Delicious And Sustainable Alternatives To Farmed Salmon

Salmon has exploded in popularity among seafood enthusiasts worldwide. What used to be a specialty item has become commonplace thanks to intensive aquaculture practices. Today salmon are farmed all over the world, far beyond the traditional habitats of the various species. Salmon has become ubiquitous in our food landscape, but so have concerns over its environmental impacts. There is a growing interest in sustainable seafood alternatives to the world’s favorite fish.

Exploring the many alternatives to farmed salmon offers a flavorful and sustainable change of pace. American consumers in particular are historically timid when choosing seafood, it’s time for that to change. If salmon is the only fish you eat, be prepared to discover some of the fish that you’ve been missing. Here are twelve delectable alternatives to farmed salmon.

Arctic Char


Arctic char is closely related to salmon and offers a delicious alternative with its mild, delicate flavor and tender texture. It has a flavor profile that is often likened to a combination of salmon and trout. It offers a rich, buttery taste and a tender, flaky texture that can be prepared just like salmon. Arctic char is also known for its high omega-3 fatty acid content and low mercury levels. The char you see for sale is farmed but is raised differently than most salmon. Arctic char farms mostly use recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) that reduces the farm’s environmental impact. It also creates a healthier final product for consumers.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout is another salmon relative that serves as an excellent alternative. It has a delicate, mild flavor and a tender, flaky texture that is similar to salmon. Trout has a slightly less pronounced taste but can be prepared in similar ways, including grilling, baking, broiling, and smoking. Wild, sea-run trout is often sold as steelhead, but many stocks are protected so is less available than farm raised rainbow trout. Responsible trout farming practices emphasize water conservation and minimize environmental impact. Well-run rainbow trout farms provide a sustainable and nutritious option for seafood lovers.

Barramundi

pan seared barramundi
Pan-seared Australis Barramundi

Barramundi is also known as Asian sea bass. This fish boasts a mild, buttery flavor and a firm, flaky texture. Barramundi does not look like salmon but works really well as an alternative. Barramundi’s flavor and tender texture is often compared to grouper or snapper. The rich oil content may remind some of grilled mackerel. It is known for its versatility in cooking and renowned for a high protein content and omega-3 fatty acids. Barramundi farming does not pose the environmental impacts of salmon due to the fish’s biology. Even when raised in offshore sea pens. However, like all farmed fish, finding a responsible company is important.

Mackerel

Season mackerel fillet out of the tin

Mackerel is known for its rich, oily flesh and robust flavor, which varies by species. When substituting salmon for mackerel, consider the stronger taste and oilier texture, which can impact the overall flavor profile of a dish. However, don’t be surprised if you like mackerel so much it turns into a salmon replacement rather than alternative. Mackerel is a wild, sustainable fish choice that provides an abundance of essential nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Mackerel, tinned in oil is also very affordable and found in most supermarkets.

Sardines

Sardines are renowned for their rich flavor and high nutritional value. The various sardine species are similar small, oily fish that have a soft texture. They have a very distinctive flavor, which is generally “fishier” than the other species in this list. The tinned varieties served in flavorful oils are usually milder and softer. Tinned sardines are also very affordable. Sardines are wild, sustainable, and low in mercury. With their abundance in the wild and rapid reproductive rates, sardines are an eco-friendly choice that are also one of healthiest fish you can eat.

Butterfish

This small fish may be hard to find, but when you do, it is well worth it. Butterfish is a small, thin, silvery fish that is universally acclaimed for its deliciousness. They have a fatty, oil flesh that is coveted in Japan, which imports most of the summer harvest off New York and New England. The fish grow quick, live fast and occupy the middle of the food chain as predator, but mostly as prey. Populations of butterfish are very healthy along the US East Coast and are strictly managed.

