Skip to Content

6 Different Types of Salmon Species

Photo collage of sockeye salmon swimming upstream, Adams River, salmon eggs

Salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend parts of their lives in both fresh water and saltwater environments. They are born in freshwater lakes and rivers, live there for anything from a few months to a few years, before heading out to the ocean, and then travel back to their freshwater birthplace to spawn.

Sometimes the journey takes thousands of kilometers. Below, we take a look at the six different kinds of salmon and what sets them apart from one another.

Related: Salmon vs. Trout | What Goes With Sushi | Sushi vs. Sashimi | Types of Food | How to Clean Salmon | Alternatives to Salmon | How to Store Salmon | What to Serve With Salmon

What are the different types of salmon?

In North American waters, there are five different types of Pacific salmon, each known by various names, and then there is Atlantic salmon, of which there is only one type, but once again, it can have multiple names.

Pacific Salmon

Pink / Humpback

This is a fisherman with a humpback salmon he caught.

A lighter-colored salmon, Pink derives its name from its color, whereas humpback comes from the distinctive hump that the fish develop on their backs when they spawn. A small fish that is mild in flavor and low in fat, Pink salmon is typically sold as a canned product.

Found on the Pacific west coast as far north as Alaskan waters, this is the most common type of salmon. A white mouth with dark gums, a pink tinge to their bodies, and oval spots on their tails help to identify these salmon.


This is a large chinook salmon swimming underwater.

Both humans and Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcas), along the B.C. coast, consider Chinook to be the best type of salmon for eating — it is truly the king of all salmon. Adult Orcas need to eat 200 to 300 pounds of food each day and most of their daily intake consists solely of Chinook salmon.

Also known as Spring, King and Tyee, Chinook are large, reaching up to five feet in size, rich in flavor, and high in fat. Found in waters from southern California to northern Alaska, their flesh can range from white to red and shades of pink in between.

They are distinguishable by their gums and inside of their mouths being completely black, and also by the small round spots on their backs and tails.


A sockeye salmon swimming with head above water.

Found in the North Pacific Ocean and the rivers that feed into it, Sockeye salmon are known for their bright red-orange flesh.

The name Sockeye comes from the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ word, sθə́qəy̓ — the fish were central to the Coast Salish way of life for thousands of years. 

Sockeye salmon is a favorite among chefs and is often sold smoked. With no spots on them and white gums and mouths, these salmon are easily identified by their bright golden eyes, which are larger than those of other salmon.

Coho / Silver

This is a large wild silver salmon caught by fisherman.

With a bright silver skin and subtle flavor, similar to that of Chinook salmon, these small salmon are often cooked whole. They have a delicate texture and medium fat content and are typically found in Northern Pacific waters.

Unless they are spawning, Coho salmon have similar markings to Chinook, but they are distinguishable by their white gums and spots only being found on the top half of their tails.


These are spawning chum salmon underwater at the river.

Also known as Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog salmon, this is a slightly smaller salmon with a light to medium color. Mostly found in North Pacific waters, this fish has a lower fat content and is most often sold as frozen or canned salmon. Chum salmon has bigger and more flavorful roe than other varieties.

Not the easiest to distinguish, Chum salmon have subtle bands of color on their bodies and large teeth. However, when they spawn, they turn green with purple markings on their body and are easy to spot.

Atlantic Salmon

This is a solitary atlantic salmon swimming in the ocean.

Sometimes also known as Salmo Salar, these fish are few and far between in the ocean these days. All the Atlantic salmon that is available commercially is farmed, as the populations still living in the wild are small and endangered. This type of salmon is usually larger than its Pacific counterparts and has a milder flavor.

Because it is farmed, and therefore the production is relatively controlled, this salmon is usually cheaper than wild salmon.

With dark spots above their gills and unusual x or y shaped spots on their upper bodies, these salmon are most easily distinguished from others because of their geographical location. However, they can be confused with Brown Trout when spawning, as they turn a bronze/brown color.

Top Brands of Canned Salmon

Wild Planet Foods

Source: Wild Planet

This canned seafood brand makes sustainability a priority. They use selective harvesting and safe fishing methods to catch salmon. To source salmon, the brand also partners with small fisheries and local fishermen.

“Wild Planet was founded on a reverence for the marine ecosystem,” says Bill Carvalho, the president of Wild Planet Foods. “We are an ocean planet, and what happens to an ocean happens to a planet.”

Wild Planet offers wild pink and wild sockeye salmon. They pack the salmon by hand and only cook the fish once before it’s packed. Since they don’t add any water to the cans, there’s plenty of salmon and protein to enjoy.

Bumble Bee

Source: Bumble Bee

The Bumble Bee Seafood Company has been selling salmon for more than 120 years. Seven salmon canners in Oregon formed the company in 1899. The company is now headquartered in San Diego, California.

Today, they offer several types of salmon. Options include smoke-flavored salmon fillets, pink salmon, and sockeye salmon.


This brand takes inspiration from preservation techniques that Europeans have used for centuries. They offer high-quality canned foods, including salmon. 

