Atlantic vs Pacific Salmon: What’s The Difference?


There are several different types of salmon. The selection of salmon at the market can be overwhelming at times. When deciding which one, the question is, what is the difference between Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon?

Atlantic Salmon has a slightly milder taste and firmer flesh than Pacific salmon. Atlantic Salmon live a little longer and is found in the North Atlantic Ocean while Pacific salmon is native to the North Pacific Ocean. Pacific salmon costs more than Atlantic.

This article will examine all the differences between the two fish in detail. I’ll compare their tastes, textures, habitats, costs, mercury levels and benefits. In addition, a table comparing their nutrients side-by-side is included.

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Atlantic Salmon: The Basics

Yep, you guessed it, Atlantic salmon live in the Atlantic Ocean. However, despite being named after an ocean, Atlantic salmon are born in freshwater streams. They spawn and are born in the stream. When they grow old enough and large enough, they migrate to the ocean 1.

Despite this, however, there are only a few rivers left that contain large populations of Atlantic salmon. Most of these rivers can be found in Maine. Nowadays, they can usually be found on the coasts of New England through the Long Island Sound.

The main reason Atlantic salmon migrate to the ocean at all is to grow in size and abundance.

Saltwater salmon grow to be quite large, much larger than freshwater salmon usually do. The largest one on record weighed over 105 pounds and measured 60 inches in length. Nowadays, Atlantic salmon tend to weigh anywhere from seven to twelve pounds and measure 28-32 inches long.

These measurements usually occur when a salmon has spent two years at sea. Keep in mind the longer they stay at sea, the bigger they will get and the faster they will grow.

The food sources and nutrients in the ocean are far greater in number than in freshwater rivers. Once these salmon have grown to a good size, they will move back to the rivers where they will spawn.

Atlantic salmon are usually only capable of spawning once before they die, but some will occasionally survive to make multiple trips for the spawning season. This typically occurs in the spring and sometimes in the fall.

Occasionally, a species called landlocked salmon can be found. According to fisheries.noaa.gov 2, this is a form of once-oceanic fish turned freshwater fish. These Atlantic salmon are often much smaller than the saltwater species, usually only growing to be between twelve to twenty inches in length.

Atlantic salmon feed heavily whether they live in the rivers or the ocean. While they are dwelling in freshwater rivers, they feed off of mayflies, caddisflies, riffle beetles and other varieties of small insects. They might even consume smaller fish or amphibians if they get big enough 3.

When living in the ocean, these salmon will feed off of small fish, cephalopods, crustaceans and other things of a similar nature.

When they grow large enough, salmon are not always threatened (especially not in freshwater). However, in freshwater rivers, juvenile fish are threatened by pike, largemouth bass and several other fish. In addition, birds and predators like otters.

Of course, there are quite a few more predators in the ocean to contend with like sharks, seabirds, toothed whales and seals.

Pacific Salmon: The Basics

Atlantic Salmon on a cutting board

Pacific and Atlantic salmon are actually from the same family, though they both have different genera. There are five species of pacific salmon:

  1. The chinook (or king)
  2. Coho
  3. Pink
  4. Chum
  5. Sockeye

All these salmon species are natives to the pacific ocean (for the sake of time and space, we will focus primarily on the king/chinook salmon). I do have the following articles comparing more Pacific salmon species against each other in complete detail:

Coho Salmon vs King: What’s The Difference?

Coho Salmon vs Sockeye: What’s The Difference?

Keta vs Sockeye Salmon: What’s The Difference?

Pink Salmon vs Sockeye: The Complete Comparison

Sockeye vs King Salmon: A Complete Comparison

Like Atlantic salmon and other species of Pacific salmon, chinook salmon spawn and are born in freshwater rivers throughout Alaska and Canada. These salmon will spawn in the rivers and stay there for usually a year or two 4.

Once they are large enough, they will migrate to the ocean and stay there to grow and take in as many nutrients as they can 5.

King salmon have earned their name due to good reason. They are the largest species of salmon in the world, with average weights of 126 pounds and lengths of 58 inches or more 6.

Pink salmon, coho salmon, chum salmon and sockeye salmon all follow. Pink is the smallest species at an average of 30 inches in length and a weight of seven to twelve pounds.

Similar to Atlantic salmon, Pacific salmon usually make meals of insects (mostly flies and water bugs), tiny fish and sometimes small amphibians. They will feast on these things and more while they are living in their freshwater habitat.

The ocean, however, is filled with twice as many food sources/nutrients and in twice the amounts. Once the salmon have migrated to the ocean, they will feast on small crustaceans and cephalopods.

While they are less at risk when they grow older, king salmon still have their fair share of predators to worry about both in freshwater and saltwater.

