Atlantic Salmon vs Pacific Salmon

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When you’re buying salmon at the supermarket, you have probably noticed two different types: Atlantic Salmon vs Pacific Salmon. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between Atlantic and Pacific salmon? If you took the time to look closely, you probably noticed they look different from each other. Maybe one looked pinker, firmer, or even bigger.

The reasons for these differences are significant. As you keep reading we will dive headfirst into the answers about their anatomy, their habitats, their taste, and even the differences between farmed and wild-caught salmon.

Cruise through this article to learn all about Atlantic salmon vs Pacific Salmon. You’re sure to be surprised by what you find.

Salmon Species

You might be surprised to learn that Atlantic salmon vs Pacific salmon are not the same species. In fact, they’re not even the same genus! Now, if you think back to your last taxonomy lesson, you might remember that family is the next, broader, categorization of organisms.

Both species of salmon belong to the family, Salmonidae, but carry too many chromosomal differences to be classified in the same genus.

Atlantic salmon (Salmo Salar) share their genus with dozens of other American freshwater trout. The Pacific salmon genus–Oncorhynchus–on the other hand, includes 7 other species of salmon along with a few Pacific saltwater trout. This is a major difference between Pacific and Atlantic salmon.

The main species of Pacific salmon that are found in North America are:

  • Chinook (or King) salmon: The largest of the Pacific salmon
  • Coho salmon: Milder flavor with a bright orange flesh
  • Sockeye salmon: More expensive and very popular at sushi restaurants
  • Pink salmon: Generally used in canned, smoked, and frozen salmon goods.
  • Chum Salmon: The more affordable and most common Pacific salmon in supermarkets.

Atlantic Salmon vs. Pacific Salmon Features

When they are in their saltwater habitat, Pacific salmon and Atlantic salmon look very similar. Atlantic salmon are slightly smaller and thinner when compared with their Pacific cousins.

Once they move into freshwater, however, the salmon begin to develop distinct features, making it easier to tell them apart. These features might include body discoloration, humped backs, or enlarged teeth. Changes can be influenced by several environmental factors including river depth, turbidity, and light intensity.

When it comes to eating salmon, the differences become even more noticeable. At this point, it’s important to note that we are talking about wild-caught salmon. Salmon that is farmed is generally enhanced with dyes and supplements to help it mimic wild-caught salmon.

Wild-caught Pacific salmon is known for its flakey texture and brightly-colored flesh. It generally has a richer taste and a lower fat content. Pacific salmon also tends to be more expensive. This makes it popular among many high-end sushi restaurants.

In comparison, wild-caught Atlantic salmon has a more mild taste and is firmer in texture. It also tends to be lighter in color. Due to habitat destruction, Atlantic salmon have been deemed a species that is endangered. For this reason, you can no longer buy wild-caught Atlantic salmon commercially.

Salmon Habitat

Salmon are anadromous fish, meaning they live in both freshwater and saltwater. Because they migrate between fresh and saltwater, most salmon can be found along the North Atlantic and North Pacific Coasts. Atlantic salmon run every river along North America’s northeastern coast.

Unfortunately, habitat destruction and climate change have made it more difficult for these salmon to live. Since being deemed an endangered species, all Atlantic salmon sold in stores is farm raised. Because of this, Atlantic salmon can generally be found in supermarkets year-round. 

Pacific salmon, on the other hand, become more widely available in supermarkets during the summer seasons as they migrate to freshwater estuaries to lay eggs.

So, do you think you could tell an Atlantic Salmon from a Pacific Salmon? Do you want to know more about the differences between Atlantic and Pacific Salmon?

Hop on a Harbor Breeze Cruise to learn more about these colorful sea creatures and their amazing habitat. Schedule your tour or keep learning today!


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