Farmed or Wild Salmon? Here Are 5 Ways to Tell |

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There’s no denying that most of us would prefer wild-caught over farmed salmon. There’s good reason, because both types of salmon have different nutritional profiles. Wild salmon has more nutrients, containing up to three times less fat and fewer calories, with higher levels of vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, and B-12.

But how can you tell if a fish is actually caught in the wild, as opposed to being a farmed one? It can be difficult when supermarket labels out there are all trying to confuse you with descriptions that can be deceiving. So, here are 5 ways to figure out if your salmon is fished or farmed.

Country of Origin

This is one of the easiest ways to tell, especially if you’re buying it from the supermarket. Every salmon has to be labeled, and you’ll realise that most are actually labeled “Atlantic Salmon.” This means they’re from countries like Norway, Chile, Australia, Scotland, and New Zealand. Also, they’re all farmed salmon (unless labelled otherwise).

Only salmon labelled as Pacific Salmon from Alaska is 100% caught in the wild. In fact, almost 80% of the worlds wild salmon runs are in Alaska. Salmon caught in Alaska are among the better-managed fish stocks in the US, as finfish farming in Alaska has been banned since 1990. The fish are caught with gear that does little damage to the environment, resulting in salmon populations that are healthy and low in contaminants.

In the past, salmon naturally returned to their birth streams and lakes globally for spawning. However, dams, pollution, and overfishing have drastically reduced their populations over the centuries.

Fun fact: The Japanese don’t normally consume salmon, and most of the salmon consumed in Japan are actually farmed in Norway.


While there’s only one species of Atlantic salmon (salmo salar), there are several species of Pacific salmon. Wild-caught salmon species in Alaska include Chinook (aka King), Coho (aka Silver), Sockeye (aka Red), Chum (aka Dog), and Pink.

The large Chinook is considered by many to be the best-tasting, thanks to its high-fat content with flesh that ranges from white to a deep red colour. Coho and Sockeye are both close to Chinook based on fat content and flavour. You can also get farmed Chinook (over 80% are farmed, with over 50% in New Zealand) and Coho.

Pink salmon – aka “humpies” due to their distinctive hump – is the most common, and are often canned, but you can also get fresh, frozen, and smoked versions. Chum salmon is nicknamed ‘dog’ due to its teeth, and is usually canned or frozen.

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Generally, a low price point should be the first sign that salmon isn’t wild; it can cost up to 3-4 times more per pound than farmed salmon.

This is because every fisherman puts in a lot of hard work to catch wild salmon from the sea. In addition, supplies of ocean fish are unpredictable and rise and fall from year to year, causing prices to be generally more expensive.


Farm salmon is weighed when graded, so each fish will be the same size to make it easier to export. Since wild salmon live freely in the ocean, their weight can vary a lot so you’ll never know what size fillet you’ll get.


If you eat a lot of salmon – particularly at conveyor belt sushi restaurants – you’ll probably be familiar with the salmon-y, orangish-pink hue of each fillet. These are all farmed Atlantic salmon, so they’re uniform in colour and are more affordable. Wild salmon, on the other hand, comes in an array of shades, from bright red to deep orange.

Farmed salmon often have more fat marbling on its flesh – they’re the white veins you see. Fancy sushi restaurants will often shun farmed salmon (for fear of lowering their quality) in favour of wild-caught species like Chinook, Chum, and Coho.