Chemical Color Added to Farmed Salmon


Photo by: 7Barrym0re – Creative Commons

At the grocery a few weeks ago, I was looking over the selection of smoked salmon when another shopper walked up, examined a package and exclaimed in horror, “color added??!!” A lawsuit filed several years ago forced the marketers of farmed salmon to inform consumers that color is added to make the flesh of the salmon pink rather than gray. The reality is that the chemical used to color the salmon, astaxanthin, is a manufactured copy of the pigment that wild salmon eat in nature, which gives wild salmon their pinkish-red color. Many of us might choose not to consume fish with an added chemical of any type, but this colorant is probably not a big worry to most consumers. As the shopper above put the fish back and walked away, I wondered if she knew the whole biography of that package of farmed salmon. What I think would really turn people away from the farmed version of salmon are the chemicals used in aquaculture that don’t show up on the labels in our local stores.

Because the salmon are raised in very unnatural, crowded pens, diseases are a big problem, resulting in antibiotics being added to the fish feed. Additionally, farms have used anti-parasitic drugs to kill the sea lice that overpopulate and attach themselves to the salmon in the pens. There are probably any number of chemicals and drugs in farmed salmon, and not listed on the package, that are cause for more concern than the colorant.

Here is an interesting link for more information about the safety of farmed salmon. I now choose not to eat farmed salmon, but for reasons in addition to the safety question. Specifically, salmon farming is absolutely disastrous to local fish populations and local environments into which salmon fish farms are placed.

Wild fish populations the world over are in trouble because of the modern methods of commercial fishing. For example, tuna fisherman now routinely use sonar, computer, and gps technology, combined with spotter aircraft, to locate tuna. Then the huge seiners scoop up the entire school of fish, allowing nothing to escape. Even when there are laws regulating harvests, they can be impossible to enforce. I remember fishing years ago out on the Cordell Banks, an ocean preserve where only sport fishing was allowed. Often we would see commercial fishing boats with their nets down inside the boundaries. We would report the offenders, but in the rare instance when enforcement could arrive so far offshore, the fishermen would have been alerted and moved into open fishing grounds. But, to get back on topic, if you thought that buying farmed salmon saves the wild salmon resource, you might be surprised by the reality.

Commercial salmon farms actually harm wild salmon populations. The farms release toxins, diseases, and parasites into the surrounding waters. Strains of farmed fish escape their pens and compete with the wild salmon. In British Columbia, the Atlantic Salmon has already taken up permanent, reproducing, residence in several rivers. Many people have worked long and hard to save endangered runs of pacific salmon, but the Atlantic Salmon is now an invasive species that competes with the natural, endangered species. If salmon could be successfully farmed in landlocked commercial ponds, at least the damage to wild ocean salmon could be reduced. I do doubt, however, that any presently feasible methods of farming salmon can produce a product I would feel safe eating.

Related Post:

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Will Sig
1 Pink Laptops

This is quite gross to find out. However, I know that if I saw some white pasty looking salmon at the store, I probably wouldn’t buy it either. I’m sure it helps them in the long run sell more and people are probably much more comfortable eating it without knowing that it is a fake appearance. I want my salmon pink though!

Pink Laptopss last blog post..A Top of the Line Laptop in Pink!


2 The Truth About Color Added

Me thinks you need a little education on the subject of salmon color. Remove the emotion and stick to the facts.


3 Will

I have heard and read so much about the adverse impacts of “farming” salmon. Are you saying it is a conspiracy made up by scientists and the media to harm salmon farms financially?

Your site is interesting but seems to be promoting salmon raising and releasing. (Hatcheries). That is not what I think of when I see the farmed salmon at Costco. To me a salmon that is hatched in captivity and them released to the wild to grow to maturity is healthier to eat than a salmon that spends all of its life in a pen and is fed artificial food. I also think of the supposed environmental damage done to local waters by big fish farms. I think about the salmon being raised in a pen and never eating wild food, and being given pellets with dye to make their flesh pink. Is that not how it is done? Are all the researchers who are against salmon farming wrong in their conclusions?

The link you provide equates salmon getting their pink color by eating krill or shrimp with salmon getting their color artificially. That seems like a stretch to me. Are you in the salmon raising business. Do you live in a town supported by the industry?

I admit my concerns are in place because of all the stories I have heard and read. Can you point to any expert that has no dog in the fight that says fish farms and farm raised salmon are good for local environments and as healthy to eat as salmon, ranched or wild, that swims free and eats wild food?

Having said all that, I will say your site is well done. You seem to be the only voice saying what you do. That does not make you wrong, but does give you an uphill battle convincing folks like me.


4 JohnC

Here here Will! I have not read such a great response to a comment in a long time. It sure seems like this person does have a “dog in the fight”, (as much as I hate that phrase). I notice this Alaska fish farmer has not been back to respond. Hard to dispute the facts, I guess.


5 mikhail

It’s “Hear hear”


6 rent a pod

Chemicals and other poor condition farming/agricultural practices need to be looked at by governmental officials. These practices need to be more scrutinized by a wider audience because it’s not good thing at all.


7 steven pace

It may be possible to impart the colour during the curing or cooking process.

A cold smoking process might for example involve basting the salmon with a natural food colouring that is healthy if you wanted to manipulate the colour without artificial ingredients.

They tend to be more expensive given their limitations. However even if the colour doesn’t turn out to be perfect I am sure as someone has already pointed out, it is more appealing to consumers to buy pinkish salmon rather than white or B grade grey salmon.

It is a question of compromise and viability from a cost point of view.


8 Will

I am sure your food colorings would be a far better way to go, Steven. I am also sure that this salmon is not colored with anything even approaching natural. Plus when you read what is in the feed given to farmed salmon, and the living conditions in those pens, I myself don’t eat it.


9 Anonymous

I recently watched a documentary on food additives and learned that the smoked salmon I’ve been eating for years is actually been coloured and I haven’t bought any since. I’m a bit frustrated though since I actually like the taste and health benefits through the additional omega three intake and I’m wondering why they don’t just provide an alternative product without the colouring. How cares that it’ll be grey instead of pink?


10 John Smith

Astaxanthin is actually a perfectly safe coloring agent, actually. It’s a type of Provitamin A with various health benefits, actually. Just do a scholar search for astaxanthin:

The problem is all the other things that the salmon get in their feed, which causes many toxins to accumulate in their systems, like Bisphenol A, Pthalate esters, and Dioxins.

Antibiotics and toxins = bad, Astaxanthin = good


11 mikhail

BAD: Canthaxanthin.
Canthaxanthin is the another coloring which is used.


12 stacy

Now i dont know what to think. I used to love salmon.


13 Mae

I will not stop enjoying my salmon but will probably eat less farm fed salmon.


14 Robert Nickles

I cooked salmon today for lunch. I noticed the color added sign but , loathe to throw food away, I ate it anyway. It tasted different and I came online and found your website. Thank you very much. I was under the impression that nowadays food companies were required to tell us what is in the food. I sit corrected
All the best


15 Will

Hi Robert – The taste was probably not from the added color but rather because it was farmed salmon. There is a lot of publicity these days about farmed fish being better and more sustainable than wild caught fist. But fish farming is not a pretty process and because of the conditions of the pens and the food and chemicals given to the fish, the taste is terrible. Hopefully some day the farming process will be better but for now, for me, the choice is wild or not eating salmon.


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