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 a more bluntly-pointed head than the other Pacific salmon. They are also the slimmest and most streamlined of the Pacific salmon species and appear almost toothless. They are typically a silver-blue colour with some individuals having tiny black speckles along their body. When sockeye salmon return to their natal rivers to spawn, they undergo intense colour changes,  darkening to a silvery-purple. 

As males continues to mature, their heads become a pale emerald green, their bodies turn bright red and they develop a hump on their back. The male’s jaw also becomes darker, elongated and hooked. Females resemble the males in colour, but are slightly less bright, with green and yellow blotches on their bodies and an absence of a humped back and hooked jaws. On average, sockeye salmon grow to be about 45 to 60 centimetres long and weigh around three kilograms, but some have been recorded between six and seven kilograms.