Steelhead Trout / Salmon

By: Deborah Reid

Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus

Coastal rainbow trout

If you like Atlantic salmon, we’re sure you’ll like steelhead. It’s one of our top selling fish. A member of the salmonoid family, it genetically bears some resemblance to rainbow trout. They are typically larger, with a torpedo-shaped body. Whole on our counter they have a silvery sheen with speckles and a lateral rainbow stripe, and average 38 cm (15 in.) in length, and weigh a little over 2 kg (5 lbs.). The flesh is orange like salmon, from a diet high in crustaceans. When cooked, the flavour is sweet and mild, like a cross between salmon and trout, and the meat is tender and succulent with medium flakes. A great fish to roast or grill whole for a small dinner party. Dredge fillets in flour and pan-fry in bacon fat or butter and finish with plenty of chopped garlic. A good fish for poaching whole and serving cold with malt or herb mayonnaise or a pungent vinaigrette. Like salmon, it’s high in Omega-3 and protein.

Steelhead and rainbow trout begin life in freshwater streams and rivers along the B.C. coast and are indistinguishable from one another. Research has determined differences in genetics that cause subtle shifts when the fish are between one and three years old. Rainbow trout go on to live their lifespan in lakes and freshwater rivers, while steelhead goes through a process called smoltification and swims for the ocean, following a pattern that resembles the anadromous life cycle of salmon. The physiological changes include body shape and gill structure to allow them to survive in the ocean. After two to four years they return to spawn in the river where they hatched. Unlike salmon, a small percentage of steelhead return to the ocean and will spawn several times more. They feed on a diet of crustaceans, small fish, and squid, and in saltwater grow much faster than rainbow trout, weighing 4.5 to 6 kg (10 to 13 lbs.) or more.

The current state of wild steelhead is critical along the B.C. coast. The population is in crisis because of the degradation to their native habitat from overfishing, hydroelectric projects, and urbanisation that encroaches on wetlands. The most sustainable source for steelhead is farm raised from Lois Lake, north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Because they are solely produced in a freshwater environment, the fish are technically rainbow trout. They’re raised in healthy population densities that eliminate the need for antibiotics. Their feed comes from fish waste that’s a by-product of processing and contains no hormones, GMOs, colourants, or land animal byproducts. They are a zero-waste facility, and all remains go into a high nutrient soil amendment. They are Ocean Wise certified.