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Freshwater Salmon of North America

Updated on March 14, 2016
a coho (silver) salmon
a coho (silver) salmon

Freshwater Salmon Species

The term freshwater salmon is often used to describe landlocked salmon that exist in lakes of North America.

These include Atlantic salmon as well as non-native Pacific species which have been introduced in lakes of the northeast.

Most freshwater populations of salmon exist in the Great Lakes basin and northeastern North America.

Salmon, like many other members of the salmon, trout, and char family typically breed in freshwater streams, rivers or lakes.

Young salmon spend the first part of their lives in streams or rivers, before heading out to sea where they mature. The life cycle repeats itself when adult salmon return to their home streams to spawn.

Exceptions to this behavior occur when salmon become landlocked; they lack access to reach the open sea. Historically, landlocked populations of salmon existed in several of North America's larger lakes.

Eventually, many native landlocked salmon populations were eradicated by disease, predators, or over-fishing.

Seeking to improve local fisheries, a variety of state and local organizations throughout North America implemented salmon stocking programs in northern lakes. This practice began in the 1800's and continues in some areas at present.

Great Lakes Non-Native Salmon

Chinook, coho, and pink salmon are actually non-native species of Pacific salmon that have been introduced to the Great Lakes.

Chinook salmon have failed to spawn successfully, although both coho and pink salmon have established breeding populations in the region.


Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

Landlocked Atlantic salmon were once abundant found in several large waterways of the northeast.

Like many North American fish species, Atlantics were decimated by overharvesting, habitat loss and other factors.

Present day stocking programs help foster populations of landlocked Atlantic salmon in areas such as Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and others.

Atlantic salmon can be distinguished from non-native species by the presence of black spots on the gill cover.

Kokanee Salmon

The kokanee salmon is a landlocked form of sockeye salmon. Like their ocean-going counterparts, kokanee turn bright red during their breeding season.

Kokanee are often stocked in freshwater impoundments. They are popular sport fish and in some areas. they are a forage species for larger gamefish.

Salmon Stocking Poll

Are you FOR or AGAINST stocking non-native salmon? Stocking non-native salmon species in North American lakes is a controversial issue. Environmentalists claim that non-native salmon threaten native s

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