Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Faroe Island Salmon - as close to wild as farmed can get?

Today, I took a wander through Kensington market in search of scallops. This bivalve has become a favourite of the wife as of late - a light, low calorie source of protein. I tend to agree, although I prefer mine swimming in drawn butter. In any event, during my search I stumbled across some Faroe Island salmon. I have to admit, this is the first time I've noticed this product. I knew that the Faroe Islands are somewhere near Iceland - and that was about the extent of my knowledge. I looked it up.

Up until about 10 years ago, the Faroe Islands, along with several places in Scotland and Norway, were notorious for industrial salmon farming that resulted in an epidemic of sea lice, epic tons of icky salmon poop (called 'effluent') and a plethora of chemicals and pollutant getting into the ocean and into the fish. However, starting in the early 2000's this small island chain turned everything around. Their government passed strict rules in hopes of cleaning up the aquaculture industry. Some of these rules included moving the pens around after each successive season, much like the ancient method of rotation farming on land. This gave the seabed a chance to re-generate and purify. The cages are placed at the front of fjords with strong currents - currents that mimic the rivers for which wild salmon furiously battle en route to their breeding grounds. The original 70 industrial farms of the 1980's have been reduced to three well-run farms breeding a different sub-species, called Var, that is supposedly as close in taste and texture to wild fish as you can find in any farmed fish in the world.

A fish pen in the Faroe Islands (photo courtesy of Telegraph UK)

So is the hype true? Well, I bought a single small fillet, and cooked it about as simply as can be. A little oil, a little salt and pepper and the barest trickle of honey for sweetness. I placed it in to a 400 F oven for about 15 minutes and served it with a lively mix of roasted red-skinned potatoes and some summer veg. And the taste? Delicious. The texture and flavour were  undeniably mild and clean. It had less of the 'mineraliness' that I sometimes find in Canadian farmed salmon. I like to support the home-grown producers, but this fish is too good - apparently a huge hit among the chefs of London. It's not terribly expensive either.  I think it's even better than that so-called 'organic' salmon coming out of Ireland.

Farmed salmon is a very political topic. The famous environmentalist, David Suzuki, is vehemently anti-farming (although admittedly he is not against the concept - only the method, he has suggested closed systems as a solution). He feels the pollution and environmental impact out-weighs the benefit. Who am I to disagree with such an expert?...but....I also know that the world's fish stocks are in serious jeopardy. If you follow Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight, you'd know that we are wrecking our oceans through a combination of greed and bad policy. Fish farms are a reality that are not going away. I believe they can be run effectively, sustainably and with protection of the environment at the top of their priorities. I think people are starting to come around to this issue - the recent shark fin ban is a case in point. Will it cost more? Or course it will, but all good things must have a price. I am willing to pay a higher price for something that I know my children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy. A few years ago, I found myself reading "Lament for an Ocean", a book about the collapse of the cod fishery back in the 1990's (honestly who reads a book about a fishery?). Anyway, the fishery has STILL not recovered.  I really love fish and seafood and I really worry about it's future. Maybe the Faroe Islands are a step in the right direction.


  1. We have Faroe Island Salmon several times a week. It is Excellent! I have had the Organic Salmon from Ireland, it is good...but much more expensive.
    Faroe Island is reasonable in price, and I can purchase it fresh any day of the week very near to my home. I appreciated your blog on Faroe Island Salmon, after reading this, I feel more comfortable eating this fish, Thank You. Marianne Williamsville NY

    1. Thanks for your post. I am puzzled because I recently ordered what I was told was "wild salmon from the Faroe Islands". Is this even possible or is all of the salmon that makes it way to US farmed?