Pacific Bounty: Salmon from Sea to Supper

sliver-salmon-fishing“It’s all in your perspective. We’ve never been hungry,” my mother told me.

I’d asked her if we’d been poor when I was growing up. It’s a strange question, but I was born and raised in a town where over 20% of people are living below the poverty level. As a child, you don’t really know that you’re poor, especially when all of your friends’ houses are about the same size and state as the one you live in. Our house was a pieced-together cabin made out of redwood mill-ends. The ceilings were seven feet tall and the doorways even lower. Had we been hobbits this would’ve been cozy; however, my mother was six feet tall and my father towered at six-foot-four.

Are We Poor?

The “are we poor?” question only began to form when someone pointed out how little material wealth our family had. I had an inkling of it when I was younger, but the full extent of the question never really formed for me until I became an adult.

From those days, what I most vividly remember was the food: rich, buttery salmon, sweet dungeness crab, and an abundance of rockfish, abalone, and tuna. One of the many blessings of life on the coast is the ever-abundant supply of seafood. It seemed like every week was a different meal from the sea. I remember every winter my dad would release fresh-caught crabs onto the linoleum floor in the kitchen. I’d squeal, perched barefoot on a chair as they clicked and crawled.


Mom was right. We were never hungry.

We ate like kings.

Salmon blood on my hands--first of the season.

My fishing license here in California cost me $43 this year. The price of a resident license has been steadily increasing and in 2011 the price went up over the $40 mark. Where does this put the cash-strapped person trying to bring home dinner? Well, first off, this can be a darned good place to live if you’re existing on the lower end of the economic scale. I’ll admit that the cost of living in this state can be high, but there’s soil to work, forests to hunt and forage, and a vast ocean to fish. 

The salmon sport limit is two fish per day and runs from April 5th to November 9th. We took advantage of the good weather this week and caught an 18- and a 12-pounder. The recovery rate on a filleted salmon is approximately 50%, depending on the skill of the filleter. This percentage would account for tossing out the head and the carcass (which we did not). Our friend was nice enough to gift us his two carcasses, minus the filets, as well as one head. I chopped out the cheeks to smoke and simmered the heads in a soup. (If you just gagged or cringed while reading this, I pity you: fish head soup is ridiculously delicious).

I can't estimate the total calories we got out of this catch, but I can tell you how many there are in raw salmon. According to the USDA, one pound of raw king salmon is 848 calories, 91.85 grams of protein, and 53.21 grams of fat. Just the filets brought home 12,720 calories and 1,378 grams of protein. If you add the carcasses, heads, and cheeks to those totals, a person can do pretty well in a single day's worth of fishing.

Consider this:

with the 50 pounds of venison I harvested from my fall buck, I put 36,000 calories worth of food in our freezer. In the garden, it would take me about 100 square feet, 100 days, and a prepped bed of soil to grow 100 pounds of potatoes for that same amount of calories. With just four more decent-sized fish, I can bring home that total of 36,000 healthy, delicious, wild-caught calories. Four more fish?—You can bet there will be more salmon than that heading into this household.

I have many friends who (according to the powers that be) qualify as “poor” here in the US. They have low-paying jobs, shop at secondhand stores, have too many kids crammed into too few square feet, and some of them have occasional checks coming from the government.

One such friend told me how happy he was to work on a jobsite where, at the end of his workday, he could pop a pole off the rocks into the water and catch his dinner.

Season to Season

Seasons ebb and flow, and when one fishery comes to a close, soon after another begins. We often get together with our companions and loved ones to share a meal. And while bringing home a bounty of fish is well and good, sharing the wealth with our friends is better still.

We fish. We feast.

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Posted in: Featured, Fishing News

About the Author:

Jennie Alice Lillard was born and raised on the Mendocino coast of northern California, and graduated from Dominican University of California with a degree in writing. Jennie was introduced to fishing by her parents, who both fished commercially. At 8 years old she started tagging along on pheasant hunts, bird dogging for her dad and the other hunters; she has been wingshooting ever since. Jennie is passionate about introducing women to the outdoor sports and activities she loves, and writes articles that highlight the fishing and hunting opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.
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