Salmon is the common name for several species of fish of
the family Salmonidae.
Wild salmon occur naturally in both the Pacific
and Atlantic Oceans. Salmon are not native anywhere south
of the equator.
Salmon are anadromous:
born in fresh
water, migrate to the ocean,
and return to fresh water to reproduce.
Even today, little is understood about their semelparity, the
trait that causes them to swim for thousands of miles in the
open ocean and then return to their natal waters to spawn and
die. Some evidence suggests that salmon may take navigational
cues from the earth's magnetic field to guide them home.
has long been at the heart of the culture and livelihood of many
coastal dwellers. For centuries, indigenous people have relied
on salmon as the primary source of protein and omega fats in
Wild salmon population
levels are of dire concern in the Atlantic Ocean. This
species is near extinction primarily due to over fishing. The
wild Atlantic salmon fishery is commercially dead.
Beginning around 1990 the rates of wild Atlantic salmon mortality
at sea more than doubled, and by 2000 the numbers had dropped
to critically low levels. Rivers off of the U.S. coast saw runs
drop precipitously, and even disappear.
Around the North Atlantic, efforts to restore salmon to their
native habitats are underway and there is some progress. Restoration
and protection of the habitat itself is key to this process but
issues of competition with escaped farmed salmon are also a primary
consideration. Farmed salmon who breed with wild Atlantic salmon
tend to lessen the genetic diversity
of the species leading to lower survival rates.
On the West Coast of Northern America, farmed Atlantic salmon
are an invasive threat as well, especially in Alaska and
Canada. Extensive efforts are underway to prevent escapes and
spread of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific.
NEW ZEALAND AND TASMANIA
Salmon is not native to New Zealand or anywhere in the southern
hemisphere. Salmon in New Zealand were originally imported
as ova from the Sacramento River in California in 1901. New
Zealand accounts for around half of farmed Chinook salmon production
worldwide. Attempts have been made to farm Sockeye and
Atlantic species in New Zealand but were unsuccessful. Tasmanian
salmon is farm raised Atlantic salmon.
Pacific salmon populations have also greatly receded in the waters
of California, Oregon and Washington. This is largely attributed
to dams, commercial agriculture, pollution and
salmon farming in nearby Canada.
Reduction in freshwater base flow and disruption of seasonal
flows in rivers, due to dams, diversions, extractions, hydroelectric
power generation, irrigation,
and reservoirs, inhibit the normal migratory processes for wild
Loss of suitable freshwater habitat, especially degradation
pools and reduction of suitable material for the excavation
of redds are also to blame. Historically stream pools were, to
a large extent, created by beavers. With the extirpation of the
the nurturing function of these ponds was lost.
In Washington, over 400 dams have been built in the Columbia
River Basin. The Columbia River salmon population is now less
than 3% of what it was when Lewis
and Clark arrived in 1805.
Disease transfer from open net cage salmon farming, especially
sea lice is a major threat to wild Pacific salmon. There is
strong scientific evidence establishing a direct link between
the number of lice-infested wild fish and the presence of farmed
salmon cages. It is widely reported that wild Canadian salmon
populations on the west coast are being driven to extinction by
sea lice from nearby salmon farms.
SUSTAINABLE WILD ALASKAN SALMON
salmon stocks are thriving. Alaska is the only state in the union
whose constitution mandates a sustainable yield principal for
fish. Millions of wild Alaskan fish are protected by one of the
most stringent and sustainable fisheries management systems in
the world. Alaska is viewed as the global leader in the
management of wild fish
stocks. The state sets a firm harvest limit that prevents
over fishing and preserves the ecosystem.
In 2000, the world's largest fishery, The Alaska Salmon Fishery,
was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as well
managed and sustainable.
The certification recognizes the quality and fundamental conservation
strengths of Alaska's salmon management program. To maintain
this certification, Alaskan Salmon Fisheries must meet three
- The number of salmon harvested must be relative to the number
that can be replenished naturally. These species must be caught
ethically as well.
