Sockeye Salmon vs Atlantic Salmon: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Buck
Updated: November 5, 2022
© Kevin Wells Photography/Shutterstock.com
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Did you know that there is a difference between a sockeye salmon vs Atlantic salmon? Of all the different salmon varieties in the world, each one has its own distinct traits and characteristics. Sockeye salmon and Atlantic salmon are no exception, but how can you tell these two fish apart?

In this article, we will address the key physical differences between sockeye salmon and Atlantic salmon, as well as where they differ geographically as well. In time, you will be able to tell the sockeye vs Atlantic salmon apart, whether you plan on consuming them or observing them in their natural environments. Let’s get started now. 

Comparing Sockeye Salmon vs Atlantic Salmon

Sockeye salmon vs Atlantic salmon
Atlantic salmon are only found in the Atlantic Ocean and East Coast bodies of water, while sockeye salmon are found in the Pacific Ocean and West Coast bodies of water.

©A-Z-Animals.com

Sockeye SalmonAtlantic Salmon
GenusOncorhynchusSalmo
LocationPacific OceanAtlantic Ocean
HabitatCold Pacific seas around Washington and southern CanadaCold Atlantic seas and landlocked lakes (often mistaken for trout)
AppearanceWhite mouth and golden eyes; turns red with a green head after spawningLarge brown or tan body with black and red spots all over
Culinary UsesExtremely prized for its flaky and fatty balance and mouthfeelFattier than sockeye salmon and less expensive

The Main Differences Between Sockeye Salmon vs Atlantic Salmon

sockeye salmon vs atlantic salmon
Sockeye salmon choose to spawn in late spring and throughout the summer, while Atlantic salmon spawn more often in the months of November through January.

©sirtravelalot/Shutterstock.com

There are many key differences between sockeye vs Atlantic salmon. The primary difference between these two types of fish is their geographical location. Atlantic salmon are only found in the Atlantic Ocean and East Coast bodies of water, while sockeye salmon are found in the Pacific Ocean and West Coast bodies of water, specifically in Washington and Southern Canada.

However, there are even more differences between these two fish that we will address now. Read on to learn more. 

Sockeye Salmon vs Atlantic Salmon: Location Found

The primary difference between sockeye vs Atlantic salmon is the location in which they are found. Sockeye salmon are found in the Pacific Ocean before spawning inland, while Atlantic salmon are found in the Atlantic Ocean before spawning inland. However, there are very few Atlantic salmon found in the wild.

Atlantic salmon were nearly fished to extinction some time ago, so they are exclusively farm-raised now. The majority of Atlantic salmon available for purchase in our supermarkets and grocery stores are farmed in Chile and Canada. Sockeye salmon are always wild-caught, and they are commonly found from Washington all the way up to Alaska. 

sockeye salmon vs atlantic salmon
Sockeye salmon have a bright red body with a green head and bright golden eyes, while Atlantic salmon have a tanned body with brown or red spots all over.

©Kevin Wells Photography/Shutterstock.com

Sockeye Salmon vs Atlantic Salmon: Habitat and Spawn Times

Another difference between sockeye salmon and Atlantic salmon has to do with their preferred habitats and spawn times and locations. Given that both of these fish are members of the salmon family, they enjoy life in both freshwater and saltwater, depending on their age and stage of development. Let’s talk more about what this means now.

Sockeye salmon spawn their young in freshwater lakes and rivers on the west coast before traveling to the Pacific Ocean to continue to live their adult lives. Atlantic salmon are similar in this way, so they tend to prefer rivers. However, many humans have introduced Atlantic salmon to landlocked lakes, which may be why they are often mistaken for trout

The spawn times are also different between these two fish. While most Atlantic salmon are farm-raised anyway, this does not mean that their spawn time changes from their wild counterparts. Sockeye salmon choose to spawn in late spring and throughout the summer, while Atlantic salmon spawn more often in the months of November through January. 

sockeye salmon vs atlantic salmon
Sockeye salmon are one of the more petite species of salmon, especially compared to Atlantic salmon.

©Vasik Olga/Shutterstock.com

Sockeye Salmon vs Atlantic Salmon: Appearance

Another key difference between sockeye salmon vs Atlantic salmon is their overall physical appearance. While these two types of salmon are rarely found in the same environments, it may be useful to know their physical differences so that you can properly identify them and tell them apart. Let’s talk more about their physical differences now.

While the majority of salmon species look simplistic in the ocean, these two types look very different from one another once they reach fresh water. Sockeye salmon in particular appear much more beautifully colored than Atlantic salmon. This is because sockeye salmon have a bright red body with a green head and bright golden eyes, while Atlantic salmon have a tanned body with brown or red spots all over. 

Sockeye salmon are also one of the more petite species of salmon, especially compared to Atlantic salmon. For example, the average Sockeye only weighs less than 15 pounds, while many Atlantic salmon weigh closer to 30 pounds when fully grown. The mouth of a sockeye salmon is also white, while the mouth of an Atlantic salmon is not.

Sockeye vs Atlantic Salmon: Taste and Culinary Uses

sockeye salmon vs atlantic salmon
Atlantic salmon are farm-raised and used in a wide variety of culinary applications, while sockeye salmon are wild-caught.

©Jane Rix/Shutterstock.com

A final difference between sockeye salmon vs Atlantic salmon lies in their tastes and culinary uses. Atlantic salmon are farm-raised and used in a wide variety of culinary applications, while sockeye salmon are wild-caught and have fewer culinary applications based on their rarity alone. 

However, this isn’t to say that sockeye salmon isn’t delicious. It is highly prized for its culinary uses, given its balance of flaky texture and oily flavor. Atlantic salmon is also delicious, but it is often less flavorful and is a much fattier fish overall given the size of the fish compared to sockeye salmon.


The Featured Image

sockeye salmon vs atlantic salmon
© Kevin Wells Photography/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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