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Sustainable Salmon



The species:




Cutthroat Trout





Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Identification Characteristics:

  • Olive brown to dark brown in color, almost black on back and sides
  • Many spots on its back Few spots on fins
  • BOTH upper and lower part of tail fin has spots
  • Lower gum line is black
  • Range in length from 24 - 60 inches

Chinook, also called "king" or "black mouth," are the largest of the Pacific Salmon. They are often found spawning in rivers or larger streams, and are usually one of the earlier salmon species to spawn in the fall.  In the Coast Region, there are Fall, Spring and Summer runs in WRIAs 20 and 22, Spring and Summer runs in WRIA 21, Fall and Spring runs in WRIA 23 and Fall runs in WRIA 24.

Chinook salmon have three major run types in Washington State. Spring chinook are generally in their natal rivers throughout the calendar year. Adults begin river entry as early as February in the Chehalis, but in Puget Sound, entry doesn't begin until April or May. Spring chinook spawn from July through September and typically spawn in the headwater areas where higher gradient habitat exists. Incubation continues throughout the autumn and winter, and generally requires more time for the eggs to develop into fry because of the colder temperatures in the headwater areas. Fry begin to leave the gravel

nests in February through early March. After a short rearing period in the shallow side margins and sloughs, all Puget Sound and coastal spring chinook stocks have juveniles that begin to leave the rivers to the estuary throughout spring and into summer (August).  

Adult summer chinook begin river entry as early as June in the Columbia, but not until August in Puget Sound. They generally spawn in September and/or October. Fall chinook stocks range in spawn timing from late September through December. All Washington summer and fall chinook stocks have juveniles that incubate in the gravel until January through early March, and outmigration downstream to the estuaries occurs over a broad time period (January through August). A few of these stocks have a component of juveniles that remain in freshwater for a full year after emerging from the gravel nests. 

While some emerging chinook salmon fry outmigrate quickly, most inhabit the shallow side margins and side sloughs for up to two months. Then, some gradually move into the faster water areas of the stream to rear, while others outmigrate to the estuary. Most summer and fall chinook outmigrate within their first year of life, but a few stocks (Snohomish summer chinook, Snohomish fall chinook, upper Columbia summer chinook) have juveniles that remain in the river for an additional year, similar to many spring chinook Marshall et al. 1995).

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.


Oncorhynchus keta

Identification Characteristics:

  • No distinct black spots on back or caudal fins
  • Males are dark blue above with reddish-purple vertical markings and well developed teeth
  • Females less colorful, often with horizontal bar along sides
  • Lower gum line is black
  • Range in length from 30-42 inches

Chum, also called "dog salmon," are the second largest of the Pacific Salmon. They are usually found in watersheds closer to the salt water, and not in waterways far inland.

Chum and pink salmon use the streams the least amount of time. Both chum and pink salmon have similar habitat needs such as unimpeded access to spawning habitat, a stable incubation environment, favorable downstream migration conditions (adequate flows in the spring), and because they rely heavily on the estuary for growth, good estuary habitat is essential. 

In Washington, adult chum salmon (3-5 years old) have three major run types, although in the Coast Region only Fall Chum are present. Elsewhere, summer chum adults enter the rivers in August and September, and spawn in September and October. Fall chum adults enter the rivers in late October through November, and spawn in November and December. Winter chum adults enter from December through January and spawn from January through February. Chum salmon fry emerge from the nests in March and April, and quickly outmigrate to the estuary for rearing. In the estuary, juvenile chum follow prey availability. In Hood Canal, juveniles that arrive in the estuary in February and March migrate rapidly offshore. This migration rate decreases in May and June as levels of zooplankton increase. Later as the food supply dwindles, chum move offshore and switch diets (Simenstad and Salo 1982).

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.


Oncorhynchus kisutch

Identification Characteristics:

  • Back and head dark bluish-green
  • Lower sides brilliant red to wine color
  • Gill cover reddish
  • Spots on back and UPPER lobe of tail fin only
  • Lower gum line is light colored
  • Range in length from 17 to 38 inches


Coho, also called "silvers" or "silver salmon," often spawn in the smaller streams and don't tend to use the larger rivers like chinook. Because spawning coho can be red in color, similar in size, and spawn or travel though the same streams, they can sometimes be confused with sockeye.

The onset of coho salmon spawning is tied to the first significant fall freshet. They typically enter freshwater from September to early December, but have been observed as early as late July and as late as mid-January (WDF et al. 1993). They often mill near the river mouths or in lower river pools until freshets occur. Spawning usually occurs between November and early February, but is sometimes as early as mid-October and can extend into March. Spawning typically occurs in tributaries and sedimentation in these tributaries can be a problem, suffocating eggs. As chinook salmon fry exit the shallow low-velocity rearing areas, coho fry enter the same areas for the same purpose. As they grow, juveniles move into faster water and disperse into tributaries and areas which adults cannot access (Neave 1949). Pool habitat is important not only for returning adults, but for all stages of juvenile development. Preferred pool habitat includes deep pools with riparian cover and woody debris. 