- The fishery should be managed to ensure the health and diversity
of the marine ecosystem.
- The fishery must adhere to all laws and regulations
for responsible and sustainable fishing.
Alaska is committed to escapement goal management in which harvests
are restricted to ensure spawning escapement needs are met. Allowing
safe passage to the spawning grounds is the highest salmon management
Approximately 95 percent of all commercially caught wild salmon
in the U.S. are harvested in Alaska.
Alaska’s human population density is the lowest of any
in the United States, and lower than most places in the world.
The EPA conducted a comprehensive study of Alaskan Salmon. The
results indicate that Alaskan Salmon are cleaner than any that
the EPA has ever tested.
farming, or “aquaculture”, is outlawed in Alaska.
ALASKAN SALMON SPECIES
The three best choices for whole, fresh consumption are:
Chinook are the largest of all Pacific salmon and one of the
most important fish native to the Pacific Ocean. They are prized
for their large size, high oil content and excellent table qualities.
Chinook average 10 to 50 pounds, but can reach 130 pounds. Chinook are typically divided into"races" of "spring", "summer",
and "fall" and “winter” Chinook. Races
are determined by the timing of adult entry into fresh water.
Chinook salmon may spend between one to eight years in the ocean before
returning to their home rivers to spawn, though the average is three to four
years. Chinook may be harvested year around.
Coho have silver sides and dark
blue backs, during their ocean phase.
Mature coho average 28 inches in length and 7 to 11 pounds. Coho
are extremely adaptable and occur in nearly all accessible bodies
of fresh water, from large transboundary watersheds to small
tributaries. Ocean caught Coho is regarded as excellent table
fare. It has a moderate to high amount of fat, which is considered
essential when judging taste. Only in spring do Chinook and
Sockeye salmon have higher levels of fats in their meat. Historically,
the Coho has been a staple in the diet of several indigenous
peoples. For several tribes, Coho is a symbol, representing
life and sustenance. Coho salmon live in the salt water for one
or two years before returning to spawn.
In sport fishing, Coho are spectacular fighters and the most
acrobatic of the Pacific salmon. Its popularity is due in part
to the reckless abandon which it frequently displays chasing
in salt water,
and the large number of coastal streams it ascends during its spawning
runs. It is harvested mid June through mid October.
Sockeye are noted for their deep
red flesh. They can be as long as 33 inches and weigh
6 to 8 pounds. It has an elongated,
torpedo shaped body and a bluntly pointed snout. Although most
adult Pacific salmon feed on small fish, shrimp and squid; Sockeye
feed on plankton that
they filter through gill rakers. It is speculated that this diet
is the reason for the striking hue of their flesh, as well as
their very low concentration of methyl mercury. The fish spend
from one to four years in the salt water, and thus are four to
six years old when they return to spawn in summer.
Sockeye largely support the commercial fishing industry on the
Pacific coast of North America. The largest harvest of sockeye
salmon in the world occurs in Alaska where 10 to 30 million fish
may be caught each year during a short, intensive fishing period,
lasting only a few weeks. Sockeye are harvested mid May through
FISHING WILD ALASKAN SALMON
Today, wild salmon is most often harvested in the open ocean,
near the mouths of rivers. Ocean caught salmon is generally considered a healthier, tastier
fish and is often referred to as “ocean bright”.
The skin color of salmon changes from a silvery blue of a fresh
run fish from the sea to a darker red after they enter the river.
The flesh continues to deteriorate the longer the adult fish
remains in freshwater.
Alaska’s fishery managers take advantage of the anadromous
behavior of salmon. They observe and count the fish, and ensure
that sufficient numbers of adult spawners escape the fishery,
and swim up the rivers to spawn.
Salmon also school tightly, and do not mix very much with other
species of fishes. This means that commercial salmon fishing
has virtually no incidental catch, or bycatch, of non-salmon
Alaskan salmon are caught only in specific, tightly regulated
areas within state waters up to three nautical miles offshore.
They are harvested by fishermen, families, and Alaska Natives.
Many are owner-operators, meaning that they are independent businesses
operating their own boats.
