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What Types of Salmon Are There? (A Complete Guide)

What Types of Salmon Are There? (A Complete Guide)

Salmon are extremely popular game and food fish and I think most of us have either fished for them, eaten them, or at least heard of these amazing fish. But do you actually know how many types of salmon there are out there?

In total, there are six main types of salmon in the world. They include the five Pacific species king, sockeye, chum, coho, and pink salmon, as well as the one Atlantic salmon species. Additionally, there are five more species of salmon that are lesser-known.

Keep reading this article if you want to read up on all of the different salmon species, how they look, where they can be found, and how big they can grow.

PRO TIP: All in all, there are more than 70 species and subspecies of salmon and trout in North America. If you want to read up on all of them, you can do so via this awesome illustrated guide on Amazon. Go check it out!

How Many Types of Salmon Are There?

Salmon have evolved into six main species that include five Pacific and one Atlantic type of salmon. All of these can be found in North American waters and have a very high status as both game and food fish.

Additionally, there are another five types of salmon that cannot be found in North America. Instead, these salmon species belong to Europe and/or Asia.

Here is a quick overview of all the different types of salmon and their distribution:

Type of SalmonDistribution
KingPacific Ocean
CohoPacific Ocean
ChumPacific Ocean
PinkPacific Ocean
SockeyePacific Ocean
AtlanticAtlantic Ocean
HuchenCentral and Eastern Europe
Hucho Taimen Russia
Oncorhynchus masouAsian Pacific Ocean
Salmo obtusirostrisEastern Europe
Salmo labrax Black Sea

Let’s move on and take a closer look at each of these salmon species. Trust me, there are plenty of really interesting facts coming up!

King Salmon

a US angler on a river holding a huge king salmon
Chinook or King Salmon (Courtesy of Chris Blackburn)

Main Features and Appearance

True to its royal name, the Pacific king salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), or chinook salmon, is the mightiest of all the main salmon types!

Not only is it, by far, the heaviest and longest salmon species, but its impressive body coloration, large mouth, big teeth, and impressive strength make it the ultimate gamefish.

Chinooks commonly have dark or darker backs and silvery to whitish sides. They also have black spots on the upper half of their heads, bodies, and their tails.

King salmon are also known to have a dark to black gum line, making them look even more frightening.

DID YOU KNOW: The name chinook is derived from the Chinookan people, which included groups of indigenous people located in the pacific northwest of the United States.

Distribution

Native chinook salmon populations can be found along the North American Pacific west coast from Alaska in the north down to California in the south.

In the western Pacific, king salmon can be found from Japan in the south up to the Arctic Ocean and the East Siberian Sea in the north.

There are also populations of them that inhabit the Great Lakes in the Northern parts of the United States.

World Record

Currently, the world record for king salmon is a massive 97lb 4oz. This giant king salmon was caught in the Alaskan Kenai River in 1985.

Sockeye Salmon

an underwater image of a big sockeye salmon with a bright red body coloration
Sockeye Salmon

Main Features and Appearance

Thanks to its particular body coloration, the Pacific sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is perhaps the most beautiful and impressive looking of all the salmon types.

When in saltwater, their bodies have a blue and/or silver coloration, which is quite beautiful in itself. However, when they enter freshwater to make their way upstream to their spawning grounds, their bodies turn an intense red and their heads turn green.

Another distinct feature of the sockeye is their long, serrated gill rackers that can range from anything to 30 to 40 in number.

Unlike most other salmon types, they also completely lack dark or black spots on their upper body halves or tails.

Distribution

Along the North American Pacific coast, they can be found as far south as the Columbian River and as far up north as the Canadian Arctic.

In the western Pacific, they are commonly found between Japan in the south and Siberia in the north.

DID YOU KNOW: Some sockeye salmon populations are completely cut off from the ocean. These landlocked fish are referred to as kokanee.

World Record

The biggest sockeye salmon ever caught is a fish of 15lb 3oz. This fish was caught in the Alaskan Kenai River by angler Sten Roach back in 1987.

Chum Salmon

an underwater image of a chum salmon migrating to its freshwater spawning grounds
Chum Salmon
Courtesy of Chris Walling (Find his pics on Instagram: @steel_snorkel)

Main Features and Appearance

The Pacific chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) is another really awesome-looking type of salmon! When the fish are about to spawn, some chum salmon’s bodies will look like colorful paintings (as seen in the above picture).

