Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish

Oncorhynchus nerka

Method of production — Caught at sea
Capture method — Gillnets, beach seine
Capture area — North East Pacific (FAO 67)
Stock area — USA
Stock detail — Alaska
Certification — Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Picture of Salmon, Sockeye , Red Salmon, Bluebacks, Redfish

Sustainability rating two info

Sustainability overview

Updated: December 2019 

Sockeye populations are generally in a well-managed state. In Alaska, none are listed under the Endangered Species Act and they are generally managed to ensure that their populations are healthy. However, there are three stocks of concern in Alaskan waters. Management requires some improvement regarding monitoring and management of enhancement programmes.

Alaska commercial salmon harvest largely comprises pink salmon, followed by sockeye, chum, coho and then chinook. However, Alaska’s largest export salmon species to the UK is sockeye; followed by pink and then chum. Sockeye is usually transported as frozen to European markets, and can be found fresh, known for its really rich bright red colours.

Most sockeye are caught in net fisheries, including gillnets and purse seines. Bycatch levels are generally very low and mostly include other salmon species. There is some interaction on endangered, threatened and protected species but this is generally very low, occurring in the gillnet fisheries. Most gears have a very limited impact on the habitat as most fishing gears for salmon have little interaction with the seabed, except for beach seines and set nets, which normally operate in areas with fine to medium substrates (that are not likely to be vulnerable).


Pacific salmon occur from California north along the Pacific coast throughout the Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean waters adjacent to Alaska. The five species (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye) are members of a large family of fish known as salmonidae, which are abundant throughout the temperate zones of the northern and southern hemispheres. Pacific salmon are a shorter lived species and much more prolific breeders than Atlantic salmon.
Sockeye salmon are one of the smaller species of Pacific salmon, measuring 18 to 31 inches in length and weighing 4-15 pounds. Sea-going sockeye salmon have iridescent silver flanks, a white belly, and a metallic green-blue back, giving them their Blueback name. Sockeye salmon are found in the eastern Pacific from the Klamath river in Oregon, to Point Hope in NW Alaska with the largest populations being in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska and the Fraser river in Canada. In the western Pacific sockeye are found from the Anadyr river in Siberia to Hokkaido in Japan albeit Japan not considered by IUCN to be part of its natural range. In common with all Pacific salmon species, most sockeye salmon are anadromous and spend one to four years in fresh water and one to three years in the ocean (those sockeye that live all their lives in landlocked waterways in freshwater are called Kokanee). The typical lifespan of the sockeye is five years albeit can be three to seven years. In Alaska most sockeye return to their natal streams to spawn in June and July. The females lay a relatively small number of eggs (2000 5000) and both females and males die within a few weeks of spawning.

Stock information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Stock Area


Stock information

The health of sockeye salmon stocks in Alaska varies. However, there is generally no concern for biomass, or for fishing mortality. Sockeye salmon are of medium resilience.

There are hundreds of salmon stocks in Alaska. They are grouped into Stock Management Units (SMUs). Within the MSC Alaska fishery, there are 12 main SMUs that are relevant to sockeye salmon (Southeast, Yakutat, Prince William Sounds, Copper/Bering Districts, Lower Cook Inlet, Upper Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay, Kuskokwim, Norton Sound, Kodiak, Chignik, Peninsula/Aleutian Islands). Because there are so many stocks in Alaska, the stock assessments identify ‘index rivers’ as indicators to monitor abundance. These index rivers represent population levels in each of these SMUs. The target reference point (TRP) is based on escapement goals. When salmon hatch, they migrate from the rivers to the sea and when they become adults, they travel back to the rivers to spawn and are harvested along the way. To ensure that there are enough salmon to spawn and replenish the next generation, the Alaska Department of Fisheries and Game set limits on the amount of salmon that can be caught, which is called an escapement goal. A fishery is assessed on how well the TRP is met by reviewing how well the escapement goals have been met over the previous last decade.

Sockeye salmon have generally exceeded their escapement goals for the reference years and are fluctuating at or above the TRP. However, there were exceptions in many of the Stock Management Units (SMUs), where goals were not met for some years over the reference period, including Yukutat, Prince William Sound, and Copper/Bering Districts. In addition, three SMUs had stocks that had declined and were now listed as being ‘of concern’: Southeast (McDonald Lake); Upper Cook Inlet (Susitna River Sockeye); and Peninsula/ Aleutian Islands (Swanson Lagoon sockeye). None of the stocks are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Sockeye populations are naturally variable and therefore, fishing mortality needs to be reactive to the size of the populations. A number of factors impact their population size. Even volcanic eruptions are known to impact salmon populations as they have reduced the availability of eelgrass beds, which serves as vital nursery grounds for the young sockeye salmon and their spawning grounds.


