277: Wild Salmon

Wild Salmon 

Many of you have probably heard that eating fish is good for your health.  But not all fish can give you maximum health benefits. Salmon for one, is a favorite preference apart from tuna or halibut. But according to my guest, Randy Hartnell, not all salmon are the same. To educate us further on this topic, he explains the difference between wild salmon and farm salmon in this episode.

Discovering Fishing

Randy Hartnell discovered a love for fishing during his college years while he was earning a degree in English at the University of California in Berkley. Taking on a summer job, it led him to discover fishing in Alaska. 

Randy Hartnell fell in love with commercial fishing and continued after graduating from college. He bought boats, hired a crew and dived into commercial fishing for 20 years in Alaska. Every spring and summer was devoted to catching herring and salmon.

“It was a great lifestyle. I would have still been doing it except for the rise of industrial farm salmon in the world market,” said Randy Hartnell. “In the late 90s, farm salmon exploded despite the nutritional and environmental disadvantages. At that time few consumers knew the difference.”

He adds, “What grocery stores and chefs understood was that farm salmon was now available 24/7, it was cheap and consistent. So, in a couple of years, the price collapsed. That's why I had to figure out something else to do.”

Vital Choice

Randy Hartnell had a friend call him one day. Together they discussed the factors surrounding the demand for either wild salmon or farm salmon. And because people loved wild salmon, it was an excellent opportunity to make wild salmon more available to consumers.

Randy Hartnell initially hired friends and family members.  He launched the company in 2002 and had grown every year since then. One of the favorite things the company offers is their Vital Box subs program, containing the company's greatest hits. It includes the most popular Vital Choice products that consumers can customize.

“We enjoy educating people that fish is yummy and easy to prepare and healthy, too. Always go for quality,” Randy Hartnell advises. “Those healthy omega three fats in the fish is unstable. It is prone to oxidation. That's one reason why chefs prefer farm salmon. Because wild salmon goes bad quickly.”

Looming Problems

According to Randy Hartnell, the most significant problems fall into two categories. One is environmental, particularly the impact of the farm salmon on the local ecosystem. Everything you're putting into those cages to feed those fish, a lot of that ends up in the surrounding environment. That in turn, can have a profound impact on the local species.

To get the bigger picture, Randy Hartnell says that salmon farming first started in Norway. The farms there have devastated the wild salmon stocks. In fact, Randy Hartnell talked to a scientist there a few years ago. And that scientist said that British Columbia is insane to put salmon farms along wild salmon migration routes.

You see, Randy Hartnell reveals that in British Columbia, fisheries placed hundreds of farm salmon pans along the migration routes of five different species of wild Pacific salmon. And this scenario attracts diseases and parasites.

“The solution is to move those pens onto land and do closed containment tanks. But the problem is you don't have mother nature subsidizing your processing of sewage, pumping, and water. That's why farm salmon that is raised sustainably is more expensive. So, unfortunately, there is not much market for it,” shares Randy Hartnell.

Randy Hartnell says the other issue is the nutritional side. Some are fed wild fish which are turned into pellets and fed to farm salmon. The problem is, the fish might end up having trace levels of contaminants.

“Plus, when you start feeding these farm salmons a lot of grains, you have way more omega 6 to omega 3. Wild salmon has more omega three compared to omega 6,” said Randy Hartnell.

Randy Hartnell also shares that now there is a big mining consortium, that is trying to build a massive open-pit mine right at the headwater. It's called the Pebble Mine Project, and many are stopping it. 

“There are always going to be bad actors out there. And the best way to put them out of business is to educate consumers to look for and choose sustainably sourced alternatives,” said Randy Hartnell.

Alaska's Solution

Randy Hartnell fished in Alaska for 20 years.  He shares that based on the state constitution, it states that fisheries will be managed on a sustainable basis.

This means a scientist manages every river that has fish coming up to it. His primary goal is to make sure that every season there is a sustainable yield basis. It's monitoring the passage of fish into the river and making sure there is harvestable surplus.

Alaska's “fish cops” primarily protect the habitat. There are no big tourism establishments, logging or dams to destroy the natural environment.  In fact, they are currently expecting fifty to sixty million salmon are coming back to spawn.

Reputable Organizations

Randy Hartnell reveals that consumers are now demanding sustainable seafood. To date, there are 30 NGOs now focusing on ocean sustainability and fisheries around the world. There's still a lot of work to do.

To those who aren't aware, a fishery is primarily a defined by its region, the fishing method it uses and the type of fish it catches. Generally, most of the seafood and salmon in the United States come from Alaska because it is sustainable.

Randy Hartnell says the gold standard of organizations is called the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) where he is a member. They are rigorous in evaluating fisheries especially since over 130 species rely on wild salmon throughout their lives, from bacteria to killer whales.

It takes thorough scrutiny before one company gets that coveted MSC logo on their packaged products.  And Randy Hartnell says the nutrition packages that those fish represent is some of the healthiest food on the planet, not to mention sustainable, too.

Benefits of Wild Salmon

According to Randy Hartnell, wild salmon and seafood in general, is one of the last wild, natural organic foods that we have on the planet. They are just about the most nutrient-dense food you can find. And they have way more than the RDI of many of our essential amino acids or healthy fats.

