Salmon in Toronto and GTA Waters

More than a century ago, Atlantic Salmon were commonly found in Lake Ontario and its rivers. With European settlement came an increase in negative impacts on aquatic habitat such as deforestation, pollution and construction barriers.

As a result, the population drastically decreased and by 1898 they were extirpated (locally extinct) from Lake Ontario.

Throughout the century, Chinook and Coho salmon were introduced to Lake Ontario to enhance recreational fishing and can now be seen in large numbers in the GTA’s rivers during fall migration.

In 2006, Lake Ontario water quality and habitat improvements allowed the initiation of an Atlantic Salmon restoration program.

Historic Timeline

1812 John McCuaig, Superintendent of Fisheries of Upper Canada, noted that Atlantic Salmon “swarmed the rivers so thickly that they were thrown out with a shovel and even with the hand.”
1881 Samuel Wilmot observes drastic environmental change, caused by European settlement, and laments that “I cannot disguise from myself that the time is gone by forever for the growth of salmon and speckled trout in the frontier streams of Ontario”
1898 Atlantic Salmon extirpated from Lake Ontario as last confirmed fish caught off the Scarborough shoreline.
1990 Large numbers of Chinook and Coho discovered in the North shore tributaries of Lake Ontario, a result of intense stocking programs throughout the 1900s.
2006 Full-scale Atlantic Salmon restoration program begins in Lake Ontario streams.
2011 Atlantic Salmon restoration on the Humber River begins with the stocking of 100,000 fry.
2017 Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) records the largest Atlantic Salmon to be surveyed in the last 28 years (15 pounds) during their Lake Ontario fisheries survey.

The Atlantic Salmon:
A Brief Michi Saagiig Oral History

Listen to an oral history and storytelling of the history of the Atlantic Salmon in Southern Ontario by Curve Lake First Nation.

Bringing Back the Salmon

Small salmon in a net
Salmon are grown in a hatchery and then released into local waterways. The Classroom Hatchery Program is offered by the Lake Ontario Atlantic Salmon Restoration Program to over 100 schools and other educational facilities from Hamilton to Kingston.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and many other partners are working to bring Atlantic Salmon back to Lake Ontario. The program has four major components: fish production and stocking; water quality and habitat enhancement; education and outreach; and research and monitoring.

To get involved with the program or for more information visit: bringbackthesalmon.ca

Life Cycle

Select the image below to view full-sized.

Life cycle of Pacific and Atlantic salmon

Species Identification

Select the image below to download a guide to identifying Salmon species of Lake Ontario.

Salmon and Trout species of Lake Ontario

Spotting Salmon in Toronto and Region

Help TRCA’s monitoring team find migrating Salmon in regional streams and rivers!*

You can use our interactive story map to find the best places to spot Salmon and learn how to report any that you see.

*The survey is currently closed. Please check back in September 2022.

Select the image below to open up the Salmon story map in a new tab.

Spotting Salmon in Toronto and Region

Need help identifying Salmon species? Check out this handy guide.

A note to those visiting Etienne Brulé Park to look for Salmon: the main parking lot is currently closed due to construction. Paid parking is available at Old Mill Road.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do fallen trees obstruct salmon migration?

A blockage would need to be quite substantial to keep a salmon from navigating upstream and to block migration, especially if there is still water flowing. Salmon have evolved to navigate natural objects in rivers and streams and are very powerful jumpers, known to jump as high as two to three metres.

The Salmonid species are quite determined to make their way upstream to spawn. Other than a dam, few obstacles will get in their way. Also, fallen trees create important habitat for aquatic insects and small fish.

Woody material is a natural function of a healthy river system and shouldn’t be removed unless absolutely necessary (e.g. such a significant blockage that its causing flooding, erosion, or risk to health and safety).

What effects do weirs or dams have on Salmon migration?

Many in-stream barriers, such as dams and weirs, can make fish migration more difficult, but they can also help with flood control and invasive species management.

In the Humber River, for example, the structure at Etienne Brule park keeps invasive Sea Lamprey and Round Goby from moving upstream. The “notch” in the centre of the structure is lower and this modification improves access for Salmon.

Other weirs in the City, such as the one in Raymore Park along the Humber River, have fish ladders built in to help fish navigate their way upstream.

Salmon are powerful jumpers, capable of reaching three or more metres, so most make it upstream! If you go upstream you will see abundant Salmon splashing around in the shallows.

The consideration to remove or modify a dam can be a delicate balance between public safety and ecology. Decisions around modifications to or removal of in-stream man-made barriers are made in consultation with our municipal, provincial, and federal partners, with input from the public and other stakeholders.

Why am I seeing dead Salmon in the rivers and streams in late September, October, and November?

It is a natural part of their life cycle for many Pacific Salmonid species, such as Coho and Chinook, to die after they spawn (i.e. lay eggs). Dead salmon are an important food source in the river ecosystem and their decomposition adds important nutrients to the waters.

Unlike Pacific Salmon, Atlantic Salmon do not die after spawning, so they can repeat the spawning cycle multiple times.