Coho Salmon

Coho Salmon

Oncorhynchus kisutch


    Silver Salmon, Medium Red Salmon, Hoopid Salmon, White Salmon


    U.S. wild-caught from Alaska to Oregon



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Coho Salmon

A group of coho salmon smolts after release from a California hatchery. Some wild steelhead may also be mixed in with the group.


Coho, or silver, salmon are harvested commercially on both sides of the Pacific, from Alaska to Oregon and from Russia to Japan. Alaska fisheries supply the majority of coho to the global market. Coho salmon have been introduced in all the Great Lakes, as well as many other landlocked reservoirs throughout the United States, but are mostly caught recreationally in these areas. Coho are also farmed in floating pens in Chile, Japan, and Canada.

The status of coho populations in California and the Pacific Northwest varies; some populations are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), while others are abundant. Coho salmon stocks in Alaska are not listed under the ESA. Scientists actively monitor salmon populations and fisheries, and managers adjust regulations for these fisheries every year, and often in-season as well, according to changes in salmon abundance and other conservation considerations. 

Salmon live in 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.

There are a variety of conservation efforts to restore salmon populations, including rearing salmon in hatcheries to supplement wild populations, removing and modifying dams that obstruct salmon migration, and restoring degraded habitat. Congress established the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to support the restoration of salmon species. They approve funding every year, and NOAA Fisheries distributes it to states and tribes who use the money to carry out various projects to rebuild threatened and endangered salmon populations and protect other populations.

Looking Ahead

There has been some market aquaculture of coho salmon in both marine net pens and freshwater (for pan-sized fish) in the Pacific Northwest. An extensive network of hatcheries has been built in the Pacific Northwest and California to lessen the impacts of hydroelectric or other developments on the availability of quality salmon habitat and to assist with the rebuilding of depressed stocks. In Alaska, most coho salmon production is from wild stocks, but in some areas, hatchery production disclaimer of coho salmon has been developed to supplement wild stocks and enhance commercial and recreational fisheries.



Coho salmon are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean and in most coastal streams and rivers from Alaska to central California and from Russia to Japan. In North America, they're most abundant in coastal areas from southeast Alaska to central Oregon. Coho salmon have also been introduced in all the Great Lakes, as well as many other landlocked reservoirs throughout the United States.

Salmon are born in freshwater. Coho spend approximately the first half of their life cycle growing and feeding in streams and small freshwater tributaries. They spend the remainder of their life foraging in estuarine and marine waters of the Pacific Ocean before returning to the streams and tributaries where they were born to spawn.



Like all Pacific salmon, coho are anadromous - they hatch in freshwater streams and rivers, then after a year or two, they reach the smolt stage and migrate to the ocean. Some stocks of coho salmon migrate more than 1,000 miles in the ocean, while other stocks remain in marine areas close to the streams where they were born. They spend about 1½ years feeding in the ocean, then return to their natal streams or rivers to spawn, generally in fall or early winter. Several stocks return to freshwater during a given season (a seasonal run). Female coho dig out gravel nests (redds) on stream bottoms where they lay their eggs. The eggs incubate for 6 to 7 weeks until they hatch. The newly hatched larvae remain in the gravel until the yolk sac is absorbed. The fry emerge, and after maturing into smolts capable of living in saltwater, they migrate downstream to the ocean. All coho salmon die after spawning. Coho salmon sexually mature between the ages of 3 and 4 (which means their life span is between 3 and 4 years).

While in freshwater, young coho salmon feed on plankton and insects. While in the ocean, they switch to a diet of small fishes such as herring, sandlance, anchovies, and sardines. They are also known to eat juveniles of other salmon species, especially pink and chum salmon, as well as juvenile sablefish. Otters, seals, and a variety of fish and birds prey on juvenile coho. Sharks, sea lions, seals, and orcas feed on adult coho.

Salmon carcasses, disclaimer as well as their eggs, embryos, alevins, and fry, transport nutrients from the ocean to stream and lake ecosystems. Carcasses have been shown to improve newly hatched salmon growth and survival by contributing nitrogen and phosphorous compounds to streams. Terrestrial animals and aquatic and riparian plants also take up nutrients from salmon carcasses.



Coho have dark metallic blue or greenish backs with silver sides and a light belly. They are commonly called "silver salmon." While they are in the ocean, they have small black spots on their back and upper lobe of the tail. The gumline in the lower jaw has lighter pigment than on chinook salmon. In freshwater, spawning coho are dark with reddish-maroon coloration on the sides. Spawning males develop a strongly hooked snout and large teeth. Before juvenile coho migrate to the sea, they lose their parr marks (a pattern of vertical bars and spots useful for camouflage) and gain the dark back and light belly coloration of coho living in the ocean. Their gills and kidneys also begin to change at this time so that they can process saltwater. Adults usually weigh 8 to 12 pounds and are 24 to 30 inches long.



