Unless you are an avid fisherman, identifying salmon by species can be a bit challenging. Having a whole, head-on fish makes the process much easier than trying to identify a salmon from skin-on fillets. Identifying skin-off fillets of salmon can be very difficult as even the color of the flesh can change within species. The video below shows how to identify the following salmon species: Chinook, Sockeye, Coho, Chum, Pink, Atlantic, and newly classified Steelhead.
Atlantic Salmon Identification
Atlantic Salmon have one, or several, large black spots on their gill cover (King, Coho, Sockeye, Chum & Pinks do not have this mark, and Steelhead have many small spots on the head). They have “x” shaped spots along the back mostly above the lateral line, and no spots on the tail which has a small fork shape. The Caudel Peduncle is thick.
Flavor Distinctions: Atlantic Salmon have a milder flavor than wild salmon. The flesh ranges from pink to orange depending upon the amount of pigment added to their feed. The flesh has a medium-firm texture with large flakes and a medium fat content. Compared to wild Salmon, Atalantic fillets resemble Sockeye the most in appearance.
Chinook (King) Salmon Identification
Chinook is the largest of the salmon species with maximum weights reaching over 50 lb with average commercial weights ranging between 11 – 20 lbs. King Salmon have many black round spots along their back and sides above the lateral line. The tail has a moderate fork shape with small black spots on both the upper and lower portion of the tail. They have black gums (hence the nickname “Blackmouth Salmon”), small eyes, and the Caudal Peduncle is narrow in relation to the rest of their body.
Flavor Distinctions: King (Chinook) Salmon is a succulent full-flavored high fat content fish which has large, soft-textured flakes, and the flesh can range from almost white to pink to deep red. The color of the flesh has no bearing upon its flavor. Compared to Sockeye, Chinook has a higher fat content and therefore a more luxurious texture, and its flavor is a little less “wild” or robust. It is like the difference between a fillet mignon and a new york steak…both are equally good, its a matter of personal preference as to which you enjoy more.
Chum Salmon Identification
Chums reach a maximum weight of up to 20 lbs with average commercial weights ranging between 6 – 12 lbs. They are steel-blue in color, have large scales, and may have large black splotches on the body, but no spots like King, Coho or Pinks. Their eye has a large pupil. Their tail has no spots and it has silver streams which radiate from the Caudel Peduncle which is narrow. During spawn, Chum have an olive-green & brown back with vertical bands of redish-purple on its sides, the the tips of the pelvic and anal fins turn white.
Flavor Distinctions: Chum Salmon have light pink to orange colored flesh which is lighter than Chinook, Sockeye and Coho. The textureis more firm and coarse than the other salmon and Chum has a milder flavor.
Coho Salmon Identification
Coho can grow to about 25 lb with average commercial weights ranging between 5 – 12 lbs. Like King Salmon, Coho also have black round spots along their backs above the lateral line, although not as many spots as a King has. On the tail, Coho have round black spots only on the upper half (Kings have spots on the upper and lower portion of the tail). They have white gums with a little black “trim” on the outside. The Caudel Peduncle is thick and there are white streaks on the upper and lower part of the fish where the Caudel Peduncle meets the tail. During spawn, Coho turn red below the lateral line and keep their other distinguishing traits.
Flavor Distinctions: Coho Salmon are medium flavored with medium flakes and moderate fat content. The flesh is lighter than Sockeye and usually lighter than King.
Pink Salmon Identification
Pink Salmon are generally smaller than other salmon species and have a softer, less firm body structure. They reach a maximum weight of up to 15 lbs with average commercial weights being 4 – 8 lbs. They have small scales and black spots (fewer than a King) mostly on their backs but may also have larger black splotches on their sides. They have black oval spots (not round like a King or Coho) on both lobes of the tail. During spawn, Pinks get a large hump on their backs, hence the nickname “Humpy Salmon”.
Sockeye Salmon Identification
Sockeye are blue-green above the lateral line and have no spots on their back or tail. They reach a maximum weight of up to 16 lbs but average commercial weight is 6 – 8 lbs. They have large scales and a narrow Caudel Pedunckle. During spawn, the head is green but the entire body becomes red both above and below the lateral line.
Flavor Distinctions: Sockeye Salmon is a fabulusly full-flavored fish with a high fat content which contributes to its rich flavor. It has a firm-texture with medium sized flakes and flesh which ranges in color from orange to deep red. Compared to Chinook (King) Salmon, Sockeye has a denser, meatier texture and a more intense flavor, while King has a more succulent, tender texture with larger flakes.
Steelhead have recently been reclassified as a salmon species. They can grow to about 40 lbs but average weight ranges between 8 – 11 lbs. They have small spots uniformly scattered on their head, on the body mostly above the lateral line, and both lobes of the tail which is square shaped. Their head is shorter than other salmon species and has a redish/pinkish patch on the gill cover which extends down the lateral line. They have a thick Caudel Peduncle.