Atlantic salmon spawn in October and November, the peak of spawning usually occurring in late October. As spawning time nears, males undergo conspicuous changes in head shape: the head elongates and a pronounced hook, or kype, develops on the tip of the lower jaw. The nesting site is chosen by the female, usually a gravel-bottom riffle above a pool. The female digs the nest, called the "redd," by flapping strongly with her caudal fin and peduncle while on her side; the redd is formed by her generated water currents. The female rests freely during redd preparation while the male continues to court her and drive away other males. When the redd is finished, the male aligns himself next to the female, the eggs and sperm are released, and the eggs are fertilized during the intermingling of the gametes. On average, a female deposits 700-800 eggs per pound of her body weight. The eggs are pale orange in color, large and spherical, and somewhat adhesive for a short time. The female then covers the eggs with gravel, using the same method used to create the redd. The eggs are buried in gravel at a depth of about 12.7 to 25.4 cm.
The female rests after spawning and then repeats the operation, creating a new redd, depositing more eggs, and resting again until spawning is complete. The male continues to court and drive off intruders. Complete spawning by individuals may take a week or more, by which time the spawners are exhausted. Some Atlantic salmon die after spawning but many survive to spawn a second time; a very few salmon spawn three or more times.
Spawning completed, the fish, now called "kelts," may drop downriver to a pool and rest for a few weeks, or they may return at once to the ocean. Some may also remain in the river over winter and return to sea in the spring.
Hatching of the eggs usually occurs in April but the young remain in the gravel until the yolk sac is absorbed and finally emerge in May or June of the year following egg deposition. The newly hatched salmon, called "alevins," remain in rapid water until they are about 65mm long. The fish are now called "parr," and their growth is slow. Parr are called "smolts" when they reach a length of 12 to 15 cm and are ready to go to sea. Salmon grow rapidly while at sea. Some may return to the river to spawn after one year at sea, as "grilse," or may spend 2 years at sea, as "2 sea-year salmon" (Bigelow, 1963; Scott and Crossman, 1973).
Breeding interval: Breed once yearly, few breed twice before dying
Breeding season: October and November
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 2 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 to 2 years.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (External ); oviparous
There is no parental investment beyond spawning.
Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning)