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King–of-the-Salmon, Oh my!

July 16, 2021

First experience on the hake survey

This is my first time on the hake survey and it’s been a treat to see all the amazing fish and invertebrates that get caught in the net, many of which I have never seen before.  One fish that I’ve always wanted to see is the King-of-the-salmon (Trachipterus altivelis), and we seem to catch a few with every haul.  King-of-the-salmon are quite delicate, so many of the specimens we catch are pretty mangled by the time they come on board.  However, we caught one yesterday that must have become tangled in the net as we were pulling it in and it was in the best condition I’ve seen so far. It still retained the silvery coloring along its entire body, the bright red dorsal fin and red streamer behind the tail were largely intact, and big luminous eyes made the whole fish simply beautiful! This one was roughly 70 cm (28 inches) long, or on the long end of the King-of-the-salmon we’ve caught so far, which range from about 20” to almost 30” long.

The unusual name comes from the Makah Tribe, whose ancestral lands occupy the very northwest tip of what is now Washington State. The Makahs say the King-of-the-salmon lead the salmon back to their spawning grounds every year.  This legend probably originates from the occasional King-of-the-salmon that wash up on beaches in the Pacific Northwest, where beach combers are amazed by their size (up to 6 feet long!) and unusual silver and red coloration.  King-of-the-salmon belong to a taxonomic group called the ribbonfishes (Trachipteridae), which--as their name suggests—have long and compressed bodies, like a piece of ribbon and can get quite large (some species up to 20 ft).  As a group, ribbonfishes are typically found at great depths far from shore. King-of-the-salmon can be found from the surface to 900 m depth and range from Alaska to Chile.  We started this leg at Point Conception, California (just north of Santa Barbara) so it will be interesting to see if we continue to catch King-of-the-salmon as we work our way north.  Can’t wait to see what we catch in the next tow!

Long silver fish laying on metal table
A beautiful 28 inch-long King-of-the-salmon laid out to show its red fins and long, ribbon-like silver body. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Laurie Weitkamp


Silvery head and big eye of the fish
Close up of the King-of-the-salmon’s head and big luminous eye. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Laurie Weitkamp


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Last updated by Northwest Fisheries Science Center on July 23, 2021