All About Our Salmon

Salmon

Salmon derives its name from the Latin salmo, which folk etymology links to salire, meaning "to leap.” This ray-finned fish is native to the tributaries of the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, while their contemporary profile is much altered by man-made pressures in the Atlantic and the advent of aquaculture, or “farmed fish.” Salmon are anadromous, meaning their lives consist of the journey from fresh water, downstream through the brackish waters and out into the big blue, then back upstream to the place of their birth to spawn, and in large numbers. There are several theories about how they do this (including geomagnetic and chemical cues) with evidence of a dependency on olfactory memory, a strong sense of smell. In this final effort to reproduce, salmon physically morph into a seemingly new creature. They stop eating and change color from their light silvery blue to a deeper hue, sometimes a vibrant red. The males grow humps and canine teeth in jaws called kypes, which they use to attack competition for mating. All of their body’s energy will be put into the arduous leaps upstream and the final act of procreation.

This mass migration of adult salmon back to the estuaries, or salmon run, takes place over four to six weeks in the summer. Different commercial fisheries use different fishing techniques, such as:

Trawling: The dragging of a giant net through the water (a heavily regulated, disruptive technique, responsible for over 50% of the world’s bycatch, or untargeted catches, as well as habitat destruction).

Purse seining: The use of a large wall of netting to encircle schools of fish, generally only allowed and heavily regulated for the chum, pink, and Sockeye species of salmon (also a less-than-ideal method, in terms of bycatch).

Trolling: The use of several individual baited hooks off main lines. Alaska Select sources it’s King salmon from Southeast Alaska via trolling.

Gillnetting:  The setting of individual specialized nets (to reduce bycatch) in the designated bays near the river deltas. Alaska Select sources it’s Sockeye (and smoked) salmon from Bristol Bay via regulated gillnetting (not to be confused with “high-seas gillnetting”).

 

Wild vs. Farmed Salmon

While Atlantic Salmon were over-farmed, pushed out of their estuaries, and are no longer commercially caught in the wild, the Pacific Salmon runs are facing diverse population trends. Some are declining while others are at equilibrium or increasing. The Pacific Salmon runs in Alaska, or Alaskan Salmon, are regulated by state law for sustainability. The State Constitution proclaims in Article 8     that the legislature shall provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the state, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of the people.” Bristol Bay is currently the largest salmon run in the world, and a leading example of a well-managed fishery.

Wild Alaskan Salmon has become a story advocating for the respect for natural cycles, a dependency on pristine lands and waters, and the necessary allocation of resources. The industry faces competition with the emergence of farmed salmon, which has spread across the globe despite heavy critique by environmental agencies and the FDA.  Issues include nutritional value loss and even reversal (see “Health Benefits of Wild Salmon over Farmed Salmon”), damages to wild habitats, high use of pesticides, lice contamination, and poor feed-ratios. Yet the United Nations reported between 1990 and 2015 the volume of farmed salmon increased almost 1,000%, arriving at 75% of the world’s salmon consumption being farm-raised today. Around 99% of Atlantic salmon are farmed, while over 80% of Pacific salmon are wild-caught. Therefor, seafood shoppers who do not intend to buy farmed salmon should be wary of “Atlantic salmon” regardless of romantic sounding sources such as Norway, Chile, the Shetland Islands, etc.

 

Health Benefits of Wild Salmon over Farmed Salmon

Pulled and summarized from “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan:

  • Both Omega-3 and the Omega-6 fats are essential, but problems arise when they fall out of balance. (In fact, research suggests that the ratio of these fats in our diet may be more important that than the amounts.)
  • Too high a ratio of the omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to heart disease. Omega-6 is an inflammatory, Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory.
  • As our diet (and the diet of the animals we eat) has shifted from one based on green plants to one based on grain (from grass to corn), the ratio of omega-6 to omega 3 has become majorly omega-6 heavy.  
  • Today most farmed salmon are being fed like feedlot cattle, on grain (to get feed ratios under control), with the predictable result that their omega-3 levels fall well below those of wild fish. (Wild fish have especially high levels of omega-3 because the fat concentrates as it moves up the food chain from the algae and phytoplankton that create it.) 
  • In short, the species of animal you eat may matter less than what the animal you're eating has itself eaten.
  • “The substitution of quantity for quality will go on unnoticed by most consumers, but it is becoming increasingly apparent to anyone with an electron microscope or a mass spectrometer that, truly, it is not the same food.”

The 5 Species of Pacific Salmon

Alaska Select’s Chinook (king)

Chinooks are the largest and most valuable of all the species, generally two to three times the size of its succeeding cousin, the Coho.  Its average weight of 20-30 pounds depends on the region, while the largest chinook caught on record was 126 pounds in Alaska back in 1949. Chinooks return to spawn in May, before the other salmon species. The Chinook is often what you will find on the sushi bar, due to its desirable oil content and thick fillets. The high levels of omega-3s make it a top recommendation from doctors. For these reasons, it has earned its place as the King salmon. Alaska Select sources it’s King salmon from Southeast Alaska via trolling, or by dragging several individual baited hooks off main lines.

