What Is A Sockeye Or Kokanee Salmon?

kokanee salmon, fish

Sockeye or Kokanee Salmon? Photo via Flickr.

Salmon are beautiful fish that have played an important role for people since the time of Native Americans.  Do you know the difference between a Sockeye and Kokanee Salmon?

Salmon are a family of fish that live throughout the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the world there are 7 different kinds of salmon.  However, only 2 of them can be found in the Rocky Mountains (Sockeye and Chinook).  Here is an explanation of the different kinds that live in the Rockies and the difference between a Sockeye and Kokanee Salmon.

Most Salmon Are Anadromous

Anadromous…what?  That is a fancy word that means that the fish live part of their life in fresh water and part in salt or ocean water.

Most salmon are anadromous, but not the Kokanee.  Anadromous salmon are born in small, freshwater streams.  They then travel to the ocean to live as adults before returning to spawn in the same freshwater stream.  Read about the story of salmon here.

kokanee salmon, king salmon, fish

King or Chinook Salmon. Photo via Flickr.

Chinook or King Salmon

Life History – They hatch in rivers, then go to the ocean where they live for most of their life.  When ready to reproduce, they return to the rivers they were born in to spawn.

Description – These are called “King” because they are the largest of the salmon species. They can grow up to 58 inches long and weigh between 5 and 126 pounds!  They live throughout the Pacific rim from Japan up to Russia, and from Alaska down to Washington and Oregon.

kokanee salmon, sockeye salmon, fish

A sockeye salmon in its bright red spawning colors.

Sockeye Salmon

Life History – They are born in freshwater streams.  Then, unlike other salmon (king, coho, and pink), they will live for one to a few years growing in a lake before they head to the ocean.  In the ocean they feed on plankton and grow rapidly.  Finally, they return to the rivers they were born in to spawn.

Description – This fish will live 3-5 years in the wild.  It can grow up to 33 inches long and weight 5-15 pounds.

This fish looks very different when it is spawning and normally.  Normally, it is a silvery blue color with spots.  In contrast, the spawning male has a humped back, green head, and a bright red body.  The spawning female is a grayish red with yellow splotches.

Kokanee Salmon (This is Just a Landlocked Sockeye Salmon)

A Kokanee Salmon is simply a Sockeye Salmon that is landlocked.  This means that they live their entire life in fresh water and never journey to the ocean.  Populations of Kokanee now live in 12 US states, many of which they were introduced into (meaning they did not live there naturally, but people brought them there).

Life History – Live their entire life in fresh water.  Kokanee salmon are born in small streams or along the lake edges.  The fry (newly born fish) migrate to the lakes soon after being born.  These landlocked salmon live for years in the lake.  Then when they are ready to spawn they travel back up the small streams or the edges of the lake.