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Alaska Salmon

Sockeye SalmonFrom Alaska's icy waters come the world's greatest salmon resource, Alaska salmon. Spawned in pure, freshwater mountain streams, they migrate to the ocean where they mature, then faithfully return home to the streams where they were born to spawn. Each year the salmon fishing industry, with the regulatory monitoring of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, culls from these salmon runs a harvest of wild salmon that amounts to forty-two percent of the world's supply of wild salmon, and eighty percent of the supply of high-value wild salmon species such as sockeye, king, and coho. Alaska's commercial fisheries are the most productive and valuable in the United States, with a wholesale value of over $3 billion a year.

Salmon for lunch

All of Alaska's fisheries are managed by a scientifically-applied regulatory system that is widely regarded as being among the best in the world, ensuring that these living resources remain available for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. Commercial fisheries for salmon extend from Ketchikan to Kotzebue, as well as deep into the interior of Alaska along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. Salmon are harvested using a variety of fishing gear and more Alaskans are employed in harvesting and processing salmon than in any other commercial fishery.

 

There are five species of Alaska salmon, each with its own distinct characteristics:

King (Chinook)

is the largest of the salmon, averaging 10 to 40 pounds. Most King have red flesh although some White Kings are very light colored.
King (Chinook) Salmon

 

Sockeye (Red) Salmon

Sockeye (Red)

weighs from 4 to 10 pounds. One of its most desirable features is that it retains its deep red color better than any other salmon when cooked or processed.

Silver (Coho)

is the second largest of the Alaska salmon, averaging from 6 to 12 pounds. It has an orange-red flesh and is considered very choice for smoking.

 

Silver (Coho) Salmon

 

Pink (Humpy) Salmon

Pink (Humpy)

is the most abundant of Alaska salmon and also the smallest - averaging from 2 to 6 pounds. It ranges in color from light to deep pink. Pink salmon often produce statewide harvests of over 100 million fish.

Chum (Keta)

averages from 4 to 11 pounds and is a light colored meat.

 

Chum (Keta) Salmon

Here is a breakdown of the nutritional information in Alaska salmon:

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Note: This information was taken from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute website. Also check out their complete Alaska Seafood Nutritional Chart (PDF).

 

Salmon Life-Cycle

When salmon return from the open ocean to spawn, their sensitive internal navigation allows them to return to the very stream in which they were born. After swimming thousands of miles through open ocean currents for several years, the mature salmon returns to its birthplace to spawn its own young, often traversing many hundreds of miles of fresh water streams to locate the exact area of river in which it was born. Scientists still do not have a sufficient explanation for how this is done.
Salmon Eggs

Eggs

Once the mature salmon returns to a freshwater riverbed to spawn, the female selects a suitable gravel patch in the stream to excavate her eggs. When the male furtilizes the eggs, the female hides the eggs in nests, called "redds". These small salmon eggs incubate in the redds for five to seven months before they hatch, remaining hidden in the riverbed long after the mother and father have died, immediately after spawning.

Salmon Coho fry (Credit: Paul Kaiser/USFWS )

Fry

When the fish hatch, they pass through a brief stage as "alevins", where they feed off a small sac attached to their bodies, made up of the material of the egg they were spawned in. Then, as "fry", the salmon leave their gravel beds and begin to forage for food on their own. Some of the first nutrients they receive when they emerge from the gravel beds are tiny particles from the broken-down remains of their parents' bodies, that died after spawning the fall before, are frozen during the winter, and then dissolve in the water during spring when the fry emerge. In this way the adult salmon provide their final parenting support to their children, by acting as food for their young. It is an interesting and unusual example of the circle of life.

Coho smolt (Credit: Paul Kaiser/USFWS )

Smolt

Fry live in fresh water anywhere from just a few days to two years depending on the species. At some point during that time the fish goes through a physiological change, which enables the fish to live in salt water without absorbing the salt into its blood stream. Once a fish turns into a smolt it is ready to begin its migration down the river and into the ocean where it will spend the next phase of its life.

Jumping Ocean Salmon

Ocean

During their ocean phase Pacific Salmon are widely distributed over the North Pacific and Bering Sea. Most will have extensive migrations from one to five years (depending on the species). This is where the salmon do most of their growing and gain weight quickly. The Ocean phase is the phase which we know the least about and it seems that the early part of the ocean phase is very important for overall fish survival.

spawning coho in issaquah creek

Spawning

When the adult fish have finished growing in the ocean they then seek out the rivers in which they were born to spawn. The fish undergo physical changes from bright silver to much darker and sometimes boldly coloured mature adults. The energy the fish gained in the ocean is put solely into the production of eggs (females) and milt (males). The mature adults pair up and start the process all over again of making a redd and laying eggs. This is where the cycle ends for one but begins for another.

 
More information about the life-cycle of salmon can be found here: StreamNet.

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