Chum salmon are typically deeper than other salmon species. When the spawning draws near, they will be marked by beautiful purple blotchy streaks on their sides and

Most male chum salmon develop a very distinct kype and their fins become tipped with white.

Another very obvious feature of pre-spawn male chum salmon is their large teeth.

Distribution

In North America, chum salmon are found in British Columbia in Canada and from Alaska down to California in the US.

As this salmon type has the largest natural range of all Pacific salmon species, it can also be found in all of the Asian Pacific ocean. More specifically, they migrate up the Yukon and Amur River and can be found in waters in Korea, Japan, and the Okhotsk, and the Bering Sea.

There are also limited numbers of chum salmon in the Arctic Ocean, from the Laptev Sea to the Beaufort Sea.

World Record

The world’s biggest chum salmon was a fish of 35lb that was caught by angler Todd Johansson in the Edye Pass in British Columbia (Canada).

This record has been held since 1995, but as there have lately been reports of more than a few 30+ pounders, I am pretty sure that there’ll be a new record soon!

Coho Salmon

an underwater picture of a big coho salmon with a hooked nose and a dark red body coloration
Coho Salmon

Main Features and Appearance

The coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) is yet another Pacific salmon type that also develops a reddish body coloration on its way up to its spawning grounds, although not as pronounced as that of the sockeye.

In the ocean, cohos have deep silver flanks and blueish to dark blueish backs, which is why they’re also called silvers or silver salmon by many saltwater fishermen.

Once they enter freshwater, however, their appearance changes quite drastically; their sides will be of a reddish to deep-red color, their heads will turn green or green-blue, and small, dark spots will appear on their backs.

Additionally, male cohos will develop a fairly pronounced kype that can appear extremely hooked and almost take the shape of a beak.

DID YOU KNOW: Both male and female coho salmon can develop a kype in the shape of a hooked nose or upper jaw. A feature that is quite rare within the salmon family!

Distribution

Coho salmon can be found on both sides of the Northern Pacific ocean, pretty much all the way from Japan and Eastern Russia, through the Bering Sea, to Alaska, and down south to Monterey Bay in California.

Cohos have also been successfully introduced in all the Great Lakes, as well as quite a few landlocked reservoirs around the US.

Interestingly, coho salmon have also been spotted and caught in Danish and Norwegian waters back in 2017.

At first, it was believed that these fish had somehow made their way into the Atlantic and European waters, but as there are a few coho salmon farms in Northern Europe, the conclusion was drawn that these fish must simply have escaped their farms.

PRO TIP: If you want to read up on how to successfully fish for salmon in the Great Lakes, then check out this helpful guide on Amazon!

World Record

The current world record coho salmon is a fish of 33lb 2oz. This specimen was caught by angler Jerry Lifton in the Salmon River in New York (USA) in 1989.

Pink Salmon

a pink salmon with a humped back lying on a river bank
Pink Salmon
(by Bering Land Bridge National Preserve – Pink Salmon, CC BY 2.0)

Main Features and Appearance

The Pacific pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) is the world’s smallest and most abundant salmon species. Due to its extreme body shape, this salmon is also called humpback salmon or humpy.

In fact, even its Latin name “gorbuscha”, which is derived from the Russian gorbúša, literally means humpie.

As all other salmon, pink salmon are of a bright silver when they dwell in saltwater. When they swim upstream in freshwater, both their body shape and coloration change.

Their bright silvery bodies change into a fairly dull grey or white and they develop larger oval and dark spots on their backs.

Additionally, their mouths will turn white with dark or black gums, which is a feature the pink salmon has in common with the chinook salmon.

Male humpbacks will also develop an extremely pronounced humped back, which is definitely the pink salmon’s most obvious and well-known feature.

DID YOU KNOW: Pink salmon get their name not from their body color, but the intensely pink color of their flesh.

Distribution

Pink salmon can be found in both the Pacific and Arctic oceans, ranging from the Sacramento River in Northern California to the Mackenzie River in Canada on the North American side and from Siberia to Korea and Japan on the Asian side.

Furthermore, populations of pink salmon have been introduced in the Great Lakes, where they now occur in great numbers.

They have also been introduced into waters in Iran and Russia.

As late as 2017, self-sustaining and spawning populations of pink salmon have also been recorded in both Norway and Scotland.

World Record

The biggest pink salmon ever caught is a fish that weighed 14lb 13oz. It was caught in 2001 in Monroe, Washington (USA) by angler Alexander Minerich.

