Salmon, Atlantic (Caught at sea)

Salmo salar

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Drift and fixed net
Capture area — North East Atlantic (FAO 27)
Stock area — NE Atlantic
Stock detail — England and Wales (All rivers not classified as 'Not at risk' by the [Environment Agency](
Picture of Salmon, Atlantic (Caught at sea)

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

The majority of salmon stocks in England and Wales remain in a depleted state. Only eat salmon from rivers in England and Wales where stocks are known to be above conservation limits (CLs) and at full reproductive capacity. Eating salmon from rivers below these limits should be avoided. For information on the status of rivers above CLs please see Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales websites.


The Atlantic salmon is one of 4 species of salmonids indigenous to European waters. Salmon move between fresh and seawater during their lifecycle. This is referred to as being “anadromous”. They spend most of their lives in fresh water and are termed benthopelagic. Atlantic salmon matures at a length of around 73 cms. Maximum length for males is 150 cms, 120 cms for females. Maximum reported age is 13 years, but most individuals only reach 4-6 years. Adult fish return to their birth or natal river from January until November and spawn in late Autumn/early Winter. The eggs, which are laid in nests termed “redds”, hatch in April to May and are called alevins. Young fish, which are known firstly as fry and later as parr as they mature, remain in fresh water for 1 to 6 years, then migrate to coastal marine waters, or even the open oceans, between April and May. They have undergone a physiological change to enable them to live at sea and are now termed smolts. Adult salmon return to spawn after spending up to 4 years at sea. Many die after spawning but a number survive to spawn a second or third time. The mechanism by which salmon navigate with such precision back to their birth or natal river to spawn is not fully understood. In the ocean, the earth’s magnetic field and the stars may be important. When the salmon reach coastal waters, smell and taste allow precise homing to their river of birth. One of the key biological differences between Atlantic salmon (Salmo) and Pacific salmon (Onchorynchus) is that Atlantic salmon are iteroparous, that is, they do not die after returning to spawn in the rivers in which they hatch. Pacific salmon, and other members of the Onchorynchus genus on the other hand, are referred to as being semelparous, with mature members of the population generally dying within a few days or weeks of spawning.

Stock information

Criterion score: Default red rating info

Stock Area

NE Atlantic

Stock information

Information and data on the status of salmon stocks in England and Wales is compiled by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales. Their report provides information on stock status to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which in turn is used to provide advice to the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO). ICES recommend that fishing for salmon only takes place in rivers where stocks are known to be above conservation limits (CLs) and at full reproductive capacity.
There are 49 rivers in England and 31 rivers in Wales that regularly support salmon, although some of the stocks are very small and support minimal catches; of these, 64 rivers have been designated ‘principal salmon rivers’.
Conservation limits (CLs) and management targets have been set for the 42 principal salmon rivers in England and 22 in Wales and are used to give annual advice on stock status and to assess the need for management and conservation measures.
Spawning escapement in 2017 was estimated to be above the conservation limit (CL) in 32 of the 64 principal salmon rivers in England and Wales (50%) - (33% in 2016; 36% in 2015; 19% in 2014; 30% in 2013; 53% in 2012; 64% in 2011; 61% in 2010). This is an increase on 2016 (22 rivers) and the highest level of CL compliance since 2012. Rivers where spawning escapement was below CL were widely distributed.
Formal compliance assessment in 2017 indicated that only 7 rivers (11%) were classified within the top two categories i.e. had a greater than 50% probability of achieving the management objective (MO) of exceeding the CL in 4 years out of 5. No rivers were classified as not at risk (> 95% probability of meeting the MO) and 19 rivers (30%) (25 rivers (39%) in 2016) were classified as at risk (45% in Wales and 21% in England) having a low probability (p < 5%) of achieving the MO). In England, there has been a general decrease in the number of rivers classified as at risk over the time series.
The latest assessment thus indicates that the majority of salmon stocks in England and Wales remain in a depleted state.
Atlantic salmon is listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species in the Northeast Atlantic.


