U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Emblem U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Salmon of the West
What is a salmon?
Why are salmon in trouble?
Who is in charge?
Voices of the West
Wild/Hatchery: a difference?
Why you should care
What is the FWS doing?
What you can do

What is a salmon?

Salmon - from the journals of Lewis and ClarkSalmon are one of the premier native fish of the Pacific Northwest. They evolved with the region over geologic time. For thousands of years, they have been central to the culture, religion and livelihood of the region's native people.

Salmon are anadromous, meaning they divide their lives between freshwater and the ocean. They are born in freshwater, mature at sea and return to their natal streams to spawn a new generation.

There are five species of Pacific salmon: chinook, chum, sockeye, coho and pink. Each of these salmon species has several runs, each returning to its native stream at its genetically appointed times. Sea-run cutthroat trout and steelhead are also anadromous members of the salmonid family.

The migration of Pacific salmon from ocean feeding grounds to the streams of their birth is a remarkable feat of endurance and homing. Salmon may travel 3,000 miles or more in the ocean leg of migration. It is a long, strenuous and desperate race, with every obstacle taking an enormous toll. Only one out of a thousand salmon may live to return to the stream where it was hatched.

Within salmon runs, there are many races whose physiology and behavior are adapted to conditions in their home rivers. Thus, biologists usually refer to wild salmon stocks (those not raised in hatcheries) by their run (time of return) and race (river of origin): for example, Sacramento River winter chinook, Snake River spring chinook and so on.

Diverse and resilient, these wild salmon are a precious genetic legacy. But much of this legacy already has been lost. The Snake River coho in Idaho, the Wallowa River sockeye in Oregon and an estimated 104 other wild stocks may now be extinct.

Others are close to oblivion.


USFWS Links

Pacific Region Home | USFWS Home Page