During adolescence, they are particularly vulnerable to striped bass/largemouth bass and other fish species, plus plenty of types of birds. Predation continues for them as adults and they are mainly hunted by eagles and bears.

When they move to the ocean, they often fall prey to otters, sea lions, gulls, sharks and plenty of other meat-eaters. Humans, too, have contributed to the dangerous lifestyle of king salmon. Dams, weirs, and, of course, fishermen. 

However, despite these predators, king salmon have still managed to thrive in freshwater rivers as well as the Pacific Ocean. The lifespan of a king salmon can range anywhere from a year to eight years and possibly even longer.

They are expected to spend somewhere around four or five years in the ocean and the rest of their time in freshwater or migrating back and forth. Salmon do not spawn until they are older, so spawning usually only occurs once for every female.

However, if they are lucky enough to live long, salmon may return twice to their freshwater home to lay their eggs.

The Differences: Taste and Texture

As we have seen, Atlantic and Pacific salmon do have similar lifestyles, even if their physical appearance and builds are different. Aside from their habitat, size and coloration are quite possibly the largest and most noticeable differences between the two.

However, there are a few other differences worth mentioning. Let’s take a look at some of them!

Lifespan

As mentioned earlier, both Pacific and Atlantic salmon have pretty similar lifestyles. However, while Pacific salmon (king/chinook salmon that is) have a projected lifespan average of three to seven years, Atlantic salmon have a projected average lifespan of five to eight years 7.

This difference is pretty minimal (especially since this isn’t always a hard estimate and the numbers fluctuate), but it is still a difference, nonetheless.

Color

Keep in mind the colors of these two fish will change just a bit when they migrate from freshwater to saltwater.

While they’re living in the ocean, Chinook salmon take on a greenish-blue color on their backs and sides while the underbelly remains white or silver. They also have black marks and torpedo-shaped bodies that make them distinguishable.

Atlantic salmon aren’t excessively different but their colors vary somewhat. They have a deep green coloring on their backs and heads while the rest of their bodies are silvery-white. They, too, are speckled with black markings all over.

They are shaped somewhat differently, and, of course, they remain smaller than Chinook salmon.

Taste and Texture

The difference between the two fish as far as taste and texture are concerned is very minimal. Most would say only a very refined and sophisticated palate would be able to discern exactly what those differences are.

Atlantic salmon is said to be much milder tasting than Pacific salmon with firmer flesh. Pacific salmon tends to be a bit more tender with smaller flakes while Atlantic salmon has very large flakes.

As far as taste and quality are concerned, you will have to be the judge of which is better, if, indeed, you can detect any differences at all. As said, the difference in flavor is quite minimal and will therefore be difficult to discern.

Can You Substitute Atlantic for Pacific Salmon?

Your local grocery store may not always have the type of salmon you’re looking for. If you are looking for a substitution for Pacific salmon, can you substitute Atlantic salmon for Pacific?

Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon can substitute for each other in recipes, although they have slightly different textures and tastes. They both can be cooked using the same methods like pan-fried, slow-roasted, poached, baked or searing in a pan.

Atlantic and Pacific Salmon Nutrients

The following table compares the nutrients between Atlantic Salmon and various Pacific salmons.

Nutrient

Atlantic Salmon, raw

(4 Ounces)

King Salmon, raw

(4 Ounces)

Coho Salmon, raw

(4 Ounces)

Sockeye Salmon, raw

(4 Ounces)

Calories 161 212 166 149
Fat 7.2 g 13 g 6.7 g 5.3 g
Saturated Fat 1.1 g 2.1 g 1.4 g 0.9 g
Cholesterol 62 mg 69 mg 51 g 58 mg
Protein 23 g 23 g 25 g 25 g
Omega-3 1.95 g 1.45 g 1.49 g 0.96 g
B-6 0.9 mg 0.3 mg 0.6 mg 0.8 mg
B-12 3.6 mcg 8.3 mcg 4.7 mcg 5.3 mcg
Thiamin 0.20 mg 0.18 mg 0.12 mg 0.15 mg
Riboflavin 0.40 mg 0.19 mg 0.15 mg 0.23 mg
B5 1.8 mg 1.1 mg 0.9 mg 1.2 mg
Iron 0.9 mg 0.9 mg 0.6 mg 0.4 mg
Niacin 8.9 mg 9.5 mg 8.1 mg 9.6 mg
Folate 28.3 mcg 17.0 mcg 10.2 mcg 6.8 mcg
Potassium 555 mg 419 mg 479 mg 416 mg
Magnesium 32 mg 27 mg 35 mg 34 mg
Phosphorus 226 mg 235 mg 297 mg 291 mg
Calcium 13.6 mg 47.6 mg 40.8 mg 10.2 mg
Zinc 0.7 mg 0.5 mg 0.4 mg 0.5 mg
Selenium 41.4 mcg 35.2 mcg 41.4 mcg 33.8 mcg

Nutritional value sources 8 9 10 11

Health Benefits

As far as health benefits are concerned, there are no major differences worth mentioning. The real question is not whether Pacific salmon is healthier than Atlantic salmon, but rather whether farmed or wild-caught salmon is healthier. 

