Oncorhynchus nerka

Oncorhynchus nerka (Walbaum in Artedi, 1792)

Common Names

Blueback salmon (English), Kokanee (English), Red salmon (English), Saumon rouge (French), Sockeye salmon (English), Sockeye salmon or kokanee (English)

Languages: English


Comprehensive Description

The Sockeye or Red Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is native to northeastern Asia and, in North America, Arctic and Pacific drainages from Point Hope, Alaska, to the Sacramento River drainage in California. Landlocked populations are found in Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. This species is relatively common in the northern part of its North American range, but rarer south of the Columbia River drainage. Although it has been widely stocked, most transplant attempts have failed to establish populations. (Page and Burr 1991)

At different periods in the life cycle, Sockeye Salmon are found in the open ocean and, typically, in lakes, which they reach by migrating up coastal streams. Landlocked Sockeye Salmon are known as Kokanee. At sea, these fish are metallic blue and silver, but spawning (breeding) adults are very distinctively colored, turning bright red with a green head. Adults reach a size of around 84 cm in length. (Page and Burr 1991).

Approximately the first half of a Sockeye Salmon's four to six year lifespan is spent in freshwater, while the second half is spent foraging in estuarine and marine waters of the Pacific Ocean. Sockeye Salmon migrate upstream to breed just once, then die. For detailed information on the biology and status of this species, including conservation issues, see this resource from the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.

Author(s): Shapiro, Leo
Rights holder(s): Shapiro, Leo


Page, L. M., & Burr B. M. (1991).  A Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America North of Mexico. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.