Atlantic salmon (
Salmo salar) is a species of ray-finned fish in
the family Salmonidae. It is found in the northern Atlantic Ocean, in
rivers that flow into the north Atlantic and, due to human
introduction, in the north Pacific Ocean.
Atlantic salmon have
long been the target of recreational and commercial fishing, and this,
as well as habitat destruction, has reduced their numbers
significantly; the species is the subject of conservation efforts in
3 Distribution and habitat
6 Life stages
6.2 Saltwater phases
10 Human impact
12 Beaver impact
13.1 England and Wales
13.3 United States
15 Sustainable consumption
16 See also
19 External links
Atlantic salmon was given its scientific binomial name by
zoologist and taxonomist
Carl Linnaeus in 1758. The name,
derives from the
Latin salmo, meaning salmon, and salar, meaning
leaper, according to M. Barton, but more likely meaning "resident
of salt water". Lewis and Short's
(Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1879) translates salar as a kind of trout
from its use in the Idylls of the poet Ausonius (4th century CE).
Later, the differently coloured smolts were found to be the same
Other names used to reference
Atlantic salmon are: bay salmon, black
salmon, caplin-scull salmon, Sebago salmon, silver salmon, fiddler, or
outside salmon. At different points in their maturation and life
cycle, they are known as parr, smolt, grilse, grilt, kelt, slink, and
Atlantic salmon that do not journey to sea are known as
landlocked salmon or ouananiche.
Atlantic salmon are among the largest salmon species
Atlantic salmon are the largest species in their genus, Salmo. After
two years at sea, the fish average 71 to 76 cm (28 to 30 in)
in length and 3.6 to 5.4 kg (7.9 to 11.9 lb) in weight.
But specimens that spend four or more winters feeding at sea can be
much larger. An
Atlantic salmon netted in 1960 in Scotland, in the
estuary of the river Hope, weighed 49.44 kg (109.0 lb), the
heaviest recorded in all available literature. Another netted in 1925
Norway measured 160.65 cm (63.25 in) in length, the
Atlantic salmon on record.
The colouration of young
Atlantic salmon does not resemble the adult
stage. While they live in fresh water, they have blue and red spots.
At maturity, they take on a silver-blue sheen. The easiest way of
identifying them as an adult is by the black spots predominantly above
the lateral line, though the caudal fin is usually unspotted. When
they reproduce, males take on a slight green or red colouration. The
salmon has a fusiform body, and well-developed teeth. All fins, save
the adipose, are bordered with black.
Distribution and habitat
Ocean migration of
Atlantic salmon from the
The distribution of
Atlantic salmon depends on water temperature.
Because of climate change, some of the species' southern populations,
Spain and other warm countries, are growing smaller and are
expected to be extirpated soon. Before human influence, the natural
breeding grounds of
Atlantic salmon were rivers in Europe and the
eastern coast of North America. When North America was settled by
Europeans, eggs were brought on trains to the west coast and
introduced into the rivers there. Other attempts to bring Atlantic
salmon to new settlements were made; e.g. New Zealand. But since there
are no suitable ocean currents on New Zealand, most of these
introductions failed. There is at least one landlocked population of
Atlantic salmon on New Zealand, where the fish never go out to
Young salmon spend one to four years in their natal river. When they
are large enough (c. 15 centimetres (5.9 in)), they smoltify,
changing camouflage from stream-adapted with large, gray spots to
sea-adapted with shiny sides. They also undergo some endocrinological
changes to adapt to osmotic differences between fresh water and
seawater habitat. When smoltification is complete, the parr (young
fish) now begin to swim with the current instead of against it. With
this behavioral change, the fish are now referred to as smolt. When
the smolt reach the sea, they follow sea surface currents and feed on
plankton or fry from other fish species such as herring. During their
time at sea, they can sense the change in the Earth magnetic field
through iron in their lateral line.
When they have had a year of good growth, they will move to the sea
surface currents that transport them back to their natal river. It is
a major misconception that salmon swim thousands of kilometers at sea;
instead they surf through sea surface currents. When they reach their
natal river they find it by smell; only 5% of
Atlantic salmon go up
the wrong river. Thus, the habitat of
Atlantic salmon is the river
where they are born and the sea surface currents that are connected to
that river in a circular path.
