From Smolt to Spawn: crash course on a West Coast salmon lifecycle

By: James Crofton

Let me take you on a journey. A seemingly impossible journey that starts in a small backwater stream of the Fraser River. It is late spring and the rivers in BC all begin to swell from snow melt high in the mountains. Far up the Fraser river a small Coho salmon fry is hatching. After one or two years of feeding on small invertebrates—never straying too far from the comforts of her stream—she evolves into a smolt and is ready for the open ocean. A mass exodus ensues with the Coho and her relatives all venture out in search of the best feeding grounds. It is a journey against the odds: killer whales, sea lions, dolphins, and man all compete to catch the nutritious fish. She will be hunted for the rest of her life.

How salmon are able to locate the exact stream from which they left is still somewhat of a mystery, but it is believed they use the earth’s magnetic field as well as a keen sense of smell. Should she survive the arduous pilgrimage, what awaits back at her natal stream is equally grim. Along the riverbank, grizzlies, gray wolves, and other scavengers wait in hungry anticipation while bald eagles circle overhead. Her strong body—developed over several years at sea—is needed now more than ever to swim against the current, jump waterfalls and other obstacles, and evade predators until she is back to where it all began. It is a last-ditch effort of sheer willpower. Of the 2500 eggs laid by her mother, she is one of only a few survivors to spawn and carry on the lineage.

As salmon return to spawn, the waiting predators take their kill far into the forest where decomposing salmon carcasses enrich the soil with nutrients, enabling the growth of the towering canopy overhead. Traces of salmon DNA can even be found in the top needles of conifer trees, many miles from the closest stream and hundreds of miles inland. These animals truly are the life force of the Pacific northwest—a link between forest and sea.

Unfortunately, many salmon runs have seen sharp declines in recent years. Some see only a fraction of their historic return numbers while others no longer see any at all. A myriad of challenges now confront salmon, threatening their future survival in some places. By-catch and overfishing continue to put pressure on the species while the logging of old-growth forests is altering stream habitats and creating impassable barriers. Open-net pen aquaculture presents an additional threat. With so many fish crammed into a small space, disease and lice can spread quickly and have shown to spread to their wild counterparts. As seen at one of Cooke Aquaculture’s sites in Washington State, these pens are also prone to collapse, releasing thousands of farmed salmon into the open ocean where they can outcompete wild salmon for food and space, and even prey upon them.

Now, more than ever, new technologies are needed to provide alternative sources of salmon protein that alleviate pressure on wild stocks without polluting the marine environment. One such solution is moving salmon farms on land. Aquaculture presents us with an enormous opportunity to feed the world while taking pressure off wild populations. However, to fulfill its potential aquaculture must be acted on with sustainability as a pillar to its foundation. We are very proud to be able to offer Sustainable Blue, land-raised Atlantic salmon; a farm only an hour outside of Halifax! They are at the forefront of land-based technology and boast a 100% recirculating salt water aquaculture facility. The fish they yield are nutritious, tasty, and most importantly, do not harm our wild salmon populations. Stay tuned for our next post all about Sustainable Blue!

Know Your Tuna

When you think ‘tuna’, what comes to mind? Likely flakey fish in a can or mom’s tuna salad sandwiches. At Afishionado, we want you to know that tuna are wonderfully diverse. There are 15 different species of tuna. Tuna are truly extraordinary; some species can swim as fast as 75km/hr and migrate thousands of kilometres every year. I once showed a friend a photo of a 700 pound tuna caught off the coast of Nova Scotia and was surprised to hear “THAT’S A TUNA?!, I thought they were small!”. Nope, weights range from 73lbs in Skipjack Tuna 1472lbs in Bluefin. They’re big, bold and beautiful!

Unfortunately, tuna harvested for consumption are often caught unsustainably. One of the most common capture methods is by using a purse seine net, where two boats use a net to encircle an entire group of fish, catching everything in the area. Another method involves floating lines that trail with thousands of baited hooks, also known as longlining. Both of these methods catch massive amounts of fish at once, even fish other than the target species. The non-target species caught in a fishery are called “bycatch”. In the case of tuna fisheries, common bycatch includes other large fish species, like sharks, and sea turtles.

