Chum Salmon

Oncorhynchus keta

Chum salmon life stages - no spots! Also, nice vertical lines when spawning

Chum salmon life stages - no spots! Also, nice vertical lines when spawning

Chum salmon are also known as dog, keta, calico, and silverbrite salmon.

Description:  Chum salmon typically range in weight from 10 to 15 pounds, but can reach 40 inches in length and weigh up to 30 pounds.  Unlike Chinook, coho and pink salmon, chum in the ocean lack spots on their back and tail; the anal fin and pelvic fins have a white tip. Males returning to spawn develop pale red to purple vertical stripes and for females, a dark horizontal bar is most evident with some vertical striping.  Spawning males have prominently hooked lower jaws (the kype) and hooked upper jaws containing long, sharp teeth (canine teeth for fighting other males and perhaps the reason to be called “dog salmon”). 

In Whatcom County: Spawning chum occur in Terrell Creek where NSEA is restoring habitat and operating a remote site incubator to supplement production. Other streams include the Nooksack River, its three forks and its major tributaries,  Squalicum, Whatcom, Padden and Chuckanut Creeks. 

Range: Broadest range of all the Pacific salmon. From Tillamook Bay, Oregon to the Mackenzie River on the Beaufort Sea.  In Asia, from Kyushu Island, Japan to the Lena River in Siberia. Chum do stray and small numbers of spawners may be found in rivers farther south in Oregon and in northern California. Historic range in the Columbia River is greatly reduced to tributary streams below Bonneville Dam.

Life History:  Depending on the population, chum spawn from just above the head of tidewater to over a thousand miles inland in the Yukon River. Juvenile chum salmon typically migrate downstream to estuaries and the marine nearshore within a few weeks after emergence from the gravel. Most of these fish will spend 3 to 4 years at sea and then return to the freshwater to spawn in late fall through early winter. Puget Sound chum populations are considered as healthy, however the summer run chum of Hood Canal is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. 

Abundance: The most numerous salmon in Washington

Spawning Season: More northerly populations in North America spawn earlier than do those more southerly. Locally, chum spawn from October through January, though some Puget Sound populations may spawn as late as February.

Habitat Requirements: For spawning, chum require the same cool, clean, well oxygenated water as the other salmon species. Chum may spawn where ground water flows upwards through the gravel (called hyporheic flow) at the edge of a stream. Estuary and nearshore marine habitats are especially important for juveniles prior to their migration into the northern Pacific Ocean.   

Did You Know: Whatcom Creek in Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park supports one of the largest recreational chum fisheries in Puget Sound. These chum were produced and released as fry at Bellingham Technical College’s hatchery at the site. Chum carcasses are an important winter food source for bald eagles congregating along the Nooksack’s North Fork. The world’s largest chum harvest occurs in Japan where over 100 hatcheries on Hokaido Island release a billion fry each year. After pink salmon, chum is the most abundant of the five species of Pacific salmon when including all of itseastern Pacific range and chum have the greatest total biomass (pinks are so small in comparison). In Asia, chum is commonly used for sushi and sashimi; chum roe (eggs) is popular for salmon caviar; and chum skin is made into salmon leather for wallets and handbags. In Alaska, chum are dried as winter food for sled dogs (perhaps another reason to be called “dog salmon”).

Photo credit: Pacific Salmon- Childerhose and Trim - Douglas & McIntyre Vancouver/Toronto