Trollers are small fishing vessels operated by one or two people
who fish with a number of lines with baited hooks or lures.
Of all the commercial salmon fishing methods, trolling may
be the least efficient from the standpoint of intercepting
fish. Trollers must search for fish in the open ocean. Troll-caught
salmon generally make up less than 10 percent of the total
Alaska catch of all species of salmon. If the vessel has freezing
capacity, the fish is blast-frozen, dipped in fresh water to
form an ice glaze, and placed in the hold.
The greatest number of Alaskan salmon are caught with gillnets.
Gillnetting is done from boats (driftnetting), or from shore
(setnetting). Either type involves laying a net wall in the water
in the path of the fish. Some driftnetting vessels are equipped
to carry their fish on ice, or in refrigerated holds. In areas
where fishing can be extremely heavy, a driftnetter may deliver
fish every few hours to a tendering vessel.
Large numbers of salmon are caught with seines in Alaska. Seining
vessels are larger than gillnetters, so that they can operate
in stormy fjords and channels. A purse seine is a net that is
set in a circle and is drawn closed at the bottom. Salmon’s
tendency to swim and jump on the surface reveals the school’s
location as it moves through the water. Because salmon migrate
in tight schools, it is not unusual for an Alaskan seiner to
catch 250 to 1,500 fish with one set.
FRESH VS FROZEN
Consumers often ask, "Is
the fish fresh?" If
the fish has indeed not been frozen, a better question would
be, “When, and where was the fish caught?” The issue
of freshness is not about whether or not a fish has been frozen,
but about the condition of the fish when it is consumed. Frozen
is not contrary to fresh. Rather, spoiled is the opposite of
However, current public opinion still tends toward the theory
that fresh is better than frozen, when in reality, a lot of fresh
fish sold today is as much as nine days old. There is a growing
change in the market however, as more consumers are beginning
to realize that fresh isn't always better, and isn't always fresh.
Seafood quality cannot be improved once it leaves the water,
it can only be maintained. Maintaining quality is a function
of time, temperature and cleanliness. As time passes and ambient
temperature climbs, bacterial growth increases and the quality
of the fish diminishes.
With recent technological advances, fishing fleets are able
to clean and flash freeze fish virtually moments after they
are caught. They are protected from dehydration by a process
known as glazing; a covering of water that forms a protective
sheet of ice on the outside of the fish. At a temperature
of -20F, and in as little as three seconds, the water inside
fish tissues is frozen. Flash freezing minimizes the
size of the ice crystals within the flesh, allowing for minimal
water absorption and destruction of the tissue. Additionally,
flash freezing ensures that all bacteria and parasites are
destroyed and minimizes cellular deterioration.
be maintained with frozen-at-sea (FAS) fish, because they are
then packed and shipped frozen, held in sub-zero temperatures,
and not thawed until they reach the consumer. Hence, with frozen
fish, when was it caught and how far it has traveled become secondary
The term “fresh” in the seafood industry implies
that the fish has never been frozen, from catch to consumer. Now
the questions of when and where it was caught become extremely
relevant. Some fishing vessels are out at sea for several
days at a time. A fish may sit in a hold at sea for days before
being sold as “fresh”.
Fish being marketed as “fresh” should be bled and
cleaned immediately upon being caught, and rapidly chilled on
ice. It should disembark the vessel the same day it is caught
and immediately be refrigerated and remain in a chilled state
until it arrives to the consumer.
Raw salmon may contain Anisakis nematodes,
marine parasites that
Before the availability of refrigeration,
the Japanese did
not customarily consume raw salmon as sushi. Salmon has only
recently been served as sashimi and
since the fish has first been frozen, killing parasites prior
Cold-cooking and cold-smoking are both excellent alternatives
for preparing salmon that has not been frozen, when traditional
cooking methods are undesirable. Cold-cooking is utilizing
citric acid to create ceviche. Cold-smoking is curing fish by
smoking it at an air temperature not higher than 91°F to
avoid coagulating the protein.
whole fish keep better than fillets, and fillets with the skin
on keep better than with the skin off. When
the skin is kept in tact, it provides a natural barrier against
bacteria, oxidation and dehydration.
