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Sockeye Salmon - Red Salmon

Kashmira Lad
The sockeye salmon is one of the anadromous species of salmon that is found in the Pacific Ocean. Here's more about this species, its habitat and lifestyle.
The sockeye salmon is found in the Pacific Ocean, and is also known scientifically as the Oncorhynchus nerka, and more commonly known as the red salmon, blueback, silver trout, and kokanee. The name kokanee is derived for this species when it occurs in the landlocked bodies of water.


The sockeye salmon is greenish-blue with fine black speckling on the back, with an elongated torpedo-shaped body. With a bluntly pointed snout, the red salmon actually changes coloration when it is in its course of migration.
This happens when it goes from the saltwater to freshwater in the preparation of spawning. Spawning males often have green heads, which are pale in appearance, and dark jaws with pale undersides. The bodies are bright red in color. This is the case when it passes through freshwater.
The spawning females look almost the same, except for the fact that they have subdued coloration. The length can be as long as 84 centimeters (33 inches). These also have long gill rakers, which are located just behind the head.

Life Cycle

These fish spends at least 1 - 2 years in the freshwater. These are found spawning on the shores of the same lake where they spend their earlier years. The early years may see them spending at least a few months to a couple of years in the lake.
Once the journey begins downstream, it progresses steadily toward the ocean. They spend from 1 to 2 years offshore, and then return to spend at least 1 to 8 months in the lake, prior to spawning.


  • In the females, the colors are not as bright as the males, but there is a hint of red above the lateral line.
  • In the males, the sides and the back are bright red to dirty red-gray in color, and the head is bright to olive green. The tail is often green in color, or black.
  • There are no distinct spots on the tail fin.
  • The male salmon has a large dorsal hump.
  • The spawn timing: Early August - late December

Habitat and Ecology

During their life cycle, they mainly rely on stream, lake, and estuarine habitat, and even offshore waters. They feed on small planktonic organisms and also a variety of insects. These fish are known to lay their eggs in fine gravel. They also need a good flow of cool water for their existence.
Once they emerge from the eggs, they move either upstream or downstream into an estuary. The young ones spend at least 1 month in the shore-side zone, and then move out into the lake waters. From here, they migrate into the sea.
It is when they spend their time in the lake that they are more vulnerable to the bad quality of water that occurs due to human interference. Humans are particularly responsible for the pollution of the water, and the inadequate water flow in rivers and streams caused by water diversions for irrigation, etc.


The sockeye salmon is a very important economical resource to fishermen. This is also the third-most abundant salmon species, but is now listed under the US endangered species with the National Marine Fisheries Service. These are also a valuable recreational resource.
The landlocked kokanee is considered to be an important freshwater sport fish all through the west coast. Perhaps the maximum participation occurs during the return to the Russian River, which is on the Kenai Peninsula. Some of the other popular areas include the Kasilof River and the various river systems within the Bristol Bay.
The Bristol Bay witnesses the largest harvest of the sockeye salmon. This area of Southwestern Alaska is home to more than 30 million of these species. There is a restriction on commercial vehicles being allowed by the commercial Pacific salmon fisheries in Alaska. They are often harvested with the use of gillnets or with the help of purse seines.
Today, they are also the most preferred species for canning. This is because of its rich orange-reddish color of the flesh.
More than half of the red salmon are sold frozen, rather than canned. They are primarily marketed in the United Kingdom and the United States.