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Salmo salar Linnaeus, 1758
Atlantic Salmon
Family: Salmonidae


© Diane Williamson     (Photo ID #10787)


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Source: Distribution map provided by Don McPhail for E-Fauna BC


Atlantic salmon is an introduced species in British Columbia that is native to "the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America, as well as southern Greenland and Iceland." (McPhail 2007). It was introduced to BC via fish farming, and has escaped. It is now reported from at least 78 streams on Vancouver Island and along the south coast, with one report from the north coast, although there are no confirmed self-sustaining runs (McPhail 2007).

This species is similar to native Pacific salmon but may be distinguished by "the number of major rays in the anal fin: 8-12 in Atlantic salmon and 15 or more in Pacific salmon." (McPhail 2007). It is very similar to the native steelhead, but differs in the distribution of spots--this species usually has spots on the gill covers, and lacks spots on the tail (McPhail 2007). Juveniles in freshwater differ from native species by the presence of very long pectoral fins (McPhail 2007).

This species is reared in sea pens along the BC coast.

Species Information

Dorsal spines (total): 3 - 4; Dorsal soft rays (total): 9 - 15; Anal spines: 3 - 4; Anal soft rays: 7 - 11; Vertebrae: 58 - 61. Fusiform body (Ref. 51442). Mouth extends only to area below rear of eye and has well developed teeth (Ref. 51442). Vomerine teeth weak (Ref. 7251). Caudal fin with 19 rays (Ref. 2196). Little scales (Ref. 51442). Adults are blue-green colored with a silvery coating and a few spots in salt water; no spots under lateral line (Ref. 37032, Ref. 51442). During reproduction period, in fresh water, it loses the silvery guanin coat and becomes greenish or reddish brown mottled with red or orange, certainly the males (Ref. 37032, Ref. 51442). Few black spots on body, caudal fin usually unspotted and adipose fin not black bordered. Juveniles have 8 to 12 blue-violet spots on the flanks with little red spots in-between (Ref. 51442). Also Ref. 3137.

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p


Species Biology

Amphihaline species, spending most of its life in freshwater (Ref. 51442). Epipelagic (Ref. 58426) preferring cool temperature (Ref. 37032). Active during the day. Adults inhabit cooler waters with strong to moderate flow (Ref. 44894). Young remain in freshwater for 1 to 6 years, then migrate to the ocean where they remain for 1 to 4 years before returning to freshwater. Maturing individuals are found on the continental plate west of Greenland (Ref. 51442). Adults return to the river of their origin to spawn (Ref. 51442), then return to sea after spawning. Some die after spawning but most survive to spawn on the next spawning cycle. Juveniles feed mainly on aquatic insects (blackflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and chironomids (Ref. 5951)), mollusks, crustaceans and fish; adults at sea feed on squids, shrimps, and fish (Ref. 51442). Larger salmon feed on fishes such as herring, alewives, smelts, capelin, small mackerel, sand lance and small cod (Ref. 5951). Adults in freshwater which are approaching the reproductive stage do not feed (Ref. 30578, Ref. 51442). Growth in freshwater is slow whereas very rapid in the sea. Life history of the salmon can be read from the growth zones in the scales (Ref. 35388). Several lake populations are landlocked

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p


BC Distribution and Notes

The Atlantic salmon. Historically, sporadic attempts were made to introduce Atlantic salmon into B.C. waters. They all failed. This does not mean that Atlantic salmon could never establish viable populations in our coastal rivers. Most of the early introductions involved delicate life-history stages (e.g., eyed eggs and alevins) that suffer high mortalities even in their native waters. Moreover, our native stocks of salmon and trout, especially those with stream-rearing phases in their life histories, were strong. Consequently, the early introductions were made into highly competitive environments. This has all changed in recent years. Now, populations of our native stream-rearing salmonines (especially coho, O. kisutch, Chinook, O. tshawytscha, and steelhead, O. mykiss) are depressed, and many stocks are either endangered or extirpated. Also, millions of Atlantic salmon are now reared in sea pens along our coast, and thousands of juveniles and adults inevitably escape into the wild. Furthermore, there is concrete evidence that some of these escaped fish have successfully spawned in B.C. rivers, and there is evidence of more than one age class of young in some rivers (e.g., the Tsitika River). Still, it is not certain that any of these successful reproductive events have produced self-sustaining populations. Nonetheless, the possibility that Atlantic salmoncould become established on the B.C. coast can no longer be dismissed out of hand. Consequently, it behooves government agencies responsible for the management and conservation of indigenous fishes to seriously examine the potential impacts of Atlantic salmon on native species.

Source: Information provided by Don McPhail for E-Fauna BC.
Global Distribution

Atlantic Ocean: temperate and arctic zones in northern hemisphere (Ref. 51442). In western Atlantic Ocean distributed in coast drainages from northern Quebec in Canada and Connecticut in USA (Ref. 5723) to Argentina (Ref. 9086). In eastern Atlantic Ocean distributed in drainages from the Baltic states to Portugal (Ref. 51442). Landlocked stocks are present in Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway (Ref. 6439) and in North America (Ref. 1998). Appendix III of the Bern Convention (protected fauna; except at sea).

Source: FishBase. Page, L.M. and B.M. Burr 1991 A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 432 p

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
ExoticSNAExoticNot Listed

BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Notes

Further Reading: McPhail, J. D. 2007. The Freshwater Fishes of British Columbia. University of Alberta Press.

Additional Range and Status Information Links