Aquatic Nuisance Project
Fact Sheet

Species: Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar)

Status & Synopsis Economic Value of Potentially Affected Fisheries Geographic Distribution PSMFC Funded Projects
Publications Links Educational Materials References


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Atlantic salmon (Salmo Salar) are raised in marine net pens in Washington State and British Columbia. In Oregon, however, they are listed as one of the “100 Most Dangerous Invaders to Keep Out of Oregon in 2005.” Alaska currently has a ban on finfish farming. In 2003, California passed a bill (SB 245) which prohibits spawning, incubating, or cultivating anadromous or transgenic fish species, or any exotic species of finfish in waters of the Pacific Ocean that are regulated by the state.


Atlantic salmon are native to eastern North American coastal drainages from northern Quebec to the Housatonic River, Connecticut (possibly formerly to Delaware); inland to Lake Ontario, where they are now extinct (though restoration efforts are ongoing) (see Figure 2). They also are native to Europe from the Arctic Circle to Portugal (Page and Burr 1991). Unsuccessful attempts were made in the early 20th Century by Canadian and United States federal agencies to introduce Atlantic salmon to Pacific waters. According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the release of Atlantic salmon smolts, for the purpose of establishing runs in Washington, occurred in 1951, 1980, and 1981. These releases failed to establish Atlantic salmon in Washington State.

The value of British Columbia-farmed salmon (mostly Atlantic) was $308 million in 2003 (Canadian dollars). Washington produced 16.7 million pounds of Atlantic salmon, worth $14.7 million in 2001 (Kerwin 2003). See Figure 1 for a map of British Columbia fish farm (net pen) sites.

The growth of the farmed Atlantic salmon industry in the past 20 years has severely impacted the West Coast commercial salmon industry by driving down prices and shifting the market share. Alaska’s share of the world salmon market fell from 40 percent in 1980 to 20 percent in 2000 (Knapp 2003). The price of commercially caught Chinook salmon in Alaska fell from $2.69 a pound in 1988 to $1.30 in 2002; and the ex-vessel value for all commercially caught salmon species fell from a high of $782 million in 1988 to about $163 million in 2002 (ADFG 2005). However, more recently, wild salmon prices have rebounded.

Concerns regarding Atlantic salmon effects on wild salmon stocks include disease transfer, pollution from net pen facilities, and ecological impacts from escaped salmon. For further information, go to Environmental Impacts of Atlantic Salmon Aquaculture

A major concern in recent years has been the potential impact on wild salmon stocks of sea lice (Lepeophtheirus sp.) originating from net pens in British Columbia. It is known that marine salmon farms have contributed to the spread of sea lice to wild fish and that sea lice can kill juvenile fish, even at low infestation levels. There is suggestive evidence of impacts from sea lice to wild populations of salmon (Gallaugher et al. 2004).

Atlantic salmon that have escaped from hatcheries show up as adults in commercial and recreational catches in Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. There is one documented instance of an Atlantic salmon caught in the Bering Sea (Brodeur and Busby 1998). Feral Atlantic salmon juveniles were found in three Vancouver Island, British Columbia, streams (Tsitika, Adam, and Amor De Cosmos) in 1998 (Volpe et al. 2000), indicating the likelihood of successful spawning of net pen-reared fish in the wild. In reviewing the scientific literature that is available through September 2006, there have been no further reports of Atlantic salmon successfully spawning on the West coast in the wild (i.e., discovery of wild juveniles) since the 2000 British Columbia sightings.

Since 2003, with funding from Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been monitoring for Atlantic salmon in selected freshwater streams primarily using snorkel surveys. In 2003, an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 Atlantic salmon juveniles were found in Scatter Creek (Chehalis River Basin) and three Atlantic salmon juveniles were found in Cinnabar Creek (Cowlitz River Basin). The source of these fish was Atlantic salmon hatcheries. According to WDFW, after fish screen repair was done at the Scatter Creek hatchery in 2004, snorkelers found “a few” fish (through June 2006). No juveniles have been found in Cinnabar Creek since 2003, but scoop traps on both the Chehalis and Cowlitz Rivers have captured Atlantic salmon for a number of years. To date, there is no evidence that these fish are wild progeny. In the 1980s, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also reported “a few” Atlantic salmon at the McNary juvenile fish collection facility. These fish were attributed to the net pens located in Rufus Woods Reservoir (Columbia River mainstem, north central Washington). For data on juvenile Atlantic salmon sitings, please go to the Atlantic salmon data page.

