Salmon is a species of large, commercially-harvested fish – and they’re one of the best types of seafood to have in your diet! Here’s are the things you need to know about the types of salmon available, how they’re harvested, and how you can include them in a variety of simple salmon dishes.
The Types Of Salmon
There are seven primary types of this fish, as well as four additional types that have the same name but aren’t closely related.
The Atlantic Ocean only has one major type. Usually just referred to as the Atlantic Salmon, it’s the largest breed and can grow as heavy as 46.8 kg. They’re commonly harvested at a length of 120 cm (just shy of 4 feet), so a single fish can provide quite a few meals when properly cut.
The Pacific Ocean is home to a much wider variety. The most popular of these is the Chinook Salmon (sometimes referred to as the King Salmon), which is usually found at 70 cm but can weigh as much as 61.4 kg. While they’re commonly associated with the Columbia River watershed, Chinook Salmon travel as far north as the Canadian Arctic and as far south as Central California.
Chum Salmon are the most widespread Pacific Salmon, known to inhabit the waters from California to Japan. Though smaller and lighter than the Chinook, this expansive habitat makes it easy to find new places to harvest them.
Coho Salmon prefer the coastal waters of the Pacific and are most commonly fished in Alaska, where they make up about 3.5% of the annual harvest. Coho Salmon is also quite popular as a target in fishing trips since it’s known to dart for bait and frequent shallow, accessible areas. Coho is quite flavorful, too, making it a good choice for the table if you can get it.
Masu Salmon, sometimes referred to as Cherry Salmon, is only found in the western part of the Pacific Ocean. It’s a popular choice in Russia, Korea, and Japan, but the distance means it’s not nearly as easy to find in America as most of the other breeds.
Pink Salmon is a smaller species found from California to Alaska, and all the way over to Korea. As the smallest of the ocean fish, it’s a popular choice for fisheries – and indeed, accounts for almost 70% of all the salmon Russia’s fisheries produce. It’s not quite as popular in Alaska, but it’s still widely harvested. Unlike some fish that are served fresh, pink salmon is often salted, smoked, or put into cans.
Sockeye Salmon is a little bigger than Pink Salmon, but unlike its cousin, this species is almost never farmed. Part of this is due to its presence on the Endangered Species Act. Not all of the Sockeye’s population is on the list, but the careful monitoring restricts what can be done with it.
Most breeds of the fish are heavily regulated to ensure the continued longevity of each breed. In addition, various treaties with Native American tribes further restrict the harvests of some types (although for the consumer, this is rarely much of a problem).
How It’s Harvested
Salmon is harvested in two main ways – catching them as they migrate back to their spawning grounds and harvesting them from dedicated fisheries.
Unlike most fish, salmon are famous for returning to the place they were born when they’re ready to mate – this makes harvests largely predictable after they spend several years in the coastal and ocean waters. Wild fish are typically caught with three methods.
Troll ships catch salmon individually, usually running four lines with 12 leaders on each. Salmon are handled one-by-one as they’re brought in. Troll vessels are mostly used in the Southeast Alaska area, emphasizing limited numbers of high-quality King and Coho salmon that are later sold at premium prices.
Purse Seine ships encircle groups of salmon with a tight mesh net. Once the net has been set in place, it’s drawn tightly closed, and the fish are hauled aboard. Many ships that harvest with this system use chilled water to keep the fish cool until they can be processed. Purse Seine ships are used across most of Alaska’s coast and are a popular choice for harvesting pink, chum, and coho.
Gillnets are placed in areas that salmon return to, often by smaller vessels that don’t have the capacity or systems for Purse Seine techniques. The special nets used catch salmon of the correct size by their gills as they try to swim through while preventing fish that are too small from being accidentally fished up.
It’s important to note that most salmon are harvested at the end of their life cycle, just before they’re able to reach their spawning grounds and die a natural death. As long as enough salmon get through to lay eggs – and this is one of the most closely-watched parts of each harvest – the overall population is not in danger.
The main alternative to harvesting wild salmon is salmon farming, a process where salmon are raised and harvested in largely self-contained areas. This is especially popular with Atlantic Salmon, which is by far the most-farmed type.
Farming usually consists of two main centers. The first is a hatchery where eggs grow into young salmon (known as smolts). By adjusting the feed and temperature, hatcheries can adjust the rate at which the smolts grow. Most hatcheries divert spring water for their use, though some self-contained systems exist.
A few hatcheries use spawning channels – artificial streams next to existing, natural ones that have a high rate of success at creating smolt. However, spawning channels are extremely expensive to run, so they’re usually limited to enhancing existing fish stocks when returns are too low.
Once the fish are grown, they’re delivered to a sea cage out in the ocean. Copper is a common choice for this (due to its antimicrobial properties), and cages are often chained together in setups that can hold more than a million fish each.
Despite the high yields of some farms, there are a number of health concerns. Non-native fish can compete with native salmon for food, and if the fishery isn’t built right, it’s easy for contaminants to spread. For this reason, many health-conscious eaters prefer to eat wild salmon.
Here are some of the best recipes for adding salmon to your meals.
Baked Salmon With Garlic
This recipe is one of the best oven salmon recipes.
- 2 Lemons
- 4 Cloves of small, minced garlic
- 1 heaping Tbsp chopped Parsley
- 4 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black Pepper
- 4 salmon fillets (4-6 oz.)
- Preheat your oven to 375 F.
- Lightly grease a 9 x 13 pan. Alternatively, line the pan with aluminum foil and oil that.
- Combine the garlic, parsley, and olive oil.
- Put the salmon fillets into your pan and evenly spread the garlic mixture over them. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
- Bake for 20 minutes, to 145 F. The salmon should easily flake with a fork when it’s done.
- While the fillets are cooking, juice 1 lemon. You should get at least 2 Tbsp of lemon juice. Drizzle the fillets with this juice when they’re done cooking.
- Cut the other lemon into wedges and serve with the salmon.
Salmon With Honey
If you’d like something a little sweeter, here’s another from our list of delicious baked salmon recipes.
- 1 large salmon fillet
- Kosher salt
- Black Pepper
- 2 thinly sliced Lemons
- 6 Tbsp melted butter
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 3 minced cloves of Garlic
- 1 Tsp chopped Thyme
- 1 Tsp dried Oregano
- Chopped fresh parsley
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, then grease with a nonstick spray. Lay the lemon slices evenly on the bottom of the foil.
- Season both sides of the salmon fillet with salt and pepper, to taste. Place it on top of the lemon.
- Whisk together the butter, honey, garlic, thyme, and oregano. Pour the mixture over the salmon, then fold the foil to surround the fish.
- Bake for 12 minutes.
- Switch the oven to the broiler, then broil for about 2 minutes. The butter mix should look thick and glazed.
- Garnish with the parsley and serve it warm.
These recipes are a great part of a healthy salmon dinner, but don’t feel like you have to be limited to these choices. Cooked salmon can be flaked apart and put on top of a salad, eaten as part of a sandwich, or otherwise modified to your liking. Just be sure to eat it as soon as you can – it is best if it’s cooked while still fresh, and you’ll notice the smell if you let it sit!