All coho juveniles remain in the river for a full year after leaving the gravel nests, but during the summer after early rearing, low flows can lead to problems such as a physical reduction of available habitat, increased stranding, decreased dissolved oxygen, increased temperature, and increased predation. Juvenile coho are highly territorial and can occupy the same area for a long period of time (Hoar 1958). The abundance of coho can be limited by the number of suitable territories available (Larkin 1977). Streams with more structure (logs, undercut banks, etc.) support more coho (Scrivener and Andersen

1982), not only because they provide more territories (useable habitat), but they also provide more food and cover. There is a positive correlation between their primary diet of insect material in stomachs and the extent the stream was overgrown with vegetation (Chapman 1965). In addition, the leaf litter in the fall contributes to aquatic insect production (Meehan et al. 1977). 

In the autumn as the temperatures decrease, juvenile coho move into deeper pools, hide under logs, tree roots, and undercut banks (Hartman 1965). The fall freshets redistribute them (Scarlett and Cederholm 1984), and over-wintering generally occurs in available side channels, spring-fed ponds, and other off-channel sites to avoid winter floods (Peterson 1980). The lack of side channels and small tributaries may limit coho survival (Cederholm and Scarlett 1981). As coho juveniles grow into yearlings, they become

more predatory on other salmonids. Coho begin to leave the river a full year after emerging from their gravel nests with the peak outmigration occurring in early May. Coho use estuaries primarily for interim food while they adjust physiologically to saltwater.

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.


Cutthroat Trout 
Oncorhynchus clarki

Identification Characteristics:

  • Head blunt, jaw long - extends past eye
  • Small black spots on head & body extending well below lateral line, and on all fins
  • Red to yellow streaks on underside of jaw
  • Faint to no red on sides of spawning fish
  • Length up to 30 inches


Cutthroat trout, like rainbow trout, also have an anadromous (or ocean migrating) form. also called Sea-Run cutthroat.  Cutthroat trout are a favorite catch of fishers. Also, cutthroat are often present in the same streams that Pacific Salmon use for spawning. Many people confuse cutthroat with other salmon species.

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.


Oncorhynchus nerka

Identification Characteristics:

  • In males, back and sides are bright red to dirty red-gray, head is bright to olive green, tail is green to black
  • In females, colors not as bright, but red above lateral line
  • NO distinct spots on back or tail fin
  • Males have a large dorsal hump
  • Range in length from 20-28 inches


Sockeye, also called "red salmon," are one of the most unique of the Pacific Salmon in that they require a lake for part of their lifecycle. When they are young fish, called fry, they spend anywhere from a few months to a couple of years in their lake. Sockeye can sometimes be found spawning on the shores of the same lake where they spent their younger years. Sockeye almost always spawn in a water body that is somehow connected to a lake, be it a stream or the lake shore itself.  The Coast Region has only three Sockeye stocks, all of which are lake spawners: Lake Ozette, Lake Pleasant, and Lake Quinault.

Sockeye salmon have a wide variety of life history patterns, including landlocked populations of kokanee which never enter saltwater. Of the populations that migrate to sea, adult freshwater entry varies from spring for the Quinault stock, summer for Ozette, to summer for Columbia River stocks, and summer and fall for Puget Sound stocks.  Spawning ranges from September through February, depending on the stock.  After fry emerge from the gravel, most migrate to a lake for rearing, although some types of fry migrate to the sea. Lake rearing ranges from 1-3 years. In the spring after lake rearing is completed, juveniles enter the ocean where more growth occurs prior to adult return for spawning. 

Sockeye spawning habitat varies widely. Some populations spawn in rivers (Cedar River) while other populations spawn along the beaches of their natal lake (Ozette), typically in areas of upwelling groundwater. Sockeye also spawn in side channels and spring-fed ponds. The spawning beaches along lakes provide a unique habitat that is often altered by human activities, such as pier and dock construction, dredging, and weed control.

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.


Oncorhynchus mykiss

Identification Characteristics:

  • Head blunt, jaw short - does not extend past the eye
  • Distinct dark spots on dorsal fin
  • Square-shaped tail fin with radiating pattern of spots
  • Often has reddish stripe along sides, gill cover reddish
  • Length up to 45 inches



Steelhead are the anadromous (migrating) version of rainbow trout. Rainbow trout are the "land locked" version, and remain in freshwater throughout their life. Steelhead migrate from the ocean into freshwater to spawn, and then can swim back out to the ocean again if they wish. Since steelhead are not semelparous (meaning they do not die after spawning) they are not an "official" Pacific Salmon. But, steelhead are often a favorite of local fishers for their large size and feisty attitude.

Steelhead have the most complex life history patterns of any Pacific salmonid species (Shapovalov and Taft 1954). In Washington, there are two major run types, winter and summer steelhead. Winter steelhead adults begin river entry in a mature reproductive state in December and generally spawn from February through May. Summer steelhead adults enter the river from about May through October with spawning from about February through April. They enter the river in an immature state and require several months to mature (Burgner et al 1992). Summer steelhead usually spawn farther upstream than winter stocks (Withler 1966) and dominate inland areas such as the Columbia Basin. However, the coastal streams support more winter steelhead populations. 

Juvenile steelhead can either migrate to sea or remain in freshwater as rainbow or redband trout. In Washington, those that are anadromous usually spend 1-3 years in freshwater, with the greatest proportion spending two years (Busby et al. 1996). Because of this, steelhead rely heavily on the freshwater habitat and are present in streams all year long.

Photos from Inland Fishes of Washington by Whitney and Wydoski, © 1979 University of Washington Press. Reprinted by permission of the University of Washington Press.










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