“We all need omega 3 and omega 6 in our diet. They are precursors to all kinds of different hormones that allow ourselves to communicate with one another,” said Randy Hartnell. “So, when you have an imbalance of these two types, it causes a lot of problems like chronic diseases.”

Seafood Prescription

Randy Hartnell has an upcoming book coming up, called the Seafood Prescription.  It explains the nutrients in seafood and how it addresses so many needs that we have on a biochemical level.

“The fatter the fish, the more omega three it has. Alaskan king salmon or British Columbia king salmon are going to have the most, approximately two grams on a six-ounce portion,” Randy Hartnell said. “Don't worry too much about the number. Just incorporate more fish into your diet. It's not about getting the omega three but rather also about restricting the omega 6.”

He narrates that his wife had chronic allergies, skin issues, and inflammatory eye condition before. When he started this company, Randy Hartnell met Dr. William Lands, who was a pioneer in this field and discovered a lot of this biochemistry.

After being educated about fish, the omega 6 factor and how prevalent it is, Randy Hartnell and his wife started cutting out omega 6.  It wasn't long before his wife was cured of her health problems and Randy Hartnell's family history of eczema and psoriasis was cured as well.

Fresh Vs. Frozen

Randy Hartnell says that most people will say fresh is superior to frozen. But there was a study before regarding this. From the study, 80% wanted fresh, not frozen fish. Both kinds were cooked side by side, and in the end, the frozen fish tasted better.

“Currently, there's also a tool to measure cellular damage from freezing and quality degradation,” shares Randy Hartnell. “Freezing is like nature's preservative. You protect those unstable oils from the air and protect them from oxidation. It will taste like it just came out of the water as long as it is frozen properly.”

Canned Fish

The commonly canned fishes are tuna and salmon. But Randy Hartnell says many are poorly canned because some companies pack lower quality fish into the can. As a result, Randy Hartnell makes sure partner with a company that puts the best fish in the can.

Vital Choices Products

Randy Hartnell assures that his company only buys domestically processed seafood in Alaska or Washington. It costs more, but it's an excellent avenue to support jobs.

Some other excellent Vital Choices products worth trying are their burgers and sausages. It took quite a while to develop their wild salmon sausages that come in three delicious flavors.

Randy Hartnell also believes that a healthy mom delivers healthy babies. That's why Vital Choice also has a healthy diet option that caters to pregnant women. In fact, Randy Hartnell shares that there was a study conducted over a span of twenty to thirty years involving 14,000 moms and kids.

“The study looked into the impact on fish consumption and impact on neurological health on children. It also identified that the risks of not eating fish are much greater than those with trace levels of mercury.”

Out of Balance

There are many success stories of people who made the switch to incorporating more fish or fish oil products into their diet. Randy Hartnell says there was one case wherein a patient had omega three therapy. It involved intravenous fish oil to repair the brain which worked.

Randy Hartnell also had a personal experience with omega three therapy when his daughter was hospitalized for bacterial meningitis, severe, and brain swelling. It benefited his daughter as well, and the recovery was faster.

To further get some additional resource, do check out Randy Hartnell's Out of Balance video on his website, where he interviews five well-known authorities talking about the importance of balancing omega 3.

Randy Hartnell's website is a wealth of information and even has an online store.  As a bonus, he's giving all you listeners a 10% discount so be sure to type in LTH2018 for the coupon code upon checkout.


Randy Hartnell is the president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics, the leading online seafood company he and wife Carla founded in 2001. He is responsible for guiding the company on its mission of helping consumers source high-quality, sustainable seafood while educating them about the impact of food choices on their health, the environment, and the commercial fishing community. 

Randy Hartnell is the public face of Vital Choice, fostering relationships with environmentally minded, health-conscious consumers and nutrition-oriented health and wellness advocates. Before founding Vital Choice, Randy Hartnell spent more than twenty years as a commercial salmon fisherman in Alaska. He is a Washington state native and holds a degree in English Literature from the UC Berkeley.

Get Connected With Randy Hartnell:

Vital Choice

Randy Hartnell Website

Marine Stewardship Council

EFA Education

Out of Balance Video


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Ashley James

Health Coach, Podcast Creator, Homeschooling Mom, Passionate About God & Healing

Ashley James is a Holistic Health Coach, Podcaster, Rapid Anxiety Cessation Expert, and avid Whole Food Plant-Based Home Chef. Since 2005 Ashley has worked with clients to transform their lives as a Master Practitioner and Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming.

Her health struggles led her to study under the world’s top holistic doctors, where she reversed her type 2 diabetes, PCOS, infertility, chronic infections, and debilitating adrenal fatigue.

In 2016, Ashley launched her podcast Learn True Health with Ashley James to spread the TRUTH about health and healing. You no longer need to suffer; your body CAN and WILL heal itself when we give it what it needs and stop what is harming it!

The Learn True Health Podcast has been celebrated as one of the top holistic health shows today because of Ashley’s passion for extracting the right information from leading experts and doctors of holistic health and Naturopathic medicine


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