Slim, streamlined, and brilliantly coloured, Sockeye are something to see in the rivers and lakes of the Pacific Northwest. They have always played a major symbolic role in First Nations cultures, and have provided valued subsistence nutrition to them. They are also greatly sought after in the rest of the world for their firm, rich, orange flesh and full flavour, which in some ways has made them the archetype of what salmon 'should' be.
Important to commercial fisheries, Sockeye also intrigue sportfishers with their elusive ways, patience, and fight when it comes right down to it!
Sockeye weigh from five to 12 lbs at maturity, when they are typically four years old. They range from 20 to 28 inches long.
Landlocked Cousins: there is a species of salmon called Kokannee, which is very much like Sockeye in appearance - though much smaller - that never makes the trip to the ocean. Therefore, Kokannee are not anadromous.
Spotting a Sockeye
Sockeye are often mistaken for Coho. But two things help to identify them: big eyes and the iridescent shininess of their skin. You won't find big teeth on Sockeye, either: they primarily eat euphasids and krill. Also missing: the prominent spots and speckles of Coho and Chinook. Male Sockeye develop a pronounced hump when spawning.
Habits and Habitat
Sockeye spend a good part of their lives in freshwater, as opposed to Chum or Pink salmon. Moreover, they are lake dwellers for months; even the streams they choose are usually connected to lakes. They spend from one to three years in freshwater before heading to the ocean. Upon returning at maturity, they often travel long distances to reach their spawning grounds. The Fraser, Nass, and Skeena Rivers are major spawning waters for Sockeye.
Other Facts About Sockeye:
In the lakes of the Pacific Northwest, salmon are overwhelmingly abundant every fourth year. The sheer Sockeye numbers in this year make their runs through rivers (especially the Adams River in the interior of BC) truly spectacular.
Sockeye is the most commercially sought after Pacific salmon.
Sockeye may spawn in lakes, beaches, or river gravel.