Sergei Gorshkov

Pacific Salmon

Pacific Salmon

Salmon are central to the Pacific Rim. Their annual migrations are a miracle of nature and their presence tells us that our rivers are still healthy. Salmon and freshwater ecosystems are inextricably linked, with runs functioning as enormous pumps that push vast amounts of marine nutrients from the ocean to the headwaters of rivers. 

Our Science program works with our partners so that we can best conserve and sustainably use the North Pacific’s wild salmon ecosystems. Learn more about our Science Initiatives and explore our latest studies and publications.

Species Background

Salmon Naming Conventions
Species from the Oncorhynchus genus that WSC is working to protect, and some of their associated names.

Oncorhynchus is a genus of fish in the family Salmonidae (also called Salmonids); it contains the six species of Pacific salmon (Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink, chum, masu) as well as steelhead, and other Pacific trout. Although Pacific salmon date back around 15 million years, current populations descend from ones that survived the last glacial maximum some 17,000 years ago in ice-free areas of Beringia in the north, and along coastal areas south of British Columbia and along the Pacific Coast of Asia (see the Oncorhynchus family tree figure below).

Descendants of these creatures have since radiated from these ice-age refugia, adapting to habitats from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula; from Bristol Bay, Alaska, to Tillamook Bay, Oregon; from Sakhalin Island to British Columbia’s Lelu Island; and from Japan’s Sarufutsu River to California’s Smith River. Salmon link these lands across the Pacific, connecting the oceans, nearshores, estuaries, rivers, creeks, rivulets, and, finally, the headwaters where the streams originate. Salmon have used these pathways before they had names, and as far back as the post-Pleistocene era.

Range of Pacific Salmon

The seven species of Oncorhynchus use the entire Pacific Rim coastline and can venture hundreds of kilometers inland in every direction. Salmon use the tributaries, rivers, and estuaries without regard to jurisdiction, from South Korea to Southern California. Note that the map below—a composite of the distribution maps for seven species of Oncorhynchus—shows current and limited distribution as well as historic presence, effectively outlining the footprint of salmon throughout the North Pacific. Pacific salmon are currently expanding along coastal areas of the Arctic Ocean.


The center of range for Oncorhynchus is generally the Gulf of Alaska. From the Russian coasts of Magadan, Kamchatka, and Koryakia, across the Aleutians, and down the North American coastline to Washington, species diversity within the genus is high. Note that coastal areas of the Sea of Okhotsk are the only regions to host all seven species. Conversely, we can also see how the edges of the range contain fewer species.

Salmon Diversity by Ecoregion
SALMON DIVERSITY BY ECOREGION (based on current distribution)

Wild Salmon Center’s work is focused on assessing and promoting the conservation of strongholds of the seven most commercially important salmonids across the North Pacific. Learn more about our Science Initiatives and explore our latest studies and publications.

Learn More about Pacific Salmon Species

  • Pacific Salmon

    Chinook Salmon

    Chinook are the largest-bodied species of Oncorhynchus.  Chinook are at increased risk of extinction in their southern range and in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho inland threats of habitat loss and …

  • Pacific Salmon

    Coho Salmon

    Coho populations are small and widely distributed. They use coastal streams and off-channel wintering habitats, which are highly vulnerable to the effects of agriculture and logging. Entering in fall and …

  • Chum salmon underwater
    Pacific Salmon

    Chum Salmon

    Chum are the most widely distributed of Pacific salmon. Spawning in side channels of braided river reaches far upstream, they travel herculean distances—in Canada, as far as 7,700 miles (3,500 …

  • pink salmon
    Pacific Salmon

    Pink Salmon

    Pink salmon are the most abundant of Pacific salmon. They (along with masu) are the smallest; pink are also the most limited upriver migrators, and, with regard to life history …

  • Pacific Salmon


    Masu, or cherry salmon, is a species of salmon found only in the Western Pacific, from the Kamchatka Peninsula to Sakhalin Island, the Kuril Islands, Primorsky Krai and south through …

  • Pacific Salmon


    Steelhead are the anadromous form of the rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). The difference between these forms of the species is that steelhead migrate to the ocean and return to freshwater tributaries …

  • Pacific Salmon


    A group of ancient species that occupy a unique ecological niche, taimen are the largest salmonids in the world. Taimen can live over 30 years and reach 6 feet in length …

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