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Ask a Foodie: Is Steelhead Trout a Type of Salmon?

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Q. What is steelhead trout? I’ve asked this question from a number of people and have been told that steelhead trout is salmon, or salmon at a young age, or — another species altogether.  — L.F.

Steelhead trout's pink flesh resembles salmon, but it is a different fish.

Steelhead trout’s pink flesh resembles salmon, but it is a different fish.

A. We checked the federal game and fish website, as well as the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. The bottom line is steelhead is a trout, as one would guess from its name.  And steelhead trout are a unique species.

However, the species (Oncorhynchus myskiss) belongs to the same family (Salmonidae) as do all salmon, other trout and chars. So, if someone says the fish is a salmon, that is not correct, but if they say it is from the family Salmonidae, they are correct. Just a little confusing.

Steelhead trout do bear some similarities to some Pacific salmon. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, steelhead are born in freshwater streams where they spend the first one to three years of their lives. Then, they move out to the ocean where they spend another one to four growing seasons. The steelhead then return to their native freshwater streams to spawn.

“Unlike Pacific salmon, steelhead do not necessarily die after spawning and are able to spawn more than once,” says Fish & Wildlife.

Another interesting fact:  While all O. mykiss hatch in gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated rivers and streams, some stay in fresh water all their lives. These fish are called rainbow trout.

Recipe: Grilled Steelhead Trout with Lemon and Herbs

Find a whole lot more information about steelhead trout at these links:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources


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