AskDefine | Define salmon

Dictionary Definition



1 any of various large food and game fishes of northern waters; usually migrate from salt to fresh water to spawn
2 a tributary of the Snake River in Idaho [syn: Salmon River]
3 flesh of any of various marine or freshwater fish of the family Salmonidae

User Contributed Dictionary



  • , /ˈsæmən/, /"s

Extensive Definition

Salmon is the common name for several species of Fish of the family Salmonidae. Several other fish in the family are called trout. Salmon live in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Great Lakes and other land locked lakes.
Typically, salmon are anadromous: they are born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. Folklore has it that the fish return to the exact spot where they were born to spawn.
In Alaska, the crossing-over to other streams allows salmon to populate new streams, such as those that emerge as a glacier retreats. The precise method salmon use to navigate has not been entirely established, though their keen sense of smell is involved. In all species of Pacific salmon, the mature individuals die within a few days or weeks of spawning, a trait known as semelparity. However, even in those species of salmon that may survive to spawn more than once (iteroparity), post-spawning mortality is quite high (perhaps as high as 40 to 50%.)
The salmon has long been at the heart of the culture and livelihood of coastal dwellers. Most peoples of the Northern Pacific shore had a ceremony to honor the first return of the year. For many centuries, people caught salmon as they swam upriver to spawn. A famous spearfishing site on the Columbia River at Celilo Falls was inundated after great dams were built on the river. The Ainu, of northern Japan, taught dogs how to catch salmon as they returned to their breeding grounds en masse. Now, salmon are caught in bays and near shore.
Salmon population levels are of concern in the Atlantic and in some parts of the Pacific but in Alaska stocks are still abundant. Fish farming is outlawed and the State of Alaska's fisheries management system is viewed as the global leader in the management of wild, sustainable fish stocks. The most important Alaska Salmon wild sustainable fisheries are located near the Kenai River, Copper River, and in Bristol Bay. In Canada, the Skeena River wild salmon returning which support commercial fisheries, aboriginal food fisheries, sports fisheries and the area's diverse wildlife on the coast and around communities hundreds of miles inland in the watershed. The Columbia River salmon population is now less than 3% of what it was when Lewis and Clark arrived at the river.
Both Atlantic and Pacific Salmon are important to recreational fishing around the world.

Life cycle

In order to lay her roe, the female salmon uses her tail fin to excavate a shallow depression, called a redd. The redd may sometimes contain 5,000 eggs covering . The eggs usually range from orange to red in color. One or more males will approach the female in her redd, depositing his sperm, or milt, over the roe. The female then covers the eggs by disturbing the gravel at the upstream edge of the depression before moving on to make another redd. The female will make as many as 7 redds before her supply of eggs is exhausted. The salmon then die within a few days of spawning. The smolt body chemistry changes, allowing them to live in salt water. Smolts spend a portion of their out-migration time in brackish water, where their body chemistry becomes accustomed to osmoregulation in the ocean.
The salmon spend about one to five years (depending on the species) in the open ocean where they will become sexually mature. The adult salmon returns primarily to its natal stream to spawn. When fish return for the first time they are called whitling in the UK and grilse or peel in Ireland. Prior to spawning, depending on the species, the salmon undergoes changes. They may grow a hump, develop canine teeth, develop a kype (a pronounced curvature of the jaws in male salmon). All will change from the silvery blue of a fresh run fish from the sea to a darker color. Condition tends to deteriorate the longer the fish remain in freshwater, and they then deteriorate further after they spawn becoming known as kelts. Salmon can make amazing journeys, sometimes moving hundreds of miles upstream against strong currents and rapids to reproduce. Chinook and sockeye salmon from central Idaho, for example, travel over and climb nearly from the Pacific ocean as they return to spawn.
Each year, the fish experiences a period of rapid growth, often in summer, and one of slower growth, normally in winter. This results in rings (annuli) analogous to the growth rings visible in a tree trunk. Freshwater growth shows as densely crowded rings, sea growth as widely spaced rings; spawning is marked by significant erosion as body mass is converted into eggs and milt.
Freshwater streams and estuaries provide important habitat for many salmon species. They feed on terrestrial and aquatic insects, amphipods, and other crustaceans while young, and primarily on other fish when older. Eggs are laid in deeper water with larger gravel, and need cool water and good water flow (to supply oxygen) to the developing embryos. Mortality of salmon in the early life stages is usually high due to natural predation and human induced changes in habitat, such as siltation, high water temperatures, low oxygen conditions, loss of stream cover, and reductions in river flow. Estuaries and their associated wetlands provide vital nursery areas for the salmon prior to their departure to the open ocean. Wetlands not only help buffer the estuary from silt and pollutants, but also provide important feeding and hiding areas. The salmon is eaten almost everywhere in the world.