 

Nutritional Value of Alaskan King Salmon

Salmon has become a world-food due to its esteemed nutritional value. Research on conditions from heart disease, to pregnancy, to child development, to developmental disorders has pointed to salmon as a wealth of beneficial nutrients, including amino acids, unsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamin D, B12, and B6, niacin, selenium, and magnesium.

The up-to-date nutritional value of King salmon (2019), based on a 3 oz (⅔ cup, or 85g) serving serving size:

Salmon Nutritional Facts
    • Omega-3 fatty acids provide cardiovascular benefits such as preventing erratic heart rhythms, aiding blood flow inside arteries where clots can cause heart attacks, and balancing the ratio of good High Density Lipoprotein (also preventing atherosclerosis). Omega-3s reduce triglycerides, a potentially harmful fat in our bloodstream. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the processes that turns cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques.
    • Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, needed for the development of tissues in the body, including muscles. They are the precursors to hormones, immune response, repair, and other molecular essentials for health.
    • Vitamin D is essential in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, facilitating normal immune system functions and the healthy development of bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps with weight-loss and depression prevention.
    • Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 help lower levels of homocysteine, reducing damage to artery walls.
    • Niacin (Vitamin B-3) is essential to the entire body’s functioning. Niacin can help lower cholesterol, ease and even prevent arthritis, and boost brain function.
    • Selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant, supporting liver function, in turn detoxifying and clearing potentially harmful compounds such as pesticides, drugs, and heavy metals from the body. Selenium reduces risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, combating premature aging and risk of stroke.
    • Magnesium lessens improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body, resulting in the overall increased health of many systems. 


Culinary Profile for King Salmon

King salmon has the most succulent and tender texture of the salmons, marked by its most vibrant and large flakes of meat. The deep red color comes from pigments in crustaceans in the salmon diet. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, it’s forgiving to a novice cook, but often considered up to par with sushi-grade tuna when undercooked or consumed raw. Slightly undercooking King salmon can be a useful approach, since the absorbed heat will cook the fish slightly even after removal from its source. King salmon is good for grilling, slow barbecuing, and even the painstaking but worthwhile process of smoking. Salmon skin can be crisped and served as the fish version (and healthier version) of deep-fried pork rinds.

King salmon is generally a meal centerpiece, served with a variety of grains, potatoes, and vegetables, or even as a specialty sandwich.

Check out our King Salmon Recipes.

 

Alaska Select’s Sockeye (Red) Salmon


The term “Sockeye” evolved from a name given by British Columbia's native Coast Salish peoples.  Suk-kegh, meaning “red fish,” refers to the vibrant hue the males take on when spawning (returning to freshwater to mate). Today people make a connection to the vibrancy the meat retains as well, since its bright color and “succulent” texture (high in omega-3s) are sought out and praised in the culinary world. The average weight today is around six pounds. Sockeye salmon is considered the second most valuable of the five species, after the King. Sockeye salmon has yet to be successfully farmed commercially, contributing to its place as the most economically significant fish for Alaska. It has become the face of “Wild Alaskan Salmon.”  

There are hundreds of stocks of Sockeye salmon throughout the state of Alaska and their population trends are diverse: Some stocks are in decline while others are at equilibrium or increasing. Potential future threats include habitat loss, habitat degradation, and climate change--reasons the regulations by Alaska Department of Fish and Game are of great importance. Bristol Bay, where Alaska Select sources its Sockeye (and smoked) salmon, recently managed the largest Sockeye salmon run in recorded history (ADFG dates back to 1893). The total run, summer of 2018, was 62.3 million--21 percent above the preseason forecast of 51.3 million.

 

Nutritional Value of Alaskan Sockeye Salmon

Salmon has become a world-food due to its esteemed nutritional value. Research on conditions from heart disease, to pregnancy, to child development, to developmental disorders has pointed to salmon as a wealth of beneficial nutrients, including amino acids, unsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamin D, B12, B6, niacin, selenium, and magnesium.  

The up-to-date nutritional value of Sockeye salmon (2019), based on a 3 oz (⅔ cup, or 85g) serving serving size:


    • Omega-3 fatty acids provide cardiovascular benefits such as preventing erratic heart rhythms, aiding blood flow inside arteries where clots can cause heart attacks, and balancing the ratio of good High Density Lipoprotein (also preventing atherosclerosis). Omega-3s reduce triglycerides, a potentially harmful fat in our bloodstream. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the processes that turns cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques.
    • Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, needed for the development of tissues in the body, including muscles. They are the precursors to hormones, immune response, repair, and other molecular essentials for health.
    • Vitamin D is essential in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, facilitating normal immune system functions and the healthy development of bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps with weight-loss and depression prevention.
    • Vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 help lower levels of homocysteine, reducing damage to artery walls.
    • Niacin (Vitamin B-3) is essential to the entire body’s functioning. Niacin can help lower cholesterol, ease and even prevent arthritis, and boost brain function.
    • Selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant, supporting liver function, in turn detoxifying and clearing potentially harmful compounds such as pesticides, drugs, and heavy metals from the body. Selenium reduces risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, combating premature aging and risk of stroke.
    • Magnesium lessens improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout the body, resulting in the overall increased health of many systems.

