Atlantic and Pacific salmon are both in the family Salmonidae, along with trout, but they comprise different genuses, and have slightly different life cycles. Both types of salmon are commercially fished and farmed, which is something about which environmentalists have raised concerns. Consumers can help to support healthy fisheries by purchasing wild caught salmon, or fish which has been certified by an organization such as the Marine Stewardship Council. Biologists also encourage consumers to consider expanding their taste when it comes to fish, and experimenting with new species at the dinner table.
Both Pacific and Atlantic salmon are anadramous, meaning that they are able to live in both salt and fresh water. The fish are born in fresh water, and make their way to the open ocean to live. When the salmon are ready to breed, they travel back to fresh water to spawn. The need for freshwater spawning environments makes salmon very sensitive to pollution, heavy accumulations of silt in rivers, and dams. For these reason, Atlantic and Pacific salmon are sometimes used as an indicator species to identify potential environmental issues.
Pacific salmon are in the genus Oncorhynchus, which contains numerous individual species including Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead. Unlike Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon only spawn once before they die. Each generation, however, appears to have a memory for spawning spots and traveling routes. Atlantic salmon, on the other hand, are in the genus Salmo, typified by the species Salmo salar. They are capable of breeding multiple times, and they tend to favor the same breeding spots year after year.
The introduction of Atlantic salmon into Pacific water and vice versa has been criticized by biologists. The fish are mainly introduced into fish farms, but escapees from fish farms could compromise the native salmon species. Competition for resources can lead to destabilization of a species, which is a major concern in the Pacific Northwest, where Pacific salmon play an important role in Native American culture. Populations of both types of salmon are carefully monitored.
In addition to being at risk due to environmental degradation, Pacific and Atlantic salmon are also threatened by overfishing. Salmon meat is an extremely popular form of seafood, with many consumers who “do not like fish” enjoying salmon annually. Both Pacific and Atlantic salmon stocks are in decline, despite the efforts of government agencies to preserve them. Fishery collapse also has a profound impact on local economies, as the disappearance of fish stocks can also lead to vanishing income for communities which have traditionally sustained themselves through fishing.