Lessons in Salmon Identification

What’s the Difference Between the Salmon Species?

Not all chum salmon are equal! These two chum salmon illustrate the different stages of the life cycle of the same species. The chum on top was still a long way from its spawning grounds while the bottom one was ready to spawn and die within the week.

Not all chum salmon are equal! These two chum salmon illustrate the different stages of the life cycle of the same species. The chum on top was still a long way from its spawning grounds while the bottom one was ready to spawn and die within the week.

 

Many people know sockeye to be the most highly prized of the salmon species, but they often don’t know much about the other delicious and abundant species.

According to a recent research paper by Dr Rashid Sumaila of the UBC Fisheries Centre, climate change is responsible for a projected decline in seafood availability and resulting increased prices. The price for sockeye salmon is predicted to rise the most sharply — as much as 70% by 2050! So let’s all get to know our pinks from our chums, celebrate the bounty and biodiversity of our coast, and get ready to adapt to changing times!

Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus Nerka)

Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus Nerka)

 

Sockeye salmon have an elongated body with a blunt nose. They have the most intense red coloured flesh which is firm and high in oils. In saltwater they have bright, silver scales, but once they hit fresh water, their body turns bright red, their head turns green, and, as with all spawning salmon, their flesh becomes soft, and the flavour of the meat changes. Sockeye average 4-8lbs. Sockeye doesn’t need much to highlight its texture and flavour — serve it thinly sliced as sashimi, or bbq’d on a cedar plank with a horseradish sauce.

 

Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

 

Coho salmon have a number of features that distinguish them from other salmon: they have white gums with black tongues, some spots along their backs, and a tail with a wide base and some spots. They remain silvery coloured right up until spawning, but the males develop a hooked nose towards the end of their life cycle.Coho can range in size from 4-20lbs. Like sockeye, they also have firm, bright coloured flesh, but can be a bit more dry than sockeye. Try wrapping coho in foil with a little white wine and vegetables and toss it on the BBQ.

 

Chinook (or Spring, King, or Tyee) Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

Chinook (or Spring, King, or Tyee) Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

 

Chinook salmon are also known as spring salmon in Canada or king salmon in Alaska. They are distinguished by their black gums and by the black spots that completely cover their back and tail. The flesh of a chinook is usually just a little pinker than sockeye but can also be white, which taste exactly the same — they simply have a genetic variation. They are larger than sockeye at around 10-12lbs, but are called Tyee when they weigh over 30lbs. Chinook flesh is a little softer than sockeye but it is richly flavoured. Try dressing it with olive oil, and a little fresh dill, then BBQing it over a medium low heat skin side down.

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)

Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)

 

Chum can be very difficult to tell apart from sockeye when ocean caught. But, as you saw in the photo at the top of this section, once they hit fresh water, they have very distinctive markings! Chum have a very narrow tail base and the tail can be quite forked. The anal fin usually has a white tip as well. Chum range from around 10-20lbs.The flesh of a chum can vary from red to pink and has, smooth delicate flavour with a bit less oil. Serve it as sashimi or cedar planked as you would a sockeye.

Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuska)

Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuska)

 

Pink salmon also have silver bright scales when ocean caught, but their scales are noticeably smaller than the other salmon. They also have large oval spots along their back and all over their tail. During spawning, the males develop a humped back giving them the nickname “humpies.” Pink salmon are generally smaller than the other salmon averaging 4-6lbs. The flesh of the aptly named pink salmon is, well, pink! It is softer than the other salmon, mild in flavour, and lower in oils. This makes it delicious fresh and it takes marinades and sauces well. Try poaching in a mix of water, white wine, onions, peppercorns, and fresh herbs. It’s lower price is mostly due to the fact that it doesn’t hold it’s flavour in a frozen form for up to 2 years which is what the industrial food chain is looking for in a fish. We, however, know that it is amazing fresh or in frozen form for many months and love offering it to our members and our families!

 

 

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