Seafood: Salmon, King

Salmon, King

The King Salmon, (also known as Chinook) is arguably the most popular fish in the Monterey Bay and for good reason. The meat is thick and flaky and as full of omega-3s as any fish out there. It’s excellent grilled, smoked or as lox, and when compared to other salmon, many will argue there is no comparison.

In 2008 and 2009 salmon’s numbers in in Monterey Bay were dwindling so the season, which begins in May, was cancelled. Grown men wept openly for days. There are a number of reasons for their decline, but swift action by a number of California and federal agencies have brought their numbers back.

The fish we see in the Monterey Bay entered the ocean by way of the Golden Gate Bridge, swimming from streams and estuaries located all over Northern California. Some years later, they hear nature’s call and head back to the same spot they were originally spawned. The returning fish repeats a mantra to itself “spawn till you die, spawn till you die” until they reach their birthplace. Then, the male and female salmon spawn till they die in Mother Nature’s choreographed sequence.  [Read more about the salmon life cycle.]

The freshly fertilized critters hang out until some other signal, probably an air horn, gives them the green light to head for the Pacific where they’ll spend their lives eating krill, a shrimp-like crustacean which gives salmon its amazing flavor.

Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Northern California devotes most of its efforts to making sure the salmon that spawn nearby are fertilized and protected until they’re big enough to head back downstream. In 2014, this hatchery trucked the little devils hundreds of miles before being released into the Sacramento River Delta since the stream levels were dangerously low. The trip to the Pacific is tougher than driving across North Dakota with no radio. There are predators at every turn, and with the drought California is experiencing, rivers and streams are so shallow it makes swimming in them as difficult as doing the freestyle in your bathtub. So kudos to the hatchery, and a big howdy to the returning Kings!

A fully-grown King can weigh fifty pounds and is a delight to catch in that it puts up a good fight, but one fight it doesn’t ever win is with Orca Whales, who share in human’s enthusiasm for king salmon. The health of the Orca population has been tied directly to the health of the salmon population. There are a number of studies being conducted to better determine how this fish web fits together.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Rating
The Monterey Bay Aquarium rates California King salmon as a “good alternative” in its Seafood Watch site, and wild King salmon from Washington state and Alaska is rated “Best Choice.”

In Season at the Market

May, June, July, August, September