifestyle since childhood, he is a large advocate for not needing fancy tools or a ton of money in order to live the same lifestyle with your own family today. From using a meat cleaver to cut pork chops, to building a pig pen out of an old fiberglass truck canopy, to creating raised garden beds with an old tree and some nails, there is always a way to make it work. “I think people get hung up on the fact that it needs to be precise - I’m not that way, I’m very instinctual, so I just make it work and build it well but don't get hung up if the corners don’t match,” Steve explains.

Not everyone can be a fisherman or a farmer, but Captain Steve firmly believes everyone can find a way to work with their local Farmers Market vendors or neighbors with farms and/or livestock by asking them to partake in a barter system. Kurian suggests helping a local Farmers Market vendor by buying their excess vegetables at the end of a season that you can blanch & freeze to last the whole year or offering to help a neighbor out with the butchering process as trade for some sausage and a lesson on how it all works. It can even be a family activity:

“I think that’s something we’re missing in society - communication around food. It should be something that exists in our psyche; [sourcing food] shouldn't just be an activity that you go to the supermarket and you look at price tags and cellophane and plastic. It should really be more of a family-oriented, camaraderie activity of putting up food to nourish our families.” - Captain Steve

From meat to seafood, you should always know where your main protein source comes from. Though Steve grew up eating a meat-heavy diet and had fish on extremely rare occasions (like when they caught it on the beach themselves), he says he and his family have been shifting towards a mostly seafood diet with much excitement over the last few years. 

After just one season of fishing in Bristol Bay, Alaska and bringing a cooler home to a few of their local community members in Pennsylvania, Steve & Jenn quickly realized that the importance of knowing where your food comes from and what it is being fed (before it feeds you) is not just for meat and poultry - but for seafood, too. Before the first season commercially fishing in Alaska, the Kurians had no idea about the difference between wild and farmed salmon. Since then, they have made it their life mission to ensure that others have access to this information (and wild salmon itself!) so that all can lead a healthy, protein educated lifestyle, no matter their background.

For those just getting started in the wild-caught seafood world, Captain Steve recommends starting with portion sizes of wild-caught salmon and growing from there.  By stocking up on your own supply of healthy, clean salmon, you’ll always have something in the fridge. Your need to go grocery shopping dwindles, and the creativity that stems from wanting to use up what’s in your freezer brings you more than just some delicious meals. The same goes for any type of wild protein you plan to start nourishing your family with:

“[Stocking up on wild protein] challenges your cooking skills, personally toughens you up a bit to not be picky about only eating certain parts - we eat the whole animal for what it is, and enjoy every piece of it.”

Tags: alaska salmon Bristol Bay Bristol Bay Fishermen Health benefits of salmon Healthiest Salmon heart health Organic Salmon Salmon Protein sockeye Sustainable Fishing Types of Salmon wild alaskan salmon wild salmon Wild sockeye