After nearly a month in port, local fishermen are once again heading out to sea in search of the highly prized king salmon. Also known as Chinook, it’s a sleek, silver fish that boasts a high oil content, sweet flavor and a deep orange color due to its fat-laden diet of krill, anchovies and squid.
“I think the wild ocean king salmon is the best eating fish,” said Anna Larsen, founder of the Siren Fish Company, a Santa Rosa Community Supported Fishery that delivers fish to 800 active subscribers all over the Bay Area. “And they’re fairly easy to process, because they are 70 percent edible fillet.”
The season opener got off to a slow start in early May and closed in July, reopening Aug. 3 through September.
The king salmon were difficult to find when the season first opened because of lower population due to several years of the drought and climate changes, according to Larsen, who also works in sales and marketing for Santa Rosa’s North Coast Fisheries, a boat-direct seafood purveyor.
“The salmon follow the food, and the food is not in the normal places because of El Niño and the warm blob of water offshore,” she said. “They started finding the fish in Fort Bragg right before the season closed in July.”
So far this month, the kings being landed are “nice grade and good quality, but not a big volume,” said Scott Hockett, owner of Fort Bragg’s Noyo Fish Company.
“When you’re closed for a month, the fish have tails, and they’re gone,” he said. “Most of our fleet left yesterday, and there were guys catching from 0 up to 18 fish.”
Hope remains that prices for the local kings — which were retailing for $26 to $28 a pound in mid-August — will fall to a more reasonable level.
“The prices usually go down and level off as the season progresses,” Larsen said. “Last year, it got under $20 a pound.”
On the up side, the North Coast has enjoyed a relatively cool, windy year so far, which has stirred up the deep, nutrient-filled waters and produced the small crustaceans known as krill that salmon love to eat.
“When the kings come into market and they’ve been feeding on krill, that’s as good as it gets,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association. “The taste can’t be beat.”
Here are hints on how to purchase, cook and preserve this wild treasure, swimming somewhere off the North Coast:
Check for bones: When buying a king salmon, look to make sure there are pin bones, which provide support to the soft flesh. “When you get home, just pull out the pin bones with a pair of tweezer pliers,” Larsen said.
Purchase a whole fish: It’s less money per pound, and you can tell how fresh it is and how it’s been treated by looking at the eyes and the scales. If scales are missing and the eyes are not clear, that means the fish may have been “beaten up,” Larsen said, and the meat may be bruised.
“You can buy a whole salmon and portion and freeze it,” she said. “To learn how to fillet a salmon, just look up a YouTube video. Sharpen your knife and dig in ... you can eat your mistakes.”