Salmon Breeding and Nests:
Although usually drab in color before the breeding season, which
varies with the species, members of the salmon family develop bright hues
at spawning time. The male, during this season, usually develops a hooked
snout and a humped back. Before mating, one parent excavates a nest for the
eggs; after the eggs are deposited and fertilized, the female stirs up the
stream bottom so that earth and stones cover the eggs and protect them. The
eggs hatch in two weeks to six months, depending on the species and the water
temperature. During the migrations and nest-building activity preceding mating,
neither the females nor the males consume food.
Members of the salmon family subsist on smaller fish, crustaceans,
and insects. In addition to the true salmon, the salmon family also contains
many species known as char (see Trout); zoologists also include the grayling
and whitefish, which are similar in structure, in the salmon
Salmon found in the North Pacific Ocean spawn only once, dying
after depositing and fertilizing their eggs. The best-known and most valuable
species is the chinook salmon, which is also known as the king salmon, Columbia
River salmon, quinnat, chowichee, and takou. Market specimens of this fish
average about 9 kg (about 20 lb) in weight, but numerous specimens more than
1.5 m (more than 5 ft) in length and well over 45 kg (more than 100 lb) in
weight have been recorded. The chinook salmon migrates farther than any other
salmon, often traveling 1600 to 3200 km (1000 to 2000 mi) inland to its spawning
ground. Its eggs usually hatch within two months, and the young descend to
the sea when 5 to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 in) long. The sockeye, red, or blueblack
salmon is another valuable species, as is the coho, or silver salmon, which
has light pink flesh. Other salmon in the Pacific basin are commonly known
as the pink, or humpbacked salmon, and the chum, or dog salmon.
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Anglers fish for salmon with rod and reel, often using flies as
bait. Commercial fishing for salmon is done on a much larger scale, employing
traps and pound nets to catch the fish on the way to their spawning grounds.
Salmon canning is one of the major industries of the American Pacific coast.
To mitigate the decimation of wild salmon runs caused by construction of
dams and overfishing, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service yearly deposits
billions of salmon eggs and young, propagated in nurseries, into natural
breeding grounds and constructs fish ladders for the upstream journey of
mature salmon. However, hatchery-raised salmon have aggressive feeding
habits-that is, they spend most of their time at the water's surface looking
for food unlike the wild salmon that spend most of their time in deep water
or under cover. As a result, hatchery-raised salmon consume most of the food
wild salmon need to live. At the same time, this aggressive feeding makes
hatchery salmon more vulnerable to predators because they stay near the surface.
Hatchery salmon usually have less genetic diversity (see Genetics: Genes
in Populations) than wild salmon, which can lead to lowered resistance to
disease and other environmental hazards. The annual harvest of wild and
farm-raised salmon in the United States averages about 478,000 metric tons,
of which about 60 percent is canned.
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The true salmon, the largest members of the salmon family, are
characterized by tasty flesh that is often orange-red. The common salmon
of the North Atlantic Ocean that is sent to market averages about 7 kg (about
15 lb) in weight, but specimens weighing more than 45 kg (more than 100 lb)
have been caught. The Atlantic salmon migrates to cold, fresh water in late
spring or early summer, swimming upstream at an average rate of up to 6.4
km (4 mi) per day. Because salmon can jump as much as 3.7 m (12 ft) out of
water, they clear most obstacles in their path. The female lays as many as
20,000 eggs in October or November, after which time the adult salmon float
downstream and return to the sea.
Unlike the various species of Pacific salmon, the Atlantic salmon
does not die after its first spawning but returns year after year to its
breeding place. The newly hatched young, which are known as parrs or brandlings
because of the dark transverse markings on their sides, remain in fresh water
for about two years. At this time, the young, which are known as smolts and
which have become silvery in color, descend to the sea. Upon the first return
of the Atlantic salmon to its spawning ground, the fish is known as a grilse.
After spawning, it is known as a kelt.
Several subspecies of the Atlantic salmon live in the lakes of
the northern United States without ever descending to sea; such salmon are
known as landlocked salmon. Landlocked salmon are much smaller than are migrating
salmon, attaining a maximum weight of about 35 pounds. The two most important
landlocked populations of the Atlantic salmon are the Sebago salmon, found
from New Hampshire to New Brunswick, and the ouananiche, of Lac Saint-Jean,