Wild salmon disappeared from many rivers during the twentieth century
due to overfishing and habitat change. By 2000, the numbers of
Atlantic salmon had dropped to critically low levels.
Young salmon begin a feeding response within a few days. After the
yolk sac is absorbed by the body, they begin to hunt. Juveniles start
with tiny invertebrates, but as they mature, they may occasionally eat
small fish. During this time, they hunt both in the substrate and in
the current. Some have been known to eat salmon eggs. The most
commonly eaten foods include caddisflies, blackflies, mayflies, and
As adults, the fish feed on much larger food: Arctic squid, sand eels,
amphipods, Arctic shrimp, and sometimes herring, and the fishes' size
Fry and parr have been said to be territorial, but evidence showing
them to guard territories is inconclusive. While they may occasionally
be aggressive towards each other, the social hierarchy is still
unclear. Many have been found to school, especially when leaving the
Atlantic salmon are considered much more aggressive than other
salmon, and are more likely to attack other fish than others. A matter
of concern is where they have become an invasive threat, attacking
native salmon, such as
Chinook salmon and coho salmon.
Life cycle of the Atlantic salmon
See also: Juvenile salmon
Atlantic salmon follow an anadromous fish migration pattern,
in that they undergo their greatest feeding and growth in saltwater;
however, adults return to spawn in native freshwater streams where the
eggs hatch and juveniles grow through several distinct stages.
Atlantic salmon do not require saltwater. Numerous examples of fully
freshwater (i.e., "landlocked") populations of the species exist
throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including a now extinct
population in Lake Ontario, which have been shown in recent studies to
have spent their entire life cycle in watershed of the lake. In
North America, the landlocked strains are frequently known as
The freshwater phases of
Atlantic salmon vary between two and eight
years, according to river location. While the young in southern
rivers, such as those to the English Channel, are only one year old
when they leave, those further north, such as in Scottish rivers, can
be over four years old, and in Ungava Bay, northern Quebec, smolts as
old as eight years have been encountered. The average age
correlates to temperature exceeding 7 °C (45 °F).
The first phase is the alevin stage, when the fish stay in the
breeding ground and use the remaining nutrients in their yolk sacs.
During this developmental stage, their young gills develop and they
become active hunters. Next is the fry stage, where the fish grow and
subsequently leave the breeding ground in search of food. During this
time, they move to areas with higher prey concentration. The final
freshwater stage is when they develop into parr, in which they prepare
for the trek to the Atlantic Ocean.
During these times, the
Atlantic salmon are very susceptible to
predation. Nearly 40% are eaten by trout alone. Other predators
include other fish and birds.. Egg and juvenile
survival is highly dependent on habitat quality as
Atlantic salmon are
sensitive to ecological change.
When parr develop into smolt, they begin the trip to the ocean, which
predominantly happens between March and June. Migration allows
acclimation to the changing salinity. Once ready, young smolt leave,
preferring an ebb tide.
Having left their natal streams, they experience a period of rapid
growth during the one to four years they live in the ocean. Typically,
Atlantic salmon migrate from their home streams to an area on the
continental plate off West Greenland. During this time, they face
predation from humans, seals,
Greenland sharks, skate, cod, and
halibut. Some dolphins have been noticed playing with dead salmon, but
it is still unclear whether they consume them.
Once large enough,
Atlantic salmon change into the grilse phase, when
they become ready to return to the same freshwater tributary they
departed from as smolts. After returning to their natal streams, the
salmon will cease eating altogether prior to spawning. Although
largely unknown, odor – the exact chemical signature of that stream
– may play an important role in how salmon return to the area where
they hatched. Once heavier than about 250 g, the fish no longer
become prey for birds and many fish, although seals do prey upon them.
Grey and common seals commonly eat Atlantic salmon. Survivability to
this stage has been estimated at between 14 and 53%.
