Fish and Aquatic Conservation

 artwork of a Chinook salmon

Fish illustration by Laury Zicari, USFWS, Retired

Chinook salmon

My Scientific Name

Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

By the Numbers

2,000 Distance in miles that some Yukon River Chinook migrate upstream.

126 Weight (pounds) of largest Chinook documented (near Petersburg, AK).

8 Upper age in years of spawning adults.

How to Identify Me

I’m the largest of the Pacific salmon and have small black spots on both lobes of my caudal fin and black pigment along the base of my teeth.

Why I Matter

I’m highly valued by Alaska Natives and Canada’s First Nations as food and am a prized catch for Alaskan residents and visitors from around the world. I’m a key part of the landscape and way of life here.

My Status

Declining statewide with 10 “stocks of concern” as of 2015. The concern arises from fewer spawners returning than thought necessary to have a harvestable surplus or meet goals for the population set by fishery managers.

did you know image
  • Chinook Salmon are also called King, spring salmon, June hog, and blackmouth.
  • Like other Pacific salmon, Chinook are anadromous meaning they’re born in freshwater, migrate to sea, and return to freshwater to spawn (reproduce).
  • They are also semelparous, meaning they spawn only once and then die.
  • Juveniles spend 1-2 years in freshwater before migrating to sea. During this time they move among big rivers, tiny streams, and everything in between.
  • Barriers like road culverts can delay or totally prevent juveniles and adults from reaching habitats that will help them survive and/or spawn.
  • Spending time at sea (typically 2-5 years) lets Chinook to reach their large size; the ocean offers a smorgasbord of nutritionally-rich prey like herring, sandlance, and squid.
  • There’s a benefit to being big: large females make more (and bigger) eggs. Small females dig shallower redds (nests) that don’t protect eggs from high flows as well as deeper redds.
  • Rural Alaska residents harvest tens of millions of pounds of fish each year. Sustaining this subsistence way of living is a priority in Alaska.

a map of Alaska, below the horizon of Alaska in black, showing range of whitefish

Chinook Life Cycle

Chinook have a complicated life cycle that takes years to complete and can span thousands of miles from headwater streams to the North Pacific Ocean. Chinook are born in freshwater and move among a wide variety of freshwater habitats to find food and cover. Smolts migrate to sea where they reach adulthood and spend a large portion of their life. After 1-5 winters at sea, they return to spawn and then die.

a diagram of Chinook life cycle, showing from spawning to eggs to parr to smolts to adults

holding an adult Chinook salmon above the water

Adult Chinook Salmon.

How you can help statement: Get to know me, if you don’t already. Help make me visible to people who don’t have the chance to see me by sharing your stories about me. Get involved in efforts to help conserve my habitat and maintain my populations into the future.