Atlantic Salmon

an angler on a river holding a beautiful silver Atlantic salmon
Atlantic Salmon (Courtesy of Derek Quinn)

Main Features and Appearance

The Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is the second biggest salmon species and the only one that is found in the Atlantic ocean. It is an extremely popular game and food fish in both North America and Europe.

As young Atlantic salmon can spend a considerable time in running freshwater (between 1 and 8 years), after a time, their body color will adapt to the darker environment of the rivers, often taking on a brownish and/or dark reddish tone.

When leaving the rivers and entering the sea, Atlantic salmon will develop a bright silver body coloration.

Adult fish have black spots on their backs and often also on the upper halves of their gill plates, while their lower flanks and bellies remain silvery or whitish.

Pre-spawn male fish will often have a slight green or red body coloration and can develop a kype.

DID YOU KNOW: Atlantic salmon are the only iteroparous type of salmon, which means that some individuals can actually recover from spawning, swim back to the ocean, and return the following year for another spawning round.

Distribution

Atlantic salmon breed in many rivers of both Europe and the northeastern parts of North America.

In Europe, they can be found from Portugal in the south to Norway, Iceland, and Greenland far up north. In North America, Atlantic salmon are found from Connecticut in the US to northern Labrador and the Arctic regions of northern Canada.

In Europe and Eurasia, there even remain smaller populations of them as far south as Spain and as far north as Russia.

There are also bigger landlocked populations of Atlantic salmon in parts of Maine (USA), Canada, Scandinavia, and Russia.

DID YOU KNOW: There is also a population of Atlantic salmon that inhabits the Baltic Sea. After a couple of very rough decades, it appears that this population is now slowly recovering.

World Record

The Atlantic salmon world record is an ancient catch that dates back to 1928. Henrik Henriksen was fishing the Tana River in Norway and managed to both hook and land a gigantic Atlantic trout of 79lb 2oz.

Over the years, far bigger specimens of more than 100lb have been caught in nets and fish traps, so the question is when this old record will fall!?

RELATED ARTICLE: Make sure to read up on the captivating topic of zombie salmon by checking out this article!

Other Types of Salmon

As mentioned above, there are a few more, much lesser-known types of salmon that cannot be found in North America or Western Europe.

Some of them are fairly small and only occur in a few water systems, while others are unexpected giants that can be found in plenty of waters.

This article aims to cover as many angles and as much information about all the salmon types out there, which is why I wanted to include these other salmonid species as well.

I even included an ancient salmon species that doesn’t even exist anymore!

Here we go!

Huchen

a huchen or Danube salmon swimming upstream the Danube River
Huchen or Danube Salmon (By Liquid Art – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The huchen or Danube salmon (Hucho hucho) is a large salmon type that can only be found in Europe’s vast Danube River system.

Being Europe’s second-longest river, the Danube River flows through parts of Germany, Austria, and many Eastern European countries.

Huchen populations have been going down for decades, mainly due to habitat loss and overfishing, but there is still hope for recovery in the future.

This salmon type can reach a length of about 5 feet and can weigh more than 110lb.

In the strong current of the Danube, hooking up to one of those giant salmon is the ultimate challenge for the sport angler!

Siberian Salmon

a huge Siberian salmon being held by two fishermen on a Russian river
Hucho Taimen (By Ojensen at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5)

The Siberian salmon (Hucho taimen) is yet another lesser-known type of salmon o the genus Hucho. It is closely related to the huchen but can only be found in certain river systems in Russia and Siberia.

The hucho taimen also goes under the names Siberian giant trout and Siberian taimen and is a fairly abundant species that is harvested throughout the year by local fishermen.

It can be found from the Russian Volga and Pechora river basin in the east, to the Yana River in the north, and the Amur River in the south.

This salmon type also occurs in both the Caspian, Arctic, and Pacific drainages of the Eurasian continent.

Interestingly, it can reach a maximum weight of way over 100lb and a maximum length of over 70 inches, making it the largest salmon species on earth!

Rumor has it that in 1943, a Russian fisherman caught a behemoth of 83 inches that weighed over 200lb, but this has never been officially confirmed. Who knows though, right?

Black Sea Salmon

a small bleack sea salmon that has been caught and placed in a plastic box for later consumption
Black Sea Salmon (By Elena Kurakina – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Black Sea salmon (Salmo labrax) is a relatively small salmon species that, you guessed it, is only found in the Black Sea and its inflowing rivers.

