Chum Salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)


The late spawning run of the chum salmon severely affects its popularity as a sportfish. The frequently used name “dog salmon” reportedly originates with its prevalent use as dog food among aboriginals.

Identification

In the ocean, the slender, somewhat compressed, chum salmon is metallic greenish-blue on the back and silvery on the sides and has a fine black speckling on the upper sides and the back but no distinct black spots.

Spawning males turn dark olive or grayish; blood-red coloring and vertical bars of green and purple reach up the sides, giving the fish its “calico” appearance. It develops the typical hooked snout of Pacific salmon, and the tips of the anal and the pelvic fins are often white.

The chum salmon is difficult to distinguish from similar-size sockeye salmon. The chum has fewer but larger gill rakers than other salmon have. The sockeye also lacks white marks on the fins and is generally smaller than the chum.

Size/Age

The average weight of chum salmon is 10 to 15 pounds. Females are usually smaller than males. These fish can reach 40 inches in length and can live to 7 years. The all-tackle world record is a 35-pounder from British Columbia.

Life history/Behavior

The chum salmon is an anadromous fish and inhabits both ocean environments and coastal streams. Spawning takes place from ages 2 to 7, most commonly at age 4, and at a weight of 5 to 10 pounds. They are sometimes called “autumn salmon” or “fall salmon” because they are among the last salmon in the season to take their spawning run, entering river mouths after mid-June but reaching spawning grounds as late as November or December.

Food

In the ocean, chum salmon eat a variety of organisms, including herring, pilchards, sand lance, squid, and crustaceans. Adults cease feeding in freshwater.

Other Names

calico salmon, dog salmon, fall salmon, autumn salmon, chum, keta; French: saumon keta; Japanese: sake, shake.

Distribution

Chum salmon are the most widely distributed of the Pacific salmon. In North America, they range south to about the Sacramento River in California, and east in the Arctic Ocean to the Mackenzie River in Canada.

There, they travel all the way to the mouth of the Hay River and to the rapids below Forth Smith on the Slave River, entering both Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes and traveling through the Northwest Territories to the edge of Alberta.
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