Chum Salmon

Chum Salmon

Oncorhynchus keta


    Salmon, Chum, Keta, Dog Salmon, Calico Salmon, Chub


    U.S. wild caught from Alaska and occasionally Washington and Oregon



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Chum Salmon

Chum salmon spawning.


One of the lower-priced Pacific salmon at the market, chum salmon, a.k.a. keta, is a leaner, less oily salmon mainly harvested in Alaska fisheries. Chum salmon populations can vary dramatically in abundance from year to year. No stocks are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Alaska, but some groups of chum salmon in the Pacific Northwest have declined to the extent that they were listed as threatened under the ESA in 2005. There are no directed fisheries for chum salmon in federal waters in this area. There are chum fisheries in inland waters of the Pacific Northwest, but they only target healthy stocks of chum salmon. Scientists actively monitor salmon populations, and managers adjust regulations for salmon fisheries every year and often in-season as well, according to changes in salmon abundance and other conservation considerations.

Managing salmon fisheries is complex – salmon migrate far into the ocean but are born and spawn in freshwater rivers and streams. They’re extremely sensitive to a variety of natural and manmade stressors, on land as well as in the ocean. Changes in ocean and climatic conditions, habitat loss from the construction of dams and urban development, and degraded water quality from agricultural and logging practices are just a few of the factors that have taken a toll on wild salmon populations, especially in the Pacific Northwest. With salmon, managing impacts to habitat is just as important as managing harvests. The two are very closely related – the quality and quantity of salmon habitat impact the abundance of salmon, and the abundance of salmon determines how much salmon may be harvested by commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen. NOAA Fisheries and partners constantly monitor salmon abundance and manage harvests accordingly, and also work to restore and maintain healthy habitat to support these resources and fisheries.

Looking Ahead

In Alaska, hatcheries now produce the majority of chum salmon harvested in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound. Alaska’s hatchery program disclaimer was initiated in the early 1970s to rehabilitate the state’s depleted salmon fisheries and has successfully and safely supplemented wild stocks, as evidenced by the dramatic increases in abundance of salmon in Alaska’s commercial harvests since 1975.



Chum salmon are the most widely distributed of all the Pacific salmon, extending farther along the shores of the Arctic Ocean than other salmon species. Chum salmon are found as far north as the McKenzie River on the arctic coast of Canada and throughout the coastal regions of North America, historically as far south as Monterey, California, but now only as far south as Tillamook Bay on the northern Oregon coast. They’re also found from Korea and Japan and into the far north of Russia.

Salmon are born in freshwater. Freshwater streams, estuaries, and associated wetlands provide vital nursery grounds for chum salmon. Chum migrate from freshwater habitats to the ocean to further grow, feed, and mature. Adult salmon leave the ocean, enter freshwater, and migrate upstream to spawn, usually in the stream of their birth.



Like other Pacific salmon, chum salmon are anadromous – they hatch in freshwater streams and rivers then migrate out to the saltwater environment of the ocean to feed and grow. Chum salmon are similar to pink salmon – they do not reside in freshwater for an extended period like coho, chinook, or sockeye salmon. Instead, young chum salmon (fry) typically migrate directly to estuarine and marine waters soon after they are born. As they grow larger, they migrate offshore across the North Pacific Ocean. As they approach sexual maturity, they migrate back into coastal waters and return to the freshwater area where they were born to spawn. They spawn from late summer to March, with peak spawning concentrated in early winter when the river flows are high. They usually nest in areas in the lowermost reaches of rivers and streams, within around 60 miles of the ocean. They prefer to nest in areas with upwelling currents to provide oxygen for their developing embryos, and they cover their nests (redds) with gravel. In North America, female chum salmon typically have 2,000 to 4,000 eggs. All chum salmon die after they spawn. They typically spawn between the ages of 3 and 6 (which means their life span is between 3 and 6 years).

Young chum salmon feed on insects as they migrate downriver and on insects and marine invertebrates in estuaries and near-shore marine habitats. As adults in the ocean, they eat copepods, fishes, mollusks, squid, and tunicates. Various fish and birds prey on juvenile chum salmon; sharks, sea lions and seals, and orcas eat adult chum salmon.



