What is Salmon Ranching?

“Salmon Ranching” can be defined as the “artificial propagation of juvenile salmon for release into ocean basins”.

Salmon ranching may also be referred to as “ocean ranching”.  Others may refer to it as “salmon enhancement”.

Simply put, salmon ranching refers to a process by which indigenous salmon are initially caught and stripped of eggs and milt. The fertilized eggs are then cultured in a hatchery where they will hatch and begin feeding on a feed powder. Mimicking the natural life cycle of a wild salmon, these salmon are then transported from freshwater hatcheries to saltwater fish farms. The juvenile salmon continued to be cultured in saltwater fish farms using net pens to contain the salmon. While in net pens, salmon are fed feed pellets to gain size and strength. Also, by remaining captive in an area suitable for a future commercial fishery, the salmon are “imprinted” to the area where they are temporarily farmed. Imprinting ensures that these cultured salmon return to the same place where they were “born” – similar to natural, wild salmon. Once large enough to successfully compete with wild salmon for food and space, these cultured salmon are released into the ocean to forage for food (referred to as “ranching”). Depending on the species of salmon (Pink, Chum, Coho, Chinook or Sockeye), they will return to their birthplace in two to four years. Upon return, a mixture of wild and ranched salmon are caught by commercial and sports salmon fisherman. Selected salmon are also retained by the source hatchery to be used again for eggs and milt – thus repeating the process.

Alaska salmon harvest 1936 to 2013

In 2013, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported that 283 million salmon were commercially harvested. Of this, 112 million salmon were identified as ocean ranched. Therefore, in 2013, ocean ranched salmon represented about 40% of the commercial catch in Alaska.

49 Comments on “What is Salmon Ranching?

  1. Just caught up on this debate. It has put me off salmon competely. It seems that food producers don’t care what they feed animals etc. as long as they make more profit. We have seen it with beef cattle, poultry and now FISH. I could cry.
    Carole, U.K.

    • Hi Carole, perhaps you could express what has “put (you) off salmon completely”. We would appreciate the opportunity to respond, as we believe that there are many good seafoods to eat and that salmon is one of those (wild, wild-caught and farm-raised). If you are concerned about the feed fed to aquaculture fish, what specifically is your concern?


      • What puts me off is the lie that is “wild-caught”. The fish are actually farmed, i.e., fed artificial food, put out to pasture, then harvested. The consumer has a right to know under what circumstances the product is brought to market under.

    • Hi Carolin
      I don’t see where you are coming from. The whole point about salmon ranching is that most of their life they live in the wild, eating what wild salmon eat. The return to the hatchery or artificial salmon redds for harvest and to provide eggs and sperm for the next generation. Ranched salmon are indistinguishable from wild salmon.

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