Samui Wining & Dining
Catch of the Day

Learning more about the world’s favourite fish – Salmon.

 

2-3Salmon, derived from the Latin term salmo, meaning ‘leaper’, have one of the most interesting life cycles of any animal on earth. Born in freshwater rivers and streams, they then migrate into the ocean to live in saltwater. After traversing thousands of oceanic miles they return to their natal river to spawn. This behaviour is called anadromous, though salmon are not the only fish that are born in freshwater and spend the majority of their lives in saltwater. Sturgeon, trout and many others do the same thing. And in South American rivers, sharks are anadromous. However, salmon are just that little bit special.

    'Atlantic Ocean species of salmon belong to the genus Salmo and include the appropriately named Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). There is also the Land-locked Salmon (Salmo salar Sebago) which, even when it does have access to the sea, is non-migratory. And of the same genus is Salmo trutta, which is usually classified as a trout, despite being a closer relative of Atlantic salmon than any of the Pacific species.

      Belonging to the genus Oncorhynchus are the Pacific Ocean species. They differ from their Atlantic cousins in a number of ways, most notably in that they die shortly after spawning. Included in this genus are several well-known types. Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), also called ‘Red Salmon’ or ‘Blueback Salmon’ are distinctive in that the males turn a brilliant red colour when spawning. This species is found as far as the Klamath River in California in the eastern Pacific and the northern Hokkaido island in Japan in the western Pacific. It also goes as far north as the Canadian Arctic and to the Anadyr River in Siberia. Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are the largest of the Pacific species, though account for only around one percent of the total harvest. Pink Salmon or ‘Humpback Salmon’ (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) are again found throughout the Pacific. They are a small species and are predominately used for canning.

      Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) are also known as the ‘Dog’ or ‘Calico Salmon’. Its meat is a pale, yellowish colour which makes it unmarketable as red salmon and it therefore attracts a lower price for fishermen. Spawning adults have a hooked snout with vicious looking dog-like teeth, hence the nickname. Coho or ‘Silver Salmon’ (Oncorhynchus kisutch) are usually sold whole, though can be smoked and canned. And lastly, there are Cherry Salmon (Oncorhynchus masu), which are only found in the western Pacific, near Japan and Korea. In the southern hemisphere there is a fish known as the Australian Salmon, which is a saltwater fish and not related to the others. It’s usually found along the southern coastline and around Tasmania.

       Salmon remains to this day a very popular food and is reasonably healthy due to its high protein and omega-3 fatty acids content and to its overall low fat levels. According to reports in journals like Science, however, farmed salmon may contain high levels of dioxins and their omega-3 levels may be lower. According to the British Food Standards Agency though, the benefits of eating farmed salmon still outweigh the risks. Importantly, salmon in general are one of the least tainted by methyl-mercury of all fish. As a rough rule of thumb, the vast majority of Atlantic salmon available on the world market are farmed (greater than 99%), whereas the majority of Pacific salmon are caught wild (greater than 80%). Farming salmon is a billion dollar business worldwide, with Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Canada and Chile being the major producers

      Fortunately, salmon farming is coming under ever-increasing scrutiny by the public, environmental groups and government agencies. And measures are being taken to protect wild salmon and ensure that stocks are not depleted. If you are buying a whole salmon, one of the ways to tell if it was caught wild or was farmed is to look at the tail. If it’s sharp and angular then it’s most likely of wild origin. If it has a pronounced rounding to the points of the tail then it’s likely farmed. Constant swimming around the sides of pens wears down the edges of the fins and tail, and produces this lasting effect. That said, some are farmed in ocean ranches, though this does make them susceptible to sea lice and sometimes they do escape, potentially spreading disease within the wild populations.

      On the up side, an average portion of salmon provides over half your daily protein requirement. In addition to vitamin A and carotenoids, which are thought to help prevent cancer, salmon contains B vitamins (particularly niacin), and vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. And salmon contains far less saturated fat than an equal portion of virtually any other meat or poultry protein source. Plus, when cooked correctly, makes for a flavoursome and rather delicious meal.

      In a world where we smoke, drink excessively, sit in the sun too long, drive under the influence, breath in polluted air, start wars and find new ways to kill each other, I think eating salmon has to be way down the list of things to worry about. I know that I’d rather eat a hundredweight of salmon than drive a 100 cc motorbike on Samui, or anywhere else for that matter. So relax, tuck in and enjoy this noble fish for what it is. And remember, if you think no-one cares about anything anymore, try missing a couple of mortgage payments!

 

 

Johnny Paterson


 


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