How many species of salmon are there and how large can they get?

There are seven species of Pacific salmon. Five of them occur in North American waters: chinook, coho, chum, sockeye, and pink. Masu and amago salmon occur only in Asia. There is one species of Atlantic salmon.

Chinook/King salmon are the largest salmon and get up to 58 inches (1.5 meters) long and 126 pounds (57.2 kg). Pink salmon are the smallest at up to 30 inches (0.8 meters) long and 12 pounds (5.4 kg), although they average 3 to 5 pounds (1.3-2.3 kg).

Note: Steelhead trout are often listed as an eighth Pacific salmon, but unlike other Pacific salmon, they are capable of repeat spawning and do not die after spawning. It has been suggested that they be grouped with other fish as “Pacific Trout”.

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Where can I find fish consumption advisories for my state?

Most states have set fish (and wildlife) consumption advisories and recommended consumption levels. The state agency responsible for these limits varies. Examples of consumption advisory information can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency's Consumption Advisories website.

How do salmon know where their home is when they return from the ocean?

Salmon come back to the stream where they were 'born' because they 'know' it is a good place to spawn; they won't waste time looking for a stream with good habitat and other salmon. Scientists believe that salmon navigate by using the earth’s magnetic field like a compass. When they find the river they came from, they start using smell to find...

How far do salmon travel?

Salmon first travel from their home stream to the ocean, which can be a distance of hundreds of miles. Once they reach the ocean, they might travel an additional 1,000 miles to reach their feeding grounds.

Why do salmon change color and die after they spawn?

Salmon change color to attract a spawning mate. Pacific salmon use all their energy for returning to their home stream, for making eggs, and digging the nest. Most of them stop eating when they return to freshwater and have no energy left for a return trip to the ocean after spawning. After they die, other animals eat them (but people don't) or...

How long do salmon usually live?

Most salmon species live 2 to 7 years (4 to 5 average). Steelhead trout can live up to about 11 years.

When can salmon be seen migrating to their spawning area?

Most Pacific salmon can be seen migrating from spring though fall, depending on the species. Most adult Atlantic salmon migrate up the rivers of New England beginning in spring and continuing through the fall as well, with the migration peaking in June.

Why do salmon eggs come in different colors?

Salmon eggs (roe) range in color from pale yellowish-orange to dark reddish-orange. The color varies both by species and within species and is determined by water temperature, sediment composition, age, and other factors. The eggs vary in size from the tiny sockeye roe (average ¼ inch or 5.6 mm) to the large chum roe (average almost ½ inch or 8.3...

Why are there so few salmon left?

There are many reasons for the decline in salmon populations. Logging an area around a stream reduces the shade and nutrients available to the stream and increases the amount of silt or dirt in the water, which can choke out developing eggs. Dams cause fish to die from the shock of going through the turbines and from predators that eat the...

Where are salmon most endangered?

Certain populations of sockeye salmon, coho salmon, chinook salmon, and Atlantic salmon are listed as endangered. Sockeye salmon from the Snake River system are probably the most endangered salmon. Coho salmon in the lower Columbia River may already be extinct. Salmon are not endangered worldwide. For example, most populations in Alaska are...

Are salmon endangered worldwide?

No, salmon are not endangered worldwide. For example, most populations in Alaska are healthy. Some populations in the Pacific Northwest are much healthier than others. These healthy populations usually occupy protected habitats such as the Hanford Reach on the Columbia River and streams of Olympic National Park.

What is the largest freshwater fish?

Sturgeon are the largest of the freshwater fish. The beluga sturgeon in Russia is the largest freshwater fish in the world. The white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America. White sturgeon have been reported to reach lengths of 15-20 feet and weights of nearly one ton. The second largest freshwater fish in North America is the...
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Date published: March 13, 2017

Water managers explore new strategies to protect fish in California’s Bay Delta

The water in the Delta arrives primarily from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, supplying water for more than 22 million people. This water source supports California’s trillion-dollar economy—the sixth largest in the world—and its $27 billion agricultural industry.

Date published: June 29, 2016

In Hot Water: Climate Change is Affecting North American Fish

Climate change is already affecting inland fish across North America -- including some fish that are popular with anglers. Scientists are seeing a variety of changes in how inland fish reproduce, grow and where they can live.

Date published: April 20, 2016

Community flood protection may also help endangered salmon to thrive

Building a river setback levee to reduce the risk of flood for a community may also help endangered fish species to thrive, according to the results of a novel computer model reported by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

Date published: January 5, 2015

Endangered Salmon Population Monitored with eDNA for First Time

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Washington State University have discovered that endangered Chinook salmon can be detected accurately from DNA they release into the environment. The results are part of a special issue of the journal Biological Conservation on use of environmental DNA to inform conservation and management of aquatic species.

Date published: August 19, 2009

Wild Atlantic Salmon Found in New York's Salmon River

Scientists recently discovered wild young Atlantic salmon in New York's Salmon River. This is the first time in more than a century that salmon produced naturally in the wild have been found in what was once New York's premier salmon stream. Forty-one wild Atlantic salmon were collected in June and July. All of the salmon were under one year old and ranged in length from about 2 – 2.5 inches.

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Brown bears (Ursus arctos) and Chum (Salmon Oncorhynchus)
December 31, 2017

Brown bears (Ursus arctos) and Chum (Salmon Oncorhynchus)

Bear predation on salmon can be high in many Alaskan rivers.  Brown bears Ursus arctos and Chum Salmon Oncorhynchus keta are managed concurrently in McNeil River State Game Sanctuary by Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game to benefit the salmon, bears, commercial fishers, and provide unparalleled close-up bear viewing and photography opportunities for the public. 

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Chinook Salmon Released into Yukon River, AK
July 7, 2017

Chinook Salmon Released into Yukon River, AK

Chinook salmon released into Yukon River in Alaska, USA.

Kasilof coho salmon with radio tag antenna in it's mouth
March 8, 2017

Radio-tagged Kasilof River coho salmon

Radio tagged coho salmon from the Kasilof River in Alaska

Canada lynx
February 1, 2017

Canada lynx

Bear predation on salmon can be high in many Alaskan rivers.  Brown bears Ursus arctos and Chum Salmon Oncorhynchus keta are managed concurrently in McNeil River State Game Sanctuary by Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game to benefit the salmon, bears, commercial fishers, and provide unparalleled close-up bear viewing and photography opportunities for the public.

Acoustic-tagged juvenile Chinook salmon being released.
July 14, 2016

Acoustic-tagged juvenile Chinook salmon being released

Acoustic-tagged juvenile Chinook salmon being released.

Alaskan sockeye salmon. Courtesy, BLM
June 28, 2016

Sockeye Salmon

Alaskan sockeye salmon. Courtesy, BLM

Image: Releasing a Radio-Tagged Adult Chinook

Releasing a Radio-Tagged Adult Chinook

After gastric tagging the adult Chinook, it was released back into the Klickitat River.