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, thumb 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.

56 Comments on “What is Salmon Ranching?

  1. Is there a difference between “farmed” salmon and “ranched” salmon? Thank you.

    • Hi Michael, there is much in this blog that can help answer this question. Please take a read. In short, both farm-raised and ranched salmon are raised from eggs in land-based hatcheries for the first part of their lives and until ready for saltwater. Farm-raised salmon eggs are taken from internal brood stock (not from the “wild”), while ranched salmon eggs are generally retrieved from salmon returning to spawn in the wild. In saltwater, farm-raised salmon are contained and fed within the confines of a pen until marketed, whilst ranched salmon are free to graze in the ocean until returning back to their place of birth and caught for market.


  2. I am a commercial salmon fisherman on the central west coast of British Columbia , Canada. Area 7 to be exact. There are a few small sockeye runs here that do not warrant commercial fisheries on. Do you think there would be an opportunity to start ocean ranching these dis? Thx, Rod

  3. nice…. i just want to know that because the seed come from aquaculture activities (hatchery), can we say that ranched fish is one kind of aquaculture product?? can i quote data and information given above in my articles ??

    • Hi maman,

      Yes and yes. Ranching is considered one method of aquaculture, and please feel to quote information provided in this blog or within links to additional sources provided.


  4. Do these ranched fish receive any form of inoculation or antibiotics when they are in the hatchery (as farmed fish do)? If so, is there anything that must be declared on their food label?

    • Hi Mary,

      Yes, ranched salmon may receive inoculations and/or antibiotics. Inoculations (vaccines) are administered via “dip bath” or injection, and are sourced from licensed pharmaceutical companies. There is a photo of a vaccination station in Alaska on our website here – http://www.alaskasalmonranching.com/about-this-alaska-salmon-blog/

      Antibiotics may be administered to sick fish. We have listed medicines used in Alaska salmon on page six of the pdf report found on this page – http://www.alaskasalmonranching.com/the-seafood-watch-report-on-salmon-aquaculture-in-alaska/. Chemicals used include MS-222, romet, tetracycline, aquaflor/florfenicol, and erythromycin.

      As with most food products, there is no residue of medicines in the fish, so no labeling is required. Alaska salmon (and all wild-caught) cannot qualify as organic, as their entire life-cycle is not traceable.

      We hope that answers your questions.


  5. 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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