Salmon is one of the most delicious types of fish you can ever find. It’s also very simple to cook and to eat, as there are no pesky small bones to pick from your teeth. Despite the high price, salmon is really one of the best choices for anyone looking to eat fish, both for flavor and for ease of eating.
But why is salmon so expensive ? be it canned, smoked, fillet, or simply added to a salad, salmon can get real pricy. This can turn problematic for many people, but it may also tell us more about the state of the salmon industry in general. Let’s take a look at why you have to pay so much for a salmon fillet.
Why is salmon so expensive ?
Salmon has become so expensive in the past few decades due to a combination of overfishing, a surge in demand for salmon meat, and the fact that salmon is a keystone species that must be preserved. This poses a serious problem: how do you bring salmon to the table without stripping the wild population ?
The simplest answer is farming salmon, but this has a created a bigger problem. Demand has increased even more, and now more salmon is farmed and this produces crowded metal cages that pollute the coastal waters, increasing the incidence of disease and parasites. This leads to a significant portion of the salmon population dying, leading to smaller harvests.
In short, there is a big disruption in the balance of salmon production, be it wild or farmed. We’re going to explain this as simply as we can in the following 7 reasons why salmon is so expensive.
1. Wild salmon is better, but very difficult to catch
Whenever you go and buy salmon, you notice that wild salmon always fetches a higher price than farmed salmon. You won’t see much of a difference in color, though you will definitely notice a difference in taste and general fat content.
Farmed salmon does not exert itself as much as wild salmon, and as such it can easily have a higher fat percentage.
Read also: Sushi Grade VS Canned Tuna
Legislation prevents overfishing, which is a necessary measure but even so poaching is something salmon grounds have to battle with. This legislation prevents the use of nets, which means you’re left to fish salmons the old-fashioned, slow way: fishing rod and bait.
This is a slow catch, and only certain companies may use small nets only in certain periods, in order to get a bigger catch. Even so those permits are costly to obtain and there’s a great deal of competition going on.
For example Norway is the most famous breeding ground for salmon. But not just any company can go and fish along the coast of Norway, since those legislations protect the salmon population. Overfish and the natural balance of the area shifts, leading to severe population loss in local wildlife, even the plant life.
So, when you do see wild salmon for sale, know that it comes at a premium price because it’s the best, and it’s pricey to even go and fish in the first place.
2. Salmon are a keystone species
Tying into the first point, salmon are critical to maintaining the local fauna and flora. Not just in Norway, salmon are all over the world, and they are important everywhere. They hatch in a river and eventually make their way into the sea, only to later return and deposit their eggs in the river.
Bears catch salmon and bring them into the forests, where the salmon carcasses provide nitrogen and nutrients for the local plant life. You may be wondering just how much salmon can a bear really catch in order to make an impact. Well, it seems bears can leave up to 4 metric tons of salmon carcasses per hectare (source).
If there aren’t enough salmon to catch, there isn’t enough salmon to help fertilize the forests. They actually provide about 24% of the total nitrogen necessary for plant life in those areas. That’s a huge percentage for a single species.
You may be wondering if just any fish would be as useful. Well, in truth it’s what the salmon is made up of, and where it hangs out. As you know, salmon hatches in the river, where it grows to nearly mature, then it migrates downstream into the ocean. There it hunts a large amount of wild fish and gains most of its body mass.
Then, when fully mature and ready to spawn, salmon heads back to the river it hatched in. Doing so is dangerous, not just because of bears. They exhaust themselves, since they need to literally fish a current and jump upstream. So, many salmon individuals die along the way, and all of them die once they’re reach the very ground they hatched on.
Their bodies break down and release sulfur, phosphor, nitrogen, and carbon. These are all important to plant and animal life, but are much more common in ocean life. Salmon are important because they bring those very nutrients to the land, and their decaying bodies provide nutrients for their spawn, once they hatch.
3. Salmon is a rich source of Omega 3, 6, and 9
Salmon is a very important source of Omega 3, 6, and 9. They are useful in regulating cholesterol levels, heart health, circulatory problems, and memory issues. In short, very useful and very sought after.
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds are all rich sources of Omega 3, 6, and 9. But of all these, salmon are the most commonly used. The Omega is extracted from fish oil, which is extracted from fish meal. If you’re not sure what that is, it’s simply dried fish bones, fins, heads, and general scraps, that are then ground into a powder.
Fish meal is a very nutritious feed for livestock, but is never meant for direct human consumption. So, the fact that salmon is also used for its fish oil brings the total cost of the fish even higher. Literally every single piece and scrap is used and treasured.
4. Salmon demand is steadily increasing
Because salmon farms have increased the number of available salmon stock, the demand has increased. As long as consumers notice that salmon can be brought to the table, even for a higher price, the demand will stay high.
