Salmon are native to the world’s two biggest oceans and the rivers draining into them. The Atlantic Ocean has only one species

  1. Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

While in the Pacific Ocean there are several species:

  1. pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)
  2. chum (O. keta)
  3. sockeye (O. nerka)
  4. coho (O. kisutch)
  5. chinook (O. tschawytscha)

Known as the ‘King of Fish’, wild salmon has a flesh that is firm, meaty and reddish in colour thanks to the pigment in its natural diet of insects, sand eels, capelin, herring and crustaceans.

The Life Cycle of Atlantic Wild Salmon

Wild Atlantic salmon vary in appearance during their lifetime. Until the early 19th century the life cycle was not understood and documented, and Parr and Smolt were assumed to be different species of fish.

Irish salmon are Atlantic salmon, spending their juvenile phase in rivers before migrating to sea to grow. To complete their life cycle they must return to their river of origin to spawn. Fish with this life cycle are called anadromous.

Spawning

All salmon spawn naturally in freshwater. Spawning typically occurs in the headwater and tributary streams of rivers, though it can happen anywhere in a river if the substrate is suitable. The migration to suitable habitat may commence up to a year before spawning takes place in autumn-winter, salmon ceasing to feed, directing all their energy instead to reproduction.

Usually, the female salmon will excavate a depression in the gravel with her tail, and deposit her eggs into this. The nest measures about 10-30cm/4-12″. Even though the nest is little more than a shallow depression, the salmon removes rocks and debris before she lays between 1,500 and 10,000 bright red fish eggs or roe. The female salmon changes her color during this process and signals her readiness to mate with the male fish that has also migrated back to the stream or river.

The males approach the female as she hovers over her redd and emit their sperm, also known as milt, over the roe. The female fish now uses her dorsal fin to spread some mud and gravel to a depth of several centimeters over the fertilized eggs. The parents then leave the eggs in the nest or “redd”, and there is no further parental care.

Some stay at sea longer and these are the big fish that can weigh up to 43 lbs (our company record) or more. Summer catch rates for fish in the wild are very low, but sufficient to sustain the population if not over harvested. To conserve stocks, Irish Salmon is only fished in June and July each year. We purchase our wild salmon for the year during this season and clean, freeze and store them until we receive orders. They are then smoked and shipped to our customers. See more about our Smoking Process here.

Kelts

Having spawned, the salmon are referred to as “kelts”. Weakened by not having eaten any food since their arrival in freshwater and losing energy in a bid to reproduce successfully they are susceptible to disease and predators. Mortality after spawning can be significant, especially for males but some do survive and commence their epic journey again. In exceptional cases, some Irish salmon are known to have spawned up to three times!