Salmon are members of the Salmonidae family of fishes, distinguished by their pale pink flesh, which is popular among humans. They are anadromous fish, reproducing and hatching in fresh water but entering the sea as adults. According to folklore, salmon will return to the same locations year after year to spawn. Like their relatives the trout, these fish are very sensitive to environmental changes and are often used as an indicator species.
In the west, salmon have often contended with farmers for water rights, with drought conditions resulting in a high diversion of available water to agriculture. Conservationists argue that the fish needs habitat just as humans need food, and have tried to protect it to some extent with water regulation, tight fishery monitoring, and the introduction of salmon to new environments. They have been successfully farmed, and farmed fish may be a better ecological alternative in some cases to wild caught salmon.
Salmon are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, with a record weight of 100 pounds (45 kilograms) being recorded for one epic Atlantic salmon. Pacific fish tend to be smaller on average, although both types will range far afield when they reach the sea. Salmon will travel up and down stream several times to spawn, return to sea, and repeat the process during their lifetimes. They have been part of the human diet for centuries, and play a powerful role in the mythology of many western Native American nations.
These fish look much like their relatives the trout, with dark mottled upper bodies and creamy lower bodies, a small adipose fin between the tail and dorsal fins, and a pronounced, forward carried mouth. Unlike trout, salmon have 12 or more rays on their anal fins, and often have dark or black mouths. The meat is rich in omega 3 acids, and prized by many consumers who favor its mild flavor and rich pink flavor. As a result, many are struggling with extinction due to overfishing, despite careful fisheries management.
Because salmon tend to run along the same river throughout their lifetime, biologists frequently refer to groups of fish by the river they inhabit and the name of the species, as is the case in Sacramento River Chinook, for example. There are five recognized species: chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink. All are commercially fished, and most are viewed as threatened species due to their shrinking habitats. Wild salmon used to be highly genetically diverse, with a wide range of varieties emerging from assorted rivers along the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. However, with the pressure of commercial fisheries, the genetic diversity is dwindling.
It is hoped that increased regulation and control will allow salmon stocks to recover, and many states have launched vigorous public campaigns to educate consumers about the fish and the legal repercussions of taking the wrong type.