Difference Between Sockeye Salmon & Atlantic Salmon

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The Atlantic salmon is more closely related to the brown trout than its Pacific cousin, but once the two reach the table, the difference is less distinct. The critical factor when choosing which to buy is sustainability, while concerns also abound about the way Atlantic salmon are reared.


Pacific Sockeye

Also known as red salmon, sockeye is the second smallest of the five main Pacific salmon species after pink salmon. Frequently considered to be the best for flavor and texture, which is one of the reasons why it is often canned, sockeye is relatively low in fat with flesh carrying a fluorescent orange tinge.


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  • Sockeye matures in rivers and lakes and remains in fresh water for up to three years before migrating to the ocean, at which point it has a silvery blue color. Once it returns to a freshwater environment to spawn, its color changes to bright red, with a green head.
  • All Alaskan sockeye is caught wild, most notably around the Bristol Bay area. Alaskan salmon certified by the Marine Stewardship Council comes from sustainable sources. In British Columbia, Canada, sockeye is farmed.
  • Fresh sockeye is available from June to September. Out of season, it is most commonly sold canned.


Atlantic Salmon

Compared to the romantic life cycle of the Alaskan salmon, which dies shortly after a heroic odyssey in search of a spawning ground, the Atlantic salmon is typically condemned to a lifetime of confinement. The species makes up 90 percent of farmed salmon worldwide, mostly from Norway and Chile.


  • The Atlantic salmon is native to the Northeast U.S., particularly around Maine, as well as Europe and Russia. However, since the species is endangered in the States, commercial fishing is prohibited. As a result, 95 percent of Atlantic salmon eaten in the U.S. is imported, mainly from Chile, Norway, Scotland and Canada.
  • Atlantic salmon are silver blue with black spots and can grow up to 30 pounds.
  • Like Pacific sockeye, they spend roughly three years in fresh water before migrating to the ocean, typically spending two years at sea before returning to the river to spawn. Unlike Pacific salmon, however, they do not die after spawning, and return to the ocean instead.


Preparing Salmon

Both types of salmon are rich in omega-3 fats, and the bright orange color is a sign of healthy antioxidants. In farmed Atlantic salmon, though, the color can be introduced through artificial pigments. Most farmed Atlantic salmon are also treated with antibiotics to combat lice infestation, so it is important to know the country of origin and the associated regulations.


Sockeye and Atlantic each have an oily flesh that can be almost buttery if cooked correctly. The key is to prevent the steaks, fillets or skewered portions from drying out.

  • If baking, start with a hot oven at around 450 degrees Fahrenheit to penetrate the flesh before the moisture is sucked out.
  • Both species are ripe for baking, grilling, steaming, poaching or pan-frying. Neither requires more than light seasoning with salt and pepper, finished off on the plate by a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of dill.
  • Even though salmon can be eaten raw, the USDA recommends a safe internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Once the skin is crisp and the surface flesh is easy to flake, allow the salmon to rest away from the heat. The carry-over heat should bring the internal temperature up.



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