Wild Alaskan Sockeye
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus Nerka
Market Names: Salmon, Sockeye, Red, Blueback
Vernacular Names: Red fish, Spring-run Salmon, Summer Sockeye
Description: Alaska Sockeye salmon have dark blue-black backs, silvery sides and white bellies. The average sized Sockeye Salmon is 6-9 pounds and are 4-5 years of age. The Sockeye salmon's flesh is ruby red in color and is the most sought after salmon in Alaska due to it's wonderful flavor and color. The Sockeye salmon accounts is second to the Pink salmon in total run size.
Life Cycle: There are several stages to the life cycle of Sockeye salmon, eggs-alevins-fry-smolt-adult-spawning adult. An adult Sockeye salmon deposits her eggs in gravel beds (also called redds) in freshwater streams and rivers. Once the eggs have been fertilized by the male Sockeye salmon the embryos will incubate over the winter months and then hatch into alevins in late winter. In the alevins phase of life the Sockeye salmon take on a strange appearance having large eyes, a ballooning orange sack and pencil like body. Approximately 4 months after becoming an alevin the young salmon changes into a fry. A Sockeye salmon fry averages 1 inch in length, has an elongated body and is free swimming. A sockeye fry will spend up to two years living in fresh water before migrating to sea. A fry blossoms into a smolt when it is ready to head to the ocean were it will stay until it matures into an adult Sockeye salmon. An adult Sockeye salmon will feed and continue to grow until it reaches maturity at four to five years of age. The mature female Sockeye salmon will begin its journey back to its place of origin were it will deposit its bounty of eggs and then die, continuing the salmon life cycle.
Run Times: Sockeye salmon runs are typically seen in Alaska starting in late May and ending in the early part of August.
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Record weight sport caught sockeye salmon: 16 lbs. caught by Chuck Leach in 1974 while fishing on the Kenai River.
Nutritional Information: One ½ lb. fillet of Sockeye Salmon has 332.6 calories, 42.1 grams of protein, 16.9 grams of fat, 2.9 grams of saturated fat and 93 milligrams of sodium.
Click on the links below to learn about other Wild Alaskan Seafood.
Chinook (King) Salmon
Sockeye (Red) Salmon
Coho (Silver) Salmon
Keta (Dog) Salmon
Salmon are born in gravel nests at the bottom of stream and river beds in the form of a slightly translucent eggs about the size of a pencil eraser. The eggs are usually red to pink in color and spherical in shape. During the 2 to 3 month period it take the eggs to hatch, their eyes and other organs can be seen developing through the translucent shell of the egg.
When the salmon egg is ready to hatch, the baby salmon will break free of the egg's soft shell retaining the yolk as a nutrient-rich sac that hangs below it's body. At this stage, they are called Alevin and are about one inch in length. During the next month, the alevin will remain hidden in the gravel nest and feed from the nutrient-rich yolk sac until it is completely absorbed.
The tiny salmon leave their gravel nest and begin to swim and feed for themselves. At this stage they are called Fry and take the form of tiny fish. It's also at this time that they start their journey downstream. The first part of their journey is a difficult one as the small vulnerable fry must hide under rocks and among vegetation to avoid predators such as birds, insects, and other fish. At the same time, they must find feed to survive.
After several months, as the Fry feed and grow, they develop vertical markings on the flanks of their bodies. At this stage they are called Parr and are about six inches in length. Though a bit bigger they still must hide from predators and continue their journey towards the ocean. Parr will continue to feed for 1 to 3 years before they are ready venture out into the ocean.
At this point, the juvenile salmon loses its vertical markings on its body and turns silvery in color. Now considered Smolt, they will school together in large groups. It's at this time that the young salmon will adjust their bodies to saltwater, allowing them to swim out into the Pacific Ocean to feed and grow into adult salmon.
Adult salmon spend 1 to 4 years in the ocean swimming and feeding throughout the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. They grow to their adult size and develop unique adult markings that are different for all five species of Alaska salmon. There ocean journey is long and hazardous, as they are constantly hunted for by seals, orca whales, and fishermen. After swimming more than 2000 miles throughout the northern Pacific Ocean they return to their original spawning grounds to spawn . In some cases, young adult salmon return early before they have fully grown. These particular salmon are called Jacks or Jennies.
Upon reaching their birth rivers and streams, the adult salmon re-adapt to the fresh water and begin their upstream journey to their natal stream where they were born. At this time, they cease to feed and live on the stores of fat within their bodies. Their upstream journey is a challenging one, swimming upstream against rugged rapids, leaping over rocky waterfalls, traversing fish ladders, avoiding fishermen nets and hooks, and staying clear of hungry bears. When they finally reach their natal stream they have reached sexual maturation and are ready to spawn. The female adult clears a spot in the streambed by sweeping her tail back and forth creating a gravel nest that is referred to as a redd. She will then lay her eggs in this redd and the male adult salmon will fertilize and protect them until both salmon die within a couple of weeks and leave the embryos to fend for themselves.
It is quite obvious that Alaska salmon have interesting lives. One has to admit that a salmon that has returned to it's birth stream after years at sea is an admirable fish to say the least. Due to the excellent salmon management practices that now exist in Alaska, salmon populations are well protected. Environmental regulations help protect their spawning grounds while fishing regulations allow for large amounts of spawning salmon to make it to their natal streams. Salmon are studied and managed in "stocks" which are groups of salmon that return and spawn in the same rivers and streams. Currently, in Alaska, the Department of Fish and Game manages over 15,000 salmon streams.