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In light of the recently announced record sockeye return -- and tomorrow's show about it -- we thought it would be a good time for a brief introduction to the various salmon that swim in our local waters. Because, as even a cursory glance at the prices at your local fish counter will tell you, all salmon are not created equal. Here's a primer on a few of the salmon you're most likely to find run into:
Aka King and Blackmouth
Mostly dark green or brown, chinook are the largest salmon in the Pacific Northwest, often exceeding 40 pounds at maturity. Chinook can be easily recognized by their black lower gums, thus the term "blackmouth."
Aka Dog and Keta
Chum salmon are distinguished by their reddish purple color and the large, canine-like teeth of spawning males. (They earned the name "dog salmon" for ending up in Alaskan fishermens' dog chow.) Chum are second in size and weight to chinook, and spend most of their lives in the salty waters of rivers closest to the sea, rarely moving far inland. Chum are often canned.
Similar in appearance and life-cycle to chinook salmon, coho are slightly smaller and have red-tipped gills. Additionally, the lower gums of coho salmon are lighter than the black gums of chinook.
Identical in appearance to chinook, kokanee salmon are non-anadromous, spending their entire lives in freshwater lakes.
The smallest and most abundant of the Pacific salmon, pink salmon are named for their pink scales, which can also be silvery green. Like chum, pink salmon are often canned.
Recognizable by the bright red hue of adult spawners, sockeye are prized by chefs and the third-most abundant salmon after pink and chum.
Aka Steelhead Salmon
Steelhead are the same species as rainbow trout, and bear their tell-tale bright, multi-colored scales. Unlike rainbow trout, which spend their whole lives in freshwater lakes, steelhead are anadromous, traveling to the sea to mature before returning to their freshwater homes to spawn.
For everything else you wanted to know about Pacific salmon:
- The National Marine Fisheries Service's guide to marine and anadromous fish
- The National Wildlife Refuge's guide to Pacific Salmon populations and distribution
- The Northwest Fisheries Science Center's Salmon Recovery Team
- What's Cooking America's salmon recipes
- The Oregon Salmon Commission
- King County, WA's guide to identifying salmon and trout
- Sustainable Northwest on sustainable salmon fishing
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