Is It Cruel to Eat Salmon?

Salmon is one of the most popularly eaten fish. It’s flavorful and can be enjoyed raw or cooked whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Despite how tasty this fish is – it can be challenging to decide where to buy it or whether you should eat it at all because of the potential inhumane treatment toward the animal before harvesting.

Is It Cruel to Eat Salmon?

While it is not objectively cruel to eat salmon, you need to consider the supplier’s harvesting practices and avoid any company that does not practice sustainable fishing. Wild-caught salmon is often treated more humanely than farmed salmon, which are subjected to artificial food, antibiotics, and disease.

Even after considering these points, remember that the ethics behind consuming salmon isn’t restricted to the harvesting and aquaculture practices. It’s about morality as well.

For instance, you might want to consider why you believe salmon should be in your dish instead of an entirely plant-based meal.

Below are some of the most vital points to reflect on before deciding to eat salmon.

Is It Cruel to Eat Salmon?

Whether it’s “cruel” to eat salmon or not depends on what you’re referring to with the word “cruel.” Usually, people refer to the harvest practices and general morality of eating the fish when these discussions arise.

Before you dive into this topic, know that there is no single rule determining whether it’s “right” or “wrong” to eat salmon. Your conclusion is subjective, and yours alone.

How Are Salmon Harvested?

First, look at the issue broadly, from an environmental standpoint. In this scope, the primary factor to consider is the practice used to harvest the salmon. Even on this topic, there is wide variation, and methods can change according to species.

Still, no matter which species you’re looking at, overfishing and habitat degradation due to commercial fishing negligence persist across fish types.

For example, Chinook salmon declined in species abundance by 60% between 1984-2010 due to excessive harvest rates and the negative impacts of hatcheries on wild populations.

More than 20 million fish were taken from the oceans and freshwater between 1975-2010, and officials are still struggling to set and enforce sustainable limits.

Although the establishment of hatcheries is partially motivated by the opportunity to “salvage” failing wild populations, they negatively impact the wild fishes’ gene pools. These aquaculture stations can also introduce diseases into natural groups, further contributing to unnaturally high death rates.

Commercial fishery practices are on an entirely different level and often wreak much more damage on salmon populations than local fishermen. For instance, estimates show that each decade, commercial operations are responsible for taking approximately 41 million sockeye salmon since 1980.

Thus, it’s best to avoid unsustainably harvested fish (commercial or local).

Is It Morally Wrong to Eat Fish?

Discussions about the morality and ethics of eating non-human animals are always rabbit holes. There’s so much to discuss, and it’s almost impossible to reach a single conclusion on the matter.

One of the primary concerns about the morality surrounding the consumption of other living things is the organism’s sentience.

This is a hot-button topic, so you must do your research when bringing it up to someone before jumping into a discussion, debate, or whatever you might call it.

Though the issue is not, in any way, black and white, there are two main sides you’ll encounter in such discussions:

  • Kantian logic: Animals, including fish, are just food and a means to an end. They are not sentient and perhaps cannot even feel pain. So, we owe them nothing, not even the energy expended on debating whether it’s appropriate to consume them or not. In this line of thinking, humankind comes first, above all else.
  • Singer-Esque school of thought: All living things – whether they are human, fish, rodent, or plant – are driven by the will to live. One aspect of the will to live is the avoidance of discomfort or pain. To interpret such sentiments is indicative of some level of sentience. Thereby, all these organisms are deserving of the same respect and moral consideration.

So, is it morally wrong or cruel to eat salmon? If you subscribe to the former, no. In this line of thinking, salmon is just food, and you don’t owe these animals any moral consideration.

On the other hand, if you agree with Singer, this doesn’t necessarily make salmon consumption objectively wrong, as you are still an omnivorous organism. However, you do have the choice and freedom to abstain.

What is Wrong with Eating Fish? 

Ethically, there can be a few things wrong with eating fish if you don’t source your food appropriately.

For instance, if you buy from a commercial fishery directly contributing to falling salmon populations, the main problem with eating fish is environmental degradation.

This industry is riddled with additional problems, including, but not limited to:

  • Mass-catch fishing (many have been outlawed over the years, but the problem remains);
  • Disruption of natural migration routes due to dam construction (these can block migration paths entirely, preventing salmon from spawning at their birth sites);
  • Rampant disease and genetic decline due to poor hatchery management; and
  • Damage to habitats, such as erosion and pollution, in combination with the exacerbation of climate change effects by outright habitat loss.

If you are either unintentionally or consciously contributing to commercial companies that inflict these issues onto, these are just a handful of examples of what is wrong with eating salmon.

These are most certainly points to consider when deciding if it’s cruel to eat this fish. Otherwise, there are just a few health impacts you might want to keep in mind, such as:

  • Pollutants in the water can penetrate the fish, and eventually, you, when you eat it. Some of the most common and recognizable contaminants are mercury and pesticides.
  • Eating salmon (or any fish) could be bad for pregnant individuals because of the potentially high mercury content. In this sense, it is “cruel” to eat salmon out of consideration for your unborn baby.

Wild vs. Farmed Salmon – Which is Cruelty-Free?

Finally, you must consider the implications of eating wild vs. farmed salmon and determine which is cruelty-free between these two. On the one hand, eating wild salmon is thought by some to be the more humane route since the fish were allowed to live naturally.

This stems from the idea that animals kept in captivity are inherently less happy and fulfilled than their wild counterparts. Concerning farmed salmon, aquaculture practices usually consist of feeding the salmon unnatural fish feed, administering excessive doses of antibiotics, and potentially overcrowding.

These are all glaringly inhumane customs and are indeed enough grounds to determine that, in this case, eating salmon is cruel.

Most producers are transparent about the sourcing of the salmon. You’ll often find a label on the salmon packaging that communicates whether it was wild-caught or farmed, so keep an eye out for that when you’re grocery shopping.

In Conclusion

Deciding whether it’s cruel to eat salmon or not is a tricky business. The designation of “cruelty-free” is dependent on several factors, each of which should be decided based on harvesting practices and your perspective on animal sentience and morality.

If this is new to you, then start by thinking about the first point: harvesting practices. You can find a lot more guidance based on demonstrable facts and evidence.

From there, it’s easy to decide whether eating salmon is cruel by checking the packaging label. Just remember that wild-caught salmon is subjected to a lot less abuse than farmed salmon. So ensure that you’re buying from a humane supplier.

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