Alaska Sockeye

Written by Jared Vincenti
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The sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) makes up the greatest part of Alaska's fishing economy. The yearly runs of the salmon were celebrated by ancient cultures, and still mark a time of great abundance for the local people. The sockeye is also one of the most widespread of the Pacific Salmon, found from Northern California to the Canadian Arctic.

Sockeye are preferred for canning, because of the intense orange/red color of their flesh. This color is from the almost exclusive diet of plankton that the sockeye enjoys. The fish feed by filtering salt water through their gills, and feeding off the tiny organisms in the water. They pick up the pigment astaxanthin, which gives both the plankton and the fish their red color, and is also a healthy antioxidant in a human diet.

Sockeye Salmon Runs

The yearly migration of the sockeye is one of the most spectacular, and Bristol Bay, Alaska is known for its ample harvest. However, not all sockeye travel all the way to the ocean. Many spend the first one to four years of their lives in freshwater lakes along their riverways before heading to the ocean.

A small number of sockeye never go to the ocean. These fish live in lakes their whole lives, and are called "kokanee." These fish aren't targets of fishers, though, as they stay much smaller than the sockeye that travel to the ocean. In addition, they don't get the red color of their marine kin, and thus aren't as attractive for canning or eating.


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