THEGREENGROK    Statistically Speaking

Statistical Grok: Weighing Salmon Statistics

by Bill Chameides | August 8th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 4 comments


Chinook salmon numbers are so low that most of the West Coast chinook fishery was shut down this year.

As summer gets into full swing and recreational chefs fire up grills, turning plots of land into backyard bistros, chances are high that salmon is on the menu. If so, here are some facts to sink your teeth into before purchasing that salmon steak or fillet — facts that carry environmental weight.

Where salmon places among America’s top seafood choices: 3rd*

Approximately how many Americans eat salmon: 25%
How many Americans eat salmon more than once a month: 23 million
How many eat it more than twice a week: 180,000
How much salmon eaten by Americans is farmed: 90%

Amount of fish required to feed one pound of farm-raised salmon: 3 lbs.
PCB concentrations in farmed salmon in the United States and Canada: 5 to 10 times higher than those in wild salmon**

Atlantic Salmon

Number of species of Atlantic salmon: 1
Number of wild Atlantic species available for eating: 0***

Year the Atlantic salmon fishery was closed: 1999
Year Atlantic salmon was put on the endangered species list: 2000
Amount of fish sold as “Atlantic salmon” that is farmed: 100%

Pacific Salmon

Number of Pacific salmon species in North America: 5
Chinook (or king), sockeye, coho, pink, chum

First year the commercial chinook fishery was closed in California and parts of Oregon due to low populations: 2008

Estimated economic losses to California, Oregon, and Washington from West Coast salmon declines this year: $290 million and 4,200 jobs


* Canned tuna is America’s second favorite, and shrimp is Americans’ number one choice.

** Because wild fish eat a wide variety of fish and phytoplanktan compared to farmed fish who eat highly concentrated fish feed, wild fish tend to have much lower levels of contaminants such as PCBs.
*** Because they are endangered, wild Atlantic salmon are illegal to catch.


“200 Years of Troubled Waters for Atlantic Salmon,” Bangor Daily News, September 16, 2006

“Commerce Secretary Declares West Coast Fishery Failure; Opens Door for Disaster Relief” – The Columbia Basin Bulletin, May 02, 2008

Burros, Marian. “Farmed Salmon Is Said to Contain High PCB Levels,” New York Times, July 30, 2003

“PCBs in Farmed Salmon; Farmed Salmon Consumption Is Up” – Environmental Working Group

Goldburg, Rebecca and Tracy Triplett. “Murky Waters: Environmental Effects of Aquaculture in the U.S.” – Environmental Defense Fund

Hites, Ronald A. et al. “Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon,” Science 303 DOI: 10.1126/science.1091447, 226 (2004)

Lackey, Robert T. “Restoring Wild Salmon to the Pacific Northwest: Chasing an Illusion?” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

“Wild Salmon Is Still the Best Choice” – Environmental Defense Fund

“Shrimp, Canned Tuna lead NFI’s Top 10 Most Popular List” – National Fisheries Institute (NFI)

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  1. Daniel Wedgewood
    Aug 8, 2008

    Dr. Chameides: Sorry, I must be missing something again. What is the environmental impact of eating salmon? Is it that salmon is being pushed to extinction by over-consumption? If so, what should do – reduce our consumption of all forms of salmon? Or, are you suggesting that we increase consumption of wild varieties of salmon, because they have less PCBs? – Dan” title=”Environmental Impact

    • Erica Rowell
      Aug 13, 2008

      Dr. Chameides responds – Dan, Our Stat Groks are lists to get you thinking. To take it a step further to what you can do, when choosing salmon, go for wild Alaskan. As our post indicates, salmon from other West Coast fisheries are in sharp decline this year. Reasons behind this are still being studied, but scientists from NOAA point to changes in ocean temperatures and reduced food sources for young salmon as major contributers to this year’s low numbers. Degraded habitat is another perennial problem. Overfishing is one of the primary reasons Atlantic salmon have all but disappeared from our oceans. Atlantic salmon, which is not a very good eco-friendly choice, tends to be very inexpensive because it’s all farm-raised. Wild salmon is generally a better choice than farmed salmon for both health and environmental reasons. Salmon farming, something we didn’t go into much on our short list, generally introduces a whole host of environmental problems to the region where the farm is located. These include: – concentrated pollution (from fecal matter, nitrogen, and phosphorus), – disruptions to the wild salmon gene pool (from escaped farmed fish), and – depletion of essential food sources for marine life (farmed salmon are fed concentrated amounts of small fish so much so that they tend to eat much more forage fish than wild salmon because the wild salmon has more of variety of choices, including plankton). From a health perspective, wild Alaskan salmon are better because they tend to contain much lower levels of PCBs and other toxins (this is largely due to the highly concentrated fish meal they are fed).” title=”Wild Alaskan

      • Stephany Wilson
        Aug 13, 2008

        Hi Dr. Bill, I haven’t eaten fish in many years. First it was because I wanted to get pregnant and then afterwards I was breastfeeding. I am not comfortable ingesting any food with any amount of mercury in it, that could be passed on to a fetus or baby. Fish farming is deplorable and I wish that more people were aware of the havoc it causes to natural eco-systems. Ironically most fish farming is set up on the coast and it really can wipe out the existing habitat. That said I did read about these potential deep sea fishing farm where they raise the fish in deep sea to protect the coastal habitat. Although that does not protect the people from mercury. Interestingly when you talk to people they don’t really seem to “get” it, it comes down to but “I like salmon, or I like fish”. Total disassociation from the consequences that come from the demand. This may be a strong comparison, but think of the diamonds funneled from Sierra Leone to Chad, then to De Beers.” title=”farming pollution/mercury

        • Daniel Wedgewood
          Aug 13, 2008

          Dr. Chameides, if we all start switching to Alaskan wild salmon, won’t they be pushed into the same situation as the Atlantic salmon? Are there sources of farmed salmon that do not have the problems you describe above (considering not just U.S. sources)? – Dan” title=”Wild Alaskan Decline

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