Criterion score: 0.25 info

The fishery is certified and largely well-managed as it largely meets its objective (to achieve escapement goals for the majority of the time). However, management requires some improvement regarding improved monitoring and management of enhancement programmes.

Alaskan salmon fisheries are managed nationally, by Alaskan state agencies (the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF) and Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG); federally, by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC)) and internationally via the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) and the Pacific Salmon Commission. Alaskan salmon are managed under Fishery Management Plan (FMP) under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act covering Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye salmon. The BOF applies regulations to conserve salmon, such as quotas, open and closed seasons, bag limits, harvest levels and harvesting methods, which the ADFG implements.

The main method used to manage salmon is by ensuring they meet their escapement goals (see Stock Info tab). The ADFG conduct forecasts during the salmon season (called in-season management) to estimate how many salmon there are and the catch limits and open or close the fishery when needed. Salmon populations are monitored on a daily basis, using a variety of methods, including aerial surveys, weir counts, genetic studies, sonar, monitoring catches, their migration, escapement, hatchery contributions (often monitored real-time via otolith marking), habitat quality and environmental conditions. However, there are some data gaps, such as abundance, productivity and exploitation rates of component stocks of Susitna Sockeye salmon in the Upper Cook Inlet. Stock assessments are quantitative, conducted annually and reviewed every three years. The escapement goals act as reference points. Uncertainties are considered: some Stock Management Units (SMUs) such as Prince William Sound use risk-based methods to estimate escapement goals, however, other SMUs such as Kotzebue area, do not have adequate data to do this. There are three types of escapement goals, which accommodate for the type of fishery (commercial, sport or subsistence) and data availability. Biological Escapement Goals provide the greatest potential to reach Maximum Sustainable Yield. If stocks are consistently not achieving escapement goals and harvest levels, they are designated a Stock of Concern” (SOC), triggering stricter management, such as recovery plans. There are no pink salmon stocks of concern, two chum salmon and three sockeye. For sockeye, the efficacy of rebuilding is often unknown and timeframes are uncertain e.g. Upper Cook Inlet. Several areas listed stocks of concern that subsequently improved, and concern levels were lifted (e.g. in Bristol Bay). However, harvest strategies have not been entirely successful, as stocks in some SMUs have not been maintained throughout the reference period; some stocks remain stocks of concern (e.g. in Upper Cook Inlet).

Non-compliance in the salmon fishery and hatcheries is rare. Compliance is enforced by the ADFG, where fishers must record catches via fish tickets, which help fishery managers monitor harvests. The ADFG also monitor hatchery outputs as required in their non-transferrable permits, which limit the salmon species, volume that can be released into the fishery and specific sourcing information.”

Capture Information

Criterion score: 0.25 info

Salmon fisheries conducted in Alaska are generally very selective, with negligible bycatch rates. Most gear types used to catch salmon are designed to fish within the water column and do not interact with the substrate. Beach seines and set gillnets do however, have some interaction with the substrate. These gears are considered to have a low impact on the substrate as they are conducted in areas with fine to medium sediment type with a generally flat seafloor topography. Therefore, there is limited impact on the benthic environment for these gears. The US government agency monitoring interactions with Endangered, Threatened and Protected species concludes that the fishery does not pose a high risk to marine mammal species. However, there has been some interaction recorded by gillnets and beach seine gears, with some Alaskan salmon fisheries considered Category II fisheries, where some risk is considered to marine mammal species.

There is minimal unwanted catch in salmon fisheries. Catches almost exclusively comprise salmon species. Some other finfish are allowed to be retained for personal use (mainly steelhead), but this is considered to be negligible (in terms of volume). Apart from in the Southeast and Yakutat fisheries, non-salmonid species are not allowed to be retained and sold. There are cross-boundary stocks of salmon, shared between Alaska and Canada. The Pacific Salmon Treaty includes instruments to manage trans-boundary stocks, which have achieved their escapement goals in most years.

There are multiple measures in place to protect Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) species, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Migratory Birds Act (MBA). US government agencies (NMFS) monitor the state of ETP species and conclude that no salmon fisheries are considered high risk (Category I) to ETP species and that the interactions with ETP mammals are relatively low. Ten Alaskan salmon set and drift net fisheries were deemed Category II fisheries for their potential impact on marine mammal species. Two Alaskan salmon gillnet fisheries were listed as Category III, along with six seine (purse or beach) and one troll fishery. The species affected depend on the SMU, but generally include cetaceans, pinnipeds and otters. Category II indicates occasional incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals and Category III indicates a remote likelihood or no known incidental mortality or serious injury of marine mammals). NMFS does not consider there to be a significant number of interactions with ESA listed bird species. There are low levels of interaction between birds and the gillnet fisheries, but none of the species were listed under the ESA. In areas of overlap, they concluded the total number of birds exposed to gillnets in any of the overlap areas is small”. However, there are a lack of data to determine if the hatcheries have an impact on ETP species. More understanding is required on the impacts of gillnets, largely on seabird species. Greater observer coverage is required to fully determine the impacts on ETP species.