Very young fertilized salmon eggs, notice the developing eyes and
Newly hatched alevin feed on their yolk sacs
When the alevin or sac fry have depleted their yolk sac or "lunch
box", they emerge from the gravel habitat of their redd (nest) to look
for food as fry.
The fry become parr, and pick home rocks or plants in the streambed
from which they dart out to capture insect larvae and other passing
When the parr are ready for migration to the ocean, they become smolt
Fish ladder for
Atlantic salmon constructed in the middle of a large
Atlantic salmon breed in the rivers of Western Europe from northern
Portugal north to Norway, Iceland, and Greenland, and the east coast
of North America from
Connecticut in the United States north to
Labrador and Arctic Canada.
The species constructs a nest or "redd" in the gravel bed of a stream.
The female creates a powerful downdraught of water with her tail near
the gravel to excavate a depression. After she and a male fish have
eggs and milt (sperm), respectively, upstream of the depression, the
female again uses her tail, this time to shift gravel to cover the
eggs and milt which have lodged in the depression.
Unlike the various
Pacific salmon species which die after spawning
Atlantic salmon is iteroparous, which means the
fish may recondition themselves and return to the sea to repeat the
migration and spawning pattern several times, although most spawn only
once or twice. Migration and spawning exact an enormous
physiological toll on individuals, such that repeat spawners are the
exception rather than the norm.
Atlantic salmon show high
diversity in age of maturity and may mature as parr, one- to
five-sea-winter fish, and in rare instances, at older sea ages. This
variety of ages can occur in the same population, constituting a
‘bet hedging’ strategy against variation in stream flows. So in a
drought year, some fish of a given age will not return to spawn,
allowing that generation other, wetter years in which to spawn.
When in shared breeding habitats,
Atlantic salmon will hybridize with
brown trout (
Salmo trutta). Hybrids between Atlantic
salmon and brown trout were detected in two of four watersheds studied
in northern Spain. The proportions of hybrids in samples of 'salmon'
ranged from 0 to 7-7% but they were not significantly heterogeneous
among locations, resulting in a mean hybridization rate of 2-3%. This
is the highest rate of natural hybridization so far reported and is
significantly greater than rates observed elsewhere in Europe.
Atlantic salmon marine cages in the Faroe Islands
Salmon in aquaculture
In its natal streams,
Atlantic salmon are considered prized
recreational fish, pursued by fly anglers during its annual runs. At
one time, the species supported an important commercial fishery and a
supplemental food fishery. However, the wild
Atlantic salmon fishery
is commercially dead; after extensive habitat damage and overfishing,
wild fish make up only 0.5% of the
Atlantic salmon available in world
fish markets. The rest are farmed, predominantly from aquaculture in
Norway, Chile, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Faroe Islands,
Tasmania in Australia.
Sport fishing communities, mainly from Iceland
and Scandinavia, have joined in the North Atlantic
Salmon Fund to buy
away commercial quotas in an effort to save the wild species of Salmo
Adult male and female fish are anaesthetised; their eggs and sperm are
"stripped" after the fish are cleaned and cloth dried. Sperm and eggs
are mixed, washed, and placed into freshwater. Adults recover in
flowing, clean, well-aerated water. Some researchers have even
studied cryopreservation of their eggs.
Fry are generally reared in large freshwater tanks for 12 to 20
months. Once the fish have reached the smolt phase, they are taken out
to sea, where they are held for up to two years. During this time, the
fish grow and mature in large cages off the coasts of Canada, the USA,
or parts of Europe.
Generally, cages are made of two nets. Inner nets, which wrap around
the cages, hold the salmon. Outer nets, which are held by floats, keep
Atlantic salmon are known to occasionally escape from cages and
enter the habitat of wild populations. Interbreeding between escaped
farm fish and wild fish decreases genetic diversity and introduces
"the potential to genetically alter native populations, reduce local
adaptation and negatively affect population viability and
On the west coast of the United States and Canada, aquaculturists are
generally under scrutiny to ensure that non-native Atlantic salmon
cannot escape from their open-net pens, however occasional incidents
of escape have been documented. During one incident in 2017, for
example, up to 300,000 potentially invasive
Atlantic salmon escaped a
farm among the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound, Washington.