Due to the Atlantic salmon’s oceanic migrations, international cooperation is essential to its conservation, restoration and rational management. The forum for such cooperation is provided by the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO). Under NASCO’s Convention, fishing for salmon is prohibited beyond 12 nautical miles of the baselines in most parts of the North Atlantic Ocean, thereby creating an enormous protected zone free of directed salmon fisheries. ICES has provided advice to NASCO on salmon stocks since it was established in 1983. Despite management measures aimed at reducing exploitation in recent years, there has been little improvement in the status of stocks over time.

In England and Wales salmon stocks are managed on a river by river basis by the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales respectively. The importance of managing salmon on such a basis is emphasised by the fact salmon from different rivers, and even from different parts of the same river system, are genetically distinct. Fisheries are primarily regulated by effort controls, which specify the nature of the gear that may be operated, along with where, when and how it may be used. Anyone fishing for salmon with nets, traps or rod and line must have a licence, and numbers of net/trap licences issued are usually limited by Net Limitation Orders (NLOs) that apply to individual fisheries (e.g. within each estuary). Byelaws may be introduced to make reductions in fishing effort in rod and net fisheries (e.g. length of seasons, to control the type of fishing gear that may be used, or where and when fishing may take place). Where there is a justified and serious conservation concern, byelaws can be used to close fisheries. While, historically, there have been no regulations imposing catch limits for salmon net fisheries (with regulation focusing only on effort controls), there has been limited use of catch limits in recent years. Since 1996, there has been a policy in England and Wales to close coastal net fisheries that exploit predominantly mixed stocks where capacity to manage individual stocks is compromised. Drift netting for salmon and sea trout will end by 2022. T&J (type of fixed net) nets that are exploiting salmon from rivers of unknown origin, where populations within their stocks may be below conservation levels (CLs) are also being phased out. National spring salmon byelaws introduced in 1999 prohibit killing, and in most cases fishing for, salmon before 1 June. As well as statutory measures, a range of voluntary measures is in place. These include agreements between angling and netting interests, which result in netsmen being compensated to release fish or not to fish, and extensive voluntary catch and release (C&R) of rod-caught fish. The proportion of salmon released by anglers has increased steadily from 10% in 1993 to at or above 60% in the last seven years (80%, provisionally, in 2016, the highest in the time series). A national byelaw came into effect in England and Wales in 2009 requiring all net-caught salmon and sea trout to be individually tagged with a carcass tag after capture and for the details of all fish caught to be recorded in an annual logbook. A national byelaw banning the sale of rod-caught salmon and sea trout in England and Wales also came into effect in 2009.

Capture Information

There are many different specialised salmon fishing methods employed in England and Wales. These can be grouped into 5 generic categories: gill nets (which entangle fish), sweep nets (which encircle and trap fish), hand-held nets, fixed engines (a term used to describe various fixed fishing gears) and rods. Anyone fishing for salmon with a net, fixed engine or rod must have a licence. The number of licences issued is limited by Net Limitation Orders. NLOs do not however apply to privately owned fisheries which may be regulated by bylaws. There is no limit to the number of rod licences that can be issued. Drift net and beach net fisheries for salmon are being phased out because these fisheries exploit fish from more than one river, making it impossible to regulate the level of exploitation on individual river stocks. A national byelaw came into effect in England and Wales in 2009 requiring all net-caught salmon and sea trout to be individually tagged with a carcass tag after capture and for the details of all fish caught to be recorded in an annual logbook. This measure, in tandem with a ban on sale of rod-caught fish, was designed to reduce the sale of illegally caught fish.


Based on method of production, fish type, and consumer rating: only fish rated 2 and below are included as an alternative in the list below. Click on a name to show the sustainable options available.

Anchovy, anchovies
Arctic char
Herring or sild
Salmon, Atlantic (Farmed)
Salmon, Chum, Keta, Calico or Dog salmon
Salmon, Pink, Spring , humpback
Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish
Trout, Rainbow
Tuna, albacore
Tuna, skipjack
Tuna, yellowfin


Cefas, EA, NRW (2018). Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales in 2017. Available at: (Accessed November 2018)
Cefas, EA, NRW (2017). Assessment of Salmon Stocks and Fisheries in England and Wales in 2016. (Accessed October 2017)

Cefas, EA, NRW (2017). Salmon stocks and fisheries in England and Wales in 2016 (Accessed October 2017)