Oneida Lake Education Initiative

"Your gateway to understanding Oneida Lake"

Atlantic Salmon

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  • Individuals reach an average size of 16-24 inches, can be as heavy as 20 pounds, and may be more than 9 years old
  • Eat mostly small fish, including rainbow smelt, alewife, and yellow perch
  • Dependent on stocking to maintain populations in NY


An Atlantic salmon’s back and sides are grayish brown, which fades to olive and then gray at the belly. Large dark spots are found on the back and sides. The Atlantic salmon is sometimes confused with the brown trout, and several features must be identified to tell the fish apart. First, the Atlantic salmon has a single row of weak teeth on the roof of its mouth while the brown trout has two rows. In Atlantic salmon, the upper jaw does not extend past the back edge of the eye, but it extends far past the eye in brown trout.


In Upstate New York, Atlantic salmon spend their entire lives in freshwater and are called “landlocked” salmon. In the spring, warmer temperatures and abundant food attract salmon to nearshore areas and into the lower portions of rivers. Once water temperatures reach 12°-14°C (53°-57°F), Atlantic salmon move to deeper portions of the lake. They are active predators throughout summer, feeding heavily on rainbow smelt (a favorite meal), alewife, cisco, and yellow perch. If prey fish are lacking, salmon will eat insects and large zooplankton.


To start the fall spawning season, adults return to their home stream or to the site where they were stocked. Females may carry up to 4,000 eggs and prepare for spawning by constructing a “redd”. When the female has deposited her eggs, a male will take over the redd and fertilize the eggs. Females then build new redds until all eggs are laid. Eggs hatch after 100 days and the young eat mostly insects. Very little natural reproduction of landlocked salmon occurs, so annual stocking is typically required to maintain a population. Currently, DEC manages about two-dozen waters for Atlantic salmon, including Lakes Ontario, Champlain, Cayuga, and Seneca, and a few lakes in the Adirondacks. The Atlantic salmon club stocks Fish Creek, and Atlantic salmon are occasionally found in Oneida Lake.


The Atlantic salmon is one of the most highly regarded sport fish in North America and Europe. Known to many as “the leaper,” Atlantic salmon are noted for their spectacular fighting ability, which usually includes several jumps completely out of the water after being hooked by a lucky angler. Records indicate that they were very abundant in Oneida Lake (and throughout NY waters) in the early 1800’s, but few remained by the 1870’s. Settlement and development, over-harvesting, dams blocking spawning streams, pollution, and widespread deforestation filled headwater nursery streams with sediment and spelled doom for central New York Atlantic salmon. By 1900, Atlantic salmon were all but extinct from New York State waters.


To learn more about Atlantic Salmon ...

Atlantic Salmon Factsheet (pdf - 76kb)

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