Salmon as food

Salmon is a popular food. Consuming salmon is considered to be reasonably healthy due to the fish's high protein, high Omega-3 fatty acids, and high vitamin D content. Salmon is also a source of cholesterol, ranging 23–214 mg/100g depending on the species. According to reports in the journal Science, however, farmed salmon may contain high levels of dioxins. PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) levels may be up to eight times higher in farmed salmon than in wild salmon. Omega-3 content may also be lower than in wild caught individuals, and in a different proportion to what is found naturally. Omega 3 comes in three types, ALA, DHA and EPA; wild salmon has traditionally been an important source of DHA and EPA, which are important for brain function and structure, among other things. This means that if the farmed salmon is fed on a meal which is partially grain then the amount of Omega 3 it contains will be present as ALA (Linoleic acid). The body can itself convert ALA Omega 3 into DHA and EPA, but at a very inefficient rate (2–15%). Nonetheless, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the benefits of eating even farmed salmon still outweigh any risks imposed by contaminants Type of Omega 3 present may not be a factor for other important health functions. A simple rule of thumb is that the vast majority of Atlantic salmon available on the world market are farmed (greater than 99%), whereas the majority of Pacific salmon are wild-caught (greater than 80%). Farmed salmon outnumber wild salmon 85 to 1.
Salmon flesh is generally orange to red in colour, although there are some examples of white fleshed wild salmon. The natural colour of salmon results from carotenoid pigments, largely astaxanthin (E161j), in the flesh. Wild salmon get these carotenoids from eating krill and other tiny shellfish. Because consumers have shown a reluctance to purchase white fleshed salmon, astaxanthin, and very minutely canthaxanthin (E161g)), are added as artificial colorants to the feed of farmed salmon because prepared diets do not naturally contain these pigments. In most cases the astaxanthin is made chemically; alternatively it is extracted from shrimp flour. Another possibility is the use of dried red yeast, which provides the same pigment. However, synthetic mixtures are the least expensive option. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant that stimulates the development of healthy fish nervous systems and that enhances the fish's fertility and growth rate. Research has revealed canthaxanthin may have negative effects on the human eye, accumulating in the retina at high levels of consumption. It is reported that wild salmon on the west coast of Canada are being driven to extinction by sea lice from nearby salmon farms.
  • Overfishing in general but especially commercial netting in the Faroes and Greenland.
  • Ocean and river warming which can delay spawning and accelerate transition to smolting.
  • Ulcerative dermal necrosis (UDN) infections of the 1970s and 1980s which severely affected adult salmon in freshwater rivers.
  • Loss of suitable freshwater habitat, especially degradation of stream pools and reduction of suitable material for the excavation of redds. Historically stream pools were, to a large extent, created by beavers. With the extirpation of the beaver, the nurturing function of these ponds was lost.
  • Reduction of the retention of the nutrients brought by the returning adult salmon in stream pools. Without stream pools, dead adult salmon tend to be washed straight back down the streams and rivers.
  • The construction of dams, weirs, barriers and other "flood prevention" measures, which bring severe adverse impacts to river habitat and on the accessibility of those habitats to salmon. This is particularly true in the northwest USA, where large numbers of dams have been built in many river systems, including over 400 in the Columbia River Basin.
  • Loss of invertebrate diversity and population density in rivers because of modern farming methods and various sources of pollution, thus reducing food availability.
  • Reduction in freshwater base flow in rivers and disruption of seasonal flows, because of diversions and extractions, hydroelectric power generation, irrigation schemes, and slackwater reservoirs, which inhibit normal migratory processes and increase predation for salmon.
There are efforts to relieve this situation. As such, several governments and NGOs are sharing in research and habitat restoration efforts.

Salmon and beavers

Beavers' ponds may provide critical habitat for juvenile salmon. An example of this was seen in the years following 1818 in the Columbia River Basin. In 1818, the British government made an agreement with the U.S. government to allow U.S. citizens access to the Columbia catchment (see Treaty of 1818). At the time, the Hudson's Bay Company sent word to trappers to extirpate all furbearers from the area in an effort to make the area less attractive. In response to the elimination of beavers from large parts of the river system, salmon runs plummeted, even in the absence of many of the factors usually associated with the demise of salmon runs. Salmon recruitment can be effected by beavers' dams because dams can:
  • Slow the rate at which nutrients are flushed from the system; nutrients provided by adult salmon dying throughout the fall and winter remain available in the spring to newly-hatched juveniles
  • Provide deeper water pools where young salmon can avoid avian predators
  • Increase productivity through photosynthesis and by enhancing the conversion efficiency of the cellulose-powered detritus cycle
  • Create low-energy environments where juvenile salmon put the food they ingest into growth rather than into fighting currents
  • Increase structural complexity with many physical niches where salmon can avoid predators
Beavers' dams are able to nurture salmon juveniles in Estuarine tidal marshes where the salinity is less than 10ppm. Beavers build small dams of generally less than high in channels in the Myrtle zone. These dams can be overtopped at high tide and hold water at low tide. This provides refuges for juvenile salmon so they don't have to swim into large channels where they are subject to predation.


