Wild Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

sockeye salmon

Last updated on August 3rd, 2022 at 10:28 pm

Sockeye salmon, also known as red salmon, blueback salmon, kokanee, or blue-back trout, is the largest species in the Pacific salmon genus Oncorhynchus.

The sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a species of anadromous fish in the salmon family, one of the several species of Pacific salmon. They are commonly referred to as red or blueback salmon (couve-lomba) in British Columbia, and as red or blue salmon in Alaska and western Canada. The fish gets its name from its distinctive deep-red color.

Anadromous salmon (also known as anadromous fish) are fish that hatch in freshwater, migrate to the ocean, then return to their freshwater birthplaces to spawn. While not all species of salmon exhibit anadromy, the term can be broadly applied to any fish which spends its life in saltwater but returns to freshwater to breed and/or die. The life cycle of anadromous fish is characterized by two distinct portions, one marine, and one freshwater.

There are many different types of salmon in the world, but arguably, none are as well-known or sought after as the sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka). The sockeye salmon can be found along the Pacific coast from California to Alaska, though they most commonly reside in British Columbia and Alaska.

Sockeye salmon have been harvested by the First Nations people of North America since prehistoric times, and now their popularity has spread far beyond their native waters, making them one of the most commercially valuable fish species in the world today.

Origin and descriptions

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) inhabit the Northern Pacific Ocean and the rivers that feed it, they are sometimes called red salmon, kokanee salmon, or blueback salmon. Salmon of this variety are mostly red while spawning.

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Sockeye has a silvery blue-grey color in the water. When they return to their mating grounds, the fish’s heads and bodies turn green and red. There are no markings on the back or tail of these fish, but their gill rakers are 30 to 40 inches long and serrated.

Species profile

Wild sockeye salmon nutrition

After pink and chum salmon, they are the third most common species of Pacific salmon. Oncorhynchus is derived from the Greek ὄγκος (onkos) meaning “barb” and ῥύγχος (rhynchos) which means “snout”. Anadromous forms are called nerka in Russian. The name “sockeye” is an anglicization of suk-kegh, which is its name in Halkomelem, the language of the indigenous peoples of the lower Fraser River (one of the many Coast Salish languages spoken in British Columbia). Red fish is called Suk-kegh.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the wild sockeye salmon is Oncorhynchus nerka


Salmon can be found in the Columbia River in the eastern Pacific (although a few have been seen as far south as the 10 Mile River on the Mendocino Coast of California) and the northern Hokkaido Island in the western Pacific.

The species’ range extends from the Canadian Arctic’s Bathurst Inlet to Siberia’s Anadyr River. The farthest inland sockeye salmon population in the United States is situated in Redfish Lake, Idaho, which is almost 1,400 kilometers from the coast by the river and over 2,000 meters above sea level.


Sockeye can grow up to 24-36 inches (61-91 cm) in length, and weigh around 2.3-7 kg (5-15 pounds).


Wild sockeye salmon

There is a preference for large males and females in sexual selection. In order to maximize their breeding chances, males choose females based on their size and readiness to spawn. Females with larger bodies are able to lay larger and more numerous eggs, select better nests, and defend them better, as well as bury eggs deeper and offer better protection.

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Among females, reproductive success is determined by the number of eggs she lays, her size, and the survival rate of the eggs, which is partly determined by nest conditions. Spatial distribution of males depends on reproductive opportunity shifts, physical characteristics of breeding sites, and operational sex ratios (OSRs) of the environment.

Salmon spawn most often in rivers near lakes, and juveniles spend between one and two years in lakes before migrating to the ocean, although some populations migrate directly to the ocean in their first year.

During the adult sockeye’s time in the ocean, it stays there for two or three years before swimming back into freshwater. Over a period of several days, females will spawn in 3–5 redds. It usually takes 6 to 9 weeks for eggs to hatch and the fry to move to the ocean after growing up in lakes.

Subordinate males release their sperm quickly into the redd during spawning.