In Washington State, while Atlantic salmon escapes from marine net pens still occur, the number of reported escapes has trended downward (1996-1999: 613,000; 2000-2003: 0, 2004: 24,552, 2005: 2,500). In 2006, Atlantic salmon adults were caught in both Alaska and Washington. The Alaska fish were captured by a set net in Cook Inlet in July 2006. Based on their thermal marks (per Washington State Law), the Atlantic salmon appear to be from the Scatter Creek Hatchery in Rochester, Washington (Chehalis Basin). These fish escaped as adults during a transfer in May 2006 from a net pen to a barge in Puget Sound. Although they were apparently healthy at the time of capture, it was likely they had not fed after their escape (Piorkowski 2006).

For more information on escapes and captures in British Columbia, Washington and Alaska, go to the Atlantic salmon data page.

Economic Value of West Coast Fisheries Resources that Could Potentially be Affected by Atlantic Salmon

Pacific Salmon, Alaska: Estimated ex-vessel value (preliminary) for the 2004 Alaska salmon harvest was $235,859,000. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Commercial Fisheries, 2005).

Pacific Salmon (coho, chinook), Cape Falcon, Oregon to Canadian Border, Ocean Fishery (Pacific Fisheries Management Council 2005):

  • Estimates of ex-vessel value for Council-adopted 2005 non-Indian commercial troll salmon fishery was $1,798,000.
  • Coastal community income from the 2004 recreational ocean fishery was $7,625,000.

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Geographic Distribution (USA): Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar)


Source: U.S. Geological Survey

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[intlink id=”37″ type=”page”]PSMFC Funded Projects[/intlink]

[intlink id=”49″ type=”page”]Publications[/intlink]

[intlink id=”31″ type=”page”]Educational Materials[/intlink]


Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council NIS Species and Technology Fact Sheets
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
U.S. Geological Survey Atlantic Salmon Fact Sheet
FAO Fisheries Global Information System Atlantic Salmon Fact Sheet

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ADFG (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Commercial Fisheries). 2005. Salmon Ex-vessel (Price per Pound) by Area and Species. Juneau, Alaska.

Brodeur, R. D. and M. S. Busby. 1998. Occurrence of an Atlantic salmon Salmo salar in the Bering Sea. Alaska Fishery Research Bulletin, 5: 64-66.

Gallaugher, P., J. Penikett, and M. Berry. 2004. Speaking for the Salmon Workshop: A Community Workshop to Review Preliminary Results of 2003 Studies on Sea Lice and Salmon in the Broughton Archipelago Area of British Columbia. Burnaby, BC, Centre for Coastal Studies, Simon Fraser University.

Kerwin, John. 2003. Presentation at the Conference on Marine Aquaculture: Effects on the West Coast and Alaska commercial fishing industry. Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. November 17-19, 2003. Seattle, Washington.

Knapp, Gunnar. 2003. Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks Conference on Marine Aquaculture: Effects on the West Coast and Alaska Commercial Fishing Industry. November 17-19, 2003. Seattle, Washington.

L.M. and B. M. Burr. 1991. A field guide to freshwater fishes of North America north of Mexico. The Peterson Field Guide Series, Volume 42. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA.

Pacific Fishery Management Council. 2005. Preseason Report III. Analysis of Council Adopted Management Measures for 2005 Ocean Salmon Fisheries. Published April 2005.

Piorkowski, Robert. 2006. Personal Communication. Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Juneau, Alaska.

Volpe, J.P., E.B. Taylor, D.W. Rimmer and B.W. Glickman. 2000. Natural reproduction of aquaculture escaped Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) in a coastal British Columbia river. Conservation Biology, 14: 899-903.

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ANS Examples

Atlantic Salmon


(Salmo salar)

Introduced through planned and unplanned escapes from fish farms