Not much is known about this small salmon type, other than it rarely gets bigger than 20-25 inches.

There are both permanent saltwater and permanent river populations of the Black Sea salmon, but all of them must spawn in freshwater.

DID YOU KNOW: The Black Sea salmon is very closely related to the brown trout and can and often does hybridize with this type of trout.

Oncorhynchus Masou

an underwater image of a small masu salmon in a river
Oncorhynchus Masou or Masu Salmon (By Σ64 – Own work, CC BY 4.0)

The Masu salmon (Oncorhynchus masou) is another smaller type of salmon that can only be found in the northern parts of the Asian Pacific Ocean.

This salmon species is marked by beautiful smaller and bigger dark spots and stripes all over its body. When reaching full maturity, the dark stripes on its flanks will turn a bright red, which is why this fish is also called cherry salmon.

Masu salmon can reach a maximum weight of about 20lb and a maximum length of 25-30 inches.

DID YOU KNOW: There are also at least three masu subspecies found in Asia; two are anadromous (both salt- and freshwater dwelling) and one is completely landlocked.

Salmo Obtusirostris

an underwater picture of a small Adriatic salmon close to a gravel-covered river bed
Salmo Obtusirostris

The Adriatic salmon (Salmo obtusirostris) is yet another salmon species that is relatively small in size. It is also an endemic type of salmon, which means that is native to a single geographic location.

In the case of the Adriatic salmon, this location would be the rivers of the Western Balkans in southeastern Europe (more specifically in Croatia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro).

The Adriatic salmon, which is also called Adriatic trout or softmouth trout, is hence a strict freshwater fish species that never enters saltwater territories.

This salmon type mostly has a greenish body coloration with plenty of small red and black dots. It can also be easily identified by its fairly small and fleshy mouth (hence the name softmouth trout).

It spawns in early spring and is a very popular gamefish in the Balkans.

Bonus: The Extinct Eosalmo

an image of an eosalmo fossil embedded in a stone
Eosalmo Fossil (By Kevmin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This last salmon species does not exist anymore, but I still wanted to include it in this article, as it is a really interesting case.

The eosalmo populated the waters of the earth during the Eocene epoche, meaning that it lived roughly 56 to 33 million years ago.

Fossils of this ancient creature have been found in both British Columbia (Canada) and Washington State (USA) and it was determined that this salmon subspecies must have dwelled only in freshwater systems.

Research has also suggested that the eosalmo was an intermediate between the modern salmonids and grayling subfamilies and must have evolved from a grayling-like ancestor.

Unfortunately, there is no information on this salmon type’s weight or length, and there are no images of caught eosalmo either (haha).

What Is the Biggest Salmon Species?

a US angler on a river holding a gigantic king salmon
King Salmon (Courtesy of Chris Blackburn)

The chinook or king salmon is the biggest salmon species in the world. Many people, including myself, think of Atlantic salmon when this question comes up, but chinooks outway Atlantics by several pounds.

This holds true for both the rod caught world record and overall biggest specimen ever caught.

The current IGFA world record king salmon is an enormous fish of 97lb 4oz that was caught by angler Les Anderson in the Kenai River (Alaska) back in 1985.

The largest chinook on record was a behemoth of an unbelievable 126lb that fishermen caught in a fish trap near Petersburg (Alaska) in 1949.

Clearly, Alaska holds the world’s biggest chinooks and I can only imagine what it must feel like to hook up to a 100 pounder. What a fight that would be!

For the record, the biggest Atlantic salmon ever caught on a rod weighed 79lb 2oz and was caught in the Tana River (Norway) in 1928.

The biggest Atlantic salmon on record was a fish of 103lb. Close, but no cigar!

What Is the Smallest Salmon Species?

a happy angler on a river holding a small pink salmon that he has caught on a dry fly
Small Pink Salmon

Of all the major salmon species, the pink salmon is, by far, the smallest one. This salmon type reaches a maximum weight of 15lb and a maximum length of 30 inches. Their average weight is a mere 2 to 5 lb, which is really, really small if compared to the other five salmon species.

Due to their smaller size, you could think that they aren’t as popular among anglers as other salmon species, but that’s not true at all.

In fact, they are a very sought-after game and food fish that, for its size, fights extremely well and tastes excellent.

What Is the Most Common Type of Salmon?

