Last week Ed and I made salmon for dinner. He noticed I was eating the salmon but leaving the skin on my plate, and commented on it. Ed happens to love the skin of any type of fish. He is even known to ask the waiter to please prepare his fish with the skin on. I never really gave this much thought until he asked me why I wasn’t eating it. I typically just eat the fish and whatever skin sticks to it, but leave the rest on my plate.
So I did some research on salmon skin, and other fish skin in general. Turns out there are many important nutrients in the skin of most fish, and almost all skins are edible. Salmon skin, for example, contains concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. This is because the salmon’s fat is in the layer just beneath the skin, so when it is cooked with the skin on, the skin soaks up these (healthy) fats. However, all of this information is based on the assumption that the fish was swimming in uncontaminated waters. And, as we all know, this is usually not the case.
The salmon’s skin can also be a source of chemical pollutants that can be harmful in large quantities. Waters can become polluted from things like factories, sewage treatment plants, chemical spills, and city street or farm runoff. When these chemicals are transferred to the salmon, they become concentrated in the skin, the fatty layer right next to the skin, internal organs, and sometimes muscle tissue.
Some precautions to take if you are a frequent salmon-eater include removing skin and the darker fat layer right next to the skin, and also selecting smaller salmon, as they are younger and have had less exposure to toxins in the water. This applies to other types of gamefish too, such as lake trout, walleye or bass. Some fish, such as stream trout, perch or smelt, feed on insects and other aquatic life and are less likely to contain pollutants. Therefore it is probably safer to eat the skins of these fish. The bottom-feeders in lakes and streams, such as carp and catfish, are more likely to contain high levels of chemical pollutants.
Unfortunately, mercury is found throughout a fish’s tissue, so it is difficult to avoid. There are certain types of fish that tend to be lower or higher in mercury, and it is a good idea to become familiar with this information. A good website to reference is this one.
So, it seems like eating salmon skin is fine occasionally, but if you are someone who eats salmon twice per week or more, you may want to avoid it some of the time, and also choose the best quality salmon possible. This isn’t meant to scare anyone away from eating fish on a regular basis. The nutrients in fish far outweigh the risks, as long as you are choosing your fish carefully and staying aware of current warnings and information about what is safe to eat.
Eddo, you were right about the skin containing lots of omega-3s! And since we buy wild salmon and typically don’t eat it more than once per week, I’d say you’re safe to keep on eating the crunchy skin. And maybe I’ll give it a try every once in a while too!