When cooking a fillet, the skin holds the flesh together, and
provides a barrier between the pan or grill and the fish to avoid
burning, charring and drying of the flesh. Additionally the skin
helps the fish retain its precious oils, providing additional
nutrition. The skin can easily be removed before serving.
Whole salmon steamed, poached or grilled in the round is even
juicier and more flavorful than fillets prepared the same way.
It also ensures that you’ll be getting the whole fish and
not wasting good meat. The American preference for filleted fish
is a wasteful one. Millions of pounds of good meat are trashed
from filleting. One whole fish can feed many.
WILD SALMON NUTRITION
Consuming wild salmon is extremely healthy due
to the fish's high protein,
fatty acids, and high vitamin
D content. Wild salmon is the most widely available source
of DHA and EPA Omega-3s, which are vital to brain function, child
development, and reducing the risk of heart disease.
The nutritional value of wild salmon varies based on its fat
content and the environment in which it matured. The fat content
depends not only on the genetic make-up of each species, but
also on its spawning cycle. The longer and more vigorous the
freshwater trip, the more fat the fish will carry as it leaves
FARM RAISED SALMON
Salmon aquaculture is
the major economic contributor to the world production of farmed
fin-fish, representing over $1 billion in annual US sales. As
recently as 25 years ago, most salmon in the marketplace came
from wild catch. The expansive growth of salmon farming has drastically
changed the structure of salmon production. By 1997, more
than half of salmon in the global market were farmed, and this
proportion has been steadily increasing. Today, 90% of the fresh
salmon consumed in the United States is from farms. In general,
farmed salmon outnumber wild salmon 85 to 1.
Salmon is farmed in Chile,
New Zealand, Tasmania and the
Faroe Islands. Most of the Atlantic salmon available in the
US market is actually grown in the Pacific waters off the Chilean
coast. The entry of multinationals, especially those that operate
in low cost areas such as Chile have radically changed the salmon
markets. For many years the United States was the largest
supplier of wild salmon to Japan, but Chile has surpassed it
with its farm-raised product.
According to reports in the Journal of Science,
farmed salmon contains high levels of dioxins.
biphenyl) levels may be up to ten times higher in farmed
salmon than in wild salmon. According to United States Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), consuming more than one serving of farmed
salmon per month could pose unacceptable cancer risks.
Omega-3 content is lower in farmed salmon, and in a different
proportion to what is found naturally. Yet experimentation
continues on substituting vegetable proteins for
animal proteins in the farmed salmon diet. Unfortunately, this
results in even lower levels of Omega-3s.
When farmed salmon is fed on a meal that is partially grain,
the amount of Omega-3s it contains will be present as ALA (alpha-linolenic
acid). The human body can convert ALA Omega 3 into DHA and
EPA, but at a very inefficient rate of 2 to 15%.
PESTICIDES AND ANTIBIOTICS
While aquaculture may be a good alternative for some species
of seafood, intensive salmon farming involves crowding thousands
of salmon into net cages that pose serious health repercussions
to both the fish and the consumer. In Chile, overcrowding of
ocean feedlots led to an epidemic of infectious salmon anemia,
a disease that killed millions of fish. Disease spreads rapidly
in these cramped conditions and sea
lice spread to local wild salmon stocks. To rid salmon
of the lice, many fish farmers spike their feed with a strong
pesticide called emamectin benzoate, which when administered
to rats and dogs causes tremors, spinal deterioration and muscle
atrophy. The FDA does not test imported salmon for emamectin
Another common practice in farming salmon is the use of antibiotics. Salmon
receive more antibiotics than any other livestock by weight,
both through feed and through injections. As much as 30%
of this medicated feed goes uneaten, falling through their pens
and entering the ocean’s food chain. Farmed salmon are
administered the same antibiotics used to treat humans, which
contributes to growth of drug-resistant bacteria in humans who
consume them. This practice was condemned by the World Health
Organization for contributing to worldwide antibiotic resistance.
