Sockeye salmon can be found in both freshwater and salt water environments. However in their native habitat they are only found in freshwater at the beginning of their life, after hatching from their eggs, and when they return to spawn where all but a few male Sockeye salmon die.


As they’ve been introduced to the Great Lakes, they’ve settled there migrating to the rivers and streams that feed the great lakes, never venturing to the ocean and spending their entire lives in freshwater. These salmon are called Kokanee Salmon instead of Sockeye even though they are the same species and have the same scientific classification.


This doesn’t change their habitat preference. The reason why they’re able to live in the Great Lakes is because the waters of the Great Lakes offers the same habitat that they need to survive in the ocean.


Seagoing Sockeye Salmon are found in rivers, streams, lakes and estuarine habitats as well as offshore waters that extend from California all the way to the islands north of Japan and up to the Arctic Circle.


Their river environment doesn’t differ from that needed for the survival of other Pacific Salmon. This means

  1. They prefer cool clear water that is mountain or spring fed
  2. The river must also have a gravel aggregate that is not too lose and won’t crush the eggs
  3. They also prefer a slow moving current in the headwaters of their spawning river.

Sockeye Salmon Fry Habitat

Sockeye Salmon fry may move up or downstream from their nest after hatching to what is called a nursery lake. Unlike the Pink Salmon, they don’t migrate to the ocean right after hatching.


After they reach the lake or large pool, they feed on planktonic organisms and insects both terrestrial and aquatic. After a month they move deeper into the lake and spend a few months there before finally migrating to the ocean, only to return later to spawn.

Conservation Status

Sockeye Salmon spend more of their life in freshwater than other Pacific Salmon, and as such, they’re susceptible to human interference from construction, mining, forestry and recreation. Their distribution is much more limited than other Pacific Salmon and they are now a species of concern, LC (Least Concern).


When fishing in waters that contain Sockeye Salmon, consider the use of catch and release. Use barbless hooks and when you’re ready to let them go, cradle them in your hands until they are ready to swim away.


Check with state and provincial fish and wildlife departments for fishing restrictions and catch limits. Some jurisdictions have steep fines and do confiscate vehicles and boats if laws are violated.


The build up of silt is one the greatest factors that harm their environment along with high turbidity levels. The removal of natural logs,  trees and shrubs by the river bank also act to harm their environment. Studies have shown that besides gravel, timber debris is required to provide cover and help clean away silt.


As the water current flows by obstacles like roots, it sweeps away any silt in the area, taking it downstream.