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General Discussion

Spring-run Columbia River Chinook Salmon

Tom Armitage | Apr 16, 200901:06 PM    

Much to the delight of salmon lovers, the early-spring-run Columbia River chinook salmon are now available. They are, in my opinion, some of the best salmon in the world – better than the highly marketed Copper River salmon. The "Springers," as they are called, are to other salmon as Kobe beef is to other beef. Although they are expensive, the extra cost is well worth it in terms of quality. Springers run as high as 22 percent oil content, as compared to an average fat content of around 11 percent for wild chinook (king) salmon in general, 8 percent for wild sockeye, 6 percent for wild coho (silver) salmon, 3.5 percent for wild pink salmon, and 11 percent for farmed Atlantic salmon. Only Yukon River chinook salmon are equivalent to Springers in terms of oil content. Copper River chinooks, by contrast, only run up to around 18 percent fat content, and the Copper River sockeye salmon have an even lower fat content than the chinooks. The reason for the Springers' high oil content is that they enter the fresh water of the Columbia River in the early spring, but hold off spawning until fall to avoid the summer's warm water. Because of this delayed spawning and the fact that salmon don't eat once they enter fresh water, Springers have evolved through natural selection so that they build up huge fat reserves in order to survive until the fall solely on these fat reserves. By contrast, fall-run Columbia River chinook remain in the ocean until the last moment, and then enter the river to spawn and die. The high fat content of the Yukon River chinooks is required to survive the long journey up the 2,300-mile Yukon River. The Copper River, by contrast, is only 300 miles long. Although its turbulent waters through the Saint Elias Mountains make the salmon's journey up-river arduous, the fat reserves required are not as high as those of the Springers or the Yukon River chinooks.

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