Despite being the source of considerable controversy, the
likelihood of escaped
Atlantic salmon establishing an invasive
presence in the Pacific Northwest is considered minimal, largely
because a number of 20th century efforts aimed at deliberately
introducing them to the region were ultimately unsuccessful. From
1905 until 1935, for example, in excess of 8.6 million Atlantic salmon
of various life stages (predominantly advanced fry) were intentionally
introduced to more than 60 individual
British Columbia lakes and
streams. Historical records indicate, in a few instances, mature
Atlantic salmon were captured in the Cowichan River; however,
a self-sustaining population never materialized. Similarly
unsuccessful results were realized after deliberate attempts at
introduction by Washington as late as the 1980s. Consequently,
environmental assessments by the US National Marine
(NMFS), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the BC
Environmental Assessment Office have concluded the potential risk of
Atlantic salmon colonization in the Pacific Northwest is low.
Seine fishing for salmon – Wenzel Hollar, 1607–1677
Atlantic salmon were once abundant throughout the North Atlantic.
European fishermen gillnetted for
Atlantic salmon in rivers using
hand-made nets for at least several centuries. Wood and stone
weirs along streams and ponds were used for millennia to harvest
salmon in the rivers of
Maine and New England, and gillnetting was
an early fishing technology in colonial America.
Human activities have heavily damaged salmon populations across their
range. The major impacts were from overfishing and habitat change, and
the new threat from competitive farmed fish.
Salmon decline in Lake
Ontario goes back to the 18th–19th centuries, due to logging and
soil erosion, as well as dam and mill construction. By 1896, the
species was declared extirpated from the lake. When dams were
constructed on the Oswego River, their spawning areas were cut off and
they went extinct locally.
In the 1950s, salmon from rivers in the United States and Canada, as
well as from Europe, were discovered to gather in the sea around
Greenland and the Faroe Islands. A commercial fishing industry was
established, taking salmon using drift nets. After an initial series
of record annual catches, the numbers crashed; between 1979 and 1990,
catches fell from four million to 700,000. Overfishing at sea is
generally considered the primary factor.
Salmon Recreational Fishermen in the Pabos River of
Beginning around 1990, the rates of
Atlantic salmon mortality at sea
more than doubled. In the western Atlantic, fewer than 100,000 of the
important multiple sea-winter salmon were returning. Rivers of the
coast of Maine, southern
New Brunswick and much of mainland Nova
Scotia saw runs drop precipitously, and even disappear. To find out
more about the increased mortality rate, a concerted international
effort has been organized by the North Atlantic
Possibly because of improvements in ocean feeding grounds, returns in
2008 were positive. On the
Penobscot River in Maine, returns were
about 940 in 2007, and by mid-July 2008, the return was 1,938. Similar
stories were reported in rivers from Newfoundland to Quebec. In 2011,
more than 3,100 salmon returned to the Penobscot, the most since 1986,
and nearly 200 ascended the Narraguagus River, up from the low two
digits just a decade before.
Recreational fishing of atlantic salmon is now authorized in almost
every country with a large atlantic salmon population, but it is
subject to many States/Provinces regulations that are designed not to
disturb the continuity of the species. Strict catch limits, catch and
release practices and forced fly fishing are examples of those
Around the North Atlantic, efforts to restore salmon to their native
habitats are underway, with slow progress. Habitat restoration and
protection are key to this process, but issues of excessive harvest
and competition with farmed and escaped salmon are also primary
considerations. In the Great Lakes,
Atlantic salmon have been
introduced successfully, but the percentage of salmon reproducing
naturally is very low. Most are stocked annually.
Atlantic salmon were
native to Lake Ontario, but were extirpated by habitat loss and
overfishing in the late 19th century. The state of New York has since
stocked its adjoining rivers and tributaries, and in many cases does
not allow active fishing.
