Atlantic salmon

Salmo salar

Salmo salar (Atlantic salmon)
    • Osteichthyes
      • Salmoniformes
        • Salmonidae
          • Salmo salar
Distribution map: Salmo salar (Atlantic salmon)


Authors: Maria Filipa Castanheira, Jenny Volstorf
Version: 2.0 (2021-12-22)


Reviewer: Pablo Arechavala-Lopez
Editor: Billo Heinzpeter Studer

Cite as: »Castanheira, Maria Filipa, and Jenny Volstorf. 2021. Salmo salar (Farm: Short Profile). In: FishEthoBase, ed. Fish Ethology and Welfare Group. World Wide Web electronic publication. First published 2016-11-26. Version 2.0.«


Salmo salar
Home range
Depth range

Condensed assessment of the species' likelihood and potential for good fish welfare in aquaculture, based on ethological findings for 10 crucial criteria.

Li = Likelihood that the individuals of the species experience good welfare under minimal farming conditions
Po = Potential of the individuals of the species to experience good welfare under high-standard farming conditions
Ce = Certainty of our findings in Likelihood and Potential

FishEthoScore = Sum of criteria scoring "High" (max. 10)


No findings

General remarks

Despite the fact that Salmo salar is the most farmed fish in Europe, more fine-tuned culture strategies are needed to improve fish welfare and performance of this species. The low FishEthoScore is mainly due to the dependence on fish in the diet, home range needs, high levels of aggression, needs of substrate, stress under farming conditions and high levels of deformations. 
It is recommended to ensure proper space, at least in the vertical sense, according to the biological needs which seems to be satisfied in sea cages, but not in raceways. The development of new rearing strategies to optimise the husbandry practices such as matching the biological rhythms with e.g. feeding activities or unavoidable but often stressful husbandry procedures would be a step forward to solving some specific welfare concerns, to prevent poor welfare and to minimise stress, improving fish welfare, fish performance and reduce stress. Replacing fish meal and fish oil in the feed by plant-based or sustainable sources would ensure an ethical food production. Semi-intensive and extensive farming could be a remediation for some of the current problems and help improving fish welfare and performance. 

1  Home range

Many species traverse in a limited horizontal space (even if just for a certain period of time per year); the home range may be described as a species' understanding of its environment (i.e., its cognitive map) for the most important resources it needs access to. What is the probability of providing the species' whole home range in captivity?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


ALEVINS, FRY: WILD: planktonic as ALEVINS 1: horizontal movement limited to hydrodynamic displacement. FRY move 1-5 m from the redd 2FARM: hatchery: most common, vertical trays: variable size frames: 60 cm wide 44-175 cm high (

PARRWILD: usually 0.1-8 km 3 4 5 1 6 7FARM: tanks: 0.14 m8.

SMOLTSWILD  PARRFARM: tanks: 9 m8, 500-1300 m3, 14.5-20 m diameter 9; sea cages: 24 x 24 m or 100 m in diameter 10; 16,000-130,000 m11.


SPAWNERS: WILD: usually 0.1-4.4 km 12. FARM: 46-90 m8.

2  Depth range

Given the availability of resources (food, shelter) or the need to avoid predators, species spend their time within a certain depth range. What is the probability of providing the species' whole depth range in captivity?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is high for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


ALEVINS and FRY: WILD: usually <1 m 13 14 15 16FARM: hatchery trays and tanks: 20-50 cm 17.

PARR and SMOLTS: WILD: <6.5 m 13 18 19 14 15 16 4 20 6 21 7 22SMOLTSFARM: tanks: 3.5 to 4.5 m 9;  sea cages: maximum 18 m 10

ADULTS: WILD: further research needed to identify depth range in the wild. FARM: sea cages: 5 m 23, 10 m 24, 15 m 25, 40 m 26, maximum 50 m 11.

KELTWILD: stay close to the surface 27 28

SPAWNERSWILD: usually 0.5-3 m within the spawning season 29. FARM: no data found yet on spawning culture conditions.

3  Migration

Some species undergo seasonal changes of environments for different purposes (feeding, spawning, etc.) and with them, environmental parameters (photoperiod, temperature, salinity) may change, too. What is the probability of providing farming conditions that are compatible with the migrating or habitat-changing behaviour of the species?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


ANADROMOUS 30 31 1 32 33 5: migrate to the sea in spring-early summer, individuals return as grilse to their rivers of origin to spawn.

