Salmon Life Cycles

For more information on the general life cycle of salmon see DFO's Life Cycle of a Salmonid.


Fry may spend anywhere from 3 months to 2 years in fresh water before they then migrate to the ocean, where they are known to migrate large distances. They mature anywhere from 3 to 8 years of age. These salmon are the largest and there may be more than one run in a river system. For example, the Harrison white flesh stocks are a fall-run and the Chehalis reds are a summer-run. Harrison whites are immediate migrants, while the Chehalis red fleshed stocks are stream migrants that overwinter in the Fraser River or in feeder streams


Fry spend up to several months in freshwater in large river systems and only a few days in small river systems, before heading out to the ocean. They spend 2 or 3 summers in the ocean before returning to spawn in their natal stream.


Fry spend 1 or 2 years in freshwater and then migrate to the ocean where they may remain for up to 18 months. They mature between 2-5 years of age. If males return to spawn at 2 years old, they are called jacks.


Juveniles may move into rivers or large lakes for a year or more before they migrate to the ocean. They mature at 4-5 years old after 2-3 years at sea, while jacks (premature males) would return early at 3 years old. The sockeye runs are dominant every 4 years; for example, the Adam's River will have another large run in 2006. Sockeye may be anadromous (sea-going) or landlocked; Kokanee is the name for landlocked sockeye.


Fry spend no time in freshwater and travel straight out to sea. Juveniles spend months near shore before venturing out to the open ocean. All populations spawn as 2 year olds with no overlap of stocks of 1 year and that of the next. There man be runs in both even and odd years in a given river system, but either the even or odd year stock greatly outnumbers the other. In the south coast, odd year runs dominate; in the north coast, even year runs dominate.


Living in freshwater from 1 to 3 years, steelhead migrate in spring to the ocean. Steelhead, or sea-run rainbow trout, usually spend 2 or more summers in the ocean before they return to their spawning streams at the age of 4 or 5. Steelhead spawn in later winter or spring in large and small streams. Winter, spring and summer runs may be distinguished.


Found in virtually all coastal streams and lakes, acending the Fraser River as far as the Nuhatlatch River. Coastal or sea-run cutthroat trout may stay in freshwater from 1 to 5 years, while some remain in freshwater indefinitely. They primarily spawn twice in small streams and usually for the first time at 3 or 4 years of age.

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