Market Name: Rainbow Trout
Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus mykiss
Common Names: Steelhead trout, Steelhead, Trout
French Name: Truite arc-en-ciel
German Name: Regenbogenforelle
Italian Name: Trota irdea
Japanese Name: Nijimasu
Spanish Name: Trucha arco iris
Sustainability: Ocean Wise Seafood
The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a trout and species of salmonid native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America. The steelhead (sometimes called “steelhead trout”) is an anadromous (sea-run) form of the coastal rainbow trout (O. m. irideus) or Columbia River redband trout (O. m. gairdneri) that usually returns to fresh water to spawn after living two to three years in the ocean. Freshwater forms that have been introduced into the Great Lakes and migrate into tributaries to spawn are also called steelhead.
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Resident freshwater rainbow trout adults average between 1 and 5 lb (0.5 and 2.3 kg) in riverine environments, while lake-dwelling and anadromous forms may reach 20 lb (9 kg). Coloration varies widely between regions and subspecies. Adult freshwater forms are generally blue-green or olive green with heavy black spotting over the length of the body. Adult fish have a broad reddish stripe along the lateral line, from gills to the tail, which is most pronounced in breeding males. The caudal fin is squarish and only mildly forked. Lake-dwelling and anadromous forms are usually more silvery in color with the reddish stripe almost completely gone. Juvenile rainbow trout display parr marks (dark vertical bars) typical of most salmonid juveniles. In some redband and golden trout forms parr marks are typically retained into adulthood. Some coastal rainbow trout (O. m. irideus) and Columbia River redband trout (O. m. gairdneri) populations and cutbow hybrids may also display reddish or pink throat markings similar to cutthroat trout. In many regions, hatchery-bred trout can be distinguished from native trout via fin clips. Fin clipping the adipose fin is a management tool used to identify hatchery-reared fish.
Where They Live
The native range of Oncorhynchus mykiss is in the coastal waters and tributary streams of the Pacific basin, from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, east along the Aleutian Islands, throughout southwest Alaska, the Pacific coast of British Columbia and southeast Alaska, and south along the west coast of the U.S. to northern Mexico. It is claimed that the Mexican forms of Oncorhynchus mykiss represent the southernmost native range of any trout or salmon (Salmonidae), though the Formosan landlocked salmon (O. masou formosanus) in Asia inhabits a similar latitude. The range of coastal rainbow trout (O. m. irideus) extends north from the Pacific basin into tributaries of the Bering Sea in northwest Alaska, while forms of the Columbia River redband trout (O. m. gairdneri) extend east into the upper Mackenzie River and Peace River watersheds in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, which eventually drain into the Beaufort Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean. Since 1875, the rainbow trout has been widely introduced into suitable lacustrine and riverine environments throughout the United States and around the world. Many of these introductions have established wild, self-sustaining populations.
One distinct population segment is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and 10 DPS and 1 experimental non-essential population are listed as threatened.
NOAA Fisheries is committed to conserving and protecting steelhead trout. Our scientists and partners use a variety of innovative techniques to study, learn more about, and protect this species.
Trout represents the oldest aquaculture industry in North America, dating back to the first trout hatchery in the 1880s. Today, Idaho accounts for 70 percent of the rainbow trout raised in the United States. All rainbow trout sold domestically are farmed, either in concrete raceways or earthen ponds. Farm-raised rainbows reach market size of 8 to 10 ounces in eight to 12 months.
Worldwide, in 2007, 604,695 tonnes (595,145 long tons; 666,562 short tons) of farmed rainbow trout were harvested with a value of about US$2.6 billion. The largest producer is Chile. In Chile and Norway, sea cage production of steelhead has expanded to supply export markets. Inland production of rainbow trout to supply domestic markets has increased in countries such as Italy, France, Germany, Denmark and Spain. Other significant trout-producing countries include the U.S., Iran, the United Kingdom, and Lesotho. While the U.S. rainbow trout industry as a whole is viewed as ecologically responsible, trout raised elsewhere are not necessarily farmed with the same methods.