 

Culinary Profile of Sockeye (& Smoked) Salmon

Sockeye salmon is a full-flavored fish with high fat content, which contributes to its rich flavor. It has firm-textured, medium-sized flaked flesh, ranging from orange to deep red. Sockeye is more dense and flavorful than King salmon, and generally appeals to those who value the taste of salmon. The most important consideration is to avoid overcooking, as the meat will continue to cook once removed from heat. The firm flesh stands up well to grilling. Other options for preparing salmon include baking uncovered, baking in foil or parchment, slow roasting in the oven (over a pan of water), and frying (for a crispy skin). Sockeye salmon is commonly a dinner centerpiece, pairing well with grains, potatoes, and vegetables.

Smoked salmon is rich in flavor--a little going a long way. Sockeye (and smoked salmon) are also popular staples in salads, or as lox (with light creamy cheeses and brined vegetables such as capers), in appetizers served with crackers or as specialty sandwiches.

Check out our Smoked Salmon recipes!


More information on Coho (silver) salmon:

Cohos are reputed for being the more affordable fish without surrendering too much desirable taste or healthy fat content. They are the third most valuable of the five species, with nearly two times the oil content of pink and chum salmon, but less than sockeyes or kings. They average around nine pounds. Cohos usually spawn shortly after sockeye salmon in the mid to late summer. Coho salmon run from both sides of the North Pacific Ocean, from Eastern Russia and Japan, around the Bering Sea to mainland Alaska, and south to Monterey Bay, California. Certain southern stocks are declining and are on watch lists, while Alaskan stocks are deemed healthy. Cohos are the most popularly farmed salmon of the five Pacific species, followed by Chinooks.

More information on Chum (keta) salmon:
Chum salmon may be outshone by Chinook, Sockeye, and Coho salmon, but the English connotation of the name (which is actually derived from an Alaskan native term meaning “spotted”) and the additional nickname “dog salmon,” haven’t done any favors for its reputation.  Chum salmon have the largest natural range of any Pacific salmon, and undergo the longest migrations. Two populations of Chum (one in the Hood Canal and one in the Columbia River) have been listed under the Endangered Species Act, as threatened species. The runs remain healthy in Alaska.
Chum salmon is similar in size to the Coho, smaller only than the Chinook.  It is defined by its pinkish firm flesh and lower fat content, giving it a “milder” taste that some prefer.  

More information on Pink (humpy) salmon:
Pinks are the most commonly caught wild salmon in Alaska. They are the smallest of the five species--delicate and lean and easily bare bruises. For this reason they are primarily used for canning or bait for other fish. NatureServe, a non-profit wildlife conservation organization, lists the pink salmon populations as “critically imperiled” in California, and “imperiled” in Washington. In Alaska and British Columbia, they are considered secure.

 

Nutritional Value of Alaskan Salmon (All 5 species)

Salmon has become a world-food due to its esteemed nutritional value. Research on conditions from heart disease, to pregnancy, to child development, to developmental disorders has pointed to salmon as a wealth of beneficial nutrients, including amino acids, unsaturated fats (omega-3 fatty acids), vitamin D, B12, niacin, selenium, B6 and magnesium. Levels of nutrients vary depending on the species of salmon.

    • Omega-3 fatty acids provide cardiovascular benefits such as preventing erratic heart rhythms, aiding blood flow inside arteries where clots can cause heart attacks, and balancing the ratio of good High Density Lipoprotein (also preventing atherosclerosis). Omega-3s reduce triglycerides, a potentially harmful fat in our bloodstream. Omega-3s also reduce inflammation, which is a key component in the processes that turns cholesterol into artery-clogging plaques.
    • Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, needed for the development of tissues in the body, including muscles. They are the precursors to hormones, immune response, repair, and other molecular essentials for health.
    • Vitamin B12 helps lower levels of homocysteine, reducing damage to artery walls.
    • Vitamin A is the umbrella term for several fat-soluble compounds. These compounds are  vital to many processes in the body, such as the maintenance of healthy vision, immune system functions, organ upkeep, and growth and development during pregnancy.
    • Vitamin D is essential in regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, facilitating normal immune system functions and the healthy development of bones and teeth. Vitamin D helps with weight-loss and depression prevention.
    • Selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant, supporting liver function, in turn detoxifying and clearing potentially harmful compounds such as pesticides, drugs, and heavy metals from the body. Selenium reduces risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, combating premature aging and risk of stroke.
    • Potassium is a necessary mineral for muscle movement, a healthy nervous system, and balanced water retention in the body.
    • Iron is an essential mineral for the protein hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream.
    • Calcium is largely responsible for the development and maintenance of strong bones, as well as heart, muscle, and nerve functions.

Up-to-date nutritional value of the five species of Alaskan salmon (2019), based on a 3 oz (⅔ cup, or 85g) serving serving size:

 

Salmon Nutritional Facts