Atlantic Salmon

General Informatiom:

The Atlantic salmon has been honored throughout history. The Gauls and Romans prized its many qualities, and Britain's Magna Carta even granted it rights of protection.

Despite its venerable past, this valuable sport and commercial fish has not readily adapted to the upper Great Lakes, though they were once native to Lake Ontario. After more than 100 years of trying, Canada and the U.S. have yet to establish these ocean-going salmon in the fresh waters of any of the Great Lakes.

In recent years, Michigan has planted a new freshwater strain of Atlantic salmon in Lakes Michigan and Huron. These "Gullspang" Atlantic salmon come from the freshwater lakes of Sweden, where they have been landlocked since the Ice Ages. Michigan and Wisconsin have at times experimented with a strain of Atlantic salmon that spawns in the rivers of Quebec province, and Minnesota continues to stock this species.

From these stocking programs, Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes now have small populations of Atlantic salmon. However, the success in reintroducing the fish has not been noteworthy, and Michigan is the only state that continues to stock it.

Though most Atlantic salmon spawn in fresh water and then spend most of their life in the ocean, some also lived their entire lives in Lake Ontario up until the 1900s. For over 100 years, Canada and the United States tried to establish self-sustaining populations of Atlantic salmon in the upper Great Lakes, but with only minimal success.

After the parasitic sea lamprey was brought under control, Michigan planted a new freshwater strain of Atlantic salmon in Lakes Michigan and Superior. These "Gullspang" Atlantic salmon came from Sweden, where they have been landlocked since the Ice Ages. For a few years in the 1970s, Michigan and Wisconsin also planted a strain of oceangoing Atlantic salmon in Lake Superior from stocks that spawned in the rivers of the province of Quebec. In the 1980s, Minnesota alone continued to plant Atlantic salmon in the headwater Great Lake, while Michigan today plants these fish only in Lake Michigan.

Though Atlantic salmon may spawn two or three times during their lives, self-propagating stocks have not yet developed. But fisheries scientists still hope that some experimental strain of Atlantic salmon will be found that has the genetic makeup to survive and reproduce in the Great Lakes.

Identifying the Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon in the ocean tend to be silvery with white undersides. However, freshwater Atlantic salmon tend to be much darker and lack the silvery color. Upon sexual maturity and as spawning time nears, the fish become bronze and/or dark brown, and they may have some reddish spots on the head and body. It can be difficult to distinguish the spawning Atlantic salmon from the brown trout. The spawning males develop an elongated head and a large, hooked lower jaw. After spawning, males and females both take on even darker colors.

Look for:

Copyright, 1998, by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute
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