"The Yukon chum may taste better than the Yukon king," a participant in the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's salmon comparison workshop reported when Collaborative members were asked to share their takeaways from various breakout sessions.
Chris Keff of Flying Fish and Denby Lloyd of Alaska Resource Consultancy tutored session-goers on the varying life cycles, appearances and flavors of king, sockeye, coho, pink and chum, or keta, salmon.
While the pale-hued, delicate keta - which inevitably suffers because it shares a name with useless fish parts - was a hit with tasters, Lloyd repeatedly drew the group's attention to the coho, which he called the Pacific Northwest's "most under-appreciated" salmon.
Between 2006 and 2011, coho, or silver, salmon accounted for six percent of Alaska's salmon haul, as measured by dollar value. Although the fish is a favorite of sport fishermen because of its fight, the coho's spawning run occurs later in the fall, when weather conditions aren't compatible with commercial fishing.
There's no shortage of coho, Lloyd stressed: "Every route of every stream up there has a juvenile coho defending it," he said. But most of the stock is left unharvested because nobody's yet devised a way to comfortably fish once freezing temperatures and snow return.
"We really have an untapped resource," Lloyd says.
Update: Seafood marketer Jon Rowley e-mails to say the tasters who pronounced a preference for Yukon chum were misguided. "Most chums spawn in short rivers so don't need much oil (energy) to get where they are going," he explains. "Yukon chums have more oil that a lot of king salmon. I've had dozens tested. There is a range, because of the many tributaries, but some are in the 17 to 18 percent range."
That's a higher oil content than many king salmon boast, but Yukon king can beat it, he adds.
"The Yukon kings are in another league with as much as 25 percent," he says. "After getting repeated a few times, some people had the chum eating better than a Yukon king. No way, but it is very, very good."