Salmon aquaculture is the major economic contributor to the world production of farmed fin-fish, representing over $1 billion US annually. Other commonly cultured fish species include: tilapia, catfish, sea bass, carp, bream, and trout. Salmon farming is very big in Chile, Norway, Scotland, Canada and the Faroe Islands, and is the source for most salmon consumed in America and Europe. Atlantic salmon are also, in very small volumes, farmed in Russia, Tasmania, Australia. Salmon are carnivorous and are currently fed a meal produced from catching other wild fish and other marine organisms. Consequently, as the number of farmed salmon increase, so does the demand for other fish to feed the salmon. Work continues on substituting vegetable proteins for animal proteins in the salmon diet. Unfortunately though, this substitution results in lower levels of the highly valued Omega-3 content in the farmed product. Intensive salmon farming now uses open net cages which have low production costs but have the drawback of allowing disease and sea lice to spread to local wild salmon stocks.
On a dry-dry basis, it takes 2-4 kg of wild caught fish to produce one kg of salmon. Salmon farms (feed lots actually, as there is no farming involved) introduce levels of untreated sewage into the ocean that has already been outlawed for sea side communities. This detritus is thought to contribute to toxic algal blooms and also has negative affects on local benthic communities.
Another form of salmon production, which is safer but less controllable, is to raise salmon in hatcheries until they are old enough to become independent. They are then released into rivers, often in an attempt to increase the salmon population. This practice was very common in countries like Sweden before the Norwegians developed salmon farming, but is seldom done by private companies, as anyone may catch the salmon when they return to spawn, limiting a company's chances of benefiting financially from their investment. Because of this, the method has mainly been used by various public authorities as a way of artificially increasing salmon populations in situations where they have declined due to overharvest, construction of dams, and habitat destruction or disruption. Unfortunately, there can be negative consequences to this sort of population manipulation, including genetic "dilution" of the wild stocks, and many jurisdictions are now beginning to discourage supplemental fish planting in favour of harvest controls and habitat improvement and protection. A variant method of fish stocking, called ocean ranching, is under development in Alaska. There, the young salmon are released into the ocean far from any wild salmon streams. When it is time for them to spawn, they return to where they were released where fishermen can then catch them. An alternative method to hatcheries is to use spawning channels. These are artificial streams, usually parallel to an existing stream with cement or rip-rap sides and gravel bottoms. Water from the adjacent stream is piped into the top of the channel, sometimes via a header pond to settle out sediment. Spawning success is often much better in channels than in adjacent streams due to the control of floods which in some years can wash out the natural redds. Because of the lack of floods, spawning channels must sometimes be cleaned out to remove accumulated sediment. The same floods which destroy natural redds also clean them out. Spawning channels preserve the natural selection of natural streams as there is no temptation, as in hatcheries, to use propholactic chemicals to control diseases.
Farm raised salmon are fed the dye astaxanthin (3,3'-hydroxy-β,β-carotene-4,4'-dione), a carotenoid pigment, so that their flesh color matches wild salmon.

