Bristol Bay Wild Salmon

Page - January 16, 2008

Estimated Population: Estimates of the actual population size of each species are not available, but recent annual catch sizes in Bristol Bay have been above the 20-year average for sockeye, chinook, and chum salmon. The annual catch of sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay ranges between 10 and 30 million fish, with an average of 23 million.

Biology

  • There are five species of pacific wild salmon (Oncorhynchus) found on the North American coast - Pink, Sockeye, Chum, Coho, and Chinook - all of which spawn in the rivers, lakes, and streams that feed into Bristol Bay. The Kvichak River, which flows into the bay, is home to the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. 
PINK SALMON (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) Pink salmon are the smallest pacific salmon, with an average length of 20-25 inches and an average weight of 3.5-4 pounds. They have blue backs, silvery sides, and large black spots. Pink salmon spawn within a few miles of the coast, often in stream mouths and intertidal zones. Young migrate directly to the ocean, where they mature in two years. Odd-year and even-year populations are reproductively isolated from each other, and therefore genetically distinct. SOCKEYE SALMON (Oncorhynchus nerka) - also called red salmonSockeye salmon usually weigh 6-8 pounds and can grow up to 33 inches long. They are blue-green with silvery sides, and both males and females turn red when they enter freshwater to spawn. Sockeye usually spawn in or near lakes, and juveniles live in freshwater up to four years before migrating to the sea. They spend 1-4 more years at sea before returning to the stream where they were born to spawn. CHUM SALMON (Oncorhynchus Keta) - also called dog salmonChum salmon are one of the largest species, and can grow up to 3.6 feet long and weigh up to 46 pounds. The average weight is 7-18 pounds. Adults are green/blue with black speckles, and males develop characteristic large dog-like fangs when they are about to spawn. Chum salmon spawn in rivers, streams, and intertidal zones, usually within 62 miles of the coast. Young migrate directly to sea, and mature in 3-5 years. Young chum salmon form schools in the ocean, an unusual behavior among salmon species.COHO SALMON (Oncorhynchus kisutch) - also called silver salmonCoho salmon usually weigh 8-12 pounds and grow 24-30 inches long. They are bright silver with small black spots, and both males and females turn darker maroon to reddish when they enter freshwater to spawn. Coho salmon spawn in rivers and streams, often making long migrations upstream. Juveniles spend at least one year in the freshwater environment before migrating to the ocean, where they mature in another 1-2 years.CHINOOK SALMON (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) - also called king salmonChinook are the largest species of pacific salmon, often weighing over 40 pounds. They are blue-green, with irregular black spots and silvery sides. On large river systems, chinook migrate great distances upstream to spawn. On the Yukon River, chinook sometimes travel up to 2,000 miles to reach the streams where they were born. They do not feed during this migration, and die shortly after spawning. Juveniles live up to a year in freshwater before migrating to the ocean. At sea they live and grow for 1-6 years before returning to the rivers to spawn.


Threats

  •  Overfishing and Dams are both threats to the wild salmon stock.  Mass-catching practices have been outlawed over time but runs were already decreasing as early as the 20th century.
  • Offshore oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay and the construction of open pit mines in the watershed area pose significant threats to wild salmon.

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