The Pacific Ocean is home to six types of wild salmon, of which North American fishermen target five: king, sockeye, silver, pink and chum in commercial fisheries operating along the west coast, from Alaska to California. These are some of the most iconic and valuable fisheries in the United States, but because they are wild fisheries, catch levels can fluctuate considerably from season to season. On the whole, though, catches have been quite prolific in recent years.
In its latest annual report, Fisheries of the United States 2013, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), finds that total landings of wild salmon topped one billion pounds (453,592 tonnes), up 68% from 2012 and setting a new record. That year, Alaska, which catches approximately 80% of the salmon caught in North America, landed its best ever total of 272 million fish.
Pacific salmon species are very closely related to one another but each has a different flavour and texture profile. To confuse matters, each of these has at least one other name, as well as a Latin name.
King/Chinook (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha) — The biggest and most highly prized Pacific salmon species. They have a very high fat content and corresponding rich flesh that ranges from white to a deep red colour. Stocks originate in rivers from central California to northwest Alaska and are harvested in ocean and river habitats.
Sockeye/Red (Oncorhynchus nerka) — Noted for the species’ bright red-orange flesh and deep rich flavour. They are known as “reds” both for their dark flesh colour and because they turn from bright silver to deep red as they move upstream to spawn. This is the most valuable US salmon species, the majority of which is caught in Alaska.
Coho/Silver (Oncorhynchus kisutch) — Coho are sometimes called silver salmon, or “silvers”, because of their especially silver skin. They have bright red flesh and a slightly more delicate texture than Chinook salmon but a similar flavour. Alaska fisheries supply the majority of coho to the global market.
Pink/Humpback (Oncorhynchus gorbusha) — These are the most abundant Pacific salmon and are one of the smallest varieties. They have very light coloured and flavoured flesh and a low fat content. Pink salmon are often canned, but also sold fresh, frozen and smoked. They are sometimes called humpback salmon because of the distinctive hump they develop on their back when they spawn. This species accounts for almost half the salmon harvested in Alaska’s fisheries.
Chum/Keta/Dog (Oncorhynchus keta) — Chum are also called dog salmon because of their protruding, dog-like teeth, while keta comes from its species name. They have pale-to-medium-coloured flesh and a lower fat content than other salmon. Chum are less oily salmon, mainly caught in Alaska. They are usually canned or sold frozen.
Pacific salmon live in the ocean but are born and spawn in freshwater rivers and streams. As such, they are sensitive to a variety of natural and manmade stressors, on land as well as in the ocean. Changes in ocean and climatic conditions, habitat loss from the construction of dams and urban development, and degraded water quality from agricultural and logging practices are just a few of the factors that have historically taken their toll on wild salmon populations.
With salmon, managing impacts on habitat is just as important as managing harvests — the quality of the salmon habitat affects the abundance of salmon, and the abundance of salmon determines how much salmon may be harvested by commercial, recreational and subsistence fishermen.
To ensure sustainability, a wide variety of conservation efforts have been undertaken, including captive rearing in hatcheries, removal and modification of dams that obstruct salmon migration and restoration of degraded habitats.
For the 2015 season, Alaska is again forecasting a very high salmon run. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, the total salmon catch is expected to reach 220.9 million fish, led by pink salmon at 140.3 million fish, along with 58.8 million sockeye salmon, 4.6 million coho salmon and 17.2 million chum salmon,
The projected pink salmon catch is 46% higher than the 2014 harvest. Additionally, the projected sockeye salmon harvest is expected to be about 33% higher than the harvest in 2014, and the projected chum salmon harvest is expected to be about 52% higher than last year.
The majority of Alaskan salmon is sold in the United States but there are also significant exports to Europe.
Pittman Seafoods sells both MSC-certified and non-MSC-certified Pacific salmon.