Chef John Howie Talks About PNW’s Famous Salmon Season


It’s the Summer season and the Pacific Northwest’s special time for salmon. We have a wonderful variety of salmon, and spring and summer season is famous for the Chinook salmon. Chinook, or King salmon as it is also called, is high in fat content and rich in omega 3 fatty acids that is extremely good for the heart and bones.

The overall best quality of Chinook is caught in Spring/Summer, and we have a fishery in Washington state that I believe is as good as any fishery in the world for salmon – the Columbia is some of the best fish you will ever taste. It is not a big fishery – mainly line-caught as opposed to netted fishery – so the salmon they catch is not high in volume. But for the first several weeks of Spring and into the summer, this salmon is top-notch quality that I like to carry in my restaurant. As supply is not guaranteed, people have to call the restaurant to make sure the fish is in.

Just few weeks ago I personally greeted the first Copper River King salmon flown down to Seattle, as I hosted the Copper Chef Competition at the Alaska Airlines Air Cargo Terminal. Copper River salmon, which has become the most popular salmon in the world. It is really a great fish, but my recommendation is you eat this fish in the first fews weeks of the season for the best quality. And here is why: the salmon is at its fattiest state during this timeframe. They have spent two years or so, eating their way through the ocean building up the fat content in their bodies. They do this so they will have enough energy to swim up the  river to spawn. When they are finally at the mouth of the Copper River, ready to start their journey, they have stopped eating and therefore at their fattiest state when they are caught. From here on, they start losing their accumulated body mass, and the later in the season they are caught, they less tasty they are. Don’t get me wrong — they are still great fish. But not quite in their peak of flavor as they were in the early weeks of Spring. Never miss a chance to eat Copper River salmon at the very onset of the season – and you’ll surely know when it is time because the salmon’s arrival is advertised in all grocery stores in Washington with great excitement and fanfare.

Now, Copper River is the source of not one but two fabulous varieties of salmon. Besides the Chinook, you also get the Red or Sock-Eye here. Sock-Eye is another fish that is very high in fat content, even though you don’t see it as much throughout the meat because it is smaller in size. In fact, some people actually enjoy the Sock-Eye more than the King salmon because of its uniquely strong, rich flavor.

This fish becomes available at the same time as the Copper River Kings. And then you start to see different fisheries throughout the late Spring and early Summer, including Yukon River, the Nushagak River and a few others as well.

Mostly what happens after that is troll-caught salmon in the Bristol Bay area or off the Washington and Oregon coast. Really high quality salmon, and you get that standard of fish until August.

The Silver, also known as Coho, is another regional salmon we are proud to serve at its peak, this comes a little later in the summer,  you start to see in late June or July. And the Yukon River has actually got a Keta salmon that runs the river that has been pretty good the last few years too.

If you are a salmon lover SPring and summer is the time to get the best quality salmon, and you couldn’t live in a better place than the great Pacific NW where we have access to the best salmon in the world!