Eat Barramundi! And Forget Salmon


Australis Aquaculture

I'm very glad to see Barry Estabrook's post on Australis, a new fish farm, I mean aquaculture firm, in western Massachusetts--an auspicious location, given that it's on the mighty, or once-mighty, Connecticut River, which before the Industrial Revolution produced abundant catches of Atlantic salmon. There's even a fish ladder you can go and see from mid-May to mid-June, to learn more about the anadromous fish that still survive—including shad, my favorite New England fish along with bluefish—as they swim upstream to spawn before returning to the ocean to fatten up.

The collapse of that population because of overfishing, of course, is a main reason fish farming became in important industry in the first place. (The relatively few Atlantic salmon that do survive have been reintroduced, and are illegal to catch and sell; for more on what the Endangered Species Act protects and the state of salmon in the Connecticut, look here.) It is also a reason that salmon—a carnivorous fish that requires several times its weight in feed to mature, a "tiger of the seas," in Barry's elegant phrase—became a star, lucrative candidate for farming. (For much more, and for good reading, see Paul Greenberg's Four Fish.)

So lucrative that Atlantic salmon is the first genetically modified fish that, if things go badly, will be licensed for public sale—and by another Massachusetts company, yet. See Barry on Frankenfish here and here and on the folly of the current fish-farm system here, including this summation:

A salmon farm is nothing more than a vast, floating feedlot, except feedlots, at least nominally, have to dispose of food waste, dead animals, and excrement in suitable containment areas. Salmon feedlots flush it all into the sea.

I know, I know, the issue here is the labeling of genetically modified fish and the need for long-term studies on human consumption and environmental impact, not just how dirty and destructive many fish farms are. But there can't be enough reasons to bash salmon farming. Stick to wild Pacific salmon, in season. Which is about to end for the year.

And try barramundi! Barry happens not to have eaten much, but as it happens I have, on two trips to the preternaturally pleasant Australia, origin of the Turners Falls company and name, and where barramundi appears on practically every menu. In its wild-caught form, at least, it's a firm-fleshed, meaty fish that is great grilled—a particular pleasure for a fish that can be farmed and unlike salmon thrives on vegetarian meal and much less of it proportionally by its weight. (I wish I could like tilapia, but ... it's a miserable-tasting fish, suitable for salt-laced extruded surimi and healthful filet o' fish sandwiches.)

Corby Kummer: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Part I
Corby Kummer: Wild Alaskan Salmon, Part II
Barry Estabrook: Feedlots of the Sea

Or maybe I was tasting farmed barramundi all along—restaurants don't have to specify, of course, a corollary to the battle over the labeling of genetically modified foods, in which theoretically identical foods should not be required to identify attributes that could make them less attractive to consumers. In the case of barramundi and cobia—another favorite firm-fleshed white fish, also great grilled—the fact that they can be farmed is only an advantage, and particularly for the reasons Barry points out. Forget farmed salmon! And resist Frankenfish.