Monday, October 22, 2012

Harvest Ingredient 16: Salmon

Native netting salmon during the run in the 1950's at the ancient fishing ground of   Celilo Falls

There are whole cultures that have built up around the might salmon, just as they did the buffalo.  In fact, before it was destroyed by the The Dalles Dam construction in the 1950's, the falls were the site of one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously sites of habitation in all of North America.  Natives fished, or rather "dip netted" there right up to it's destruction by flooding.  The oldest village or camp found there dated back 15,000 years.  Local tribes and nations came there to fish, but other groups, some like the Blackfeet more traditionally associated with the buffalo, also came from as far away as Canada to the annual salmon run.  The annual salmon run used to be one of the greatest wonders of the New World.  It occurs when salmon living in the seas as adults swim up rivers to spawn and die.  Now overfishing, damming, useless diverting of waters to drought stricken areas that never should be farmed and diseases of the modern era have all but turned this wonder and gift into a sad joke.

The culture of the salmon people teaching humans all manner of useful things about their environment probably as old as any in the New World; and span all the way up through the rainforested Pacific Northwest to the interiors of Alaska.  Five types of salmon are known in the Pacific, listed below.  But the run in these areas, while the most well known are not the only tribal areas where the salmon run was/is an important event in the year's celebrations of the various "moons" that we call "months."  Tribal peoples in Siberia rely as much on the mighty fish as do the Salmon Tribes of our Northwest coast.  Before the coming of Europeans, the Atlantic Salmon was a very important food sources for eastern tribes; but their over-fishing, polluting of waters and lose of habitat has, in large part, relegated their tribal importance to a dim memory.  It does not help that tribes of the east equally lost a lot of people and have be scattered and pushed into a marginal existence as well.  

Members of the Powhatan Confederacy cooking whole fish over  smoke flame in the 16th century.  The fish are probably Atlantic Salmon.

Salmon are not only important for the people; they are a very important source of food for bears, especially Grizzly Bears, who need there fat rich flesh to help put on weight for the coming winter hibernation seasons.  Birds also rely on the salmon run, often picking up scraps left by bears; and at several population of eagles actively fish for them.  Additionally, the remnants of the flesh of their parents is also available to newly hatched salmon at the bottom of pools where they congregate.  This is why beavers are important to the salmon environment as well, many of their damming activities created safe haven ponds for baby salmon, which also trap "parental nutrients" at the bottom of the ponds.

Haida Salmon.

The Five Types Of Pacific Salmon:

Chinook or King Salmon in ocean stage (photo:  US gov.)

The Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tsawytscha) is the largest and most important of the 5 species of salmon in the Pacific northwest territories, both in terms of traditional subsistence and as the most sacred of animals, but also commercially.  Because of it's size it has also been called, and marketed as, King Salmon.  There is also a Chinook People.

Chum or Keta Salmon in spawn stage

The Chum Salmon (O. Keta) also called the Keta Salmon is one of the species of Pacific salmon that migrate in both the Pacific NW/Alaska and in Siberia.  The name "Chum" comes from Chinook Wawa, which is also called Chinook Jargon, a trade language of the 19th century based on Chinookan languages, other native tongues and English (it is currently considered a Pidgin language and is spoken both the US and Canada, classes are offered by The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon).  The name keta is from the Evenki language(s), a tribal language of Siberia.  Although it has a very important role in as a traditional food source and for wildlife, it has largely be regarded as the least important Pacific salmon in terms of commercial fishing...which is not necessarily a bad thing.  They are the second most prolific salmon species in the northern Pacific.  Read more about this fish at Wikipedia.

Coho Salmon
The Coho Salmon (O. kirutch), this fish as a high degree of distribution in the Pacific in terms of runs.  They are also known as silver salmon or "Silvers" and are one of the only species of salmon to be caught in large numbers, and highly prized, while they are still in their "Ocean phase."  That part of it's Latin designation is actually Russian shows the degree to which this fish is extremely important in Siberia, and in olden times, probably beyond!  It is also the state fish (animal) of both Japan and China.  But they also have a large presence in on the eastern Pacific coast form Alaska all the way to northern California.  Read more about this fish here at Wikipedia.

