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Home Category Blog Trout vs. Char

Trout vs. Char

What is the Difference Between a Trout and a Char?

By Doc Trout


     Trout is the name for a number of species of freshwater and saltwater fish belonging to the Salmoninae subfamily of the family Salmonidae. However, some fish, such as the Spotted Sea Trout, are not actually part of the Salmonidae family even though they are called Trout. On the other hand, Salmon do belong to the same family as Trout (Salmonidae) even though they are not called Trout. In fact, the name Trout is commonly used for some species of fish in three of the seven genera in the subfamily Salmoninae and they are: Salmo, Atlantic genus; Oncorhynchus, Pacific genus; and Salvelinus, Char or Charr genus. Therefore, although Rainbow Trout (Salmoninae Oncorhynchus mykiss), Brown Trout (Salmoninae Salmo Trutta), and Brook Trout (Salmoninae Salvelinus fontinali) are all members of the Salmoninae subfamily, they each belong to a different genus and species. Consequently, although all three fish are categorized as Salmon, Brown Trout are members of the Atlantic Salmon genus, whereas Rainbow Trout are members of the Pacific Salmon genus, and Brook Trout are members of the Char genus.


Brown Trout, Salmoninae Salmo trutta (Trout) -

     The Brown Trout (Salmo trutta morpha fario and Salmo trutta morpha lacustris) and the Atlantic Salmon (Salmo trutta morpha trutta) are all members of the same genus but each are members of  different species. They are distinguished chiefly by the fact that the Brown Trout is largely a freshwater fish, while the Atlantic Salmon (also called an Atlantic Steelhead) demonstrates anadromous reproduction;, migrating to the oceans for much of its life and then returning to freshwater to spawn. In addition, Atlantic Salmon in the UK and Ireland are know by many regional names such as "Wewin" in Wales, "Finnock" in Scotland, "Peal" in western England,  Mort in north west England, and "White Trout" in Ireland. In addition, the lacustrine morph of  Brown Trout is usually potamodromous, meaning that it migrates from lakes (instead of the ocean) into rivers or streams to spawn although, there is some evidence of populations that spawn on the wind-swept shorelines of large lakes. On the other hand, Salmo trutta morpha fario typically form resident populations in alpine streams but sometimes use large rivers as well. In addition, there is some evidence that anadromous and non-anadromous morphs coexisting in the same river can be genetically identical. Consequently, the name "Brown Trout" is often applied indiscriminately to the various morphs even though they are of a different species.


Rainbow Trout - Salmoinae Oncorhynchus mykiss (Trout) -

      The Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a species of Salmonid native to tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in both Asia and North America. Therefore, the Pacific Steelhead is a sea run Rainbow Trout (anadromous) that usually returns to a freshwater stream to spawn after 2 to 3 years at sea. In fact, Rainbow Trout are so popular that they have been introduced for food or sport to at least 45 countries on every continent except Antarctica. However, in some locations such as Europe, Australia, and South America, Rainbow Trout have had a detrimental effect on the native upland species by either consuming them as food or competing with them for the other available food sources. In addition, they have  been known to transmit diseases such as Whirling Disease to native fish which have no natural immunity via evolution and they have been known to hybridize with closely related species and subspecies.


Brook Trout, Salmoninae Salvelinus fontinali (Char) -

     The Brook Trout, Salvelinus fontinali, (which is sometimes called the Eastern Brook Trout) is a member of the Salmon family of the order Salmoniformes. But, since it is of a different genus and species from other Salmoniformes, it is not actually a Trout but is instead a Char or Charr.  In addition, there is another Char called a Speckled Trout that, while closely related to the Brook Trout, displays some slight anatomical differences which lead some biologist to believe that it is actually a different species altogether or at least a sub-species of Brook Trout. Hence, both Brook Trout and Speckled Trout are sometimes called "Square Tails" in some parts of the country. In addition, there is a potamodromous population of Brook Trout living in Lake Superior that are known locally as Coaster Trout or simply as Coasters. In addition, there are two other species of Salmoniformes that are commonly called Trout but which are actually Chars and they are the Lake Trout and the Dolly Varden Trout. Thus, while a Char is similar to a Trout in that they are both Salmoniformes, Chars differ from Trout in that they are members of a different genus and species.


     Therefore, when asked what the difference is between a Trout and a Char, the short answer is that while both fish are Salmon, Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout are members of the Atlantic and Pacific Salmon genera whereas Brook Trout are members of the Char genus and thus Brook Trout are not actually Trout at all.

Last Updated (Sunday, 09 December 2012 15:56)