Reclaiming our legacy

Target achieved

Target achieved

The conventional salmon farming industry has never had it so tough.

In an unprecedented policy shift, the Target Corporation – one of the largest retailers in the United States and a direct competitor with Walmart – has just today announced the elimination of all farmed salmon products from its stores.  Fresh, frozen, shelf-stable, and smoked items will from here on out exclusively be made with wild Alaskan salmon — no exceptions.  Even its sushi department, which is notoriously the most stubborn part of this industry when it comes to change (thus the existence of this website), is in the process of phasing out the last bits of its farmed salmon.

While this act is truly staggering in its magnitude and its implications for the seafood retail industry, of equal importance are the reasons behind Target’s decision.  The company does not mince words when it comes to why they have made this transition — Target’s communications department clearly states that the company is not interested in supporting an industry that has done such harm to our marine ecosystems.  Their press release spells it out quite simply:  “Target is taking this important step to ensure that its salmon offerings are sourced in a sustainable way that helps to preserve abundance, species health and doesn’t harm local habitats… Many salmon farms impact the environment in numerous ways – pollution, chemicals, parasites and non-native farmed fish that escape from salmon farms all affect the natural habitat and the native salmon in the surrounding areas.”

Preach on!

Wild salmon for the people

This move will undoubtedly shake the salmon farming industry to its very core.  Target, after all, is not exactly a high-end gourmet market – rather, it’s a price leader that specializes in providing quality products for low prices.  How, then, does a market that worships price-driven competition manage to eschew an item that embodies the very concept of bargain seafood?

With help from Greenpeace and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Target has opened the door to a new era of seafood – one that dares to question tired old paradigms that cannot withstand this kind of innovation.  Retailers which have parroted the weary excuse of farmed salmon filling an otherwise unattainable price point will now be exposed as complacent rather than pragmatic.  If a low-cost hypermarket like Target, which needs to sell salmon for $6.99 a pound, can manage to transition entirely to wild, sustainable product, how can the Whole Foods clones of the world defend their reliance on environmentally dubious farmed products that sell for over twice the price?

Off to the races

Off to the races

To make matters even more difficult for the industry, a new threat has arisen in the form of legitimate and economically viable closed-containment salmon.  Earlier this month, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program took another swipe at the open-net nightmares that festoon the Canadian and Chilean coasts by giving the “Best Choice” green light to a new closed-containment salmon farm in Washington State.  This operation, lovingly termed “Sweet Spring” by its proprietor Per Heggelund, raises coho (silver) salmon in a sealed recirculating system located many miles inland, far from the fragile habitats of the Pacific Northwest’s wild salmon populations.  The feed component of this operation is still not perfect as it does exceed an even fish-in-to-fish-out ratio, but compared to the parasite-riddled, antibiotic-laden concentration camps that provide much of the world’s farmed salmon, Heggelund’s facility is a beacon of progress.

The horror... the horror

The horror... the horror

Conventional farmed salmon is caught between a rock and a hard place, and it is not a moment too soon.  Salmon farms have been the source of countless problems over the past decade – diseases in Chilean farms rip through penned animals like hot knives through butter; parasite swarms in Canadian farms threaten the very survival of co-habiting wild salmon runs, not to mention the essence of Pacific Northwest cultural integrity.

Salmon are the backbone of who we are here on the west coast.  It is the wild salmon runs that bring nutrients from the sea to the land, that fertilize the river banks and feed the yawning bears.  If we allow this, our greatest legacy, to perish at the hands of a small group of cash-blinded eco-criminals, it is doubtful that we will ever find another source of such selfless bounty.

We need courage, innovation, and foresight if we are to create a wise and responsible seafood industry that can steward our oceans in the coming decades, and it’s companies like Target and entrepreneurs like Per Heggelund that are leading the charge.  Remember this day — this was the day that we took our salmon back.

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William Wall
Jan 26, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Very ambitious plan, and all by the end of the year too!
Do you have an idea of how much salmon they sell currently?