This drives the price of salmon even higher, since producers are competing with each other to put out the best salmon that is both cheap for the consumer but also brings them a profit.
If we’re talking restaurants and places that cook the fish for you, the price will always be at least double what they paid for the raw fish. Besides, salmon is considered a food that is both healthy and refined, so it will always have a markup, even if the total salmon price ever goes down.
5. Salmon farms are expensive to maintain
Salmon eat wild fish. They eat more fish than they produce, and wild fish are a fairly expensive food on their own. Between 2 and 4 kg of dry fish are needed for just 1 kg of dry farmed salmon meat.
Wild salmon need more than double that amount of food, simply because they expend a lot of energy hunting and battling currents. When they’re ready to be harvested salmon are around 4.5 kg, which can take more than a year.
There’s also the fact that salmon farms are set up along the ocean coast, in cages where the fish are fairly crowded. The farms allow an average of 8-18 kg of salmon per cubic meter. That’s 2-5 harvest-ready salmon in a cubic meter of water. Not that much room. And, lots of fish in a small space that need to eat a lot mean lots of fish poop.
Said waste simply drops onto the ocean floor, at a rate and volume larger than the currents and the water can keep clean, This leads to polluted waters, and a high rate of disease (more on that later).
This is starting to take a turn for the better. The cages and nets used for farming salmon and slowly being changed for copper alloy material. Copper is anti-microbial, which means the waste will purify much faster and the fish will have a much lower chance of becoming sick or catching a parasite.
It’s a slow process, and fairly expensive at first. But in the long run it eliminates the need to frequently change the nets, which is very costly and poses a high risk of losing some of the salmon stock.
6. Farmed salmon is prone to disease and parasites
Until all salmon farms use copper alloy nets and cages, we’re left with salmon that is sick or infected with parasites more often than not. Most of the eggs and bacteria are destroyed by a deep freeze and/or high heat, which you need in order to cook the salmon.
Still, for those who would like their salmon raw – like for sushi – this risk is very high. To be fair, sushi and sashimi grade salmon have a different quality standard, but some restaurants may choose to cut down on costs and use regular supermarket salmon.
Even if you’re not a sushi fan, and you simply love to eat salmon, we recommend only getting fresh salmon if it’s wild salmon. Since it’s allowed plenty of room to roam and is not kept in a crowded cage with fish waste, it has less of a chance of getting sick or having parasites.
7. There’s an entire supply chain that drives prices up
On top of everything we’ve covered, there is also the supply chain. Yes, there is a supply chain for everything, we know, but seafood is notoriously expensive specifically because of the sea-to-plate cost. What does this mean ?
As one salmon fisherman on Quora pointed out, salmon can start out from $5-8 per pound, and until it reaches the restaurant or supermarket, it can be even as high as $18.50 ! This accounts for:
- super-fast transport, as seafood spoils quickly and is almost always flown into the continent
- cleaning, cutting, packaging, freezing, canning supplies and service
- machine or manual labor for said services
By the time you get your hands on that piece of ‘fresh’ salmon at a supermarket, it’s likely a couple of days old and has been flash-frozen, and then thawed to be displayed.
If you’re at a restaurant and order the salmon fillet, it will almost always be double the price they bought the fish for. You’re paying the chef, the waiter, the establishment’s rent or bank payments, and their profit margin.
All in all, salmon (seafood in general) is one of the most expensive meats you will ever get your hands on yet still somehow afford. It’s a bit of a treat but it’s not every day you get salmon.
Are there alternatives to salmon ?
You can get cheaper fish than salmon, sure, but they won’t be exactly the same experience. You can try mackerel, cod, trout, tilapia, even go for canned fish.
The point is that you need to look at what your recipe calls for, before you substitute the salmon. If you need a salmon fillet, what kind is it ? Is it the thin, flat kind or the rounded, cross-section type ? They cook differently and are use differently. SO make sure that whatever kind of other fish you use is cut the same as your salmon.
Do you need just a bit of smoked salmon for a salad ? It can easily be canned tuna instead.
If you need salmon because it cooks very quickly and your entire recipe is ready in 10 minutes, you can still make it work. Simply cook the fish separately if it needs more than 10 minutes, and then continue with the rest of the recipe.
Also keep in mind whether you can eat the skin of whatever fish you’re substituting with. Salmon skin is edible, but re recommend removing the scales, all of them.
In short, salmon is a really important fish that simply means too much for the overall balance of nature. Despite being farmed to meet human demands, the very fact that it’s farmed does more harm than good, at least for now.
Until a healthier, safer option is developed for farmed salmon, wild salmon is endangered by proxy. Even if animal welfare isn’t your main concern, the overall effect on your pocket is noticeable when buying salmon.
If you’ve got any other food curiosities be sure to check the related articles below, we’re always adding more food facts to make your life that much easier.