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Salmon, Atlantic (Caught at sea)

Salmo salar

Method of production - Caught at sea
Capture method - Drift net,Fixed net
Capture area - North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area - North East Atlantic
Stock detail - England and Wales
Certification -
Fish type - Oily fish

Sustainability rating Click for explaination of rating

This fish, caught by the methods and in the area listed above, is the least sustainable fish to eat and should be avoided. Click on the rating icon above to read more and on the alternatives tab below to find sustainable fish to eat.

Sustainability overview

The majority of salmon stocks in England and Wales remain in a depleted state. Only eat salmon from rivers in England and Wales where stocks are known to be above conservation limits (CLs) and at full reproductive capacity. Eating salmon from rivers below these limits should be avoided. For information on the status of rivers above CLs please see Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales websites.


The Atlantic salmon is one of 4 species of salmonids indigenous to European waters. Salmon move between fresh and seawater during their lifecycle. This is referred to as being "anadromous". They spend most of their lives in fresh water and are termed benthopelagic. Atlantic salmon matures at a length of around 73 cms. Maximum length for males is 150 cms, 120 cms for females. Maximum reported age is 13 years, but most individuals only reach 4-6 years. Adult fish return to their birth or natal river from January until November and spawn in late Autumn/early Winter. The eggs, which are laid in nests termed "redds", hatch in April to May and are called alevins. Young fish, which are known firstly as fry and later as parr as they mature, remain in fresh water for 1 to 6 years, then migrate to coastal marine waters, or even the open oceans, between April and May. They have undergone a physiological change to enable them to live at sea and are now termed smolts. Adult salmon return to spawn after spending up to 4 years at sea. Many die after spawning but a number survive to spawn a second or third time. The mechanism by which salmon navigate with such precision back to their birth or natal river to spawn is not fully understood. In the ocean, the earth's magnetic field and the stars may be important. When the salmon reach coastal waters, smell and taste allow precise homing to their river of birth. One of the key biological differences between Atlantic salmon (Salmo) and Pacific salmon (Onchorynchus) is that Atlantic salmon are iteroparous, that is, they do not die after returning to spawn in the rivers in which they hatch. Pacific salmon, and other members of the Onchorynchus genus on the other hand, are referred to as being semelparous, with mature members of the population generally dying within a few days or weeks of spawning.

Stock information

Stock area
North East Atlantic

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Stock information
Information and data on the status of salmon stocks in England and Wales is compiled by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales. Their report provides information on stock status to the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), which in turn is used to provide advice to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). ICES recommends that fishing for salmon only takes place in rivers where stocks are known to be above conservation limits (CLs) and at full reproductive capacity.
Spawning escapement in 2015 was estimated to be above the conservation limit (CL) in 22 of the 64 principal salmon rivers in England and Wales (34%). This is an improvement on 2014 when only 13 rivers were assessed as meeting their CL, the lowest number in the time series (19% in 2014; 30% in 2013; 53% in 2012; 64% in 2011; 61% in 2010).
The CL compliance assessment (which takes trends in egg deposition into account) in 2015 indicates that 9 rivers (14%) were classified within the top two categories i.e. not at risk or probably not at risk compared to 4 rivers (6%) in 2014 (25% in 2013). No rivers were classified as 'not at risk' in 2015, same as in 2014, and 23 rivers (36%) were classified as at risk. The latest assessment indicates that the majority of salmon stocks in England and Wales remain in a depleted state. Atlantic salmon is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in the Northeast Atlantic.


Due to the Atlantic salmon's oceanic migrations, international cooperation is essential to its conservation, restoration and rational management. The forum for such cooperation is provided by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO). Under NASCO's Convention, fishing for salmon is prohibited beyond 12 nautical miles of the baselines in most parts of the North Atlantic Ocean, thereby creating an enormous protected zone free of directed salmon fisheries. ICES has provided advice to NASCO on salmon stocks since it was established in 1983. Despite management measures aimed at reducing exploitation in recent years, there has been little improvement in the status of stocks over time.

In England and Wales salmon stocks are managed on a river by river basis by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales respectively. The importance of managing salmon on such a basis is emphasised by the fact salmon from different rivers, and even from different parts of the same river system, are genetically distinct. It is for these reasons that since 1991 it has been Government policy in England and Wales to phase out mixed stock fisheries, i.e. coastal net fisheries and allow as many fish as possible to return to their rivers of origin. ICES advice to NASCO is that fisheries should only take place on salmon from rivers where stocks have been shown to be at full reproductive capacity. The decision by the Westminster Government to end drift netting for salmon and sea trout by 2022, and to phase out all T&J (type of fixed net) nets that are exploiting salmon from rivers of unknown origin, where populations within their stocks may be below conservation levels (CLs), has put pressure on the Scottish Government to do likewise.

Capture information

There are a large number of different specialised salmon fishing methods employed in England and Wales. These can be grouped into 5 generic categories: gill nets (which entangle fish), sweep nets (which encircle and trap fish), hand-held nets, fixed engines (a term used to describe various fixed fishing gears) and rods. Anyone fishing for salmon with a net, fixed engine or rod must have a licence. The number of licences issued is limited by Net Limitation Orders. NLOs do not however apply to privately owned fisheries which may be regulated by bylaws. There is no limit to the number of rod licences that can be issued. Drift net and beach net fisheries for salmon are being phased out because these fisheries exploit fish from more than one river, making it impossible to regulate the level of exploitation on individual river stocks. A national bylaw came into effect in England and Wales in 2009 requiring all net-caught salmon and sea trout to be individually tagged with a carcass tag after capture and for the details of all fish caught to be recorded in an annual logbook. This measure, in tandem with a ban on sale of rod-caught fish, was designed to reduce the sale of illegally caught fish.

Read more about capture methods

Annual Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales, 2015. Cefas, EA, Natural Resources Wales (2016);
Annual Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales 2014. Cefas, EA, Natural Resources Wales (2015);
Annual Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales 2013. Preliminary assessment prepared for ICES, April 2014. Cefas, EA, Natural Resources Wales (2014);; Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales, 2014;

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