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Salmon Profile

By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, djburden@iastate.edu.

Revised July 2012 by Diane Huntrods, AgMRC, Iowa State University.

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) are distributed across the basin of the North Atlantic Ocean from the Arctic Circle to Portugal in the eastern Atlantic, from Iceland and southern Greenland, and from the Ungava region of northern Quebec south to the Connecticut River. Part of their life cycle occurs in saltwater and part in freshwater. Atlantic salmon were eliminated from most of their native range in the northeastern United States and Canada, but restocking efforts have re-established them in many watersheds.

In the United States, Maine and Washington are the two largest salmon-producing states, raising 20.7 million pounds of foodsized salmon in 2005. Other statistics contained in the 2005 Census of Aquaculture state that nine farms sold 2.4 million fish at an average price of $1.81 per pound for total sales in excess of $37.4 million. 

Atlantic salmon account for over 95 percent of the farmed salmon produced. Other species found on the market include chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye.

Atlantic salmon are cultured extensively at state, federal and private facilities throughout the northeast for restoration efforts, recreational fishing opportunities and as a food fish. Under culture conditions, Atlantic salmon eggs should be incubated at 42 degrees F. Upon hatching, the temperature should be dropped to 38 degrees F until the sac fry begins to accept prepared food. At this point, the temperature should be raised to 50 degrees F, then slowly increased to a final maintenance temperature of 60 degrees F. The pH should be greater than 6, and dissolved oxygen levels should remain above 7 ppm.

In the American Northwest, there has long been controversy about whether salmon aquaculture has beneficial or detrimental implications for the wild fish resource. Whether there is common ground between sustaining wild salmon with hatchery-produced fish and the hatchery-based aquaculture of salmon was recently called into question by research reported in a fall 2006 edition of the Conservation Biology journal.

A group led by an Oregon State University geneticist cautioned that relying on hatcheries to sustain salmon runs is likely to fail in the long run without restoring river habitats. They found that fish raised from wild eggs in hatcheries will soon evolve traits ill-suited to the wild and that hatchery programs "essentially created a fish version of white lab mice." This finding suggests that they are very well adapted to handling, artificial diets and so on but that they do not survive well in the wild.

This has been a controversial issue. Hatchery fish make up about two-thirds of the wild-strain salmon and steelhead (trout) returning each year to the Columbia Basin, the largest producer of salmon on the West Coast. The returns represent just 5 percent of historical levels before dams, logging and other habitat degradation reduced populations and spawning-bed resources. Conservation groups, Indian tribes, fishermen, state and federal agencies, the timber industry, agricultural groups and property rights groups have been battling over the role of hatcheries and the role of artificial population enhancement for decades.

The bottom line: research confirms that steelhead raised for generations in hatcheries do poorly when they try to reproduce in the wild, but the first generation of fish raised from wild parents in hatcheries are as successful at reproducing in their native rivers as their wild cousins. This finding means that hatcheries can use wild-recovered stock for their breeding programs, supplementing their efforts to sustain or enhance the wild-fish resource, and that “aquaculture-strain” salmon are just that, a domestic animal well suited to confinement rearing. These results parallel other studies showing that even hatchery fish bred from wild eggs are inferior to wild-produced fish. This implies that there are three distinct courses for salmon resource protection: habitat restoration for wild fish, augmentation of the wild resource with “first-generation hatchery fish and use of “confinement-acclimated” strains for dedicated aquaculture production systems.

Globally speaking, Chile, Canada and Norway were the leading producers of farmed salmon in 2011. Together they supplied about two-thirds of the farmed salmon traded internationally.

According to the National Fisheries Institute, salmon ranked third on its 2010 “Top Ten” list of the most consumed fish and seafood in the United States. That year, the average consumption of salmon was nearly 2.0 pounds per person, a slight decrease from 2009. 

During 2009, about two-thirds of all processed salmon was canned. That is,141.9 million pounds of salmon, with a value of $322.3 million, was canned. Pink and sockeye salmon are the species typically used for canning. On the other hand, 74.1 million pounds of fresh and frozen salmon were processed into fillets and steaks valued at $331.7 million.   (NMFS 2011)

According to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), fresh and frozen exports of U.S. salmon increased in both volume and value during 2011, to more than 166,000 tons and to $616.7 million, respectively. Likewise, canned U.S. salmon exports jumped in both volume and value, totaling 50,606 tons and $223.6 million (NMFS 2012).

More specifically, the volume of exported Atlantic salmon is far less than that of Pacific salmon. Likewise, the volume of fresh exported salmon is far less than that of frozen exported salmon. In 2011, however, the volume of exported frozen Atlantic salmon and of exported fresh and frozen Pacific salmon continued to increase, while the volume of exported fresh Atlantic salmon dropped to 2007 levels.  

USDA's Foreign Ag Service (FAS) reported that the value of both 'not canned' and 'canned' salmon totaled more than $1 billion in 2011, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. The value of not canned salmon rose 9 percent, reaching more than $782.2 million, while the value of canned salmon jumped 25 percent, totaling $223.7 million. 

The largest markets for U.S. fresh and frozen salmon were China and Japan, followed by Canada. During 2011, exports to China and Japan both increased, while exports to Canada decreased. The largest buyers of U.S. canned salmon were Canada and the United Kingdom. Exports to both countries rose by double digits in 2011.  (FAS 2011)

During 2011, the United States re-exported 929 tons of salmon valued at $4.9 million (NMFS 2012).

During 2011, imports of fresh and frozen salmon totaled 228,847 tons and were valued at $1.9 billion, a 3.2 percent increase in volume and a 8.5 percent increase in value from 2010.  (NMFS 2012)

Atlantic salmon imports totaled nearly 399.5 million pounds in 2011, increasing from the previous year but still below earlier years. Most imported Atlantic salmon was fresh rather than frozen and in the form of fillets. Canada was the largest supplier of fresh Atlantic salmon.  (ERS)

According to USDA's FAS, the United States imported salmon valued at nearly $2.0 billion in 2011, a 9 percent increase from 2010. Chile and Canada were the largest suppliers of salmon, followed by China and Norway. Salmon imports from Chile and China increased by double digits in 2011, while imports from Canada and Norway both declined.  (FAS 2011)

Chile is back in the U.S. market with fresh fillets, and both Chile and Norway have increased production. As production rises by as much as 15 percent, prices could easily fall to very low levels.

Aquaculture Data, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2011.

Census of Aquaculture (2005), USDA, 2006.

Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA, 2011.

Imports and Exports of Fishery Products 2011, Fisheries Statistics Division, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), 2012.

Salmon Market Report, Globefish, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations, February 2012.

Study: Modern Hatcheries Aid Wild Salmon, Conservation Biology, 2006 - A group led by an Oregon State University geneticist cautions that relying on hatcheries to sustain salmon runs is likely to fail in the long run without restoration of river habitats.

Top 10 Consumed Seafood, National Fisheries Institute, aboutseafood.com, 2010 - Lists the top ten species consumed in the United States by pounds per person.

Links checked: August 2013


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