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What is an Arctic Char?

Harriette Halepis
Harriette Halepis

An Arctic char is a type of fish that can be found in both freshwater and saltwater. While abundant in some parts of the world, char is a hard fish to catch, since these fish swim in very deep and very cold waters. Wild Arctic char are usually found in remotes parts of Canada, Ireland, Britain, Russia, and Scotland.

Wild char tend to breed in saltwater, though they often migrate to freshwater during the winter months. Spotting a wild char is easy to do, since these fish have striking blue streaks and silver skin that shimmers. Frequently, wild char also have pink or red spots, though this is not always the case.

Arctic char is a popular sushi fish, among many other issues.
Arctic char is a popular sushi fish, among many other issues.

Many different countries have been trying to farm Arctic char for decades. This type of fish is mainly farmed in Winnipeg and Manitoba, Canada, though it is also farmed in Iceland, Ireland, and Norway. Since Arctic char can be easily kept as long as waters remain extremely cold, this type of fish is relatively easy to farm. Most char that are sold commercially come from Canada.

Baked Arctic char with vegetables.
Baked Arctic char with vegetables.

Char can be sold whole, in steak form, canned, smoked, or in paste form. Char is also a popular sushi fish, though it is called iwana when used to make sushi. Nutritionally, Arctic char is high in protein, low in fat, and low in calories. Thus, it has become a popular fish for those people who seek a well-balanced fish that has a large amount of protein.

Arctic char is farmed in Norway.
Arctic char is farmed in Norway.

Not only is char a healthy fish, it is also an easy fish to prepare. It can be grilled, fried, baked, poached, or broiled. Ideally, char meat should appear pink, though it should not be undercooked. Flavor-wise, this type of fish is frequently compared to salmon or trout. When purchasing whole char, there are a couple of things to look for.

Whole char, or fish of any kind, should have clear eyes and skin that does not appear too slimy. As with any other type of seafood, this kind of fish should not have a strong smell. While char does have some smell, this scent should not be overpowering. More often than not, char is available during the spring and fall months, though it is hard to find during the summer months. When purchasing Arctic char, it is wise to find a fishmonger who has a stellar reputation. Char is rarely available in large supermarkets, though many fresh fish sellers tend to purchase large quantities of char when this fish is in season.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Arctic Char?

Arctic Char is a cold-water fish in the Salmonidae family, closely related to both salmon and trout. It thrives in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters, and is known for its remarkable adaptability to different environmental conditions. Arctic Char is distinguished by its variable coloration and patterns, which can range from silver to red or greenish-blue.

Where can you find Arctic Char in the wild?

Arctic Char is native to alpine lakes and arctic/subarctic coastal waters. It's found across the circumpolar north, including Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Russia. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Arctic Char has a broad distribution due to its tolerance of various habitats and temperatures.

What does the Arctic Char eat?

Arctic Char is an opportunistic feeder, consuming a diet that includes zooplankton, insects, and smaller fish. In some ecosystems, they are top predators and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their aquatic habitats. Their diet can vary significantly based on their environment and the availability of food sources.

How do Arctic Char adapt to their environment?

Arctic Char exhibit remarkable adaptability, with some populations migrating between saltwater and freshwater while others remain landlocked. They can survive in a wide range of temperatures and have been observed overwintering under ice. Their varied diet also allows them to thrive in diverse ecological niches.

Is Arctic Char an important species for fishing?

Yes, Arctic Char is highly valued both commercially and recreationally. It's sought after for its delicious, mild flavor and firm flesh, making it a favorite among seafood enthusiasts. Sport fishers also prize Arctic Char for its fighting ability. Sustainable fishing practices are important to maintain healthy populations.

Are Arctic Char populations at risk?

While Arctic Char populations are considered stable overall, they face threats from habitat loss, climate change, and overfishing in certain areas. Conservation efforts are crucial to ensure their long-term survival. The IUCN currently lists Arctic Char as "Least Concern," but emphasizes the need for ongoing monitoring and habitat protection.

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    • Arctic char is a popular sushi fish, among many other issues.
      By: Stanislav Komogorov
      Arctic char is a popular sushi fish, among many other issues.
    • Baked Arctic char with vegetables.
      By: Comugnero Silvana
      Baked Arctic char with vegetables.
    • Arctic char is farmed in Norway.
      By: bogdanserban
      Arctic char is farmed in Norway.