Many canned salmon brands offer plain salmon, but Freshé takes a gourmet approach. They combine their salmon with other ingredients, like roasted peppers and sriracha. With their products, you can eat a salmon meal right out of the tin.

Raincoast Trading

Source: Raincoast Trading 

Since 1995, this family-owned company has been canning wild seafood. They use sustainable fishing practices to source the best salmon. Canned fish usually contains oil, but Raincoast Trading sells oil-free salmon.

The brand offers sockeye salmon and pink salmon from Canada. You can buy salmon with or without added salt. Smoked salmon is also available.

Double “Q”

This famous salmon brand has been around since 1897. Double “Q” is now owned by Peter Pan Seafood. Even though the brand has new owners, the salmon is still sold in its iconic red cans.

Double “Q” salmon is wild-caught in Alaska. They offer pink salmon and sockeye salmon. While they sell smaller seven-ounce cans, they also sell larger 14.75-ounce cans.

Chicken of the Sea

Source: Chicken of the Sea 

While this brand is famous for tuna products, they also sell canned salmon. Their wild-caught salmon comes from the North Pacific Ocean. They also offer farm-raised salmon.

You can find Chicken of the Sea products in supermarkets across the globe. 

Pure Alaska Salmon Company

Source: Pure Alaska Salmon Company 

Owned by a fishing family, the Pure Alaska Salmon Company launched in 2004. The family started out selling canned salmon to family and friends. After receiving positive feedback, they began selling salmon nationwide.

Many brands offer several types of canned fish, but this brand only sells salmon. They use small fishing boats to source salmon. After poaching the salmon, they pack the fish into cans.

Natural Sea

Source: Natural Sea

When you buy canned salmon from Natural Sea, you can trust that it’s wild-caught. They use pole and line fishing to catch premium salmon. The brand has used sustainable fishing practices for over 20 years.

Natural Sea prides itself on its pure, fresh canned seafood. Salmon is available salted and unsalted. They also offer boneless, skinless pink salmon.

Wildfish Cannery

Source: Wildfish Cannery

In 1987, a school bookkeeper named Phyllis Meuller created Wildfish Cannery. Her goal was to provide fresh salmon to Klawock, a small seaside community. Today, the owner of the company is her grandson, Mathew Scaletta.

“We’re in the absolute middle of nowhere,” says Scaletta. “We’re here because the fish are here. It takes a special breed of person to come to a remote island in Alaska.”

In 1987, a school bookkeeper named Phyllis Meuller created Wildfish Cannery. Her goal was to provide fresh salmon to Klawock, a small seaside community. Today, the owner of the company is her grandson, Mathew Scaletta.

Wildfish Cannery harvests and packs seafood by hand. They offer a huge selection of salmon products. Options include coho salmon, smoked king salmon and sockeye salmon.

Blue Harbor

Source: Blue Harbor

If you’re looking for wild-caught salmon that’s packed in the USA, you can find it at Blue Harbor. This brand hand cuts and packs salmon to keep its flavors fresh. The only preservative they use is sea salt.

They offer skinless, boneless pink salmon. The product comes in larger chunks that are meatier than most canned salmon. 

Where to Buy Fresh Salmon

Maine Lobster Now

Despite its name, this brand offers much more than lobster. They offer several types of salmon, including Ora king salmon and Atlantic char, a cold-water fish from the Circumpolar North. The company even offers overnight delivery for its salmon fillets.

Maine Lobster Now started in 2012 and has grown to be a major online business. They work with fishing communities across Maine. Their goal is to provide fresh seafood to customers all over the United States.

Wild for Salmon

Located in Nanek, Alaska, Wild for Salmon is a family-owned fishing company. The owners are from Pennsylvania, but they’ve been fishing in Alaska for over a decade.

“We offer wild Alaskan sockeye caught on our family vessel in Alaska,” says Jenn Kurian, the co-owner of Wild for Salmon. “We also carry a large variety of Alaskan seafood caught by our fellow fishermen friends.”

Along with sockeye salmon, they offer coho, king, and keta salmon fillets. They also sell salmon burgers. 


This company has been in the fish business for over 30 years. For years, they’ve supplied fish to grocery stores. They decided to give customers the chance to buy fish straight from them.

Sizzlefish offers sockeye, king and coho salmon. While you can order fillets, they also offer subscriptions. With a subscription, you can build a box of your favorite fish.

Lummi Island Wild

At Lummi Island Wild, you can buy salmon caught by a reefnet fishery. All the salmon they sell is wild-caught and sourced sustainably. They harvest their salmon from the Fraser River in British Columbia.

Lummi Island Wild prides itself on the flavor of its salmon. The types of salmon they offer include king, keto, pink, and sockeye. They offer monthly and bi-monthly salmon subscriptions.

Secret Island Salmon

For more than 25 years, Secret Island Salmon has been delivering Chilean salmon. They source their salmon from Chiloé, an island located in Chilean Patagonia. The waters in this area are famous for being cold and clear.