It is also common for dominant males in nearby redds to do this. The size of the dorsal hump and male social status are positively correlated. A larger female tends to spawn in shallow water, which is preferable to deep water.

Parental care is the responsibility of females. Nest sites are selected, prepared, and defended until they die or are displaced. The males are not involved in any parental care, and they move from one female to another after egg deposition.

Are they aggressive or peaceful?

Male sockeye salmon are very aggressive, especially when it comes to mating. The aggressive behavior of spawning females tends to be directed at intruding females or other nearby spawning females. Intruding or subordinate males may also cause them to be aggressive. Females only engage in aggressive interactions for one or two chases and/or charges

General care information

Wild sockeye salmon

Wild sockeye salmon are actually some of the hardest fish to raise in captivity, so if you’re looking for a steady supply of sockeye salmon for your local sushi joint, you’ll want to keep that in mind. But if you want it for your own consumption, there are a few things you can do to make sure they thrive.

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The first thing is to ensure that their water is clean and pristine, with low levels of contaminants like ammonia and nitrates. The second thing is to make sure they have access to plenty of food—in nature, wild sockeye salmon will eat crustaceans like krill and shrimp as well as small fish like herring and capelin.

Wild sockeye salmon diet

Sockeye salmon have limnetic feeding patterns, which include vertical movement, schooling, diel feeding calendar, and zooplankton prey selection. To minimize predation, they can change their location in the water column, the length of time they feed, and the choice of prey they consume.

In addition, this nonetheless ensures they get enough food to survive. This behavior contributes to the survival, and therefore fitness of salmon. Aggressive feeding behavior may vary according to location and threat of predation.

While in freshwater and during their saltwater phases, the sockeye salmon feed extensively on zooplankton. Shrimps and other small aquatic creatures are also favored food sources. At juvenile stage, they eat insects.

In nature, wild sockeye salmon will eat crustaceans like krill and shrimp as well as small fish like herring and capelin. To mimic these conditions, it might be a good idea to purchase a special kind of food made specifically for wild-caught salmon called feeder goldfish. While feeding them feeder goldfish may seem cruel at first glance, wild-caught sockeye salmon love eating them!


This species of fish can live up to 8 years in their natural habitat.

Wild sockeye salmon nutrition

Wild sockeye salmon nutrition

The flavor of both wild and farmed salmon lies in its oil content, and large quantities of fat are removed during processing to create a leaner product that requires less cooking time.

Wild salmon tend to have higher levels of beneficial fatty acids and lower levels of contaminants than farmed salmon. Farmed salmons are a great source of protein and omega-3s, but wild salmon has health benefits that simply can’t be beaten.

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Wild sockeye salmon is one of these fish, often having a robust orange or pink color, thanks to its rich antioxidant content. Fish such as sockeye salmon also tend to have higher levels of vitamin D, which plays an important role in promoting healthy bones and immune function.

A plate of wild sockeye salmon perfectly cooked has 335 calories. The nutrients present in it are 42 g of protein, 10 mg of calcium, 580 mg of potassium, 1 mg of zinc, 58 mcg of selenium, and 1 mg of iron. It also has vitamins like Vitam D, 1040 IU, 325 IU of Vitamin A, 2.2 gm of Omega-3 (having 463 mg EPA, 144 mg DPA, and 868 mg DHA), 102 mg of Vitamin B complex with chlorine, and 4-5 mg Astaxanthin.

Parasites and diseases

In Alaska, wild sockeye salmon are affected by a variety of parasites and diseases. Parasites include an organism called Pseudoterranova decipiens, which attaches to their gills. Another disease is Redtail syndrome, which can affect juvenile fish before they even reach maturity.

In some cases, it can cause them to swim in very shallow water where they become susceptible to predation from birds such as eagles and ravens. Wild sockeye salmon also face many other dangers on their journey back to spawn, including oil spills and fishing nets. However, they have one advantage over farmed fish: They don’t carry any viruses that could infect humans.