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Choosing Between Farm-Raised and Fresh-Caught Salmon in the Great Lakes States: An In-depth Analysis

Written By Annie Hessler

For residents of the Great Lakes states, selecting between farm-raised and fresh-caught salmon is a multifaceted decision influenced by environmental concerns, health implications, and accessibility. This choice extends beyond personal preference, impacting ecological sustainability, public health, and regional economies. Here is an overview of our take on choosing between farm-raised and fresh-caught salmon.

Environmental Impact

The environmental footprint of salmon farming versus wild fishing varies significantly, with each method posing unique challenges and benefits. Ziegler and Hilborn (2022) noted that wild-caught salmon from Alaska, particularly the frozen sockeye and pink varieties, generally have a lower environmental impact compared to farmed salmon. This lower impact includes reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less intensive land use, and fewer contributions to marine eutrophication (Ziegler & Hilborn, 2022). This study also noted that Norwegian farm-raised salmon typically exhibits higher emissions and resource use due to the energy-intensive nature of aquaculture operations (Ziegler & Hilborn, 2022).

In the Great Lakes region specifically, the expansion of salmonid cage culture has prompted concerns about its ecological ramifications. Research by Johnston, Keir, and Power (2010) showed that these aquaculture practices could disrupt local fish populations and alter the ecological balance, indicating potential long-term impacts on biodiversity and aquatic ecosystem health (Johnston et al., 2010).

A great tool to help you understand the environmental impact of your seafood selection is Seafood Watch, maintained by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It offers many different regional guides, as well as tools for businesses and culinary professionals who are striving to make more sustainable decisions.

Health Implications:

Both wild-caught and farm-raised salmon are excellent sources of essential nutrients, but their health benefits can vary significantly. A study by Colombo and Mazal (2020) highlighted that wild varieties such as Sockeye and Chinook salmon are particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are crucial for heart health and cognitive functions (Colombo & Mazal, 2020). These wild types, however, can sometimes contain higher levels of mercury and other environmental toxins, depending on their habitats and diets.

Conversely, farm-raised Atlantic salmon, while generally lower in omega-3s compared to their wild counterparts, often have lower concentrations of mercury and other harmful contaminants. This makes them a safer option for frequent consumption, particularly for vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children (Colombo & Mazal, 2020). Moreover, Hayward, Wong, and Krynitsky (2006) observed that PCB and PBDE levels were significantly lower in farm-raised salmon than in certain wild species (Hayward et al., 2006), further emphasizing the health safety of farmed varieties.

One useful tool for identifying the types of chemicals and metals that may be present in Michigan fisheries is the Eat Safe Fish Guides. These guides provide regional information on potential contaminants in local waterways, as well as serving size and monthly consumption recommendations for different species of fish.

Accessibility and Economic Considerations:

Accessibility to different types of salmon is a critical factor for consumers in the Great Lakes states. Farm-raised salmon tends to be more consistently available and affordable, thanks to controlled production processes that ensure year-round supply and stable prices. In contrast, the availability of wild-caught salmon can be seasonal and is often more expensive due to the costs associated with sustainable fishing practices and the regulatory environment aimed at preserving wild fish populations (Abaidoo, Malone, & Melstrom, 2022).

The seafood market is also complicated by issues of mislabeling and fraud, which can affect consumer confidence and behavior. Studies by Abaidoo, Malone, and Melstrom (2022) found that while consumers generally prefer locally sourced seafood, their willingness to pay can be significantly impacted by negative information about seafood fraud, even when it pertains to imported products (Abaidoo, Malone, & Melstrom, 2022).

In the end, the decision between choosing farm-raised or wild-caught salmon in the Great Lakes states involves a complex interplay of environmental, health, and economic factors. Wild-caught salmon from sustainable sources like Alaska offers environmental benefits and a rich nutrient profile but may come with higher costs and less availability. Farm-raised salmon, while more accessible and with fewer contaminants, carries a heavier environmental footprint and typically lower levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Consumers are advised to consider their priorities—whether they be ecological sustainability, health benefits, or economic factors—and make an informed choice that aligns with their values and needs. By doing so, they not only influence their health but also contribute to broader sustainability and economic trends in the region.

As always, if you have questions or are interested in learning more, you can call/text 231-492-0046 to schedule a meeting with Dr. Abigail, or you can book online.



  • Abaidoo, E., Malone, T., & Melstrom, R. T. (2023). Fish demand in the U.S. Great Lakes region in the face of seafood mislabeling.

  • Anderson, K. A., Hobbie, K. A., & Smith, B. W. (n.d.). Chemical profiling with modeling differentiates wild and farm-raised salmon.

  • Colombo, S. M., & Mazal, X. (2020). Investigation of the nutritional composition of different types of salmon available to Canadian consumers. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

  • Hayward, D., Wong, J., & Krynitsky, A. J. (2006). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers and polychlorinated biphenyls in commercially wild caught and farm-raised fish fillets in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(3), 352-357.

  • Johnston, T. A., Keir, M., & Power, M. (2010). Response of Native and Naturalized Fish to Salmonid Cage Culture Farms in Northern Lake Huron, Canada. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, 139(3), 660–670.

  • Ziegler, F., & Hilborn, R. (2022). Fished or farmed: Life cycle impacts of salmon consumer decisions and opportunities for reducing impacts. Science of The Total Environment. 

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