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Sockeye Salmon - Oncorhynchus nerka
Common names: Sockeye, reds, red salmon, "Sukkai," a corruption of the northwest coastal Indian name for the species Oncorhynchus nerka

Range: Sockeye has broad distribution throughout the coast of British Columbia with major runs in the Nass and Skeena Rivers in the northern part of the province, Rivers and Smith Inlets in the central coast, and Thompson, Nootka and Fraser Rivers in the south. Commercial fishermen also have harvesting opportunities in the Straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca in the south, and Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Of all the salmon species, sockeye range the furthest in their migration, overlapping the migration pattern of other sockeye that originate in both the U.S. and Asia. Most sockeye (regardless of their country of origin) spend about half their lives in the large pasture of open ocean south of the Aleutian Islands where they develop the rich flavour and bright orangey-red flesh so characteristic of this species. Most sockeye return to their rivers to spawn in the summer of their fourth year, and runs in odd-numbered years are generally larger than those in even-numbered years.

Management: Management practices for sockeye salmon follow the same principles of conservation and sustainability described in the overview of wild Pacific salmon management in Canada. Stock assessment data essential for good fisheries management fall into three categories:

* Pre-season forecasts identify longer-term trends in stock abundance, key conservation concerns and outlooks for the future;
* In-season stock assessment and re-forecasting of run sizes adjust pre-season forecasts based on actual observations of abundance; and
* Post-season evaluations determine estimates of total run size, harvest rates, catches, fishing effort, escapement and other factors.

SockeyeDescription: It is often difficult to distinguish one species of salmon from another, especially if the head of the fish has been removed. Telling a sockeye from a pink, coho, spring or Atlantic is relatively easy since sockeye have speckles and the others have spots. However, chum salmon also have speckles, so buyers must look further to be able to tell the difference definitively. If the fish was caught in or near fresh water, the skin of the chum salmon will exhibit a distinctive pattern of water marking that is absent in sockeye. Changes in the skin of sockeye are more subtle. Sockeye salmon are slightly larger than pink salmon and generally mature at four or five years of age. Unlike the young of other species that live in flowing water, young sockeye salmon are found in lakes where they feed on zooplankton. However, some sockeye populations behave very much like pink and chum salmon and their young enter the ocean soon after hatching. Scientists think that these "river-type" sockeye are the ancestral form that populated all of the lakes of British Columbia after the end of the last glaciation 14,000 years ago. The Kokanee salmon, which are found in many lakes in British Columbia, are actually land-locked sockeye salmon. In some cases they are found in lakes that have no anadromous sockeye, while in other lakes both types are present. Because the Pacific Ocean offers more types of food to young sockeye, they grow larger and faster than kokanee.

How Can You Tell the Difference?

Anglers should use three or more distinguishing characteristics to properly identify all salmon. This would, for example, aid in identifying juvenile chinook from adult pink salmon.

Description of sockeye salmon in marine phase

The sockeye is almost toothless, with numerous long gill rakers and prominent, glassy eyes. The slimmest and most streamlined of the Pacific species, the silver-blue sockeye lives from four to five years. It usually weighs between 2.2 kg and 3.1 kg but can reach 6.3 kg. Young sockeye remain in fresh-water nursery lakes a year or more before migrating to the sea.

Each sockeye salmon you keep must be at least 30 cm long.

Description of sockeye salmon in freshwater phase

Maturing sockeye have a distinctive silvery-purplish tinge. As he becomes more mature, the male acquires a pale green head, dark hooked jaws, humped back and bright red body with red fins. The female is generally the same with green and yellow blotches on the body, although the colour is less pronounced and she does not develop a hump or hooked jaw. In most runs mature fish are bright scarlet.
Sockeye Mouth

The lips of a sockeye are fleshy, the teeth are small and well-developed in both jaws. There are no teeth on the base of the tongue.
Sockeye Tail

The sockeye's tail is moderately forked and it does not show any black spots.

Photos courtesy of the DFO, used with Permission and the AnglingBC gallery.

These sockeye salmon have traveled 485 kilometres (303 miles) in 17 days through four rivers — the Fraser, the Thompson, the South Thompson and the Adams to spawn here in the Adams River in British Columbia. During the odyssey the once silvery fish turn crimson and their heads a pea green.

Males develop hooked jaws and prominent teeth to defend their spawning sites. Females lay eggs in several spots, each time having them fertilized by the male (or several males.) A sockeye may lay between three and four thousand eggs.

After the spawning, each of the estimated 2.5 million salmon dies to provide food for predators — bears, eagles, gulls while loose eggs are taken by trout and other fish species.

Salmon All Categories
  Article Topics Date
1. Salmon Fish Farms Salmon May 2007
2. Upper Pitt River Salmon Salmon Apr 2007
3. How to Properly Store Salmon Salmon Mar 2007
4. Smoked Salmon Recipe Salmon, Smoking Mar 2007
5. Favourite Salmon to Eat Salmon, Smoking Mar 2007
6. Salmon Fishing Page Salmon Mar 2007
7. Chinook Salmon Mar 2007
8. Sockeye Salmon Mar 2007
9. Pink Salmon Salmon Mar 2007
10. Chum Salmon Salmon Mar 2007
11. Float’n spinners for Salmon & Steelhead Salmon, Steelhead, Tackle Jan 2004
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