In fall, all Canadian species migrate into rivers and streams to spawn; after courtship, eggs are released, fertilized and then buried in gravel. Both adults die after spawning. In mid-winter the eggs hatch into alevin (a non-feeding larval form). In spring, the young emerge and stay in freshwater streams and lakes from 1 week to 3 years. Most then go to sea for 1-5 years, undertaking a large ocean-feeding migration, although some species have developed land-locked forms (eg, kokanee, a freshwater sockeye). At sea the species attains the following average adult weights: 1-3 kg, pink; 5-7 kg, chum; 3.5-7 kg, coho; 2-4 kg, sockeye; 6-18 kg, chinook (the largest recorded chinook was 56.8 kg). The return migration brings them back to the place of origin, in many cases to the particular gravel bed where they were hatched. Their means of navigation is not fully understood, but it is very effective.
Marine adults have dark blue-black or blue-green backs, some species with black spots on the back, and silver sides and belly. Spawning adults become colourful: golden brown (chinook), spotted brown and green (pink), purple (coho and chum) or bright red with green head (sockeye).
Over the years there have been many attempts to introduce Pacific salmon to other parts of the world. Only a few of these attempts have been successful. Pink salmon have been introduced to Lake Superior and are spreading through the Great Lakes. Coho were planted successfully into Lake Michigan in 1966 and have spread throughout the Great Lakes, where they support an important sport fishery. Kokanee have been transplanted widely throughout North America and New Zealand. In Canada kokanee populations can be found in BC (native and introduced) and Ontario. Attempts to establish chinook outside their range have been made more frequently than for any other species, and populations now exist in the Great Lakes and New Zealand.
Coho and chinook dominate the BC coastal sport fishery and are fished commercially by hook and line, and, to a lesser extent, by gill and seine nets. Sockeye, pink and chum are harvested primarily by commercial net fishermen. In recent years important sport fisheries have developed for these species as well. The numbers of Pacific salmon returning to BC waters varies greatly from year to year and decade to decade with a number of population cycles. For example, many sockeye salmon populations are very abundant every fourth or fifth year. This is seen most dramatically in the Fraser River, where the population in abundant years is many times larger than that of other years. The longer term cycles are less regular and seem to be caused by changes in ocean conditions that affect survival during the feeding migration. These are just beginning to be understood.
Approximately 41.8 million salmon were harvested in 1985 in BC. In 2000 the harvest was only 18.9 million fish. The value of the wild commercial catch has declined greatly due to price reductions caused by worldwide salmon AQUACULTURE. However, the sport fishery has increased in value and the combined sports and commercial catches make the Pacific salmon the most valuable wild animal in Canada.
In 1985 the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the US and Canada was signed and the Pacific Salmon Commission was formed to oversee the management of the 5 species of Pacific salmon. There have been many further treaty discussions, but these have met with difficulty.
Author E.D. LANE and W. PENNELL
Links to Other Sites
An extensive information source about the natural history of acquatic animals found in Canadian waters. From Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Glossary: Fish and Pollution
A glossary of terminology related to fish ecology and pollution. From Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Aquaculture Atlas of Canada
Find out about Canada’s growing aquaculture industry in all ten provinces and in the Yukon. Features profiles of selected species.
Yukon River Panel
Trace the route of the Yukon River through the Yukon and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Learn about salmon natural history and the management of local salmon stocks and fisheries. From the website for the Yukon River Panel.
Pacific Salmon Commission
This website explains the terms of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, a Canada and US agreement involving joint management, research, and enhancement of Pacific salmon stocks on the Pacific Coast. Also features information about various species of Pacific salmon and related research studies.
Survival of Young Salmon
A brief synopsis of research findings concerning factors that affect survival of young Pacific salmon. From the website for Census of Marine Life.
Dr. Ben Koop: Bringing the power of genomics to aquaculture
A brief summary of Dr. Ben Koop's genomics research into the impact of sea lice on salmon raised in aquaculture systems and in the wild. From the University of Victoria.
Glossary: Fishing and Fish Processing
A glossary of terms related to fishing and fish processing. Check the rest of this site for more information on this topic. From the website "In Their Words: The Story of BC Packers."
Gulf of Georgia Cannery
This illustrated Parks Canada website focuses on the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site of Canada.
View an online collection of Paul Nicklen's outstanding nature photographs. Click on each image to access photos of seals, polar bears, whales, walruses, Arctic landscapes, and much more. Note: requires Flash Player.
Fish o' the Future
A review of "Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food," a book that forecasts the future of the fish farming industry. From thetyee.ca.
Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation
The website for Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, an organization which focuses on resource surveys, ecosystem management, restoration of damaged regions, and careful sustainable harvests.
An interview with renowned fish biologist Dr. Joseph Schieser Nelson about issues concerning the regulation of exotic species and the discovery and naming of new fish species. From innovationalberta.com.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...