Species Spotlight: Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) are a robust, strong swimming fish that once ranged across the North Atlantic coastal regions. They are the second largest of the salmon species, averaging over 10 pounds but can get much larger in the wild. Once leaving fresh water after hatching they eventually make it to the ocean, where they spend at least one year feeding on shrimp and amphipods before returning upstream to spawn. Atlantic salmon often survive and return to the ocean.

salmon

New York Public Library

Early American colonists were pleased to find the familiar Atlantic salmon in nearly every river and stream during their annual run. The arrival Scandinavian immigrants to America brought traditional brined or cured salmon products like gravlax, which was originally made by burying the fish in sand. The Scots also brought their own version of salted and smoked salmon to the US and Canadian Maritimes. Jewish immigrants, mostly from Germany gave us that iconic New York City staple of lox on a bagel with a smear of cream cheese.

Many of the spawning grounds for Atlantic salmon were eliminated through dams or pollution, which had dire effects on the fish population by the 20th century. Today, Atlantic salmon are almost exclusively farm-raised, fully protected in American waters. Intensive farming of Atlantic salmon began in the 1960’s with the creation of large sea cages to raise the fish. Atlantic salmon are also raised inland in recirculating aquaculture systems in the United States.

There are efforts underway to encourage what is left of the wild population to reach their spawning grounds by creating fish ladders at dams, and cleaning polluted rivers and streams. Ironically, the Atlantic salmon has become an invasive species outside of their native habitat, competing against the indigenous salmon species of the Pacific.

Buying Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon is mainly produced in Australia, Canada, Chile, Norway, Russia, the UK and the US, making it widely available both fresh and frozen. Being farm-raised, it more mild than wild caught Pacific salmon. The color of Atlantic salmon flesh can be a dark orange to more pinkish tones depending upon the feed used at the fish farm. Many producers use a dye in their feed to produce this color.

Atlantic salmon meat flakes well, but is also firm enough to be served as steaks or fillets. It is hugely popular grilled, broiled, blackened, planked, smoked or cured as lox. The moderately-oily, flavorful flesh is high in Omega-3, but less so than wild-caught salmon, this is also dependent upon what the fish are fed. Salmon fed on vegetarian diets seem to have lower Omega-3 levels than salmon fed from fish meal or fish oil.

For an alternative to Atlantic salmon, try any of the salmon-type fishes like trout or whitefish. Large, very fresh mackerel would also be a tasty, wild caught alternative and for those looking for a darker and richer flavor, try bluefish.

Historic Recipe

To Roast a Salmon Whole  (1773)

Draw your salmon at the gills, stuff the belly of it with some whole sweet herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, winter savoury, sweet marjoram, a small onion, and garlick, scale the salmon, wipe off the slime, and lard him with pickled herrings, or a salt eel, then season some large oysters with nutmeg, and sew up his belly with them; baste him with butter, lay him upon sticks in a tin dripping pan, set it into the oven; draw it out, turn the other side upwards, then put some claret in the dripping pan under it, with wine, anchovies, pepper, and nutmeg; let the gravy drip into it baste it, out of the pan, with rosemary and bays; when the fish is done enough, take all the fat gravy, boil it up, and beat it with thick butter; then dish your salmon, pour the sauce over it; rip up his belly, take out some of the oysters, put them into the sauce, take away the herbs, and serve it up hot.

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