Salmon by Mark Kurlansky

Time for another food book. If I count both its cooked and raw forms, salmon is probably my most frequently eaten meat.

1) Fishery limits are typically based on harvestable surplus.

This is the number of fish that can be harvested and still maintain the population.

2) All salmon belong to the Salmonidae family but not all Salmonidae are salmon.

The taxonomy of fish is very confusing. The two main genera of salmon are Salmo (Atlantic salmon) and Oncorhynchus (Pacific salmon). Salmon are somewhat defined by their anadromous characteristic, as they are born in freshwater, go to the ocean, and return to freshwater to spawn. However, there are trouts that also go to sea and salmon that do not.

3) Salmon gain 95% of their size at sea.

A salmon looks completely different throughout its life. In particular, salmon flesh turns red from its diet during its years in the ocean. After they return to freshwater, they stop eating, and the pigment is transferred to its skin around spawning time.

4) In England, a king’s gap is the leeway built into dams that allows salmon to swim past.

Before reading this book, I had never considered the negative externalities of dams and hydroelectric power.

5) According to legends, the Loch Ness monster was first spotted by a water bailiff called Campbell.

Tangential to salmon, but I cracked up at “water bailiff.”

6) Starting with Taft in 1912, the presentation of the first Penobscot salmon of the year to the president became an annual tradition.

As a sign of the decline of salmon in New England, this tradition has now ended.

7) The 1899 Hokkaido Former Aborgines Protection Act claimed that the Ainu people were assimilated and thus did not have special rights.

I coincidentally just listened to a podcast about this.

8) Chinese migrants started working at canneries on the Columbia River in the early 1870s.

Sometimes I forget about the Chinese Exclusion Act. Learning history makes everything seem a bit less crazy.

9) The construction of the Dalles Dam destroyed Celilo Falls, one of the most important salmon fishing sites for Native Americans in the Northwest.

The Pacific Northwest is beautiful, but its (recent) history is anything but.

10) Salmon farms are often hit with sea lice, which require artificial chemicals to kill.

I never really understood what “farmed” salmon meant. They literally put thousands (millions?) of salmon in cages in the ocean. It’s sad that without salmon farming, I probably wouldn’t be able to eat any salmon.

This book was less of a food book than an ecology book. Through the demise of salmon, the author shows how humans have destroyed nature for our own benefit. I learned a ton about salmon, but all of the new knowledge will just make me feel more guilty the next time I casually defrost a pack of frozen farmed salmon and put it in the oven.

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