Diseases and parasites affecting wild salmon

According to Canadian biologist Dr. Dorothy Kieser, protozoan parasite Henneguya salminicola is commonly found in the flesh of salmonids. It has been recorded in the field samples of salmon returning to Queen Charlotte Island streams. The fish responds by walling off the parasitic infection into a number of cysts that contain milky fluid. This fluid is an accumulation of a large number of parasites.
Henneguya and other parasites in the myxosporean group have a complex lifecycle where the salmon is one of two hosts. The fish releases the spores after spawning. In the Henneguya case, the spores enter a second host, most likely an invertebrate, in the spawning stream. When juvenile salmon out-migrate to the Pacific Ocean, the second host releases a stage infective to salmon. The parasite is then carried in the salmon until the next spawning cycle. The myxosporean parasite that causes whirling disease in trout has a similar lifecycle. However, as opposed to whirling disease, the Henneguya infestation does not appear to cause disease in the host salmon - even heavily infected fish tend to return to spawn successfully.
According to Dr. Kieser, a lot of work on Henneguya salminicola was done by scientists at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo in the mid-1980, in particular, an overview report which states that "the fish that have the longest fresh water residence time as juveniles have the most noticeable infections. Hence in order of prevalence coho are most infected followed by sockeye, chinook, chum and pink." As well, the report says that, at the time the studies were conducted, stocks from the middle and upper reaches of large river systems in British Columbia such as Fraser, Skeena, Nass and from mainland coastal streams in the southern half of B.C. "are more likely to have a low prevalence of infection." The report also states "It should be stressed that Henneguya, economically deleterious though it is, is harmless from the view of public health. It is strictly a fish parasite that cannot live in or affect warm blooded animals, including man".
According to Klaus Schallie, Molluscan Shellfish Program Specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, "Henneguya salminicola is found in southern B.C. also and in all species of salmon. I have previously examined smoked chum salmon sides that were riddled with cysts and some sockeye runs in Barkley Sound (southern B.C., west coast of Vancouver Island) are noted for their high incidence of infestation."
As noted above, the Lepeophtheirus salmonis, a sea louse, causes deadly infestations of farm-grown and wild salmon. On the Pacific coast of Canada, the louse-induced mortality of pink salmon is commonly over 80%.
  • Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) is also known locally as King, Tyee, Spring salmon, Quinnat, Tule, or Blackmouth salmon. Chinook are the largest of all Pacific salmon, frequently exceeding .
  • Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) is known locally as Dog or Calico salmon. This species has the widest geographic range of the Pacific species: south to the Sacramento River in California in the eastern Pacific and the island of Kyūshū in the Sea of Japan in the western Pacific; north to the Mackenzie River in Canada in the east and to the Lena River in Siberia in the west.
  • Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) is also known locally as Silver salmon. This species is found throughout the coastal waters of Alaska and British Columbia and up most clear-running streams and rivers.
  • Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), known as humpies in south east Alaska, are found from northern California and Korea, throughout the northern Pacific, and from the Mackenzie River in Canada to the Lena River in Siberia, usually in shorter coastal streams. It is the smallest of the Pacific species, with an average weight of to .
  • Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is known in the USA as Red salmon. This lake-rearing species is found south as far as the Klamath River in California in the eastern Pacific and northern Hokkaidō Island in Japan in the western Pacific and as far north as Bathurst Inlet in the Canadian Arctic in the east and the Anadyr River in Siberia in the west. Although most adult Pacific salmon feed on small fish, shrimp and squid; sockeye feed on plankton that they filter through gill rakers.
In Norse mythology, when Loki, god of mischief and strife, tricked Hod the blind god into killing Baldr, god of beauty and light, Loki jumped into a river and transformed himself into a salmon in order to escape punishment from the other gods. When they held out a net to trap him he attempted to leap over it but was caught by Thor who grabbed him by the tail with his hand, and this is why the salmon's tail is tapered.
Salmon are central to Native American mythology on the Pacific coast, from the Haida to the Nootka.


External links

Further reading

salmon in Arabic: سلمون
salmon in Bulgarian: Сьомга
salmon in Danish: Laks
salmon in German: Lachse
salmon in Hebrew: סלמון
salmon in Spanish: Salmo (género)
salmon in French: saumon
salmon in Ido: Salmono
salmon in Italian: Salmonidae
salmon in Haitian: Somon
salmon in Lithuanian: Lašišinės
salmon in Dutch: Atlantische zalm
salmon in Japanese: サケ類
salmon in Norwegian: Laks
salmon in Polish: łososiowate
salmon in Portuguese: Salmão
salmon in Russian: Лосось
salmon in Simple English: Salmon
salmon in Finnish: Lohi
salmon in Swedish: Lax
salmon in Vietnamese: Cá hồi
salmon in Turkish: Somon balığı
salmon in Ukrainian: Лосось
salmon in Chinese: 鮭魚

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Loch Ness monster, alevin, benthon, benthos, broad jumper, bucking bronco, buckjumper, cetacean, coral, dolphin, fingerling, fish, flea, frog, fry, game fish, gazelle, goat, grasshopper, grilse, high jumper, hopper, hurdle racer, hurdler, incarnadine, jackrabbit, jumper, jumping bean, jumping jack, kangaroo, kipper, leaper, man-eater, man-eating shark, marine animal, minnow, minny, nekton, panfish, pink, pinkish, pinky, plankton, pole vaulter, porpoise, primrose, rose, rose-colored, rose-hued, rose-red, roseate, rosy, sea monster, sea pig, sea serpent, sea snake, shark, smolt, sponge, stag, sunfisher, timber topper, tropical fish, vaulter, whale
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