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Salmon: Overview

salmon photo from wikimediaSalmon embody the critical link between the land and the sea and are one of the most popular seafood and sportfish species in the world.

Wild salmon need clean and healthy rivers and streams to spawn and a productive ocean to grow and feed.

But poor management resulting in habitat loss, polluted water and runoff, dams, water diversion, global warming and wasteful bycatch have taken its toll on salmon.

Wild Atlantic salmon, which once ranged from Portugal to Newfoundland, and in every major U.S. river north of the Hudson, are now classified as endangered in the U.S.

In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where the last strongholds of salmon remain, many populations are dwindling. The largest species of salmon, the Chinook or King salmon, is in trouble. Chinook salmon runs that are crucial to support subsistence cultures in Western Alaska and the Yukon River have declined substantially.

Further south, the southernmost wild stocks of Chinook that return to California have nearly disappeared, culminating in the decision to cancel the California salmon fishing season in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, Bering Sea pollock nets kill thousands of Chinook salmon as wasteful bycatch.

Farmed salmon come with another set of environmental issues altogether. To prevent the spread of sea lice and other parasites in tightly packed salmon cages, salmon are often given antibiotics, the use of which leads to bacterial resistance in humans. Farmed salmon escapes are also a problem, and can harm wild fish populations.

Because salmon are carnivorous, feeding them in captivity is extremely inefficient. An estimated four to 11 pounds of prey fish are used to grow only one pound of farmed salmon.

Oceana works in the U.S. to protect wild Pacific salmon. In Chile, we work to raise the environmental and sanitation standards for the production of farmed salmon in order to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of this industry.