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Chum Salmon

Oncorhynchus keta

Chum Salmon illustration

Also Known As

  • Salmon
  • Chum
  • Keta
  • Dog salmon
  • Calico salmon
  • Chub

U.S. wild-caught chum salmon is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population

There are hundreds of chum salmon stocks in Alaska and several Pacific stocks. Some stocks are above target population levels, while others are below.

Fishing Rate

Managers set fishing rates to avoid jeopardizing the survival and recovery of chum salmon stocks that are below their target levels.

Habitat Impacts

Fishing gear used to catch chum salmon rarely contacts the ocean floor and has little impact on habitat.

Bycatch

Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.

  • Availability

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

  • Source

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

  • Taste

    Chum salmon has a lower oil content than other wild salmon, so it has a relatively mild flavor.

  • Texture

    Firm and meaty.

  • Color

    Raw chum is orange, pink, or red and is paler than sockeye, coho, and Chinook salmon.

  • Health Benefits

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

The U.S. Fishery

Fishery Management

  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage chum salmon on the West Coast.
  • Managed under the 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 (such as Puget Sound and Hood Canal) where fisheries are managed to ensure that conservation objectives are met.
  • NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage chum salmon in Alaska. 
  • Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska:
    • All management of the salmon fisheries in federal waters is delegated to the State of Alaska, 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 fresh water to spawn and replenish the population.
      • Salmon fishery management largely relies on in-season assessment of how many salmon return to fresh water 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 fishing 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.
  • Off the West Coast and in Alaska, the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the Pacific Salmon Commission help coordinate management, research, and enhancement of shared U.S. and international salmon stocks, including chum.

Harvest

  • Commercial fishery:
    • In 2016, commercial landings of chum salmon totaled more than 101.3 million pounds and were valued at more than $56.7 million.
    • Most of the harvest comes from Alaska (more than 92.5 million pounds).
    • They are also harvested in Washington (approximately 8.8 million pounds).
  • Gear types, habitat impacts, and bycatch:
    • Purse seines and gillnets are used to catch chum salmon.
    • 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 salmon’s trajectory as they migrate along the coast toward fresh water.
    • Chum salmon are also caught in commercial troll fisheries for Chinook and coho salmon.
    • Fishing gear used to catch chum salmon rarely contacts the ocean floor and has little impact on habitat.
    • Bycatch is low and usually consists of other salmon species.
  • Recreational fishery:
    • Salmon are a favorite catch of recreational fishermen.
    • Recreational fishermen use a variety of fishing gear to harvest chum 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.
  • Subsistence fishery:
    • Salmon is an important source of spiritual and physical sustenance for Western Indian tribes and Alaska natives, and salmon are culturally important to many other residents of these areas.
    • Subsistence fishermen use a variety of fishing gear to harvest chum salmon.

The Science

Population Status

  • Alaska:
  • West Coast:
  • Populations are affected by:
    • Changes in ocean and climatic conditions.
    • Habitat loss from dam construction and urban development.
    • Degraded water quality from agricultural and logging practices.
  • Population conservation efforts include:
    • Captive-rearing in hatcheries.
    • Removal and modification of dams that obstruct salmon migration.
    • Restoration of degraded habitat.
    • Acquisition of key habitat.
    • Improvements to water quality and instream flow.
  • The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund supports the restoration of salmon species.

Location

  • Chum salmon are the most widely distributed of all the Pacific salmon.
  • They are found throughout the North Pacific Ocean and range from the Arctic coast of Canada and throughout the northern coastal regions of North America and Asia.
  • In the United States, chum salmon are found throughout Alaska and as far south as Yaquina Bay, Oregon, on the West Coast.

Habitat

  • Chum salmon spend their early life growing and feeding in fresh water streams, estuaries, and associated wetlands.
  • They spend the remainder of their life foraging in the ocean before returning to the streams and tributaries where they were born to spawn.

Physical Description

  • Chum salmon is one of the largest species of Pacific salmon, second only to Chinook salmon in size.
  • 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 fresh water, their appearance changes dramatically.
    • Both sexes develop a tiger stripe pattern of bold red and black stripes.
    • Males develop 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.

Biology

  • Chum salmon are anadromous—they hatch in fresh water streams and rivers then migrate out to the saltwater environment of the ocean to feed and grow.
  • Chum salmon do not reside in fresh water for an extended period (unlike coho, Chinook, and sockeye salmon).
  • They can grow up to 3.6 feet and 30 to 35 pounds, but their average weight is 8 to 15 pounds.
  • 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 fresh water area where they were born to spawn.
  • They typically spawn between the ages of 3 and 6.
  • 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 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.
  • Young chum salmon feed on insects as they migrate downriver and on insects and marine invertebrates in estuaries and near-shore marine habitats.
  • Adults 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.
  • After salmon spawn and die, salmon carcasses are a valuable source of energy and nutrients to the river ecosystem. Carcasses have been shown to improve newly hatched salmon growth and survival by contributing nitrogen and phosphorous compounds to streams.

Last updated: 10/16/2018