Pink Salmon

An important commercial catch, the pink salmon is the smallest North American member of the Pacific salmon group of the Salmonidae family.


The pink salmon is known as the “humpback” or “humpy” because of its distorted, extremely humpbacked appearance, which is caused by the very pronounced, laterally flattened hump that develops on the backs of adult males before spawning. This hump appears between the head and the dorsal fin and develops by the time the male enters the spawning stream, as does a hooked upper jaw, or kype.

At sea, the pink salmon is silvery in color, with a bright metallic blue above; there are many black, elongated, oval spots on the entire tail fin and large spots on the back and the adipose fin. When the pink salmon moves to spawning streams, the bright appearance of the male changes to pale red or “pink” on the sides, with brown to olive-green blotches; females become olive green above, with dusky bars or patches, and pale below.


The average pink salmon weighs 3 to 6 pounds and is 20 to 25 inches long, although these fish can grow to 15 pounds and 30 inches. The all-tackle world record is a 14-pound, 13-ounce fish taken in Washington in 2001. Pink salmon live for only 2 years.

Life history/Behavior

Pink salmon are often referred to as “autumn salmon” or “fall salmon” because of their late spawning runs; these occur from July through mid-October in Alaska. Adults die soon after spawning. Almost all pink salmon mature in 2 years, which means that odd-year and even-year populations are separate and essentially unrelated.

Food and feeding habits

At sea, they feed primarily on plankton, as well as on crustaceans, small fish, and squid. They do not feed during the spawning run.

Other Names

humpback salmon, humpy, fall salmon, pink, humpback; French: saumon rose; Japanese: karafutomasu, sepparimasu.


Pink salmon are native to Pacific and arctic coastal waters from the Sacramento River in Northern California northeast to the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, Canada.

Pink salmon have been introduced to Newfoundland and to the western coast of Lake Superior and currently maintain populations in these locations; there have been sporadic reports of pink salmon in Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Quebec since their introduction into Newfoundland.

These anadromous fish spend 18 months at sea and then undertake a spawning migration to the river or stream of their birth, although they sometimes use other streams. They tend to migrate as far as 40 miles inland of coastal waters, occasionally moving farther.