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Atlantic Salmon

Salmo salar
Baby Atlantic Salmon being held in conservationists hands


Atlantic salmon are anadromous ie they breed in freshwater and migrate to sea to grow and mature to adults. Young salmon can be identified by the presence of parr markings along their flanks and the presence of an adipose fin, they are generally more streamlined and not as `spotty` as trout with which they can be confused. Adults can grow in excess of 1 metre long and achieve weights of 20lb plus. The UK record for a rod caught salmon is 64lb and the Irish record stands at 57lb.

Conservation Status

Listed as lower risk, least concern, on the IUCN Red List


Young salmon may spend between 1 and 6 years in freshwater before migrating to sea. In the Foyle and Carlingford areas most fish leave the rivers after 2 years. Salmon may spend up to 4 years at sea before returning to freshwater. Most salmon from the Foyle and Carlingford areas only spend 1 year at sea and these fish are commonly known as grilse. Spawning takes place in winter, usually between October and January, in gravel /cobble areas in the upper catchments. The female digs a hole in the gravel, lays her eggs which are fertilised by the male and then recovers them with more gravel. This is then known as a redd. The eggs slowly mature until around February/March (dependent on water temperature) when the youn salmon emerge from the gravel and known as alevins. They establish territories in the river and the cycle begins again.


Their native range covers both sides of the North Atlantic, from Quebec, Canada to Connecticut, USA in the west and from Russia, northern Norway to Spain and Portugal in the east.

Foyle and Carlingford

The Foyle system holds good stocks of salmon. Salmon are present in some of the Carlingford rivers although in lower numbers.