Multiple management measures are in-place to limit gear interactions and impacts with benthic environments. Hatchery programmes are monitored and managed under permits. Gear marking is required for all commercial fishing gear. In addition, Alaska state employs multiple management restrictions to protect waterways, which serve as important habitat to anadromous fish species. Through long-term habitat monitoring, the ADFG have not observed significant impacts on habitats from salmon fishing gear, and no significant impacts from gear loss. Essential Fish Habitats are designated to protect “habitat areas of particular concern” that salmon species rely on in Alaska throughout their life-history stages. This management is directed at Coho and Chinook salmon but chum and sockeye share similar habitats, so are likely to benefit. The impacts of the human activities on salmon is reviewed every five years. Whilst beach seines and set gillnets may interact with the benthic environment, they generally operate in areas where the substrate is fine to medium. Fishers are deterred from fishing in substrates that are not flat, and in areas with small biota and no seagrasses, as nets are more likely to snag on features. In addition, permits for beach seines are only provided in a three SMUs, including Yukon and Kodiak, where only a small number of permits are available. There are management measures to mitigate their impacts, including requirements to release King salmon and further gear restrictions such as mesh size, material and length limits and restrictions on when and where beach seines can be set. These fisheries do not operate in areas designated as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.”


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


ADFG, 2012. Alaska Fisheries Sonar: Escapement Goals. Available at: [Accessed on 03/12/2019]

ADFG, 2019. Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Southeast Alaska pink salmon harvest forecast. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

ADFG, nd. Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha): Species Profile. Available at: [Accessed on 03/12/2019].

ADFG, nd Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka): Species Profile. Available at: [Accessed on 03/12/2019]

ADFG. nd. Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha): Species Profile. Available at: [Accessed on 03/12/2019].

ADFG. nd.e. Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Board of Fisheries. Available at: [Accessed on 03/12/2019].

Alaska Seafood. 2018a. Alaska Sockeye Salmon Outlook & Summary. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Alaska Seafood, 2018b. Alaska Pink Salmon Outlook & Summary. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Alaska Seafood, 2018c. Alaska Salmon Market Summary & Outlook - December 2016. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Carroll, H. C, D. M. Jallen, and F. W. West. 2018. Yukon River king salmon stock status and summer chum salmon fishery, 2019: a report to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Special Publication No. 18-18, Anchorage. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Evenson, D. F., C. Habicht, M. Stopha, A. R. Munro, T. R. Meyers, and W. D. Templin. 2018. Salmon hatcheries in Alaska - A review of the implementation of plans, permits, and policies designed to provide protection for wild stocks. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Special Publication No. 18-12, Anchorage. Available at [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

NMFS. 2017. Pink Salmon. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

NMFS, 2018a. NOAA Fisheries Species Directory: Chum Salmon. Available at: [Accessed on 28/11/2019]

NMFS. 2018b. Amendment 13: Fishery Management Plan for the Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ Off Alaska Amendment 13- amendment text for updating EFH text description, EFH maps, fishing effects, and non-fishing impacts to EFH. (EFH Omnibus Amendment).

NMFS, 2019. List of Fisheries for 2019. 50 CFR 229. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

NOAA, 2018. Volcanoes and Eelgrass Transform Salmon Habitat. Available at: [Accessed on 22/11/2019]

NOAA. 2019b. FishWatch: Chum Salmon. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

NOAA. 2019c. FishWatch: Sockeye Salmon. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

NOAA. 2019c. Habitat Areas of Particular Concern on the West Coast: Salmon HAPCs. Available at: [Accessed on 05/12/2019].

Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) & National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2014. Final environmental assessment and regulatory impact review pacific coast salmon plan amendment 18: incorporating revisions to pacific salmon essential fish habitat. 0648-BC95. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

PFMC, 2014. Appendix A to the pacific coast salmon fishery management plan, As Modified by Amendment 18 to the Pacific Coast Salmon Plan. Identification and description of essential fish habitat, adverse impacts, and recommended conservation measures for salmon. Portland, Oregon. Available at: [Accessed on 06.12.2019].

Simpson, S. C., Eagleton, M. P., Olson, J. V., Harrington, G. A., and Kelly, S.R. 2017. Final Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) 5-year Review, Summary Report: 2010 through 2015. U.S. Dep. Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-F/AKR-15, 115p. Available at [Accessed on 05.12.2019].

State of Alaska. 2019. Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission Salmon Commercial fishing statistics. Available at: [Accessed on 5/12/2019].

Stern-Pirlot, A., Beamesderfer, R. and Marshall, S. 2019. Marine Stewardship Council 3rd Reassessment Report Alaska Salmon Fishery: Public Certification Report. St Petersburg, FL, USA. Available at [Accessed on 06.12.2019].