Salmon

 

Salmon is the common name for several species of ray-finned fish in the family Salmonidae. Other fish in the same family include trout, char, grayling and whitefish. Salmon are native to tributaries of the North Atlantic (genus Salmo) and Pacific Ocean (genus Oncorhynchus). Many species of salmon have been introduced into non-native environments such as the Great Lakes of North America and Patagonia in South America. Salmon are intensively farmed in many parts of the world.
Eosalmo driftwoodensis, the oldest known salmon in the fossil record, helps scientists figure how the different species of salmon diverged from a common ancestor. The British Columbia salmon fossil provides evidence that the divergence between Pacific and Atlantic salmon had not yet occurred 40 million years ago. Both the fossil record and analysis of mitochondrial DNA suggest the divergence occurred by 10 to 20 million years ago. This independent evidence from DNA analysis and the fossil record indicate that salmon divergence occurred long before the glaciers (of Quaternary glaciation) began their cycle of advance and retreat.
Salmon eggs are laid in freshwater streams typically at high latitudes. The eggs hatch into alevin or sac fry. The fry quickly develop into parr with camouflaging vertical stripes. The parr stay for six months to three years in their natal stream before becoming smolts, which are distinguished by their bright, silvery colour with scales that are easily rubbed off. Only 10% of all salmon eggs are estimated to survive to this stage.
Each year, the fish experiences a period of rapid growth, often in summer, and one of slower growth, normally in winter. This results in ring formation around an earbone called the otolith (annuli), analogous to the growth rings visible in a tree trunk. Freshwater growth shows as densely crowded rings, sea growth as widely spaced rings; spawning is marked by significant erosion as body mass is converted into eggs and milt.
In the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, salmon are keystone species, supporting wildlife such as birds, bears and otters. The bodies of salmon represent a transfer of nutrients from the ocean, rich in nitrogen, sulfur, carbon and phosphorus, to the forest ecosystem.
It has been discovered that rivers which have seen a decline or disappearance of anadromous lampreys, loss of the lampreys also affects the salmon in a negative way. Like salmon, anadromous lampreys stop feeding and die after spawning, and their decomposing bodies release nutrients into the stream. Also, along with species like rainbow trout and Sacramento sucker, lampreys clean the gravel in the rivers during spawning. Their larvae, called ammocoetes, are filter feeders which contribute to the health of the waters. They are also a food source for the young salmon, and being fattier and oilier, it is assumed predators prefer them over salmon offspring, taking off some of the predation pressure on smolts. Adult lampreys are also the preferred prey of seals and sea lions, which can eat 30 lampreys to every salmon, allowing more adult salmon to enter the rivers to spawn without being eaten by the marine mammals.
Sea lice, particularly Lepeophtheirus salmonis and various Caligus species, including C. clemensi and C. rogercresseyi, can cause deadly infestations of both farm-grown and wild salmon. Sea lice are ectoparasites which feed on mucus, blood, and skin, and migrate and latch onto the skin of wild salmon during free-swimming, planktonic nauplii and copepodid larval stages, which can persist for several days.
Recreational salmon fishing can be a technically demanding kind of sport fishing, not necessarily congenial for beginning fishermen. A conflict exists between commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen for the right to salmon stock resources. Commercial fishing in estuaries and coastal areas is often restricted so enough salmon can return to their natal rivers where they can spawn and be available for sport fishing. On parts of the North American west coast sport salmon fishing completely replaces inshore commercial fishing. In most cases, the commercial value of a salmon can be several times less than the value attributed to the same fish caught by a sport fisherman. This is "a powerful economic argument for allocating stock resources preferentially to sport fishing.