Species Profile

Atlantic Salmon Gaspe-Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population

Scientific Name: Salmo salar
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2010
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.


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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon Photo 1

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Description

The Atlantic Salmon has a fusiform body shape that is somewhat compressed laterally and has an average length of about 457 mm. Its back is blue-green, its sides are silvery with several markings that are either round or x-shaped, and its belly is white. During the reproduction period, the Atlantic Salmon loses its silver colour and takes on a greenish or reddish hue; a few large, white-edged spots then appear on its sides.

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Distribution and Population

Because Atlantic Salmon have a high degree of fidelity to their natal rivers and given their adaptation to the stream they frequent (e.g., difference in morphology, life cycle and behaviour), the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified 16 designatables units (DU) of Atlantic Salmon, 11 of which are considered at risk. Atlantic Salmon of the Gaspe-Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population (DU12) reproduce in the tributaries of the river's south shore and of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, more specifically between the Sud-Ouest River in Quebec and the rivers in the northern tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This population has 78 known salmon rivers.

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Habitat

Salmon rivers are generally clear, cool and well oxygenated, with gravel, cobble and boulder substrates. When they leave the freshwater, Atlantic Salmon migrate to estuaries and then towards the open ocean.

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Biology

Atlantic Salmon spawn in fresh water, generally in their native river. Juveniles spend one to eight years in fresh water before migrating to salt water in the North Atlantic. After staying at sea for one to four years, adults return to fresh water to spawn.

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Threats

The causes of the widespread decline of Atlantic Salmon are not well understood. Several major reviews have attempted to identify and prioritize the causes of this situation. The low rate of survival at sea was cited as the primary cause of the decline. The populations are also threatened by climatic changes and environmental changes in the ocean; Aboriginal, recreational and illegal fishing; obstacles in fresh water (e.g. dams); agriculture; urbanization; aquaculture and invasive species. In some cases, the habitat used for freshwater spawning is degraded.In the Gaspe–Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population, the number of small (that spent one winter at sea) and large (that spent more than one winter at sea) individuals decreased over the past three generations. This represents a decline of approximately 28% in the total number of mature individuals. This recent decline over the past three generations represents the continuation of a decline that dates back to at least the 1980s. There are still over 100,000 mature individuals but most of them spawn in New Brunswick's Miramichi River. Freshwater habitat quality is cause for concern in some areas, particularly in Prince Edward Island where some remaining populations are maintained by hatchery supplementation. Invasive species and illegally introduced species also constitute a threat that is poorly understood.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Atlantic Salmon commercial fishery was closed progressively in Canadian waters from the mid-1980s until the complete closure in 2000. Aboriginal peoples continue to fish in several salmon rivers for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Salmon represents an important cultural tradition to which they attach great value. Lastly, recreational fishing is still authorized. Restrictive management measures are imposed for each river based on abundance estimates. These measures include catch limits, mandatory release of large salmon to the water, and closures of certain watercourses. Salmon habitat is protected under the fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

5 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar in Canada (2015)

    The Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) is a member of the family Salmonidae. This species has a fusiform body shape and matures at sizes ranging from 10 to 100+ cm. Atlantic Salmon exhibit plastic life histories and may have multiple reproductive and migratory phenotypes within a population, including freshwater resident and oceanic migrant forms. All phenotypes reproduce in fresh water. The oceanic migrant (anadromous) form is the best known phenotype, and with the exception of the extinct Lake Ontario population, is the only form considered in this report. Juveniles spend 1-8 years in fresh water, then migrate to the North Atlantic for 1-4 years, and then return to fresh water to reproduce. Demographically functional units tend to be at the watershed scale, but population subdivision may occur within watersheds. The Canadian range of this species was subdivided into 16 designatable units (DUs) based on genetic data and broad patterns in life history variation, environmental variables, and geographic separation.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Atlantic Salmon, Gaspe-Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence population (2011)

    This species requires rivers or streams that are generally clear, cool and well-oxygenated for reproduction and the first few years of rearing, but undertakes lengthy feeding migrations in the North Atlantic Ocean as older juveniles and adults. This population breeds in rivers from the Ouelle River (excluded) in the western Gaspé Peninsula southward and eastward to the northern tip of Cape Breton. Small (one-sea-winter) and large (multi-sea-winter) fish have both declined over the last 3 generations, approximately 34% and 19%, respectively, for a net decline of all mature individuals of about 28%. This recent 3 generation decline represents a continuation of a decline extending back at least to the 1980’s. The number of mature individuals remains over 100,000; however, the majority spawn in a single major river system, the Miramichi, in New Brunswick. Freshwater habitat quality is a concern in some areas, particularly in Prince Edward Island where some remaining populations are maintained by hatchery supplementation. Invasive and illegally introduced species, such as smallmouth bass, are a poorly understood threat in some freshwater habitats. Poor marine survival is related to substantial but incompletely understood changes in marine ecosystems.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada and associated National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the four sites: Kouchibouguac National Park of Canada (KNP) and other land managed by Parks Canada in the Northern New-Brunswick Field Unit offering adequate habitat for the species targeted in this action plan (Fort Beauséjour – Fort Cumberland National Historic Site of Canada (NHS), Beaubassin – Fort Lawrence NHS, Grand-Pré NHS). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species at Risk Act (SARA) (s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in KNP and associated NHS.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Consultation Documents

  • Information Summary for the Consultation on Adding Five Atlantic Salmon Populations to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under the Species at Risk Act (2012)

    Because Atlantic Salmon have a high degree of fidelity to their natal rivers and given their adaptation to the stream they frequent (e.g. difference in morphology, life cycle and behaviour), the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified 16 populations of Atlantic Salmon. This consultation focuses on five of these populations in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Consultations for the other populations assessed as at risk by COSEWIC will be carried out at a later date. We would like to receive your comments on the potential benefits or impacts of adding these five Atlantic Salmon populations to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under the Species at Risk Act. The purposes of this Act are to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct, to provide for their recovery and to conserve biological diversity. This summary includes information on Atlantic Salmon and on the Species at Risk Act. You will also find a detachable questionnaire that you can complete to provide us your comments.