How are Atlantic and Pacific salmon related, and how do their lifecycles differ?
I’ll start with the obvious answer. Atlantic salmon are originally from the Atlantic Ocean, while Pacific Salmon are from the Pacific Ocean. You probably already knew that, though. Atlantic and Pacific salmon belong to the family Salmonidae, but Pacific salmon belong to the genus Oncorhynchus while Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) are the largest members of the genus Salmo. Atlantic salmon are more closely related to certain species of trout, such as brown trout (Salmo trutta) than they are to Pacific salmon. Atlantic salmon have large, black spots on their gill covers and back.
The lifecycles of natural populations of Atlantic and Pacific salmon are similar. Atlantic salmon spend one to four years in the ocean before returning to spawn in the freshwater stream where they were born. One big difference, though, is Atlantic salmon don’t always die after they spawn. Pacific salmon are semelparous, meaning they die after they spawn. Atlantic salmon are iteroparous which means they may recover, return to the sea, and repeat the migration and spawning pattern. Spawning takes a huge physiological toll on a salmon, though, and most Atlantic salmon do not survive to spawn a second or third time.
Are Atlantic or Pacific salmon healthier to eat?
Controversy swirls over the health benefits of eating Atlantic and Pacific salmon. This debate has nothing to do with wild Atlantic salmon, though. Most salmon sold in the U.S. are farmed Atlantic salmon. Salmon sold as “wild” salmon are Pacific salmon. Sadly, most wild Atlantic salmon stocks were wiped out or severely depleted years ago by over-fishing, but in a few places, these wild stocks are recovering.
What are the health differences between eating a wild or farmed salmon?
Salmon are good for you. Both wild and farmed salmon are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, a fat with many health benefits. Farmed salmon, though, also have other fats that are not as good for humans. A half-pound filet of wild salmon has 281 calories, while a half-pound fillet of farmed salmon contains 412 calories. Farmed salmon is loaded with twice as much fat as wild salmon and three times more saturated fat. Wild salmon pack more calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc and less sodium than farmed salmon. Depending on the farm, farmed salmon may have higher levels of contaminants than wild salmon, but biologists believe farmed salmon are safe to eat.
Most experts agree if you have a choice, eat wild salmon, but farmed salmon are better than no salmon and farmed salmon are more readily available and can be found year-round.
I think the biggest difference to me is taste. Wild Pacific salmon has a rich, robust taste, while farmed salmon often tastes bland.
One of the biggest concerns about farmed salmon for biologists is the salmon will escape their pens and become an invasive species. How these farmed salmon might affect populations of wild salmon, no one knows, but biologists fear farmed salmon that have been fed antibiotics might spread diseases to wild salmon.
In 2017, 300,000 Atlantic salmon escaped from a farm in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound, Washington, and alarmed Alaska Fish and Game biologists sent out an alert to all anglers to be on the lookout for invasive Atlantic salmon.
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