Salmon -

The two principal families of salmon are the Salmo Salar of the North Atlantic (see Color Page opposite 540), ranging on the American side upwards from New York and generally known as the Kennebec salmon, and the Oncorhynchus, which includes the chief Pacific Coast varieties. The Kennebec salmon is sold in the Eastern markets from the middle of April to the end of September, but the total crop is limited in amount - the bulk of the fresh salmon supply, and all the canned salmon product, is of the Pacific Coast fish.

The annual harvest does not compare in quantity with that of the herring, mackerel and cod tribe, nor in value with that of smaller fancy fish such as the sardine, but it occupies an important position financially and the richness and fine color of the salmon flesh have always held it high in popular estimation. Canned salmon, the form which is best known to the general public, leads all other American canned products in the total marketed.

The life story of the Pacific salmon is of dramatic interest, containing all the elements of romance - from its first fight for existence against almost overwhelming odds, to its magnificent struggle to perpetuate its race at the expense of its own existence.

The fish is an anadrom, living all but the beginning and end of its existence in the depths of the ocean. During his sojourn in the salt waters of the sea, we must presume he enjoys life, even though in a somewhat strenuous fashion. He is often found mutilated, probably from combats with his kind and other denizens of the deep, but he evidently finds feeding good and life generally worth while, for by the time he is four years old he has developed into a magnificent fish weighing from thirty to even a hundred pounds, and as handsome a creature as the water ever produced. The tragedy of his life comes when nature calls him to the spawning grounds, for that journey is one of the world's most remarkable examples of the instinct of procreation.

Every springtide the mature salmon - both male and female - begin in great "schools" the return journey. The date and distance of the runs and the rate of progress, are regulated by the condition of the spawn. The earliest occur in February and March. The fish then travel to the headwaters of the rivers, many hundreds of miles up; in the later runs, nearer spawning grounds are chosen. The run of some species continues until fall.

No natural obstacle can stop the pilgrims - they leap obstructing boulders and charge the rapids with indomitable energy, renewing and redoubling their efforts if repulsed until they have won their progress onward, or die in the struggle. They take no food after entering fresh water.

When they finally reach the spawning grounds - weak from fasting and fatigue and often wounded by the rocks and other obstacles encountered - they rest for two or three weeks. Then each female fish scoops a hole in the gravel in the shallow water and deposits her eggs there. The male fertilizes them, and then they are left to their fate - the fish have completed the duty to nature which they undertook when they left their ocean homes. And then? By this time the fish have lost the strength and beauty which distinguished them when they started on their journey - their glistening scales have disappeared, their flesh is flabby and dull, their skin disfigured with blotches. They linger around for a while and then they die - the last stage of the life of the great salmon is closed.

What of the spawn provided for at such sacrifice? The "fry" - tiny little creatures of queer aspect - emerge from the eggs in from 100 to 200 days after fertilization, the period depending largely upon the temperature of the water. Then in great quantities they fall prey to other fish and many birds. The female salmon contains about 3,500 eggs, otherwise the species would long ago have been extinct, so fierce is the onslaught. The "fry" which survive develop into little salmon which travel down the river again into the ocean - a long journey, slowly made, with many stops, and again with heavy toll to other enemies along the route - thence into the ocean, there to live and fight and grow until, in their turn, as they reach maturity, they make the final up-river journey.

Nature had provided for all these enemies by the great fecundity of the female salmon, but when to them was added the catching by human beings year after year, of tens of thousands of mature salmon before they had spawned, she was unable to cope with the situation, and a few years ago it seemed certain that before long the salmon would become as nearly extinct as the buffalo. That danger has, fortunately, been removed by restrictions on the catch and artificial hatchings of great quantities of the eggs to guard against their destruction by predatory fishes and birds (see article on fish CULTURE). Another important and very interesting government work has been the construction of "fish Ladders" to assist the fish in climbing the falls or dams which obstruct their up-river journey. A fish Ladder is a series of very broad steps built up the side of a fall or dam. The salmon travel up them at their ease, as the height of each step is only a few inches, and the protection of the step ahead slacks the rapidity of the current and gives them many rests in the ascent. Before these ladders were constructed, the fish were compelled to climb the falls at one dash, and thousands upon thousands of them were thrown back killed or maimed.

Arround Salmon in The Grocer's Encyclopedia


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