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Species in the Spotlight: Atlantic Salmon

View slideshow Illustration of Atlantic salmon. Credit: NOAA Fisheries atlanticsalmon01.jpg atlanticsalmon02.jpg atlanticsalmon03.jpg

Atlantic Salmon 

New! Atlantic Salmon Action Plan (PDF)

New! Atlantic Salmon Draft Recovery Plan (PDF)



  • Today, the last remnant populations of Atlantic salmon in U.S. waters exist in just a few rivers and streams in central and eastern Maine.


  • The remaining wild populations of Atlantic salmon constitute the Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Atlantic salmon, which is listed as endangered under the ESA.


  • The Atlantic salmon is an anadromous fish, typically spending 2-3 years in freshwater, migrating to the ocean where it also spends 2-3 years, and then returning to its natal river to spawn. 
  • Atlantic salmon leave Maine rivers in the spring and reach Newfoundland and Labrador by mid-summer. They spend their first winter at sea south of Greenland. After the first winter at sea, a small percentage return to Maine while the majority spend a second year at sea, feeding off the southwest or, to a much lesser extent, the southeast coast of Greenland. Some Maine salmon are also found in waters along the Labrador coast. 
  • In June 2009, we designated critical habitat for the Gulf of Maine DPS.

Check out these related habitat restoration projects. 

Penobscot River: Habitat Focus Area (2014)
Next Step in Historic Fish Passage Project on Penobscot River (2012) 
Habitat Restoration: An Economic Engine (video) (2012)


Learn more about our Species in the Spotlight.
Learn more about Atlantic Salmon.
Read the latest report on Recovering Threatened and Endangered Species.
Check out what our leader, Eileen Sobeck, has to say about our Species in the Spotlight.

The Atlantic salmon is one of 
NOAA Fisheries' Species in the Spotlight.    

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), also known as the “King of Fish,” were once found in north American waters from Long Island Sound in the United States to Ungava Bay in northeastern Canada. Atlantic salmon are anadromous fish, spending the first half of their life in freshwater rivers and  streams along the East Coast of North America and the second half maturing in the seas between Northeastern Canada and Greenland. 

Today, the last remnant populations of Atlantic salmon in U.S. waters exist in just a few rivers and streams in central and eastern Maine. These populations constitute the Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Atlantic salmon, which is listed as endangered under the ESA.

To address the critical status of this imperiled species, we are marshalling resources and reaching out to vital partners to stabilize their populations and prevent extinction.

The final listing rule highlights the importance of dams and marine survival as causes of the current demographic plight of Atlantic salmon.  A host of other threats also limit Atlantic salmon's survival including aquaculture practices (which pose ecological and genetic risks), changing land use patterns (e.g., development, agriculture, forestry), climate change, degradation of water quality (e.g., contaminants, nutrient enrichment, elevated water temperature), non-native fish species that compete with or prey on Atlantic salmon (e.g., smallmouth bass), loss of habitat complexity and connectivity, water extraction, among others. 

Through recovery planning we understand the threats and have identified a range of management actions that must be taken to address their decline. Some of the efforts that we are involved in include:

NOAA Fisheries is working with dam owners and local interests to develop solutions at dams that will allow for salmon recovery. NOAA Fisheries provided significant resources ($22.5 million) for the oversight, funding, and monitoring of two mainstem dam removals on the Penobscot River, which were part of the Penobscot River Restoration Project. 

In addition, NOAA Fisheries staff continue to work with hydropower owners to craft plans for effective downstream and upstream fish passage at nearly all major hydropower dams within the designated critical habitat area for Atlantic salmon. The ultimate goal is to restore access to all necessary habitats for Atlantic salmon so that the fish are able to complete their life cycle moving from marine to freshwater and vice versa.

What Can You Do?

Landowners and the general public can contribute significantly in Atlantic salmon recovery by implementing best management and land stewardship practices that afford protections to Atlantic salmon, native fisheries and their habitats, including riparian land and water quality.  They can:
  • Remove or provide passage around blockages, including round culverts and dams that prevent or impair the movement of Atlantic salmon and Maine’s native fish community.
  • Maintain and protect forested riparian areas that provide shade, nutrients, and cover necessary to support Atlantic salmon and Maine’s cold water and migratory fish community.
  • Avoid removing wood from Maine waterways and their banks because wood provides important habitat for Atlantic salmon and Maine’s native fish community to feed and seek shelter.
  • Maintain native vegetation along waterways to minimize erosion of topsoil to maintain healthy forests while reducing inputs of sediment into streams.  Sediments fill in spaces between rocks that are used by Atlantic salmon and native fish communities as sites for laying eggs and by juvenile fish as shelter from predators.Encourage or participate in programs to conserve land and water resources that promote abundant, suitable habitats for Atlantic salmon and also assure that water resources continue to provide recreational and fishery opportunities into the future.