Background MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are an abundant class of endogenous small RNA molecules that downregulate gene expression at the posttranscriptional level. They play important roles in multiple biological processes by regulating genes that control developmental timing, growth, stem cell division and apoptosis by binding to the mRNA of target genes. Despite the position Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) has as an economically important domesticated animal, there has been little research on miRNAs in this species. Knowledge about miRNAs and their target genes may be used to control health and to improve performance of economically important traits. However, before their biological function can be unravelled they must be identified and annotated. The aims of this study were to identify and characterize miRNA genes in Atlantic salmon by deep sequencing analysis of small RNA libraries from nine different tissues. Results A total of 180 distinct mature miRNAs belonging to 106 families of evolutionary conserved miRNAs, and 13 distinct novel mature miRNAs were discovered and characterized. The mature miRNAs corresponded to 521 putative precursor sequences located at unique genome locations. About 40% of these precursors were part of gene clusters, and the majority of the Salmo salar gene clusters discovered were conserved across species. Comparison of expression levels in samples from different tissues applying DESeq indicated that there were tissue specific expression differences in three conserved and one novel miRNA. Ssa-miR 736 was detected in heart tissue only, while two other clustered miRNAs (ssa-miR 212 and132) seems to be at a higher expression level in brain tissue. These observations correlate well with their expected functions as regulators of signal pathways in cardiac and neuronal cells, respectively. Ssa-miR 8163 is one of the novel miRNAs discovered and its function remains unknown. However, differential expression analysis using DESeq suggests that this miRNA is enriched in liver tissue and the precursor was mapped to intron 7 of the transferrin gene. Conclusions The identification and annotation of evolutionary conserved and novel Salmo salar miRNAs as well as the characterization of miRNA gene clusters provide biological knowledge that will greatly facilitate further functional studies on miRNAs in this species.