At Afishionado, we only sell tuna caught from healthy stocks by surface trolling, where there is no significant damage to other species or young tuna populations. Catching younger tuna can devastate populations in mass scale fisheries, by removing a generation before they are able to reproduce. We also sell tuna that has been caught as bycatch. Bycatch is an unfortunate reality in many fisheries. However, dealing with tuna caught as bycatch helps us to gain momentum in the industry, so that we can make a larger impact towards increasing the sustainability of fisheries.

If you’re looking for an oppor-tuna-ty for culinary delight, the most commonly consumed species are yellowfin, skipjack, albacore, bigeye and unfortunately, bluefin, which is endangered. Here’s some information to help you get to know each species in more detail:


1. Skipjack Tuna
Katsuwonus pelamis

 

 

 

 

 

Characteristics

  • Live up to 4 years
  • Grow up to 3.5′ long
  • Weigh up to 73lbs

Food Uses

  • Canned

FYI

  • Skipjack are a smaller tuna and is typically canned. So when you’re thinking ‘mom’s tuna sandwiches’, this is your guy!

2. Yellowfin Tuna
Thunnus albacares

 

 

 

 

Characteristics

  • Live up to 7 years
  • Grow up to 6.7′ long
  • Weigh up to 427lbs

Food Uses

  • Steaks
  • Saku Blocks

FYI

  • Yellowfin is one of Afishionados most popular tuna products, sold as steaks (pictured above) and saku blocks.
  • Our Yellowfin comes from ANOVA Seafood and an Indonesian fishery that is part of the Living & Fishing This project was established by ANOVA, in cooperation with NGOs and aims to improve fisheries management. The main objective is to increase the capacity of the fishing communities involved, preserving their traditional livelihood and to keep Yellowfin populations healthy. This yellowfin is caught using a handline. Handline fishing has almost no bycatch and low environmental impact.

3. Albacore Tuna
Thunnus alaunga

Characteristics

  • Live up to 7 years
  • Grow up to 4.3′ long
  • Weigh up to 88lbs

Food Uses

  • Canned
  • Steaks

FYI

  • Albacore is another one of Afishionados most popular tuna products. Our Albacore loins come from Organic Ocean, a West Coast company established by independent fishermen looking to strike a balance between their traditional way of life and fisheries impacts.
  • These tuna are caught off the coast of Haida Gwaii, from healthy, well-managed populations.
  • Albacore has the highest level of Omega-3 fatty acids of all tunas and is considered to have a more delicate and melt-in-the-mouth flavour than other tunas.

4. Bigeye Tuna
Thunnus obesus

Characteristics

  • Live up to 10 years
  • Grow up to 7.5′ long
  • Weigh up to 462lbs

Food Uses

  • Steaks
  • Sushi

FYI

  • Bigeye has similar qualities as Yellowfin and Albacore, but they can grow much larger! Bigeye tuna steaks were featured in a September 2017 Catch of the Week. However, Afishionado only deals with Bigeye tuna caught as bycatch at this time.

5. Bluefin Tuna
Thunnus thynnus

Characteristics

  • Live up to 15 years
  • Grow up to 9.8′ long
  • Weigh up to 1472lbs

Food Uses

  • Sushi

FYI

  • Bluefin tuna are without a doubt, the king of all tunas. They swim the fastest and travel the furthest, and thus are appropriately nicknamed “The Ferraris of the Ocean”
  • Unfortunately, these giants are endangered. Poor fisheries management has led to years of unsustainable quota, causing a significant depletion of stocks. The high value of this fish may contribute to inefficient fisheries management; some are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars!
  • We want you to recognize the beauty of the Bluefin, but please don’t eat them in your sushi!

 

Halifax Oyster Festival September 2017

Hello,

Afishionado Fishmongers is looking for volunteers for the Halifax Oyster Festival to help shuck and schlep. If you are interested in participating we would love to have you. Please feel free to contact us if you have any question or just fill your information below.

Would you like to volunteer with us? E-mail hello@afishionado.ca or choose your suitable session for volunteering to help us shuck!

Friday night session volunteer: click HERE.
Saturday afternoon session volunteer: click HERE.
Saturday night session volunteer: click HERE.

For more information about Halifax Oyster Festival and to buy tickets click HERE.