Factors affecting the within-river spawning migration of Atlantic salmon, with emphasis on human impacts

E.B. Thorstad, F. Okland, Kim Aarestrup, T.G. Heggberget

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


We review factors affecting the within-river spawning migration of Atlantic salmon. With populations declining across the entire distribution range, it is important that spawners survive in the last phase of the spawning migration. Knowledge on the factors affecting migration is essential for the protection of populations, and to increase the success of reintroduction programmes. A number of studies have documented that the upstream migration may be delayed for many weeks at man-made obstacles such as power station outlets, residual flow stretches, dams, weirs and fishways. The fish may also be delayed at natural migration barriers. Often, the magnitude of delay is not predictable; fish may be considerably delayed at barriers that appear to humans to be easily passable, or they may quickly pass barriers that appear difficult. Stressful events like catch-and-release angling may affect upstream migration. Impacts of human activities may also cause altered migration patterns, affect the within-river distribution of the spawning population, and severe barriers may result in displacement of the spawning population to other rivers. Factors documented to affect within-river migration include previous experience, water discharge, water temperature, water velocity, required jump heights, fish size, fish acclimatisation, light, water quality/pollution, time of the season, and catch and handling stress. How each of these factors affects the upstream migration is to a varying extent understood; however, the effects may differ among different river sections and sites. There are likely a number of additional important factors, and the relationship between different factors is complex. The understanding of general mechanisms stimulating fish within-river migration are still lacking, and it cannot be reliably predicted under which conditions a fish will pass a given migration barrier or which conditions are needed to stimulate migration at different sites. The strong focus on the effects of water discharge in past work may have hampered consideration of other factors. Exploration of the influence of these other factors in future studies could improve our understanding of what controls the upstream migration.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)345-371
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Spawning
  • Human impacts
  • Upstream migration
  • Water discharge
  • Salmo salar
  • Atlantic salmon


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