Difference Between Wild and Farm-Raised Salmon

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 05, 2023
4 min read

‌When you’re trying to add more fish to your diet, you have plenty of options to choose from. A popular and tasty option is salmon. Salmon is easy to find in grocery stores. 

When finding the right salmon for you, you’ll have to choose between wild-caught and farm-raised salmon. Both have their pros and cons. 

‌Salmon is one of the most popular fish eaten today. Farm-raised salmon accounts for 75% of all salmon you eat. Wild-caught salmon is more difficult to find and can sometimes cost more because it’s harder to get. 

When you eat salmon, you get a lot of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. These have many benefits that can improve your heart and brain health. ‌

The difference between the two types of salmon is how they’re caught or raised. This can affect their taste, texture, and nutrient content. ‌

Wild-caught salmon is taken from the water using nets, hand-lines, divers, or traps. These salmon grow in their natural environment. They aren’t fed certain food or given any kind of additives. ‌

Farm-raised salmon are grown in tanks or freshwater enclosures. They are bred to be eaten. Sometimes, they have a different texture and varying nutrients. This is because of the different diets they’re given. 

‌Eating wild-caught salmon has many benefits. But their nutritional benefits vary based on their diet and environmental health. These benefits include the following: ‌‌

Omega-3 fatty acids. The amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in wild salmon depends on what kind of algae and plankton they eat. These reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. They also help promote healthy vision and brain development in children.‌

‌Less carcinogen risk. Both types of salmon may be at risk of contamination by carcinogens due to water pollution. But wild-caught fish are slightly safer to eat than farm-raised ones. You should still vary the ways you get your nutrients. 

Low levels of dioxins. Research has shown that wild-caught Pacific salmon have the lowest levels of dioxins. Dioxins and mercury can have neurotoxic effects. Dioxins pollute the environment. When they’re found in fish like salmon, they can be harmful to your health. 

‌While wild-caught salmon may be more favorable, it has some cons. ‌‌

Mercury in wild salmon. Not a large amount, but some mercury has been found in wild-caught salmon. High levels of mercury can cause serious health problems. But studies are being done to see how much mercury is found and where. 

Plastic debris. Another concern about wild-caught salmon is plastic. Plastics are being ingested by the shrimp and anchovies that salmon eat. This causes the salmon to be contaminated. Eating seafood with traces of plastic can harm your hormones and confuse your body. 

‌Toxic pollutants. Increasing levels of toxic pollutants found in both types of salmon can have a negative health impact. This can increase your risk of getting related diseases.‌‌

Range of nutritional content. Because the wild-caught salmon’s diet changes and fluctuates, the nutrient levels do too. Nutrients in wild-caught salmon vary more because of food availability and how old the salmon is. 

‌Farm-raised Atlantic salmon is the most common type of salmon found in the U.S. Wild-caught Atlantic salmon is prohibited under the Endangered Species Act. If you find salmon with this label, it is not authentic.

The benefits of farm-raised Atlantic salmon include the following: 

Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Due to the regulated diet of farm-raised salmon, they have more nutrients. Their diets typically include plants, grains, and fishmeal. Omega-3 fatty acids in these salmon are good for your nervous system as well. 

The negatives of farm-raised salmon are as follows: 

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs). These pollutants found in farm-raised salmon have been linked to type-2 diabetes and obesity. They’ve also been linked to an increased risk of stroke in women. One type of POP, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), is five to 10 times higher in farm-raised salmon than in wild-caught ones. 

Added red dye. Wild-caught, natural salmon has pink or red flesh. This is due to their diet of krill and shrimp. Farm-raised salmon don’t have the same diet, so their flesh is greyer. ‌

To achieve the natural pink look, farmers feed their salmon a synthetic chemical to “pigment” the flesh. This process may have unhealthy long-term effects on your body. ‌‌

Higher saturated fat. While farm-raised salmon have more omega-3 fatty acids, they also have high saturated fat levels because of their altered diet. ‌

Antibiotics. Farm-raised salmon are given antibiotics to prevent infections. When you eat these salmon, the antibiotics can enter your body. This can cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow and infect your body. 

‌Some minor nutritional differences exist between salmon caught in the wild or raised on a farm. You must also consider environmental factors. Wild salmon might have a slight advantage because it doesn’t have additives and antibiotics. ‌

Overall, salmon is a great choice of fish to add to your diet. Both types of salmon offer the nutrients you need for your body. You can reduce the contaminants or pollutants in salmon by removing the skin, fat, and belly flap before eating.