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. 

In 2003, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed both the Cultus Lake and Sakinaw Lake populations of Sockeye Salmon as Endangered. They were designated as such because both populations have seen variable declines since the 1950s and 1960s, and dramatic population declines throughout the mid- to late-1900s. 

Due to their freshwater and marine life cycle, they are vulnerable to threats in both environments, and particularly to those in freshwater spawning grounds, such as damming of rivers, logging operations along rivers, degradation of water quality, and human development around waterbodies. Conservation measures such as habitat protections, reduced fishery quotas and hatchery supplementations (raising salmon from eggs and releasing them) have been put in place with the hope of improving the status of Sockeye salmon in Canada’s Pacific ocean.

Oceana Canada is working to protect Canada’s oceans for species like the Sockeye salmon. Find out more about our campaigns and join us in helping to bring abundance back to the ocean.