Pink Salmon

The Pink Salmon (O. gorbushcha) is the smallest (and by salmon standards they are small!) and the most abundant of the five salmon tribes of the Pacific. As with the Coho, the last part of it's "Latin name" is Russian, again showing it's importance in what is now called "Asian Russia;" it's a very important Siberian fish during the annual run and is used by all manner of tribal peoples there to a great degree, both fresh and stored for future use.  The fish also run in parts of Japan and even Korea, and have been introduced into Iran, of all places.  On the eastern Pacific board in both the US and in Canada, the fish is listed as "imperiled," which just goes to show what a sorry shape the Pacific salmon run is here now, these fish are not supposed to be any thing close to endangered.  Of course, one of the main reason for this is overfishing, as these fish are highly prized for the canning industry and for their roe; but their sustainability have also been put in jeopardy due damming and other environmental issues that need not be so severe.  Also it's range doesn't extend much south of what is now the Washington State line.  Read more about it at Wikipedia.  

Sockeye Salmon in ocean phase

The third most abundant of the northern Pacific "five," the Sockeye (O. nerka) fish also has some sub-species that have branched off from the ocean going one by having large land-locked populations in various large freshwater locations; these collective landlocked sockeyes are known simply as kokanee or silver trout.  The term "sock-eye" itself is an English corruption of the fish's native name "suk-kegh," which translates from Halkomelem as "red fish."  This is the salmon that was often marketed as "Red Salmon." Red more about it at Wikipedia

The Mighty Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic salmon (Salmo solar) is probably the most well known salmon to most people, due to it's extensive aquaculture. The first part of it's Latin name is actually where the world "salmon" originates from. The natural range of this fish ranges from Virginia in the US, all the way up and around northern Europe.  It has been a traditional and important food source in Scandinavia for centuries.  One of the world's most famous salmon recipes is Grav Lax from Norway.  It's decline along the eastern US seaboard coincided with the mass killing off of the North American beaver there; proof that the fry of this fish need beaver ponds to survive.  Efforts are also underway to reintroduce this fish to it's native river in the eastern US and Atlantic coast of Canada.  Actually they have been underway for some years now, with very slow, but noticeable, progress.  The fish has so many sub-names, there is no use attempting to name them all here, you can find those, and so much more at Wikipedia.

The Cherry or Masu Salmon in ocean phase

There is one last species of salmon from the north Pacific worth mentioning since it of great importance to native of Siberia, especially the Kamchatka peninsula, and that is the so-called "Cherry" or Masu Salmon (O. masou).  This is a small fish by comparison to most of the other Pacific salmon species and is caught some as an ocean game fish.  It is also collected at fry stage and captive raised in places like Japan, where it is sold both fresh and flash frozen.  In Siberia, this fish usually winds up in the soup pot with tons of fresh herbs and vegetables for bright fish stews.  They have always been an important fish food for the Ainu peopleThis fish's range is so far south in the western Pacific that it occurs in Formosan waters (that's Taiwan).  It, like the Sockeye, has sub-species of landlocked populations, with one in Formosa (the one in Korea (North) is critically endangered).  It does not occur naturally in eastern Pacific waters.

It is worth mentioning that Steelhead or Rainbow trout also belong to the Oncorhynchus family.  

Also worth mentioning that a member of the greater salmon salmon family also includes the Hucho taimen or the Siberian Salmon, which is also in serious decline in it's native river regions, to the point that it is listed as "vulnerable."

Traditional northwest coast style Salmon Bake with alder wood (photo from Foodbizonline, click here for their instructions on how to do this!).
Tsimshian Salmon Dance 2009 (photo from Southeast Alaska Tribal Cultures...

Here Are A List Of Resources About The Current Salmon Plight (by no means exhaustive, please contact this sight to add to list!!)

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