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 salmon stocks and fisheries. Scientists also prepare a "Salmon Forecast" disclaimer for Alaska salmon stocks and fisheries. The report reviews the previous season and provides forecasts and harvest projections for the upcoming season. In addition, NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center releases annually a forecast of adult returns for coho and Chinook salmon.

Every year, the Pacific Fishery Management Council's Salmon Technical Team prepares an annual postseason review of ocean salmon fisheries off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California to assess salmon fishery management performance and stock status. This "Salmon Review" includes information on regulations, catch and effort estimates, spawning escapement, and economics and is used to inform management of the next season's fishery.



There are more than 20 different stocks of coho salmon. Last assessed in 2012, Alaskan populations of coho salmon are not overfished. The status of coho populations in California and the Pacific Northwest varies. As of 2013 many individual stocks are not overfished but one is listed as a species of concern, one is listed as endangered, and three are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act.



NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center scientists study endangered coho salmon in coastal California's Santa Cruz Mountains. With an emphasis on ecology, short- and long-term trends in population changes, and genetics, the Center's fish tagging studies are providing insight on local adaptation and biology.


Harvesting Coho Salmon

Coho salmon are mainly harvested in commercial troll fisheries in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Troll vessels catch salmon by "trolling" their lines with bait or lures through groups of feeding fish. To retrieve hooked fish, the lines are wound on spools by hand or hydraulically, and the fish are gaffed when alongside the vessel. The troll fishery produces low-volume, high-quality product. Troll gear does not contact the ocean floor so it doesn't impact habitat. Bycatch is also low and usually consists of other salmon species.

Coho are also harvested in commercial seine and gillnet fisheries (described here disclaimer), both in fisheries targeting stocks of coho and as bycatch in fisheries targeting other species of salmon.

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 salmon are culturally important to many other residents of these areas. Subsistence and recreational fishermen use a variety of fishing gear to harvest coho 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

  • Every year, the council reviews reports of the previous fishing season and current estimates of salmon abundance. Using this information, they make recommendations for management of the upcoming fishing season.
  • Their general goal is to allow fishermen to harvest the maximum amount of salmon that will support the fishery while preventing overharvest of the resource and ensuring that salmon populations with low abundance can rebuild.
  • Specific management measures vary year to year depending on current salmon abundance, and include size limits, season length, quotas, and gear restrictions. The council usually increases harvest limits for coho salmon in odd years when more adults are returning to spawn.
  • Management of coho salmon must also comply with laws such as the Endangered Species Act.
  • Final recommendations are implemented by NOAA Fisheries on May 1 each year. Check here for the current season’s management. State and tribal managers use council management recommendations to shape their policies for inland fisheries, to ensure that conservation objectives are met.

Alaska: Fishery Management Plan for Salmon Fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone off the Coast of Alaska

  • In Alaska, all management of the salmon fisheries in federal waters is deferred to the State of Alaska disclaimer.
  • The state is also responsible for managing the commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries for salmon in state waters, which ensures that management is consistent throughout salmon’s range.
  • State 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

Most of the U.S. coho harvest comes from Alaska (19.6 million pounds in 2012) with a smaller amount from Washington (3.6 million pounds in 2012) and Oregon (102,993 pounds in 2012).

Harvest levels remain low for endangered or threatened coho populations in California and the Pacific Northwest.



The 2012 harvest of coho salmon was valued at more than $28 million. The United States also imports coho salmon, mainly from Canada and Chile.



Coho salmon are a favorite catch of recreational fishermen. They're spectacular fighters and the most acrobatic of the Pacific salmon. To ensure recreational fisheries are sustainable, West Coast anglers are only allowed to keep a certain number of salmon per fishing trip. 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.



Smaller than chinook and larger than chum or sockeye, market-size coho average 4 to 12 pounds. Hatchery-raised fish are often smaller, running 2 to 3 pounds. Smaller coho have a delicate flavor. Fillets from larger fish have a mild taste. The flesh is usually pinker than that of chum but more pale than chinook or sockeye. Reddish-orange coho meat is moderately fatty and flakes well. Coho has a high oil content, and the flesh of wild coho appears soft but becomes firm when cooked.



Fresh mainly in summer through late fall; frozen year-round



Coho 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 146
Protein 21.62 g
Fat, total 5.93 g
Saturated fatty acids, total 1.260 g
Carbohydrate 0 g
Sugars, total 0 g
Fiber, total dietary 0 g
Cholesterol 45 mg
Selenium 36.5 mcg
Sodium 46 mg

Coho Salmon Table of Nutrition



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