Why does farmed salmon flesh sometimes go soft? Study offers new insights

Kudoa in Atlantic salmon fillet
Soft and separated flesh in a salmon fillet caused by Kudoa

When customers open a box of fresh, farmed salmon only to find the flesh has gone soft after being in storage for a few days, that’s a huge problem for both the customer and the seller.  No one wants that to happen.

Most of the fish produced in BC is premium quality.  But sometimes soft flesh problems arise.

BC salmon farmers have worked for years to prevent this from happening — after all, premium quality fish command premium quality prices.

Years of research have pinpointed one common culprit behind soft flesh: a fish parasite known as kudoa, which sometimes affects BC farmed salmon but has also affected wild-caught BC fish used in fish sticks and surimi for 40 years.

But sometimes soft flesh in farmed salmon happens without the presence of kudoa, and a 2014 study brings us closer to understanding why.

The study’s findings suggest that soft flesh is linked to how much glycogen (stored sugar) the fish has in its cells:

“We report for the first time an association between soft flesh of Atlantic salmon and massive intracellular glycogen accumulation coinciding with swollen and degenerated mitochondria, myocyte detachment and altered extracellular matrix protein distribution. The results are important for further understanding the etiology of soft salmon.”

The study authors caution that they are not sure if the accumulation of glycogen is a symptom or cause of soft flesh, but the new findings will definitely help researchers better understand what is happening with soft salmon flesh and get closer to finding a solution.

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