ALEVINSFRY and PARRWILDstationary 4 34 21FARM: rearing in freshwater tanks 0-10 ppm 35 10. Stressed by use of artificial light at night 36.

SMOLTSWILD: migrate along freshwater to the sea 5FARM: rearing in halocline and brackish water 37 25 38.

ADULTSWILD: lives in brackish and saltwater 39 33FARM: rearing in brackish and saltwater cages 20-34 ppm 38 40 41 42.

SPAWNERSWILD: return as GRILSE to natal river to spawn 12. FARM: rearing in freshwater tanks <10 ppm 43.

All age classes: further research needed on welfare parameters to determine whether presenting species with conditions of different migratory phases indeed satisfies their urge to migrate or whether they need to experience the transition.

4  Reproduction

A species reproduces at a certain age, season, and sex ratio and possibly involving courtship rituals. What is the probability of the species reproducing naturally in captivity without manipulation?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


WILD: from June to November 44 45. The most dominant male salmon perform the majority of the courting and mating behaviours with the female 46. Female builds redd 47 48 49 50 51FARM: under farming conditions, eggs and milt are stripped 10 17

5  Aggregation

Species differ in the way they co-exist with conspecifics or other species from being solitary to aggregating unstructured, casually roaming in shoals or closely coordinating in schools of varying densities. What is the probability of providing farming conditions that are compatible with the aggregation behaviour of the species?

There are unclear findings for minimal and high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a low amount of evidence.


ALEVINS and FRY: WILD: live solitary after emerging from the gravel but remain in the same areas as siblings 2 52 1. FARM: intensive conditions: 50 kg/m3 or higher 10; 21-86 kg/m53.

PARR: WILD: live solitary or in small groups 54. Further research needed on extension of groups in the wild. FARM: extensive conditions: 8 kg/m3; intensive conditions: 30 kg/m3 55, 21-86 kg/m3 53.

SMOLTSWILD: live in schools 56 54 1 57. Further research needed on extension of schools in the wild. FARM: under farming conditions, 15-35 kg/m58 24: usually 20 kg/m3 10. < 22 kg/mbest welfare according Salmon Welfare Index model 38.


SPAWNERS: live in schools 56 54 1 57. Further research needed on extension of schools in the wild. Rearing at low densities with unknown extension 10.

6  Aggression

There is a range of adverse reactions in species, spanning from being relatively indifferent towards others to defending valuable resources (e.g., food, territory, mates) to actively attacking opponents. What is the probability of the species being non-aggressive and non-territorial in captivity?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


ALEVINS and FRY: WILD: aggressive and territorial after emerging from the gravel 2. LAB: aggressive in pairwise interactions 59 60 and groups of 10 52; aggression increases with fish density, from 3 to 9 individuals/m2FARM: no data found yet on aggression behaviour under farming conditions.

PARR: WILD: territorial and aggressive 61 62. LAB: individual differences in metabolism related aggressive behaviour 63. FARM: more aggressive at high 30 kg/m3 than low 8 kg/m3 density 55, aggression increases with feed restriction 64.

SMOLTS: WILD: schooling behaviour 56 61 62 57. FARM: lower levels of aggression at feeding time under 25 kg/m3 than under 15 and 30 kg/m3 58. Not aggressive in 1,000-1,200 m3 sea-cages of 10 x 10 x 15 m at 0.85 kg/m3 24

ADULTS SMOLTS. More aggressive during matuaration 65, more aggressive at low speed currents 66.

SPAWNERS: WILD: schooling behaviour during migration 56 61 62 57. Dominance hierarchy during the spawning period in the wild 67 and in the lab 68FARM: non-linear dominance hierarchies at 15.2 kg/m3 69.

7  Substrate

Depending on where in the water column the species lives, it differs in interacting with or relying on various substrates for feeding or covering purposes (e.g., plants, rocks and stones, sand and mud). What is the probability of providing the species' substrate and shelter needs in captivity?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a high amount of evidence.


