Over the last several decades the marketing and sales of Alaskan Salmon has increased dramatically, most consumers seem to be a little confused over the different species and names that appear on their restaurant menus and at supermarket counters.
The five species of Alaskan salmon are members of a large family of fish known as salmonidae which are abundant throughout the temperate zones of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Salmon and their salmonidae relatives, which include Atlantic salmon, are active and aggressive predators who demand the high levels of oxygen most commonly found in cold, rushing streams, estuaries, and the upper levels of the ocean.
Pacific salmon occur from California north along the Pacific coast throughout the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean waters adjacent to Alaska. Alaska's wild salmon resource is the greatest in the world.
Alaskan salmonbelong to the genus Oncorhynchus, a name formed by combining two Greek words: "onco" meaning hook or barb and "rhino", meaning nose.
Alaskan salmon are anadromous, that is, they spawn in fresh water then the young migrate to the sea where they mature. The timing of spawning and migration varies among the five species, but they all need abundant pure fresh water for spawning. The fresh water that attracts the maturing salmon from the ocean vastness to the interior of the continent to spawan also draws the salmon to man's doorstep.
Although the spawnign characteristics of each of the five species of Alaskan salmon differ, each maintain the same timing year after year, and with few exceptions, the mature adults return to the stream of their birth.
Salmon which will spawn in the headwaters of a revier or lake system (king, coho and sockeye), arrive earlier than to the pink and chum which spawn closer to tidewater. Because salmon do not eat after they have entered fresh water, they leave the ocean heavy with the fats and nutrients on which they will subsist during their freahwater phase. The longer and more rigorous the freshwater trip, the more fat the fish will carry as he leaves the ocean. A Yukon River king headed for spawning grounds 2,400 miles away and 2,200 feet above sea level near Lake Teslin will enter the river an unusually rich vigorous fish.
How salmon return so unerringly from mid-ocean to a stream which may be only a trickle hundreds of miles from tidewater is not fully understood by biologists. Except where humans have interfered, the salmon returnign to the various river systems and streams of Alaska are unique species which may mingle in the ocean and even in the estuary, but return faithfully to the gravel from which they emerged two to six years earlier.
The life cycle of each of the species is unique unto itself, some traveling thousands of miles to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia, while others stay closer to the estuaries of their birth. Growth rates in the ocean can be astonishing: a two inch pink salmon can grow within 14 to 16 months to a two foot five pound fish. While king salmon have been known to live as long as seven years and weigh more than 125 pounds.
Recent years have seen a marketing trend backed by the Alaskan government to promote salmon from specific areas or regions, Copper River Salmon, Wild Aleutians East Salmon, Snow Pass Coho Salmon are just a sampling.
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