Salmon flesh is naturally orange to red in color. The natural
color of salmon results from carotenoid pigments
they retain from eating krill and
other tiny shellfish.
Farmed salmon fed on prepared diets do not naturally contain
these pigments. Because consumers have shown a reluctance to
purchase salmon with grey or white flesh, artificial colorants
are added to the feed.
According to Alaska Fish and Game, approximately one out of every
100 Atlantic salmon raised on fish farms in Canada escape.
Atlantic salmon have been found in over 80 Pacific Canadian
rivers and streams. Atlantic salmon that escape into Pacific
waters spoil native salmon stocks through colonization, interbreeding,
predation, habitat destruction and competition.
The salmon farming industry increases the pressure on an already
overstressed wild fish population. It removes massive quantities
of fish from the ocean food chain. Depending on the production
region, it takes as much as four pounds of small fish like
sardines and anchovies to make a single pound of farmed salmon.
This process deprives humans of precious protein. Fish feed
makers have added soy to their food pellets, reducing their
levels of Omega-3s. Other attempts to shift salmon feed
away from fish have raised an entirely new set of concerns.
In Canada, farmed salmon are often fed byproducts from poultry
processing such as feathers, necks and intestines, and genetically
modified soy and canola.
To fatten their livestock, some salmon farmers use bright lights
at night to confuse the salmon into thinking it is feeding
time. This attracts other fish to the area and disrupts their
feeding and migration patterns. Salmon farmers are granted
license to kill predators such as sea lions and seals to keep
them from eating their fish.
Salmon feedlots introduce high
levels of untreated excrement into the ocean. At current levels,
Canadian fish farms discharge waste into the ocean roughly
equivalent to the raw sewage from a city of 500,000 inhabitants.
detritus is a major contributor to toxic algae
blooms. They create oxygen-depleted “dead
are in the natural migratory path of wild salmon. When
wild salmon swim through these zones, they have no oxygen and
no food supply, and they die.
THE LIFECYCLE OF WILD SALMON
In order to lay her roe,
the female salmon uses her dorsal fin to excavate a shallow depression,
called a redd. The redd may contain 3,000 to 14,000
eggs covering 30 square feet. One or more males will approach
the female in her redd, depositing his sperm, or milt, over the
roe. The female then covers the eggs by disturbing the gravel
at the upstream edge of the depression before moving on to make
another redd. The female will make as many as 7 redds before
her supply of eggs is exhausted. The salmon then die within a
few days of spawning.
The eggs will hatch into alevin or sac fry.
The fry quickly develop into parr with camouflaging
vertical stripes. The parr stay for one to three years in their
natal stream before becoming smolts, which are distinguished
by their bright silvery color.
Mortality of salmon in the early life stages is usually high
due to natural predation as well as human induced changes in
habitat, such as siltation, high water temperatures, low oxygen
conditions, loss of stream cover, and reductions in river flow. It
is estimated that only 10% of all salmon eggs survive long enough
to reach the smelt stage.
Freshwater streams and estuaries provide important habitat for
young wild salmon. They feed on terrestrial and
aquatic insects, amphipods,
and other crustaceans while
young, and on other fish when older. Estuaries and
their associated wetlands provide
vital nursery areas for the salmon prior to their departure to
the open ocean. Wetlands not only help buffer the estuary from
silt and pollutants, but also provide important feeding and hiding
In the smolt stage, the salmon’s body chemistry changes,
allowing them to live in salt water. Smolts spend a portion of
their out-migration time in brackish water, where they become
accustomed to osmoregulation in
The salmon spend about one to five years (depending on the species)
in the open ocean where they will become sexually mature. The
adult salmon then returns primarily to its natal stream to spawn.
Salmon can make amazing journeys, sometimes moving hundreds
of miles upstream against strong currents and rapids to reproduce.
Some travel over 900 miles and climb nearly 7,000 feet
from the Pacific ocean as they return to spawn.