Secret Island Salmon offers flash-frozen coho and Atlantic salmon. They also carry salmon that is pre-seasoned. The company even sells unusual salmon products, like salmon hot dogs and bacon.

Wixter Seafood

This retailer started out as a small fish market in Chicago. Today, they ship fresh salmon to customers all over the country. They freeze salmon within hours of fishing for maximum freshness.

You can order several types of salmon from Wixter, like Norwegian and sockeye salmon. They ship their salmon in a vacuum-sealed bag.

Sitka Salmon Shares

True to its name, this company shares salmon from Sitka, Alaska. If you sign up for their service, you can have fresh salmon delivered to you year-round. Delivery is free, and dry ice keeps the salmon cold and fresh.

“We portion and freeze our fish as soon as possible,” says Marsh Skeele, the co-founder of Sitka Salmon Shares. “The faster we freeze it, the more that fish is going to have the quality of a fresh piece of fish.”

Sitka Salmon Shares sources its salmon from local fishermen. Along with seafood, their boxes include recipes and tips and tricks. With their help, you’ll be able to cook the perfect salmon at home.

Tanner’s Alaskan Seafood

This family-owned company makes it easy to enjoy fresh, wild-caught Alaskan salmon. They source high-quality Alaskan seafood from local fishermen. Since they offer next-day shipping, your salmon will be very fresh.

When you buy from Tanner’s, you can have premium sockeye, coho, and Atlantic salmon shipped to you. They also have a subscription service. With a subscription, you can have fresh salmon delivered every month.

Vital Choice

In 2001, a fisherman in Alaska founded Vital Choice. Now, the company has a great selection of wild-caught salmon. Everything is vacuum packed and flash frozen.

From pink salmon to Copper River salmon, they have tons of options to choose from. You can also order salmon samplers to try out different kinds of salmon.

Sea to Table

You can’t always catch your own salmon, but Sea to Table is the next-best option. The salmon they ship is very fresh. It comes straight from Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Sea to Table lets you build your own box of fresh fish. This box could include king salmon, sockeye salmon or other products. They also offer a salmon lovers subscription box that’s packed with fresh salmon.

What is the most common type of salmon?

While Pink salmon is the most common salmon that you will find in the wild, Atlantic salmon is what you will find most frequently in the supermarket. This is because it is farmed and sold at a slightly lower price than wild salmon.

What is the best type of salmon to eat?

This is a raw salmon filet with salt and pepper.

Wild and farmed salmon both have different nutritional compositions. While both are excellent sources of Omega-3’s, wild salmon will typically have higher mineral content, while farmed salmon has more saturated fat and vitamin C, as it is fed on a high fat, high protein diet in order to breed larger fish.

As such, farmed salmon usually has a higher calorie content than wild salmon. Farmed salmon can have higher contaminants in them, so wild salmon, while usually priced slightly higher than farmed salmon, is often healthier.

If you’d prefer to eat wild salmon, Pacific salmon is your best bet, as there is more of it. Atlantic salmon is harder to find in the wild, and so all of what we find in the shops are farmed these days.

This also makes it less good in terms of sustainability ratings, but farming practices are improving, and it’s always good to check the source of your fish, particularly if you buy Atlantic salmon.

As we’ve seen, different types of salmon have different fat content, but how healthy they also depend on how you prepare the fish, so there is no one definitive answer to this, aside from wild Pacific salmon.

How is salmon used?

This is a big chunk of salmon sliced by a chef.

Salmon is a cold-water fish. They are used in a wide range of dishes all over the world, from the United States to Norway to Japan. Eaten raw in sushi, cooked as fillets, canned and added to salads and other dishes, or smoked and used for everything from breakfasts to main dinner dishes, salmon is a very popular fish to eat.

Caught by both commercial and private fishermen in rivers and lakes as well as the ocean, these fish have a broad appeal and are widespread in their accessibility.

Salmon roe, or caviar, is a delicacy in many cultures and gleaned from the ovaries of spawning female salmon. Used both decoratively and for flavor, these salty bubble-looking eggs are a treasured foodstuff.

What should I look for when buying salmon?

This is a whole raw salmon surrounded by various herbs and spices.
  • If you are buying Atlantic salmon, make sure to check where it came from and how sustainably it has been farmed. Finding out about the supply chain of your produce is important in supporting good practices.
  • Moist salmon is better than dry salmon. It is an indicator of how fresh the salmon is and how well it has been handled. If the skin has brown spots on it or is curling up around the edges, it is not a good sign.
  • Frozen salmon can sometimes be fresher than fresh salmon and should not be avoided out of fear of an inferior quality of fish. Depending on where you are and how close it is to the source of the salmon, fresh salmon may be of worse quality if it has had to be transported over long distances. Frozen salmon, on the other hand, is frozen immediately after being caught.
  • Buying a whole salmon is often cheaper than buying certain parts and is also more sustainable. You can learn to prepare the salmon yourself and make sure that none of it goes to waste.