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 — Scotland - Rivers listed as Grade 2 or 3 by [Marine Scotland](
Picture of Salmon, Atlantic (Caught at sea)

Sustainability rating five info

Sustainability overview

Wild Atlantic salmon stocks are depleted over much of their range. ICES advises that fishing for wild Atlantic salmon should take place only where stocks are at full reproductive capacity or above their Conservation Limits (CLs). Only eat salmon from Grade 1 rivers in Scotland where stocks are known to be above conservation limits (CLs) and at full reproductive capacity. Eating salmon from rivers below these limits (Grade 2 and 3) should be avoided. For information on the sustainability of salmon stocks in rivers in Scotland see the Marine Scotland website.


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

In line with advice from the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) the conservation status of stocks is assessed on a river by river basis, except those areas where fishery catch cannot be assigned to individual rivers.
The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 regulates the killing of Atlantic salmon in inland waters, managing stocks on an annual basis by categorising their conservation status.
The conservation status of each stock is defined using the probabilities of meeting the conservation limit over a five-year period. Rather than a simple pass or fail stocks are allocated to one of three grades each with their own recommended management actions. Grade 1 rivers are rivers in which exploitation is sustainable and no additional management action is currently required.
In general terms the Regulations: prohibit the retention of salmon caught in coastal waters; permit the killing of salmon within inland waters where stocks are above a defined conservation limit i.e. those rivers accorded category 1 or 2 status for the 2016 fishing season; require mandatory catch and release of salmon in areas which fall below their defined conservation limit following the assessment of salmon stocks i.e. those rivers accorded category 3 status. The retention of salmon caught in coastal waters is prohibited under the regulations due to the mixed stock nature of the fishery and limited data on the composition of the catch (this will reviewed in 2018).
Statutory conservation measures ensure that no salmon is taken in Scotland before 1 April each year.
Atlantic salmon is listed by IUCN as a species of Least Concern. Atlantic salmon is also listed by OSPAR as a threatened and declining species. Scotland’s 173 rivers have now been classified and their gradings can be searched online. Follow the links to check the proposed grading for individual rivers in Scotland in 2019: and


The North Atlantic Salmon Commission (NASCO) has responsibility for managing salmon stocks at the international level. ICES provides scientific 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 Scotland salmon fishing is governed by detailed legislation, imposing a variety of controls on all types of fishing.
The Aquaculture and Fisheries (Scotland) Bill is the primary legislation for management of fisheries in Scotland. Part 2 deals with salmon and freshwater fisheries and largely amends the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 2003, particularly in relation to governance by District Salmon Fisheries Boards (DSFBs) and management of salmon fisheries.
The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards is the representative body for Scotland’s 41 District Salmon Fishery Boards (DSFBs) including the River Tweed Commission (RTC), which have a statutory responsibility to protect and improve salmon and sea trout fisheries. District Salmon Fishery Boards and Fishery Trusts remain the foundation of effective fisheries management in Scotland. Many of the fish caught by anglers using rod and line are voluntarily released. Catch and Release in the rod fishery has served to reduce levels of exploitation, notably in the early months of the year. In some local cases catch and release has been implemented on a statutory basis.
In 2009 in England and Wales, the Environment Agency introduced carcass tagging to restrict the potential for illegal salmon trade. The Salmon Carcass Tagging (Scotland) Regulation 2016 introduced mandatory tagging in Scotland, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Under these regulations the only source of wild Scottish Atlantic salmon which may be purchased are those caught from net and cobble fisheries in Category 1 or 2 (inland) waters. It is an offence to sell rod caught wild Scottish Atlantic salmon. The Conservation of Salmon (Scotland) Regulations 2016 prohibits the retention of salmon caught in coastal waters.

Capture Information

All salmon fishing and sea trout fishing rights in Scotland, including in the sea, are private, heritable titles, which may be held separately from any land. They fall into one of three broad categories: fixed engine fisheries - are restricted to the coast and must be set outside estuary limits; net and coble fisheries - generally operate in estuaries and the lower reaches of rivers; and rod and line fisheries - generally operate within rivers and above tidal limits. There are 45 fishing stations in mainland Scotland: East coast - 22; North coast - 5; and West coast and islands - 18. Coastal net fisheries are the only source of wild salmon and sea trout for the commercial market. Although also taken by anglers with rod and line, river anglers cannot sell their catch. Because numbers of wild salmon are declining, many of the fish caught by anglers are now returned to rivers unharmed so that they may go on to spawn. This practice is known as catch-and-release.


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


Marine Scotland Science. Salmon Conservation Regulations September 2016. August 2016;
Salmon Fishery Statistics. 2017 Season. Available at: (Accessed November 2018);
Scottish Government Conservation of Wild Salmon. Available at: (Accessed November 2018)