The world’s most common and abundant salmon species is the pink salmon. As this salmon type is fairly small in size, naturally, it has a lot of enemies that prey on it, which is why pink salmon have to be plenty in numbers and move around in big schools to survive.

Furthermore, pink salmon breed when they have reached the tender age of two and as all of them die after spawning, their numbers have to be immense in order to preserve the species.

Pink salmon are the most common salmon type on both sides of the North Pacific, from Alaska down to Washington State on one side, and from Russia to North Korea on the other.

What Is the Best Type of Salmon to Eat?

a picture of two sockeye salmon filets on a dinner plate
Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (By loustejskal.com, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia)

Salmon anglers and gourmets agree that sockeye salmon are the best tasting type of salmon there is. Of course, all wild-caught salmon make for really delicious meals, but the sockeye sticks out both when it comes to taste, color, and texture.

Sockeye salmon have a deep red flesh that is very attractive to the eye, both raw and cooked. I think that’s because the intense red comes closest to the general picture people have about salmon meat; if it’s red, it’s healthy and delicious.

And while that doesn’t at all hold true for farmed Atlantic salmon, it is a very important aspect of the food fish that is the wild Pacific salmon, and more specifically the sockeye.

Additionally, they have an intense and super-rich flavor that is often described as being the most “fishy” in the salmon world.

Sockeye meat is also extremely tender and, if prepared the right way, will basically just melt in your mouth!

Interestingly, sockeye filets are much cheaper than other salmon filets, as they only cost around $15 to $20 a pound.

So, if you haven’t tried sockeye salmon, you should definitely do so as soon as you get the chance. As a matter of fact, I’m kind of getting hungry myself as I am writing this down!

Can Atlantic Salmon Mate with Pacific Salmon?

Even though they are distantly related, have fairly similar lifecycles, and behavioral patterns, Atlantic and Pacific salmon can not interbreed. This is due to the fact they belong to different genera and have different numbers of chromosomes.

Some researchers have raised concern over farmed Atlantic salmon and their possible ability to crossbreed with Pacific salmon, but so far, studies have shown that this is not possible.

RELATED ARTICLE: Make sure to also read this article to find out more about the salmon’s interesting life cycle and why they swim upstream to lay their eggs!

Can Salmon and Trout Crossbreed?

Atlantic salmon is the only salmon species that can crossbreed with trout. More specifically, Atlantic salmon have successfully mated and produced offspring with brown trout, although this only seems to happen very rarely.

DID YOU KNOW: Studies have shown that farmed salmon (GM salmon) also seem to be able to crossbreed with brown trout and pass on their genetic material to the produced offspring. Some anglers, as well as a few scientists, somewhat jokingly refer to these fish as frankentrout.

None of the Pacific types of salmon seems to be able to successfully crossbreed with any trout species.

RELATED ARTICLE: Steelhead vs. Salmon (What’s the Difference?)

What Species Are Farmed Salmon?

a picture of a Norwegian Atlantic salmon farm in the ocean
Salmon Farm in Portree Bay (By John Allan, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Almost all farmed salmon that you can buy at the supermarket or that are sold in restaurants are Atlantic salmon. There are also a few European fish farms that grow coho salmon.

Atlantic salmon are being commercially farmed in many countries around the world and the market for farmed salmon is growing steadily.

Some of the biggest producers are Chile, Canada, and Norway. Here, giant aquacultural salmon farms with tens of thousands of fish in them are supplying the growing global demand.

And while there are both environmentally and health-related issues that can be linked to farmed salmon, it’s still a very important food source for many countries and regions around the world.

In particular, developing countries in the third world experience an ever-growing demand for farmed salmon, as it is such an easily produced and relatively nutritive food source.

Whether or not the risks and negative aspects of salmon farms outway the possibilities and positive aspects is another topic to discuss.

RELATED ARTICLE: What Is the Difference Between Atlantic and Pacific Salmon?

Can Farmed Salmon Breed with Wild Salmon?

Farmed Atlantic salmon and non-farmed Atlantic salmon can and do breed in the wild. Every year, millions of salmon escape their farms and mix with the wild populations that migrate upstream to spawn.

In fact, a Norwegian study has shown that close to 50% of the genetic material from farmed salmon was present in the wild populations.

The genetic material of the farmed fish seems to affect the wild salmon’s genetics negatively by compromising their reproductive health.

That’s why more and more scientists and experts are calling for a law that would make sterilization of all farmed salmon mandatory.

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Featured image courtesy of Mike Colfer

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