Chum salmon grow to be among the largest of Pacific salmon, second only to chinook salmon in size. They can grow up to 3.6 feet and 30 to 35 pounds, but their average weight is 8 to 15 pounds. When in the ocean, chum salmon are metallic greenish-blue along the back with black speckles, similar to both sockeye and coho salmon. As they enter freshwater, their appearance changes dramatically. Both sexes develop a "tiger stripe" pattern of bold red and black stripes. Chum salmon are best known for how the males look when they spawn – they have enormous canine-like fangs and their bodies have a striking calico pattern, with the front two-thirds of the flank marked by a bold, jagged, reddish line and the back third by a jagged black line. Spawning females are less flamboyantly colored and do not have fangs. When juvenile chum salmon are about to migrate to sea, they lose their parr marks (vertical bars and spots useful for camouflage) and gain the dark back and light belly of fish living in open water.



Scientists assess the abundance of salmon by monitoring and measuring “spawning escapement” (the number of salmon that escape the fishery and return to their natal streams to spawn) and their productivity. They also monitor catch throughout the fishing season. Using the escapement measurements and harvest estimates, fisheries scientists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game regularly report on the status of chum salmon stocks and fisheries.

Every year, scientists prepare a "Salmon Forecast" for Alaska salmon stocks and fisheries. The report reviews the previous season and provides forecasts and harvest projections for the upcoming season. This was last completed in 2013 and will be completed again at the conclusion of the 2014 fishing season.



As of 2013, there are hundreds of stocks of chum salmon in Alaska, and population trends are diverse. Some stocks are in decline, while others are steady or increasing. However, none are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Of the four groups of chum salmon identified in the Pacific Northwest, two have been listed as threatened under the ESA since 2005.

Changes in ocean and climatic conditions, habitat loss from the construction of dams and urban development, and degraded water quality from agricultural and logging practices are just a few of the factors that have taken a toll on wild salmon populations, especially on the West Coast. Various conservation efforts have been undertaken to restore these salmon populations, including captive-rearing in hatcheries, removal and modification of dams that obstruct salmon migration, restoration of degraded habitat, acquisition of key habitat, and improvements in water quality and instream flow. In 2000, Congress established the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to support the restoration of salmon species. The funding is approved by Congress annually and distributed by NOAA Fisheries to states and tribes who use the money to carry out various projects to rebuild threatened and endangered salmon and protect and maintain others.


Harvesting chum Salmon

Chum salmon are primarily harvested in net fisheries disclaimer – purse seine fisheries take the greatest number, but chum salmon are also an important catch for gillnet fisheries. Purse seiners catch salmon by encircling them with a long net and drawing the bottom closed to capture the fish. Gillnetters catch salmon by setting curtain-like nets perpendicular to the migration direction along the coast toward freshwater. The mesh openings on the nets are just large enough to allow males (which are usually larger) to get stuck, or gilled, in the mesh. Chum salmon are also caught incidentally in commercial troll fisheries for chinook and coho salmon. Fishing gear used to harvest salmon does not contact the ocean floor so it doesn’t impact habitat. Chum salmon are accidentally caught in the federally managed pollock fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The pollock directed fisheries in the Bering Sea use their internal cooperative structure to reduce salmon bycatch. Managers and the industry continue to develop new measures to minimize chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.

The Pacific Northwest and Alaska also have important subsistence and sport fisheries for salmon. Salmon is an important source of spiritual and physical sustenance for Northwest and Alaskan Indian tribes, and they are culturally important to many other residents of these areas. Subsistence and recreational fishermen use a variety of gear to harvest chum salmon.



Who’s in charge? NOAA Fisheries, the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game disclaimer

Current management:

West Coast: Pacific Coast Salmon Plan

  • All Pacific salmon species fall under the jurisdiction of this plan, although it currently only provides fishery management objectives for chinook, coho, pink, and any salmon species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
    • There are no directed fisheries for chum salmon in federal waters in this area, and chum salmon are rarely caught in the fisheries managed by the council.
    • Chum salmon are caught primarily in inland waters, where fisheries are managed to ensure that conservation objectives are met.

