Other Names: Red Salmon, Jack Salmon, Kokanee
Identification & Biology: Sockeye salmon can be distinguished from Chinook, Coho, and pink salmon by the lack of large, black spots and from chum salmon by the number and shape of gill rakers on the first gill arch. Sockeye salmon have 28 to 40 long, slender, rough or serrated closely set rakers on the first arch. Chum salmon have 19 to 26 short, stout, smooth rakers.
Sea-going sockeyes have silver flanks with black speckles and a bluish top, giving them their "blueback" name. However, as they return upriver to their spawning grounds, breeding males develop a humped back and elongated, hooked jaws filled with sharp caniniform teeth, and both sexes turn brilliant to dark red on the back and sides, pale to olive-green on the head and upper jaw, and white on the lower jaw.
Life history: Sockeye salmon are anadromous: they live in the sea and enter freshwater systems to spawn. After hatching, juvenile sockeye salmon may spend up to four years in fresh water before migrating to sea as silvery smolt weighing only a few ounces. They grow quickly in the sea, usually reaching a size of 4 to 8 pounds after one to four years. Mature sockeye salmon travel thousands of miles from ocean feeding areas to spawn in the same freshwater system where they were born. Males and females both die within a few weeks after spawning.
Capture Methods: Sockeye salmon come from marine fisheries, not fish farms. They are primarily caught with gillnets and purse seines. Additional types of fishing gear include troll lines and traps.
Market Description: Sockeye salmon are the preferred species for canning due to the rich orange-red color of their flesh. Today, however, more than half of the sockeye salmon catch is sold frozen rather than canned. Canned sockeye salmon is marketed primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States while most frozen sockeye salmon is purchased by Japan. Sockeye salmon roe is also valuable. It is salted and marketed in Japan.
Habitat: Japan, Northern Pacific arctic waters to Alaska
Flavor Profile: succulent, full flavored fish, high fat content
Fishing Technique: gillnet, hook & line
Special Note: Only salmon variety to spawn in lakes not rivers
Suitable Sub: King Salmon
The sockeye is among the smallest of the seven Pacific salmon species, but their succulent, bright-orange meat is prized above all others. Sockeye take top billing at fine restaurants. Their day-glow orange flesh and full flavor make them the top eating salmon in the world, and they are prized for their high oil content.