What is a Salmon?
The Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is an anadromous migratory fish found in the temperate and arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Unlike the Pacific salmon that have complex and varied life histories that vary widely within and between species, the Atlantic Salmon have very similar life histories and are capable of surviving spawning and re-migrate to return again. Pacific salmon migrate from freshwater to the sea at different ages. Pink and Chum Salmon migrate at any time from one week to a month, Chinooks from 12 to 16 months, Coho Salmon from 12 to 24 months and Sockeye from 12 to 36 months.
What does anadromous mean?
The Atlantic salmon is referred to as being anadromous because of its habit of migrating from the sea into fresh waters to spawn. This is the exact opposite of the common eel which leaves fresh waters to spawn in the Sargasso Sea, and is therefore called catadromous.
Is there just one species of salmon?
When we speak of "salmon" we are referring to either Atlantic salmon or Pacific salmon. There is only one species of Atlantic salmon: Salmo salar. There are six species of Pacific salmon: pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), chum (O.keta), chinook (O.tschawytscha), coho (O.kisutch), sockeye (O.nerka) and Masou (O.masou).
Do all Atlantic salmon go to sea?
No. Although most Atlantic salmon spend part of their lives at sea there are some which are non-migratory. In several lakes in eastern North America there is a form known as a land-locked salmon, Salmo salar sebago (Girard), though their access to sea is not barred. The fish is popularly called Ouananiche (Lake St. John) or Sebago salmon (Nova Scotia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and the New England States). In Lake Vänern in Sweden there is a non-migratory form of Atlantic salmon called "blanklax". Land-locked Atlantic salmon also occur in Lake Ladoga in Russia and in Norway in Lake Byglandsfjord. There are also land-locked Atlantic salmon in South Island, New Zealand.
How big can salmon grow?
Atlantic salmon can grow to a very large size and the biggest, which have reached up to around 70lbs (32kg), are usually caught in Norway and Russia. However, some very large fish have been recorded in Scottish rivers. It is generally accepted that the largest one caught on rod and line in the UK was taken by Miss Georgina Ballantyne in the River Tay: it weighed 64lbs (29kg). There is an 1891 report of a monster salmon of 70lbs, also caught in the River Tay, but on this occasion in a net belonging to a Mr. Speedie.
Do Atlantic salmon have a world-wide distribution?
No. Except for the land-locked varieties, they are naturally limited to the waters of countries bordering on the North Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea. The following countries presently have Atlantic salmon, in varying numbers: Canada, Denmark, England and Wales, Faroes, Finland, France, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, United States.
Pacific Salmon nearly always return to spawn in the freshwater areas they were born in. They overcome very hazardous river conditions and swim great distances to reach their place of hatching, most people have seen amazing pictures of salmon and bears in Alasca Rivers. Scientists have also tagged young salmon to plot where they go when they migrate into the Pacific Ocean from the rivers. Some swim many thousands of miles like the tagged Chinook which was recorded having covered 3,500 miles before being recovered swimming back up Salmon River in Idaho, to spawn. The salmon fatten up in the ocean. The record for the largest Pacific Salmon is 126 pounds caught commercially up in Alaska.