Species Profile

Atlantic Salmon Quebec Eastern North Shore population

Scientific Name: Salmo salar
Taxonomy Group: Fishes
Range: Quebec, Atlantic Ocean
Last COSEWIC Assessment: November 2010
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: No schedule, No Status

Individuals of this species may be protected under Schedule 1 under another name; for more information see Schedule 1, the A-Z Species List, or if applicable, the Related Species table below.

Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon Photo 1



The Atlantic Salmon has a fusiform body shape that is somewhat compressed laterally and has an average length of about 457 mm. Its back is blue-green, its sides are silvery with several markings that are either round or x-shaped, and its belly is white. During the reproduction period, the Atlantic Salmon loses its silver colour and takes on a greenish or reddish hue; a few large, white-edged spots then appear on its sides.


Distribution and Population

Because Atlantic Salmon have a high degree of fidelity to their natal rivers and given their adaptation to the stream they frequent (e.g., difference in morphology, life cycle and behaviour), the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified 16 designatables units (DU) of Atlantic Salmon, 11 of which are considered at risk. Atlantic Salmon of the Quebec Eastern North Shore population (DU7) reproduce in the tributaries of the St. Lawrence River's north shore between the Checatica River and the Kegaska River. This population has 20 known salmon rivers.



Salmon spawning rivers are generally clear, cool and well oxygenated, with gravel, cobble and boulder substrates. Young salmon born in the streams and the adults that spawned them then migrate from a freshwater environment to brackish-water estuaries and then to the open sea where they spend several years.



Atlantic Salmon spawn in fresh water, generally in their native river. Juveniles spend one to eight years in fresh water before migrating to salt water in the North Atlantic. After staying at sea for one to four years, adults return to fresh water to spawn.



The causes of the widespread decline of Atlantic Salmon are not well understood. Several major reviews have attempted to identify and prioritize the causes of this situation. The low rate of survival at sea was cited as the primary cause of the decline. The populations are also threatened by climatic changes and environmental changes in the ocean; Aboriginal, recreational and illegal fishing; obstacles in fresh water (e.g. dams); agriculture; urbanization; aquaculture and invasive species. In some cases, the habitat used for freshwater spawning is degraded.The small size of the Quebec Eastern North Shore population (about 5,000 individuals in 2008) is cause for concern. The number of small individuals (that spent one winter at sea) decreased over the past three generations while the number of large individuals (that spent more than one winter at sea) increased during the same period. The total number of mature individuals saw a decline of approximately 14%.



Federal Protection

The Atlantic Salmon commercial fishery was closed progressively in Canadian waters from the mid-1980s until the complete closure in 2000. Aboriginal peoples continue to fish in several salmon rivers for food, social and ceremonial purposes. Salmon represents an important cultural tradition to which they attach great value. Lastly, recreational fishing is still authorized. Restrictive management measures are imposed for each river based on abundance estimates. These measures include catch limits, mandatory release of large salmon to the water, and closures of certain watercourses. Salmon habitat is protected under the fish habitat protection provisions of the Fisheries Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

4 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar in Canada (2015)

    The Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) is a member of the family Salmonidae. This species has a fusiform body shape and matures at sizes ranging from 10 to 100+ cm. Atlantic Salmon exhibit plastic life histories and may have multiple reproductive and migratory phenotypes within a population, including freshwater resident and oceanic migrant forms. All phenotypes reproduce in fresh water. The oceanic migrant (anadromous) form is the best known phenotype, and with the exception of the extinct Lake Ontario population, is the only form considered in this report. Juveniles spend 1-8 years in fresh water, then migrate to the North Atlantic for 1-4 years, and then return to fresh water to reproduce. Demographically functional units tend to be at the watershed scale, but population subdivision may occur within watersheds. The Canadian range of this species was subdivided into 16 designatable units (DUs) based on genetic data and broad patterns in life history variation, environmental variables, and geographic separation.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Atlantic Salmon, Quebec Eastern North Shore population (2011)

    This species requires rivers or streams that are generally clear, cool and well-oxygenated for reproduction and the first few years of rearing, but undertakes lengthy feeding migrations in the North Atlantic Ocean as older juveniles and adults. This population breeds in rivers along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River estuary from the Napetipi River (not inclusive) westward to the Kegaska River (inclusive). This population shows opposing trends in the abundance of small (1 sea-winter) and large (multi-sea-winter) fish. Small salmon have declined 26% over the last 3 generations, whereas large salmon have increased 51% over the same period; pooling the data for both groups suggests a decline of about 14% for all mature individuals considered together. The small size of the population, about 5000 mature fish in 2008, is cause for concern. As is the case for most populations of the species, poor marine survival related to substantial but incompletely understood changes in marine ecosystems is also a concern.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Consultation Documents

  • Information Summary for the Consultation on Adding Five Atlantic Salmon Populations to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under the Species at Risk Act (2012)

    Because Atlantic Salmon have a high degree of fidelity to their natal rivers and given their adaptation to the stream they frequent (e.g. difference in morphology, life cycle and behaviour), the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified 16 populations of Atlantic Salmon. This consultation focuses on five of these populations in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Consultations for the other populations assessed as at risk by COSEWIC will be carried out at a later date. We would like to receive your comments on the potential benefits or impacts of adding these five Atlantic Salmon populations to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under the Species at Risk Act. The purposes of this Act are to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct, to provide for their recovery and to conserve biological diversity. This summary includes information on Atlantic Salmon and on the Species at Risk Act. You will also find a detachable questionnaire that you can complete to provide us your comments.