Historically, the Housatonic River, and its
Naugatuck River tributary,
hosted the southernmost
Atlantic salmon spawning runs in the United
States. However, there are historical accounts as early as
Henry Hudson that
Atlantic salmon once ran up the Hudson
In the early 1990s, Carlson challenged the notion that Atlantic salmon
were prehistorically abundant in New England, when the climate was
warmer as it is now. This idea was based on a paucity of bone data in
archaeological sites relative to other fish species and claimed that
historical observer records were exaggerated. However,
arguments that lack of archaeological bone fragments rule out historic
abundance are more recently disputed because salmon bones are rare at
sites that still have large salmon runs, salmonid bones in general are
poorly recovered relative to other fish species, and that salmon
remains may have been diluted by the large numbers of other anadromous
fishes using northeastern streams. In addition, fish scale
evidence dating to 10,000 years BP places
Atlantic salmon in a coastal
New Jersey pond.
In New England, many efforts are underway to restore salmon to the
region by knocking down obsolete dams and updating others with fish
ladders and other techniques that have proven effective in the West
with Pacific salmon. There is some success thus far, with populations
growing in the Penobscot and
Lake Champlain now
has Atlantic salmon. In Ontario, the Atlantic
Program was started in 2006, and is one of the largest freshwater
conservation programs in North America. It has stocked Lake Ontario
with over 700,000 young Atlantic salmon. Recent documented successes
in the reintroduction of
Atlantic salmon include the following:
In October 2007, salmon were video-recorded running in Toronto's
Humber River by the Old Mill.
A migrating salmon was observed in Ontario's
Credit River in November
As of 2013, there has been some success in establishing Atlantic
salmon in Fish Creek, a tributary of
Oneida Lake in central New
In November 2015, salmon nests were observed in
Connecticut in the
Farmington River, a tributary of the
Connecticut River where Atlantic
salmon had not been observed spawning since "probably the
Revolutionary War". A 45-year, $25 million federal government
effort to restore wild
Atlantic salmon to the
watershed was discontinued in 2012, but now appears to have been
Atlantic salmon still remains a popular fish for human consumption.
It is commonly sold fresh, canned, or frozen.
The decline in anadromous salmonid species over the last two to three
centuries is correlated with the decline in the North American beaver
and European beaver, although some fish and game departments continue
to advocate removal of beaver dams as potential barriers to spawning
runs. Migration of adult
Atlantic salmon may be limited by beaver dams
during periods of low stream flows, but the presence of juvenile Salmo
salar upstream from the dams suggests the dams are penetrated by
parr. Downstream migration of
Atlantic salmon smolts was similarly
unaffected by beaver dams, even in periods of low flows.
In a 2003 study,
Atlantic salmon and sea-run brown trout/sea trout
spawning in the
Numedalslågen River and 51 of its tributaries in
Norway were unhindered by beavers. In a restored,
third-order stream in northern Nova Scotia, beaver dams generally
posed no barrier to
Atlantic salmon migration except in the smallest
upstream reaches in years of low flow where pools were not deep enough
to enable the fish to leap the dam or without a column of water
over-topping the dam for the fish to swim up.
The importance of winter habitat to salmonids afforded by beaver ponds
may be especially important in streams of northerly latitudes without
deep pools where ice cover makes contact with the bottom of shallow
streams. In addition, the up to eight-year-long residence time of
juveniles in freshwater may make beaver-created permanent summer pools
a crucial success factor for
Atlantic salmon populations. In fact,
Atlantic salmon parr in beaver ponds in eastern Canada
showed faster summer growth in length and mass and were in better
condition than parr upstream or downstream from the pond.
The first laws regarding the
Atlantic salmon were started nearly 800
years ago.
England and Wales
Edward I instituted a penalty for collecting salmon during certain
times of the year. His son Edward II continued, regulating the
construction of weirs. Enforcement was overseen by those appointed by
the justices of the peace. Because of confusing laws and the appointed
conservators having little power, most laws were barely enforced.
Based on this, a royal commission was appointed in 1860 to thoroughly
Atlantic salmon and the laws governing the species,
resulting in the 1861
Fisheries Act. The act placed enforcement
of the laws under the Home Office's control, but it was later
transferred to the Board of Trade, and then later to the Board of
Agriculture and Fisheries.
