glacier_grey2The jagged coast of southern Chile is one of the most dramatic places on earth. A maze of fjords and islands, the topography is testament to the power of ice to shape a landscape. Massive glaciers wind down from the high Andes, calving blue icebergs into the frigid sea.

Patagonia’s crenellated western shoreline stretches more than 50,000 miles. Its pristine waters have been isolated from pollution problems that plague coastal areas near large population centers. But that’s changing — and the salmon you buy could mean the difference in preserving the stunning beauty of Chile’s marine wilderness.

Chile is the world’s second-largest producer of farmed salmon behind Norway. Drawn by Chile’s clean, cold waters, Norwegian companies have established fish-farming operations along the Patagonian coast. Unlike self-contained tilapia farms, however, salmon farming is done in pens placed in natural ocean waters. And, as with any form of concentrated animal agriculture, waste is a problem. It removes oxygen from the water, destroying the ability of the aquatic ecosystem to sustain life and creating dead zones in the ocean. Wild salmon living in such conditions also become vulnerable to parasites and a lethal virus called infectious salmon anemia. As the aquatic environment is harmed, fish-farming operations in Chiles simply continue to move farther into the southern fjords.

The most important way you can respond is never to buy farmed salmon. The message is catching on: Target recently announced it would sell only wild-caught Alaskan salmon in its stores. The chain made the decision after consulting with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which helps retailers and consumers identify “best choices” for sustainable fish.

For guidance on other sustainable seafood choices, consult the Marine Stewardship Council, whose certification and eco-labeling program help to promote environmentally conscious fisheries worldwide.