As the owner of Duke’s Chowder House, I have made it my life’s mission to serve my customers great tasting food that is raised and harvested sustainably. From the beautiful, natural flavor of Wild Alaskan Salmon to grass-fed Australian Beef; my customers deserve the very best, and that is what they get, every time they visit one of our six locations.
My passion for serving only the best is exactly what motivated me to write an email that got me into hot water a few years ago. After learning about some of the common practices in the farmed fish industry, I became concerned for the health of my family, friends and customers. I decided to take action do my part to spread the word about my findings. So, in May 2003, I wrote an email entitled “You Could Be Getting Poisoned If you Eat Somewhere Other Than Duke’s.” This email has become infamous. Let’s just say it stirred up some controversy. I never claimed that farmed fish was poisonous, but I did make the point that Wild Salmon was preferable to farmed salmon.
For over thirty years, at Duke’s Chowder House, we have been committed to serving 100 percent Wild Alaskan Salmon. I have meticulously sourced the salmon from sustainable fisheries and responsible processing operations. At least once a year, I travel north to spend time with the fishermen, visit the processors, and see if any improvements can be made to the intricate system developed for delivering Wild Salmon to my kitchens. Why all this effort? Because I believe that Wild Salmon is much better for the health of my customers, as well as the health of the planet.
There are many differences between wild and farmed salmon but perhaps the most obvious is color.
Why is Wild Salmon a Different Color Red than Farmed Salmon?
Color is an important indication of the quality of all the food we eat. Think about how you choose meat or vegetables at the grocery store or farmers’ market. You know that green avocados aren’t quite ripe yet and that black-spotted bananas are a bit past their prime. When selecting a sirloin steak, the red color of the meat indicates exposure to oxygen and therefore freshness. Wild Salmon, meanwhile, get their red coloring from the food they eat.
Wild Salmon feast on a diet of tiny crustaceans, miniature shrimp and krill floating in the ocean. These small creatures contain essential nutrients that the salmon need to survive, including massive amounts of molecules known as carotenoids. The presence of these molecules in their diet gives Wild Salmon a natural red pigmentation in their flesh.
Farmed salmon also get their color from what they eat. However, they aren’t eating shrimp or krill. Instead, their food usually comes in the form of pellets. These pellets are made of many ingredients, mostly leftovers from other industries. The list includes soybean and canola meal, wheat gluten and poultry by-products. These pellets also contain synthetic carotenoids, chemical imitators of the molecules found in shrimp and krill. These chemicals actually dye the flesh of farmed salmon red, mimicking the natural color of Wild Salmon. Without the dye, farmed salmon flesh is actually a yellow-gray color; hardly appetizing.
Duke & Farmed Salmon
In the late 90’s, farmed salmon became the ‘new trend’ in the restaurant industry. I agreed to test-drive it in my kitchens for a while but wasn’t convinced it was a good product. I was never crazy about the flavor and I had to know what the story was!
It was while researching farmed salmon that I learned about the dye contained in their feed pellets which turned out to be the final straw. From that day forward, I committed to serving only 100 percent Wild Alaskan Salmon in my restaurants.
It was in the spirit of this decision that I wrote the famously controversial email, which resulted in a legal threat from the fish farming industry. I never intended to take on the farmed fish industry, but simply to inform my family and friends about how I felt. I adopted a very straightforward stance on the subject: farmed fish has its place in feeding the world; it just doesn’t have a place at Duke’s.
Other Facts about Farmed Fish
It wasn’t just the unnatural color of the fish that concerned me about farmed fish. The debate surrounding wild and farmed salmon is a complex one, touching on a wide variety of issues. However, the environment and other contamination problems remain at the forefront.
When it comes to the environment, some argue that net pens can pollute the surrounding marine environment. Waste can collect in low current areas where net pens are usually set up. There are also concerns about disease transfer from the eggs that are fertilized in net pens, as farmed salmon are an Atlantic species. In addition, there is a risk that some Atlantic salmon inevitably escape the pens. Escapees pose a major threat to native Pacific salmon species. Atlantic salmon can survive in the wild and could become competition for necessary resources. This has the potential to have large environmental consequences, though some argue that it isn’t a threat at the moment.
Contamination is represented by two distinct issues: sea lice and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Farmed fish generally contain higher levels of PCBs than Wild Salmon. Also found in the pellet feed, PCBs are a toxic, organic compound; though the industry maintains the levels are not high enough to be harmful to humans. This begs the question, how toxic is too toxic? As ocean pollution becomes a bigger problem, PCBs are also being found in Wild Salmon, however not at the levels found in farmed fish.
Sea lice are a problem in many fish farm pens, affecting not only the farmed fish but now spreading to Wild Salmon populations as well. While regulations and monitoring of sea lice continue to improve, they still present a major problem for fish farmers and the health of Wild Salmon.
Overall, Wild Salmon is better for the environment and for your health. Lower levels of PCBs, more essential nutrients and less damage to the marine ecosystem are just a few of the many benefits of Wild Salmon. As a consumer, where you spend your money is the ultimate endorsement of a product. Educating yourself is an extremely important step toward building a more sustainable food economy and reducing harm to the environment.
This is a big reason why all of my restaurants remain committed to serving only Wild Alaskan Salmon, as well as other Wild Seafood species. The health and safety of our customers remains our top priority, and every day I put in the work to ensure that it stays that way. See for yourself!
Book a reservation at one of our six locations and taste the difference that Wild makes!