Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), the state agency responsible for the conservation and protection of freshwater fish and habitats, is issuing an alert for reports of any sightings of Pacific pink salmon.

At the recently held North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation (NASCO) meeting, serious concerns were raised that pink salmon may spread to and establish in rivers throughout the wider Atlantic region. These concerns are raised after an explosive growth in their stocks was observed in northernmost Norwegian rivers in 2021.

In some rivers there, pink salmon now appear to outnumber co-existing native Atlantic salmon stocks despite having persisted at relatively low levels for many decades prior to this.  Stocking programmes undertaken in rivers in the adjacent far northwest of Russia since the 1950s until 2001 are believed to be responsible for the initial spread of pink salmon to the region.  Since 2017, the fish has been increasingly detected in unprecedented numbers in river systems and coastal areas of the North Atlantic, including Ireland, albeit at relatively low levels here to date.

Also known as humpback salmon, pink salmon are a migratory species of salmon, native to river systems in the northern Pacific Ocean and nearby regions of the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean.  Although a single specimen was first recorded in Ireland in 1973, until 2017 individuals have been rarely encountered here. As pink salmon predominantly have a two-year lifecycle, there is potential for the species to reappear in Irish rivers again in 2023 and every second so called ‘odd’ year thereafter.  However, they can also turn up in ‘even’ years and a single specimen was reported in the River Suir in 2018.

Members of NASCO, of which Ireland is an active participant under the auspices of the European Union, have now agreed to cooperate to better understand the threats posed to native Atlantic salmon stocks and consider appropriate mitigation measures to address this increasingly concerning issue.

Inland Fisheries Ireland is appealing to anglers to report catches of pink salmon to Inland Fisheries Ireland’s 24-hour confidential hotline number – 0818 34 74 24 or 0818 FISH 24. As these fish die after spawning, some dead specimens could also be encountered along Irish rivers.  Anyone who catches a pink salmon is asked to:

  • Keep the fish and do not release it back into the water (even in rivers only open for catch and release angling)
  • Record the date & location of capture, and the length and weight of the fish
  • Report it to any IFI office or via the 24-hour confidential hotline number – 0818 34 74 24 or 0818 FISH 24
  • Tag the fish and present it to Inland Fisheries Ireland and a new tag will be issued to replace the tag used
  • Take a photograph of the fish.

Inland Fisheries Ireland will then arrange collection of the fish for further examination. This will help establish the abundance and extent of distribution of the species in Irish waters.

A Pacific pink salmon (photo credit: Ola Ugeda)

Inland Fisheries Ireland has developed an identification guide to help anglers and the general public identify pink salmon which can be viewed here: Pink Salmon Alert 2022 – Online

Pink salmon are blue-green to steel blue on the back, with silver sides and a white underbelly. Pink salmon can be distinguished by a number of unique characteristics which are different to Atlantic salmon, notably:

  • Large black oval spots on the tail
  • 11-19 rays on the anal fin
  • Very small scales– much smaller than a similarly-sized Atlantic Salmon
  • No dark spots on the gill cover
  • Upper jaw typically extending beyond the eye
  • Males develop a pronounced humpback on entering freshwater