Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
Pacific salmon is naturally occurring in the North Pacific Ocean, the Bering Sea, the southern Arctic Ocean and surrounding fresh water.

Did you know?

Many salmon are anadromous — this means they live in the saltwater of the ocean but return to freshwater to spawn.

Scientific name: Oncorhynchus (5 Pacific salmon species in North America)
Average weight: 1 kg–18 kg
Average length: 50 cm–90 cm
Average lifespan: 2–5 years
A pair of Pacific salmon swimming in British Columbia

Our changing understanding

The information on Pacific salmon is as vast as the ocean is deep. This, along with the salmon’s huge economic importance to Canada and its tie to many First Nations, is why it has so often been profiled in Canadian Geographic.

Five species in Canada are commonly grouped under the Pacific salmon banner: sockeye, pink, coho, chinook and chum. While these species vary overall, they follow similar life cycles. Salmon habitat in the 1950s was already being damaged due to human encroachment and mining activity, as noted in an article that appeared in the magazine at the time. It goes on to say that fish hatcheries existed as long ago as the late 1800s (the process was known then as artificial hatching) but that at this point, hatcheries were no longer being used in British Columbia to increase the salmon runs.

Over the next few decades, articles focus on the nuts and bolts of the man-made spawning channels that were becoming established in British Columbia. This action was being taken in an effort to nullify the effects of human encroachment, the introduction of Pacific salmon to Lake Ontario — much to the chagrin of biologists and the joy of anglers —and the burgeoning “return to the land” mariculture industry on the West Coast, where family-run businesses were starting to see success in raising salmon.

Reports from the mid-1980s show record numbers of Pacific salmon, possibly due to the infusion of $157.5 million in federal government funds to rebuild salmon stocks. This continued government interest in the vital species is mirrored in the 1990s by local grassroots organizations that were working to reverse the detrimental effect humans have had on salmon spawning grounds through such measures as clearing waterways that had been blocked due to urban sprawl in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.

A war against British Columbia fish farms ensued. There were concerns that the farmed species would escape and harm the wild stock by competing for resources and diluting their genetic purity. As a result, in the mid-1990s, the government banned the start-up of any new fish farms for seven years; this prohibition was lifted in 2002. One of the more recent articles on salmon notes that the discovery of PCBs in farmed fish has consumers steering clear of the salmon section of the grocery store. From canneries in the 1800s to fish farms in the 21st century, salmon are so tied to the diet of a nation and the economy of a country that they're likely to continue to be tied to the headlines — and fish lines — for years to come.