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One of Hokkaido's most well known fish species nurtured in its rough seas

Salmon has played an important role in the diet of the people of Japan for countless generations. Remnants of major salmon fishing have been excavated in Ishikari City dating back to the Jomon period (some 4,000 years ago). Today, salmon is widely eaten everyday grilled and seasoned with salt, deep fried, in chanchan yaki and in ishikari-nabe hot pot.


Salmon born in the rivers of Hokkaido mature in the nutrient-rich waters of the North Pacific and in the autumn they return to these same rivers to spawn. However, very few salmon actually survive the journey on their own. This is why many juvenile fish are grown at hatcheries set up around Hokkaido. After released, these fish mature after three to five years and return to the river. Hatcheries have been set up at more than 100 locations in Hokkaido and salmon are released at more than 200 places.


Hokkaido accounts for about 80% of Japan’s total salmon catch. During the autumn salmon are fished along nearly every coastline in the prefecture. Areas with particularly large catches include Nemuro, Abashiri and Shiretoko, each along the Okhotsk Sea.


■Map / Main municipalities with fishing grounds

Shari Town, Abashiri City, Nemuro City, Shibetsu Town, Rausu Town, Kitami City, Bekkai Town, Monbetsu City, Esashi Town, Erimo Town, Ishikari City, Hiroo Town, Toyokoro Town, Shinhidaka Town

Salmon have various names depending on the season and location

Salmon (chum salmon) are primarily caught in Japan off Hokkaido and Tohoku. They are also called aki-aji because they return to rivers in the autumn and they are one of the most well known autumn fishes of the northern country. Salmon caught in the Pacific Ocean and Okhotsk Sea from spring to summer are called tokishirazu, salmon that have yet to mature that are caught off the Shiretoko Peninsula in the autumn are called keiji, while similar juvenile salmon caught along the coast of the Okhotsk Sea are called mejika. These are occasionally enjoyed as a delicacy because of their deliciously high fat content.

Salmon Family

  • Chum salmon
    There are many types of salmon and trout eaten today. Chum salmon is generally considered to be salmon, or sake in Japanese. Chum salmon includes tokishirazu, keiji, and mejika, which are names given to salmon categorized by fishing season and location. Of the chum salmon caught during the autumn, those with a light nuptial color and shimmering silver scales are called ginke, while those with a darker nuptial color are called buna.
  • Pink salmon
    Many pink salmon are caught in the Okhotsk Sea and off the coast of Nemuro. They are also called seppari-masu because of a hump males develop on the front of their back during the spawning season. The fishing season is earlier than chum salmon, running from April to September. Pink salmon meat has a perfect amount of fat and is mainly processed into canned foods.
  • Cherry salmon (yamame)
    Cherry salmon are salmon that have matured after traveling down river to the sea (hon-masu). Those that remain in rivers their entire life are called yamame, or yamabe in Hokkaido. The fishing season runs from April to June, with most caught along the coast of the Sea of Japan and Okhotsk Sea. Their meat has a generous fat content and is tightly packed, which makes Cherry salmon ideal for grilling with salt, as meunière, and deep fried. Yamame are grilled with salt and deep fried as tempura.
  • Sockeye salmon (himemasu)
    Sockeye salmon are salmon that have matured after traveling down river to the sea, while salmon that spend their entire lives in a lake are called himemasu. The season mainly runs from May to July. Sockeye salmon meat has a vibrant red color and plenty of fat. It is mainly pickled with salt or made into aramakizake. Himemasu is ideal for grilling with salt or as sashimi.


During the autumn fishing season salmon return to rivers between September and December, with September and October the peak. Salmon caught at sea from spring to summer (April to July) are called tokishirazu.

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Processed Foods

Salmon have been made into various products and have been used as a preserved food for countless generations. Traditional salmon products include pickled in salt, dried in the sea breeze as yamatsuke, aramakizake, sake-toba and izushi. Female roe is also removed to be marinated in soy sauce or salt. Convenient canned salmon and salmon flakes are also popular. In recent years, new products are emerging, such as sake-bushi, made in the same way as katsuo-bushi, and salmon fish sauce.