Wild salmon perform one of nature’s miracles by finding their way to spawn and die in the river headwaters of their birth. In the next few weeks the 2016 salmon harvest will begin for our Taku River partners. If these fish are not swimming in southeast Alaskan waters now, where are they?
There are significant differences among the salmon species in their distribution and behavior, but in general wild Pacific salmon turn annual circles moving to the north and west along the Alaskan coastline during the summer feeding season and then south and east in the winter in waters that are warmer but afford little opportunity for growth. This cycle repeats depending upon how long each species spends in the ocean environment. Now in their last spring before returning to their freshwater birthplace, they are once again off the Alaska coast and feeding actively.
• Chinook (king) salmon have begun their migration by mid-April from waters near the Alaskan Peninsula and Aleutian Islands and even into the southern Bering Sea, to be the first to return in May. Chinook are unique among the salmon in that stocks tend to concentrate in such specific ocean areas and do so generation after generation. Taku River chinook spend three to six years in their far western feeding ground before returning.
• Sockeye (red) salmon follow the general pattern outlined above. They are plankton feeders and, once the northern ocean surface temperature begins to warm in the Spring, concentrate in the very productive upwelling waters in the central Gulf of Alaska off Kodiak Island. Most Taku River sockeye spend three years in this ocean cycle although a minority will return after two. This year’s returning adult sockeye will feed actively for the next few weeks in the Gulf and then migrate rapidly eastward to arrive on the fishing grounds in June and July.
• Coho (silver) salmon are fish-eaters while in the ocean and spend only two years in that environment. Roughly half of Taku River coho spend one year in the river before entering salt water and half reside for two years in the river. Coho also follow the general annual migratory pattern in the ocean. At present this year’s returners likely are moving westward into the Gulf of Alaska as feeding conditions improve. As with the sockeye, the coho will return rapidly to the waters off southeast Alaska in June and July. However, unlike the sockeye, coho will hold off the panhandle coast, feeding voraciously, until beginning their final migration in August and September. Remarkably the coho put on half of their final weight during this brief mid-summer feeding binge.
So they are all taking advantage of the early growing season in the open ocean to fatten up before the spawning instinct compels their perfectly timed return to the Taku River. Sea to Table is excited to deliver all five species from the same river, offering chefs pristine, fresh, wild salmon for five solid months.
All the best,
from the Dimin Family and the Sea to Table team