I wrote a whole article comparing the two. The food they consume is much different besides their environments. There is a huge difference which you can read about here, Farm Raised Salmon Compared To Wild Caught Salmon.

Regardless, however, there are plenty of health benefits that most kinds of salmon have to offer. Many health professionals would recommend including salmon (as well as other kinds of oily, fatty fish) in your diet.

First and foremost, salmon is very rich in both protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Protein, of course, is a very important part of one’s diet. Protein gives you strength and will keep your body functioning regularly.

Omega-3s are extremely good for your heart. It can help reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and several other diseases like prostate cancer 12.

Salmon is also packed with a plentiful bounty of B vitamins, including riboflavin, B12, niacin, thiamin, B6 and folate. In addition, there’s plenty of other vitamins and minerals helping to keep the blood in good health 13.

If weight management has ever been a problem for you, salmon might be the wonder food you’ve been looking for. Because salmon is a good, clean source of protein, it has hormone regulating properties and acts as an appetite suppressant.

Heart health is not the only reason you should ingest omega-3s. Fish oil and fatty acids like the ones found in salmon have been proven to significantly improve and protect brain health. They are both good to take for depression and anxiety.

Salmon is the perfect low-carb food due to its high fat and low carb content. If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

Atlantic or Pacific Salmon: Which One Has More Mercury?

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued warnings regarding mercury levels. They also provide recommendations about how often people should consume each fish 14.

They established a list of fish that are best choices, good choices and ones to avoid. Therefore does Atlantic salmon or Pacific salmon have more mercury?

Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon have similar levels of mercury. All salmon are listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish to consume regarding their mercury levels. The recommendation is consuming them no more than two to three servings a week.

Research has shown both farmed salmon and wild salmon have low levels of mercury 15. Mercury is found in both due to the industrial pollution finding its way into the bodies of water.

Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

Atlantic vs Pacific Salmon: Which Costs More?

When you are purchasing any kind of salmon, be sure to check the label to see if the fish is wild caught or farm-raised. This makes a difference with cost as wild is always more expensive. In addition, your area, store and whether the fish is frozen or fresh changes the price.

Therefore, which is more expensive, Atlantic or Pacific salmon?

Pacific salmon is more expensive than Atlantic salmon. The average cost for fresh wild Pacific salmon is $20.61 per pound while the average cost for fresh wild Atlantic salmon is $14.99 per pound.

I checked FreshDirect and found the following prices:

  • Fresh wild Atlantic fillet
    • $14.99 per pound
  • Fresh wild pink fillet
    • $13.99 per pound
  • Fresh wild sockeye fillet
    • $18.50 per pound
  • Fresh wild Coho fillet
    • $19.99 per pound
  • Farm King fillet
    • $29.99 per pound

The Pacific’s King, Coho and sockeye are responsible for the higher cost. The Pacific pink is similar in cost to Atlantic Salmon.

To save some money on fresh seafood, would you believe some can be purchased on Amazon? Check out their current prices and selection, Fresh Seafood.

Read Next – More Salmon vs Fish Articles!

Atlantic vs Wild Salmon: Which Is Better?

Pink vs Red Salmon: What’s The Difference?

Sardines vs Salmon: A Complete Comparison

Frozen Salmon vs. Canned Salmon: Which Is Healthier?

 

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Oceana: Atlantic Salmon[]
  2. NOAA Fisheries: Atlantic Salmon (Protected) []
  3. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Atlantic Salmon[]
  4. University of Washington: Studying Sockeye Salmon[]
  5. NOAA Fisheries: Coho Salmon[]
  6. USDA: Chinook King Salmon[]
  7. NOAA Fisheries: Chinook Salmon[]
  8. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, sockeye, salmon[]
  9. Nutrition Value:Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, wild, coho, salmon[]
  10. USDA: Fish, salmon, Atlantic, wild, raw[]
  11. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, (Alaska Native), king (chinook), salmon[]
  12. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  13. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Benefits of salmon eating on traditional and novel vascular risk factors in young, non-obese healthy subjects[]
  14. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  15. Washington State Department of Health: Farmed Salmon vs. Wild Salmon[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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