Alaska: Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska

  • All management of the salmon fisheries in federal waters is deferred to the State of Alaska disclaimer, which is also responsible for managing the commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries for salmon in state waters. This ensures that management is consistent throughout salmon’s range.
  • Managers regulate the fishery based on “escapement goals” to ensure harvests are sustainable. They want enough salmon to be able to escape the fishery and return to freshwater to spawn and replenish the population.
  • Salmon fishery management largely relies on in-season assessment of how many salmon return to freshwater to spawn.
    • Managers set harvest levels based on these returns – when abundance is high and the number of fish returning is much higher than that needed to meet escapement goals, harvest levels are set higher
    • In years of low abundance, harvest levels are lowered.
    • During the season, scientists monitor catch and escapement, comparing current returns with those from previous years, to keep an eye on abundance and actively manage the fishery.

Adult salmon returning to Washington migrate through both U.S. and Canadian waters and are harvested by fishermen from both countries.

  • To coordinate management, research, and enhancement of these shared Pacific salmon stocks, the United States and Canada signed the Pacific Salmon Treaty disclaimer in 1985. They created the Pacific Salmon Commission disclaimer to implement the treaty and provide regulatory advice and recommendations to U.S. and Canadian management agencies that regulate salmon fisheries.
  • In 2009, the two countries ratified a new abundance-based management agreement, extending this bilateral management process through 2018.

Annual Harvest

U.S. commercial fishermen harvested 149.9 million pounds of chum salmon in 2012. Off Alaska, commercial harvest, including hatchery production, is at historically high levels, often exceeding 80 million pounds (more than 139 million pounds were harvested in 2012). Some chum salmon is also harvested in waters off Washington (10 million pounds in 2012) and Oregon (108 pounds in 2012).



Chum salmon are now one of the most valuable species in Southeast Alaska commercial fisheries due to high production from hatcheries in that region. The 2012 Alaskan harvest was worth more than $93 million. The combined Washington and Oregon harvest was valued at more than $7.4 million.



Salmon are a favorite catch of recreational fishermen. In Alaska, regulations vary by area and individual fisheries. Recreational fisheries in high-use areas (Cook Inlet, Southeast Alaska, Copper River) are regulated through management plans that allocate fish between competing commercial and recreational fishermen.



Chum salmon has a lower oil content than other wild salmon, so it has a relatively mild flavor and a meaty, firm texture. Raw chum is orange, pink, or red and is more pale than sockeye, coho, and chinook. The exact color of the meat depends on where the fish was caught – their flesh becomes progressively more pale and gray as chum migrate upstream to spawn, and they are graded based on this. They also become very easy to identify because of their watermarks – the vertical bars/color bands along the sides of the fish. The more mature and the closer to freshwater the chum salmon gets, the darker the color bands. “Silver-bright” is the commonly used term for top-quality ocean-run chum; the skin on this fish is shiny silver and the flesh is reddish pink. Silver-brights should not be confused with "silver salmon," which is another name for coho. "Semi-bright" describes a more mature fish with watermarks that do not extend below the lateral line (a faint line running lengthwise down each side of the fish). Chum with watermarks extending below the lateral line are commonly referred to as "dark"; the skin is gray to black with occasional red mottling below the lateral line. These fish will have soft meat that is not flavorful, although it may be pink.

While the low fat content of chum salmon makes it the least desirable of the Pacific salmon for canning, it is preferred for smoke curing among Native Americans. Chum salmon are also typically sold fresh or frozen.



Fresh from late summer to spring; frozen and canned year-round



Chum salmon is low in sodium, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and a very good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B12, and selenium.

Servings 1
Serving Weight 100 g (raw)
Calories 120
Protein 20.14 g
Fat, total 3.77 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 0.84 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 74 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 50 mg

Chum Salmon Table of Nutrition



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