Sockeye Salmon | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Sockeye Salmon

Oncorhynchus nerka

Also known as

Blueback, Kennerly’s salmon, kokanee, little redfish, pygmy salmon, silver trout


Throughout the North Pacific Ocean


Rivers and coastal seas

Feeding Habits

Active predator

Conservation Status



Order Salmoniformes (salmons); Family Salmonide (salmons, trouts & chars)


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The word sockeye comes from the Coast Salish name “sukkai,” once commonly used in southwestern British Columbia. It translates roughly to “fish of fishes.” Sockeye are the most iconic and sought after salmon species in British Columbia due to their bright red colour and emerald-green head during spawning, and their rich, bright pink, oily flesh. The rich colour and oil content of sockeye is thought to be because of their diet, which is high in zooplankton and shrimp. 

Sockeye salmon have been harvested for centuries by First Nations for food, social and ceremonial purposes, traditionally using nets, weirs and gaffs. They have been targeted by commercial and recreational fisheries since the nineteenth century, using purse seines, gill nets, troll gear and handlines. They were the first species of salmon in the Pacific to be harvested commercially, and also the first to be canned in quantity, starting in the late 1870s. 

Today, fishing is the greatest threat to Sockeye salmon populations, since most of the damage to population abundances across British Columbia arose in the early 1900s because of land use changes. Logging operations, damming of river systems, introduction of larger-scale agriculture, and residential development along waterways greatly altered the habitat of Sockeye salmon and has made it difficult for populations to rebound to healthy levels, especially with continued fishing pressure.

Sockeye salmon caught using gillnet, purse sein and troll are listed as a sustainable seafood choice.