Jan 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm

This is wonderful news, yet it makes me even more concerned for wild salmon populations. With the nutritional value of salmon getting more press every day, it would surprise me if populations begin to be strained to unsustainable levels. Luckily, as far as I know Alaskan waters (at least) are tightly regulated.

Jan 27, 2010 at 2:04 pm

You say we need “innovation”, yet you criticize new ways of doing things (salmon farming instead of wild capture). Not making much sense.

This move by Target to sell only Alaskan salmon and the “Green Light” to Washington state Coho salmon is simply about protectionism, not sustainability. If it was about the latter, then you would hear them discuss the fact that 50% of the “wild” salmon from Alaska is articificially produced in hatcheries. These hatchery fish consume fish meal at a far greater rate than farm-raised salmon – fact.

So ‘Cassie’, you say Alaska is tightly regulated. Nice words, but really all they do is pump out more hatchery fish to keep up with demand. That is not sustainable, but merely a bandaid.


[...] Target has sworn off farmed salmon in all of its stores and swapped in wild Alaskan salmon.  Casson Trenor has the seafood scoop. [...]

Dave Anderson
Jan 30, 2010 at 8:06 pm

We tend to forget the reason why Atlantic salmon are all farmed now is that they were fished to commercial extinction in the last century. Certainly, no one wants any of the Pacific salmon species to go the same way. Alaska is highly successful in fisheries regulations for a good reason: an extremely comprehensive approach to management – one including stock enhancement programs for pink and chum salmon, as mentioned by your earlier commenter. Add to that the fact that Alaska’s lack of coastal development allows fish to reproduce and thrive in the wild, which is not the case for salmonids here in California. However, Alaska alone may not be able to keep up with demand for salmon. Instead of condemning all farmed salmon because of Chile’s mistakes, let’s look to farms that don’t use antibiotics, hormones, dyes, or slice, like Cypress Island of Washington state. These farms should be held up as models for a sustainable industry.

Feb 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm

It’s time to put your swords about Wild vs Farmed away because the wool is being pulled over our eyes.

Target is jumping on the green bandwagon for some cheap PR. But has anyone questioned Target’s consideration of a long-term strategy towards sustainable salmon supplies? Billion dollar conglomerates cannot be allowed to make unfounded policy decisions over an endangered species. It’s ridiculous to think that wild salmon stocks will not be over fished, as demand increases at 9% p.a. Salmon stock levels with not be sustainable without well managed farming being integrated into a long term strategy. When is the last time you saw a wild cow, chicken or pig?

Unfortunately, the environmentalists leading the publicity of this campaign forgot to think about both Biology & Economics. They are naïve to think that Target is doing this for the environment. We are naïve to blindly follow any environmentalists that have not thought about the economics behind this decision. STOP! Go back it’s a trap!

Please stop the internal bickering between Wild vs Farmed Salmon and consider why Target would become so environmentally friendly all of a sudden. There are many more actions that Target could be pursuing that would have a much more dramatic and direct environmental impact.


[...] were a number of themes that influenced the general direction of discussion.  Target’s decision to eliminate farmed salmon was a major focus of discussion, as was the progress being made in France towards the inclusion of [...]

Lee Ann Bonacker
Aug 13, 2010 at 3:28 pm

To all those who consume only wild-caught salmon: How many other endangered species do you eat?

Would you buy Arabian Oryx steaks because you didn’t like how cattle were raised?

Sushi Addict
Sep 9, 2010 at 2:51 am

I thought the whole point of using farmed salmon was to help alleviate overfishing of wild populations of salmon. But then people say cultivation of salmon the way it being done is just as harmful to the environment overall. If salmon farming and the commercial fishing industry in general is detrimental to ecosystems, then stricter regulation, inspection of facilities and social responsibility penalties need to be enforced.
I don’t have expertise on exactly how badly the salmon farming industry impacts the environment, but there has to be some way to create a win-win situation for everyone, salmon included.



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