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Sockeye Salmon

Saturday, November 22, 2014 

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) are an anadromous species of salmon - meaning they migrate to the ocean as smolts and return to fresh water to spawn and then die. They are blue tinged with silver in color while living in the ocean. Just prior to spawning both sexes turn red with green heads and sport a dark stripe on their sides. Males develop a hump on their back and the jaws and teeth become hooked during their move from salt to fresh water. The average adult weight is 2 – 6 pounds and the average adult length is 16 – 26 inches long.

Sockeye are the third most abundant of the Pacific salmon species and are a keystone in the North American commercial fisheries.

The name sockeye comes from a poor attempt to translate the word suk-kegh from British Columbia's native Coast Salish language. Suk-kegh means red fish.

Life History
Historically thousands of sockeye used to complete the 900-mile trek up the Columbia to the Snake and then Salmon rivers to five Sawtooth Valley lakes: Alturas, Pettit, Redfish, Stanley and Yellowbelly.

Redfish Lake sockeye salmon were listed as endangered in November 1991 - the first Idaho salmon species to be listed. They are unique among sockeye. They travel more than 900 miles and climb more than 6,500 feet in elevation, and they are the southern most North American sockeye population.

In the 1880s, observers reported lakes and streams in the Stanley Basin teeming with redfish. There was talk of building a cannery at Redfish Lake. Returns were estimated between 25,000 and 35,000 sockeye.

Construction of the Sunbeam Dam in 1913 blocked upstream fish passage. The dam was partially destroyed in 1934 reopening the upper Salmon River, but no one tried to restore the salmon runs. The source of the present sockeye in Redfish Lake is uncertain.

Sockeye salmon, unlike other species of Pacific Salmon, feed extensively on zooplankton during both freshwater and saltwater life stages.

There is no fishing season for Sockeye Salmon in Idaho.


More Information on Idaho's Sockeye Salmon:
Trapping Returns  |  Captive Broodstock Program  |  Sockeye Recovery / Status
Sockeye salmon

Did You Know?
  • Sockeye returning to Redfish Lake travel farther from the Pacific Ocean, almost 900 miles, to a higher elevation, more than 6,500 feet, and are the southernmost population within its recognized range.
  • To date, about 3.1 million sockeye salmon eggs and fish have been reintroduced to Sawtooth Valley waters - 1.4 million pre-smolts, 749,000 smolts, 3,542 adults, and 930,000 eyed eggs.
  • The name sockeye comes from a poor attempt to translate the word suk-kegh from British Columbia's native Coast Salish language. Suk-kegh means red fish.
  • Sockeye are the third most abundant of the Pacific salmon species and are a keystone in the North American commercial fisheries.
Last Updated: April 9, 2014 
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