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  Salmon in the Supermarket.

Occasionally you find salmon that is listed as wild sockeye salmon, wild coho salmon, and wild chinook salmon. Prices less than $15.00 a pound would normally be suggestive of something fishy, no pun intended.
However, there is a word in the industry that can OCCASIONALLY explain this and that word is bycatch. From Wikipedia ... The term “bycatch” is usually used for fish caught unintentionally in a fishery while intending to catch other fish. It may however also indicate untargeted catch in other forms of animal harvesting or collecting. Bycatch is of a different species, undersized individuals of the target species, or juveniles of the target species. However, Bycatch in most places is thrown back. The reasoning for this is that some less than ethical fishermen / boats might target one fish while claiming to be fishing for another in order to increase value. By forcing the bycatch to be returned they are preventing targeting species that are vulnerable to over fishing though waste is the end product. This occurs mostly due to international agreements. Salmon being one of the most regulated fish on the planet due to its wandering nature and international travels.

In cases where BYCATCH is utilized it can be undersized fish that while valuable are worth much less per pound being undersized. In order not to waste fish, and to prevent waste the industry will sell this fish at a rate much less than the normal price for that species. I will use Salmon as an example since I am most familiar with salmon. (Salmon Bycatch according to the Alaska Dept. Of Fish and Wildlife has to be thrown back, so Salmon Bycatch is NOT a reason for small salmon fillets.)

Normally wild salmon is caught at the end of the fish's life. It is netted at the mouths of rivers when the fish are coming back to the river to spawn. Normal sizes for these salmon can vary, but normally run in a specific range of sizes.
Chinook or King Salmon - West coast of the Pacific Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia .. fish are 3, 4 and 5 year fish and normally weigh around 25 to 45 pounds.

MOST rivers in Alaska have fish the same size with 2 exceptions. The Kenai River and the Kasilof Rivers will have fish that are 4, 5, 6, and 7 years old that have returned to spawn. These are the only waters where salmon exceed the 60 pound mark. Fish have been caught in the ocean that are in the 130 pound range but it is believed those fish are Kenai River fish. Why these 2 rivers have such large fish is unknown.Sockeye salmon are filter feeders and return at 3, and 4 years in most rivers. The average size is right around 8 pounds with the smaller fish running 4 to 5 and the largest ever caught being 17 pounds approximately.

Coho Salmon are 3, 4 and 5 year fish and they return and weigh on average 10 to 25 pounds maximum. The valuable species of salmon will have silvery sides, with dark blue, green or even blackish backs. Once a salmon has reached fresh water and starts to turn color the meat is less and less valuable. Once there is red in the skin, the fish should be smoked or prepared quickly if cooked. Bright red is normally too late in the fish life to be eating it. At this point the meat is being digested by the body in order to sustain the fish through spawning. Thus if a trawler is fishing for another species and catches what I will call immature salmon that are 2 or 3 years old and undersized, those fish are worth less per pound. Red Salmon out of Kachemak Bay in Alaska sell at the source at around 1.85 to 2.35 per pound depending on the size of the run.

When you figure that 50% of that fish is head, guts, backbone etc. the real cost per pound is around $3.60 to $4.70 right off the boat. Figure in processing, freezing, icing, shipping etc. and you are going to end up at around $15.00 a pound minimum.
However if a trawler catches a bunch of 4 pound sockeye or say 1 pound pink salmon then the value of the fish goes down. You only get 1/2 the weight of meat and processing and other costs remain the same... thus immature fish that are small are sold at lesser prices and this explains Salmon at $8.99 a pound as well as other fish. IF this is what is happening. Red Salmon are very seldom caught in the open ocean.

Some common Salmon Scams...

Pink Salmon and Chum Salmon are considered poor quality salmon species. Their commercial value is very low. Pink salmon sell for as little as .10 cents per pound. There are actually laws against trawlers that catch pink salmon throwing it back in dead. It can cost a trawler more in fuel than a full load of Pinks will pay. This can cause some serious pressure on boats to sell this fish in some form to make money. They can be dyed to look like Sockeye, but normally taste of the fish is a big clue.
Pink salmon is actually a pink to red meat fish. One of the scams I have heard of is people buying the fish, processing it and hauling it via reefer to the west coast and selling Wild Alaska Salmon for $5.99 to $8.99 a pound. IT IS wild Alaska or Pacific Salmon but low quality. Real value is questionable. I do not think this happens in stores.


Fillet from a Big Box Store.. Approx 3/8 inch thick

Wild Salmon Fillet Folded in half, the fillet is much thicker. Approximately 3/4 of an inch to 1 inch thick

Big Box Grocery Store salmon - Color is paler than wild caught salmon from the Kenai River.

Wild Salmon caught during a legal season normally will be 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Color is bright red. Skin side will be a silvery and white color with a bit of dark grey along one side.

The big deal about salmon is the Omega 3 oils that are in the fish that help heart health.
Sockeye salmon have the largest concentrations of the oil. That is due to the fact that they are filter feeders. They only feed on plankton and krill. Chinook, and Silver Salmon feed heavily on herring. Herring are high in Omega 3 oils and that is why Chinook and Silvers also are considered a top food. However they do not have as much Omega 3 in their meat as the Sockeye.

Chum salmon eat zooplankton and insects as juveniles. Recent studies show that they also eat comb jellies. As adults, they eat smaller fish. Their value is the lowest of the 5 Eastern Pacific species. I am not aware of any scams that involve Chum Salmon as they are very identifiable by their skin

Salmon Buying Tips

1. Red Salmon IS Red. Normally a bright fire engine red. Cheaper wild salmon may be immature salmon, but you should be wary of any SOCKEYE  that is not a bright red.

2. Look at the size of the fillet. If it is less than 1/2 inch thick it is from the tail section or from an immature fish. The tail section has no bones to speak of while, full age salmon have pin bones in them in a row that is approximately one inch from the top of the back.

3. King Salmon will have an orange color, and Coho or Silver salmon will be a pinkish orange. Again look at the size of the fillet and the thickness.  Wild salmon is naturally colored. Farmed Salmon is white but dyed to match its wild cousins.

4. If you are buying "Wild Alaska or Pacific Salmon" ask what kind of salmon it is. King / Chinook,  Sockeye / Red, and Coho / Silver are the most valuable. Pink Salmon and Chum salmon are not nearly as good eating or for you as the others, yet they are Wild Pacific Salmon.

 

 

 

 

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