Another act passed in 1865 imposed charges to fish and catch limits.
It also caused the formation of local boards having jurisdiction over
a certain river. The next significant act, passed in 1907, allowed the
board to charge 'duties' to catch other freshwater fish, including
Despite legislation, board effects decreased until, in 1948, the River
Boards Act gave authority of all freshwater fish and the prevention of
pollution to one board per river. In total, it created 32 boards.
In 1974, the 32 boards were reduced to 10 regional water authorities
(RWAs). Although only the Northumbrian, Welsh, northwest and southwest
RWA's had considerable salmon populations, all ten also cared for
trout and freshwater eels.
Fisheries Act was passed in 1975. Among
other things, it regulated fishing licences, seasons, and size limits,
and banned obstructing the salmon's migratory paths.
Scotland to help
Atlantic salmon began in 1318 by
Alexander II. It prohibited certain types of traps in rivers.
During the 15th century, many laws were passed; many regulated fishing
times, and worked to ensure smolts could safely pass downstream. James
III even closed a meal mill because of its history of killing fish
attracted to the wheel. Because the fish were held in such high
regard, poachers were severely punished.
More recent legislation has established commissioners who manage
districts. Furthermore, the
Fisheries Act in
1951 required the Secretary of State be given data about the catches
of salmon and trout to help establish catch limits.
Several populations of
Atlantic salmon are in serious decline, and are
listed as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act
Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Currently, runs of 11 rivers in
Maine are on the list – Kennebec,
Androscoggin, Penobscot, Sheepscot, Ducktrap, Cove Brook, Pleasant,
Narraguagus, Machias, East Machias and Dennys. The
Penobscot River is
the "anchor river" for
Atlantic salmon populations in the US. Returns
in 2008 have been around 2,000, more than double the 2007 return of
Section 9 of the ESA makes it illegal to take an endangered species of
fish or wildlife. The definition of "take" is to "harass, harm,
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to
attempt to engage in any such conduct".
The federal government has prime responsibility for protecting the
Atlantic salmon, but over the last generation, effort has continued to
shift management as much as possible to provincial authorities through
memoranda of understanding, for example. A new
Atlantic salmon policy
is in the works, and in the past three years,[when?] the government
has attempted to pass a new version of the century-old
Federal legislation regarding at-risk populations is weak.[citation
Bay of Fundy
Bay of Fundy
Atlantic salmon runs were declared
endangered in 2000. As of 2008, no recovery plan is in place.
It takes constant pressure from nongovernmental organizations, such as
Salmon Federation, for improvements in management, and
for initiatives to be considered. For example, the technology for
mitigation of acid rain-affected rivers used in
Norway is needed in 54
Nova Scotia rivers. Yet, an initiative of the ASF and the Nova Scotia
Salmon Association raised the funds to get a project in place, in West
In Quebec, the daily catch limit for
Atlantic salmon is one fish over
63 cm (25 in), two fish under 63 cm (25 in) or one
fish over and one under 63 cm (25 in), provided the smaller
fish was the first one caught (a provision designed to prevent an
angler from continuing to fish if a large fish is already in
possession). The annual catch limit is seven
Atlantic salmon of any
In Lake Ontario, the historic populations of
Atlantic salmon became
extinct, and cross-national efforts have been under way to reintroduce
the species, with some areas already having restocked naturally
The North Atlantic
Salmon Conservation Organization is an
international council made up of Canada, the European Union, Iceland,
Norway, the Russian Federation, and the United States, with its
headquarters in Edinburgh. It was established in 1983 to help
Atlantic salmon stocks, through the cooperation between
nations. They work to restore habitat and promote conservation of the
Greenpeace International has added the
Atlantic salmon to its
seafood red list. "The
Greenpeace International seafood red list is a
list of fish that are commonly sold in supermarkets around the world,
and which have a very high risk of being sourced from unsustainable
AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically modified Atlantic salmon
Salmon Federation (ASF)
Salmon as food
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to
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