ALEVINS and FRY:LAB: absence of substrate did not affect the ontogeny and behaviour 52, but the use of artificial substrate (polyethylene astro-turf) favoured growth 70; low survival in sand compared to rocks and stones 71. FARM: under farming conditions, use artificial hatching substrate 10 17.

PARR, SMOLTS, ADULTSWILD: prefer habitats with rocks and stones 6; use substrate as cover from predators and adverse environmental conditions 21 72 73 74. FARM: providing cover increased growth rate and improved stress 75; smoltification process dependent on the number of shelters provided 76LAB: vertically-suspended structures provided 77.

SPAWNERS: WILD: use substrate to build redds 49 21. FARM: no data found yet on the effect of missing environmental enrichment in farming conditions.

8  Stress

Farming involves subjecting the species to diverse procedures (e.g., handling, air exposure, short-term confinement, short-term crowding, transport), sudden parameter changes or repeated disturbances (e.g., husbandry, size-grading). What is the probability of the species not being stressed?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


ALEVINS and FRY: stressed by confinement 60 78. For stress and light at night  crit. 3.

PARR and SMOLTS: stressed by acute handling 62, temperature shock 79 80 81, chasing, netting, noise, sudden darkness with intermittent light, hypoxia and emptying the tank 81SMOLTS: stressed more by loading than transport 82.

ADULTS: stressed by chilling, crowding 79 and handling 83.


9  Malformations

Deformities that – in contrast to diseases – are commonly irreversible may indicate sub-optimal rearing conditions (e.g., mechanical stress during hatching and rearing, environmental factors unless mentioned in crit. 3, aquatic pollutants, nutritional deficiencies) or a general incompatibility of the species with being farmed. What is the probability of the species being malformed rarely?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


ALEVINS and FRYWILD: no data found yet on frequency of malformations. FARM: vertebral column deformities in >10% of individuals 78 84

PARR and SMOLTSWILD: no data found yet on frequency of malformations. FARM: vertebral and spinal deformities in >10% of individuals 85 86 87 88 89 90.

ADULTSWILD: vertebral deformities in >10% of individuals, severity of malformations are low compared with farmed salmon 91FARM: vertebral and spinal deformities in >10% of individuals 85 87 88 89.

10  Slaughter

The cornerstone for a humane treatment is that slaughter a) immediately follows stunning (i.e., while the individual is unconscious), b) happens according to a clear and reproducible set of instructions verified under farming conditions, and c) avoids pain, suffering, and distress. What is the probability of the species being slaughtered according to a humane slaughter protocol?

It is high for minimal and high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a high amount of evidence.


Common and high-standard slaughter method: a protocol for electrical and percussive stunning and killing by bleeding is available 92 93 94 95.

11  Side note: Domestication

Teletchea and Fontaine introduced 5 domestication levels illustrating how far species are from having their life cycle closed in captivity without wild input, how long they have been reared in captivity, and whether breeding programmes are in place. What is the species’ domestication level?

DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 96 97, fully domesticated. Cultured since 19th century 10.

12  Side note: Forage fish in the feed

450-1,000 milliard wild-caught fishes end up being processed into fish meal and fish oil each year which contributes to overfishing and represents enormous suffering. There is a broad range of feeding types within species reared in captivity. To what degree may fish meal and fish oil based on forage fish be replaced by non-forage fishery components (e.g., poultry blood meal) or sustainable sources (e.g., soybean cake)?

WILD: carnivorous 10 29 98 99 100. FARM: fish meal and fish oil may be mostly* replaced by plant protein 101 102 103 104 105, but no data found yet for ALEVINS and FRY.

* partly = <51% – mostly = 51-99% – completely = 100%


ALEVINS = larvae until the end of yolk sac absorption, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
FRY = larvae from external feeding on, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
WILD = setting in the wild
FARM = setting in farm environment
PARR = juvenile stage in rivers, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
SMOLTS = juvenile stage migrating to the sea, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
ADULTS = mature individuals, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
SPAWNERS = adults that are kept as broodstock
KELT = adults surviving spawning, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
ANADROMOUS = migrating from the sea into fresh water to spawn
GRILSE = adults returning from sea to home river to spawn, for details Findings 10.1 Ontogenetic development
LAB = setting in laboratory environment
DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 = selective breeding programmes are used focusing on specific goals 96


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