The name sockeye comes from a poor attempt to translate the word suk-kegh from the native language of the Salish coast of British Columbia. Suk-kegh means red fish.
Sockeye, also called sockeye or blue-backed salmon, is among the smallest of the seven species of Pacific salmon, but its succulent bright orange flesh is prized above all others. They range in size from 24 to 33 inches in length and weigh between 5 and 15 pounds.
Life cycle and spawning
Like all other Pacific salmon, they hatch in freshwater. However, sockeye salmon require a nearby lake to breed. Once hatched, juveniles will remain in their native habitat for up to three years, longer than any other salmon. They then travel to the sea, where they grow rapidly, feeding mainly on zooplankton. They remain in the ocean for one to four years.
Sockeye salmon have silver flanks with black spots and a bluish top, giving them their “blueback” name. However, when they return upriver to their spawning grounds, their bodies turn bright red and their heads turn greenish. Males of reproductive age have a distinctive appearance, developing a humpback and hooked jaws full of small, easily visible teeth. Males and females die within a few weeks after spawning.
Sockeyes are the third most abundant species of salmon in the Pacific and are a cornerstone of commercial fisheries in North America.
CLOCK: MILLION SALMON RETURN HOME
Every four years, millions of sockeye salmon travel thousands of miles from the ocean to their native spawning grounds in Canada’s Fraser River. There, after laying the eggs, the parents die. Then eventually the cycle begins again as the next generation of salmon descends down the river and towards the ocean
How Does Sockeye Salmon Taste?
While many people think king or chinook salmon is superior, sockeye salmon has a rich texture and is very tasty. For people who like the taste of salmon, sockeye is the closest thing to salmon. Sockeyes eat more plankton and crustaceans like shrimp than other salmon species, contributing to their darker color.
While chinooks are fatter, salmon are the second fattest salmon and have the added benefit of having the firmer texture of all Pacific salmon. Many of the anglers in Cordova, Alaska, where Copper River salmon are fished, swear that they actually prefer the more intense flavor of sockeye salmon over the richness of chinook.
Where are the local Sockeye salmon?
Most wild caught red salmon sold in the US USA comes from Alaska, and those on the Copper River are particularly prized, and Bristol Bay is especially prolific. Commercial catches of sockeye salmon also come from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
Like all salmon, sockeye salmon begin their lives by hatching in freshwater streams. Exceptionally among salmon, salmon prefer lake watersheds and spend up to three years living in lakes (compared, for example, to the year and a half year that chinook salmon spend in freshwater streams when they first hatch ) before heading downstream towards the ocean. Some sockeye salmon remain in freshwater lakes throughout their life cycle; they are often called “silver trout” and are much smaller than other sockeyes.
Sockeyes spend the saltwater portion of their lives in the North Pacific. They can be found along the coast in Northern California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska, and then as far north as Japan. When they reach maturity and are ready to spawn, they head back to their home stream and swim upriver to reproduce.
Like other salmon, sockeye are fattening for this journey, as they will not eat once they hit fresh water. Furthermore, they are swimming upstream not only to spawn, but also to die. Native Americans often harvested salmon as they headed upstream, and many tribes still do. The commercial catch is fished in the sea for salmon as they head for the river and remain the best and tastiest before beginning to degrade on their journey to fresh water.