Salmon (European & Pacific) | WWF

Mankind's use of salmon has been dated back to the Palaeolithic period. At one time, it was so common it used as pig-swill! Today, modern fishing methods and commercial salmon farming threaten the survival of wild populations.

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Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka), adults migrating up the Adams River to spawn. B.C. Canada rel= © Michel Roggo / WWF

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Key Facts
Common name
Common Name


Weight 2


Atlantic salmon can grow up to 32kg

Latin name

Scientific Name

Family Salmonidae

Geographic place

Geographic location

North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans

One amazing journey

Typically, salmon are anadromous: they are born in freshwater, migrate to the ocean, then return to freshwater to reproduce (there is a sub species of Atlantic salmon that stays in freshwater lakes). The journey made by those salmon that survive this quest to reproduce is one of nature's greatest triumphs.

The salmon must swim hundreds even thousands of miles, to get back to the stream where they hatched. Whilst many simply do not have enough fat stores to make the trip, others must battle through fishermen's nets, over power dams, up waterfalls and rapids, and struggle past eagles, otters and bears to reach their destination.

Salmon spend between 1 and 7 years out in the ocean, depending on the species. Pacific salmon usually die within a few days or weeks of spawning. Atlantic salmon can make the trip from freshwater to ocean and back a number of times.

Where are the salmon?

Pacific salmon are native to Canada, Russia, and the United States and have been introduced into Japan and Atlantic salmon are native to the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The largest salmon sanctuary in the world is in Kamchatka, Russia.

Food for thought

Salmon is a popular food, and is classified as an oily fish, recommended for a healthy diet.

Fishing and the processing of salmon play a major role in many economies. Whilst overfishing and badly managed fisheries have contributed to the decline of many species of fish, including some salmon populations, the Alaska salmon fishery, which is responsible for around 90% of wild caught salmon in North America, has been MSC certified since 2000.
    © TINRO
Salmon spawning

Priority Species

Salmon is a WWF priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

Video: Grizzly Bears Catching Salmon - Nature's Great Events: The Great Salmon Run - BBC

Why are salmon under threat?

Populations of wild salmon in the Pacific and the Atlantic have been steadily decreasing due to a number of factors. It has been estimated that there has been a 50% worldwide decline in Atlantic salmon over the last 20 years. The main problems are:

Aerial view of an Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) farm in the outer Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, ... 
    © WWF-Canada/Robert Rangeley / WWF
Aerial view of an Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) farm in the outer Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada.
© WWF-Canada/Robert Rangeley / WWF


Aquaculture is an important economic activity in many countries, and can offer a number of benefits to society. However, this rapidly growing industry is associated with a number of serious environmental and social issues, whose consequences have proven disastrous in some areas of the world.

What is WWF doing?

WWF works to protect the oceans and supports the promotion of sustainable fishing and well managed fisheries.

It lobbies the groups responsible for managing the health of the oceans such as the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO). Download report: Wild Atlantic Salmon on the Brink.

It also works to protect and restore the rivers, lakes and streams which form the natural habitat of species such as salmon.

WWF argues for more effective controls of farmed salmon to ensure minimal adverse effects associated with effluent discharges, disease transmission and spread of parasites. Download report: Protecting Wild Atlantic Salmon from Impacts of Salmon Aquaculture.

It has played a key role in the promotion of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC); and has promoted the concept of sustainable seafood to both fisheries, retailers and consumers.

WWF projects:

MSC- certified Alaska salmon on fresh fish counter. 
    © Whole Foods
WWF actively advocates sustainable fishing practices by promoting Marine Stewardship Certification of sustainable fisheries such as the Alaskan salmon fishing industry.
© Whole Foods

Want to know more about how WWF tackles overfishing globally? Find out about WWF´s Smart Fishing Initiative

Find out about WWF´s work on aquaculture. 

How you can help

Ask the question! Always ask for sustainably sourced salmon. Even if it isn't available, demand for sustainable seafood will drive fisheries and retailers towards a sustainable future. Look for MSC certification on salmon and salmon products.

More sustainable shopping tips

An MSC  label on a package of frozen salmon indicates that it is certified sustainable seafood. rel= © WWF / Elma Okic

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Please send us comments about ways that we can improve the content on this page.

Did you know?

  • Salmon return to their native river to spawn with amazing accuracy.
  • Salmon are carried out to sea by the current, tail first, their bodies undergoing complex biological and biochemical changes en route to enable them to survive salt water.
  • How salmon are able to navigate these vast distances is still unknown.

Sockeye (red) salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) jumping Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA.
© Sockeye (red) salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) jumping Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA. © Kevin Schafer / WWF

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