Sablefish – Black Cod

frozen sablefish

There is a reason that another name for this one is “butterfish.” Not to be confused with the actual butterfish listed above, sablefish is uniquely delicious salmon alternative. The distinguishing feature of sablefish is the healthy oil content that gives it a silky, buttery texture. This fish is also known as black cod but is not related to true cod and has only a passing resemblance. Sablefish is a more recent marketing name to help the fish stand out in the market. These fish are sustainably caught on the North American Pacific Coast up to Alaska. Sablefish are also farm raised in Canada but is not allowed in the US.

The rest of the list showcases fish that have fewer, if any, similarities to salmon but are delicious, sustainable and can be prepared in similar ways.

Mahi-mahi

mahi mahi bites
Mahi-mahi Bites from Gloucester’s Mile Marker One

Mahi mahi, also known as dorado and dolphinfish has grown in popularity in recent years and is widely available. Mahi is popular for its firm but moist texture when cooked and a mild, almost sweet flavor. The fish is less oily than the fish listed above and the flesh cooks to an off-white color. Mahi mahi is a sustainable wild fish option sourced through responsible wild capture methods. The fish has a rapid growth rate and are very fertile during their short lives. Mahi are abundant on both coasts of the US, giving consumers a delectable and environmentally friendly alternative to farmed salmon.

Striped Bass

striper king striped bass

Striped bass stands out as a sustainable alternative to farmed salmon with a mildly sweet taste. It is a healthy fish to eat, with a high oil content like salmon. However, striped bass is white fleshed fish, which are not considered “oily” from a cooking standpoint. The fish is sourced responsibly through wild capture along its native range, with strict regional quotas. Peak striped bass availability is through the spring and summer along the US and Canadian East coast. Stripers are also farm raised in both ocean and freshwater environments using eco-friendly aquaculture methods.

Pollock

Gorton's Fish Sandwich pollock

Pollock, particularly Pacific or Alaskan pollock is known for its delicate texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor. This is a sustainable wild-caught fish option that can be responsibly sourced through well-managed fisheries. It is also why pollock is so widely used for frozen fish products like fish sticks, and fast-food fish sandwiches. Pollock is a white fleshed fish that has little in common with a piece of farmed salmon but is a versatile fish to work with. More importantly, pollock’s abundance and widespread availability offers consumers a nutritious, affordable, and environmentally friendly alternative to farmed salmon.

Haddock

Baked Haddock

Haddock is related to pollock and is characterized by a mild flavor and tender, flaky, white flesh. The fish is wild caught using sustainable fishing methods and tight fishing quotas. Haddock is harvested in New England and Canadian waters but is also imported from Iceland and Norway. It is a fish that freezes well and so it is available far beyond its range. Haddock does not resemble farmed salmon at all, but if you enjoy the versatility of pollock, this will be a bit of an upgrade.

Catfish

Blue catfish chowder
Invasive blue catfish chowder at SENA 2023

The various species of catfish available are all appreciated for a mild, slightly sweet taste and versatility in culinary preparations. Domestically farmed catfish is a sustainable seafood choice that can be responsibly farmed under controlled conditions. With its efficient feed conversion and reduced environmental impact, catfish serves as a viable and eco-conscious alternative for consumers seeking to diversify their seafood. The blue catfish is an abundant, wild caught domestic fish that has become invasive in the Chesapeake area. Choosing this mild and delicious catfish helps in the fight to control their numbers.

Final Thoughts on Farmed Salmon Alternatives

TJ's King salmon

One obvious and excellent alternative to farmed salmon is wild salmon. Healthy, sustainable wild salmon not only is good for your health, but also the health of the many communities that rely on their salmon fishery. Unfortunately, good quality wild salmon has a limited supply and may be out of your price range. If you can source wild salmon at a good price, take it. However, there are many other choices when it comes to healthy, delicious and sustainable fish.

These examples don’t always mimic the taste and texture of farmed salmon, but the growing demand for sustainable seafood should be met with more variety. Everyone knows salmon tastes great, but it’s time to branch out and learn about other delicious fish. Arctic char and rainbow trout/steelhead are nearly interchangeable with salmon, while striped bass or mahi take you in another delicious direction. By considering alternatives to farmed salmon, consumers will be rewarded by flavorful and environmentally conscious dining experiences.