Sockeye salmon
Salmon, such as this sockeye, spend years in the ocean
before returning to their home waters to spawn. A newly
launched $4.1 million project aims to make it easier for
scientists to discern populations of salmon from one and
other using the latest genetic techniques.
Source: Thomas Quinn/University of Washington

A sockeye is a sockeye is a sockeye. Agree? One fish, one species, one flippin’ recipe.

Or not. Each individual Nerka return into the thousands of rivers along the Pacific Rim furthers a unique genetic heritage, an unreplicated DNA fingerprint, that spawns a fish unlike any other in the ocean.

Alaskans know this well. Those who desire their red-fleshed protein with a touch of lemon pepper and garlic can hold forth in detail on the differences among salmon.

Slip a chunk of oily Copper River sockeye over the tongue. A slow chew reveals … Fudge. Next fork up some belly meat off a Kenai River red. It’s firm and wholesome, filling. But wait. What about the Coghill River reds that cross Prince William Sound? Or Copper River’s Gulkana, Klutina and Tonsina fish? Or the Tustumena-bound sockeyes swimming the Kasilof?

So many flavors, so few barbecues.

To help all of us Pacific humans keep track of (and conserve) the myriad varieties of our Pacific salmon, a team of scientists at the University of Washington have launched an ambitious project to decipher this wild encyclopedia of DNA and then share the index.

“A $4.1 million effort just launched by UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences aims to help by gathering genetic information for thousands upon thousands of Pacific Rim salmon populations and creating open-access databases for managers, treaty-makers and scientists,” according to a UW online story.

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