Range & Habitat: Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) have the widest distribution of any of the Pacific salmon. They range south to the Sacramento River in California and the island of Kyushu in the Sea of Japan. In the north they range east in the Arctic Ocean to the Mackenzie River in Canada and west to the Lena River in Siberia. Chum salmon are the most abundant commercially harvested salmon species in arctic, northwestern, and Interior Alaska, but are of relatively less importance in other areas of the state. There they are known locally as “dog salmon” and are a traditional source of dried fish for winter use.
Identification & Biology: Ocean fresh chum salmon are metallic greenish-blue on the dorsal surface (top) with fine black speckles. They are difficult to distinguish from sockeye and coho salmon without examining their gills or caudal fin scale patterns. Chums have fewer but larger gillrakers than other salmon. After nearing fresh water, however, the chum salmon changes color-particularly noticeable are vertical bars of green and purple, which give them the common name, calico salmon. The males develop the typical hooked snout of Pacific salmon and very large teeth, which partially account for their other name of dog salmon. The females have a dark horizontal band along the lateral line; their green and purple vertical bars are not so obvious.
Noncommercial fishery: In arctic, northwestern and Interior Alaska, chum salmon remain an important year-round source of fresh and dried fish for subsistence and personal use purposes. Sport fishers generally capture chum salmon incidental to fishing for other Pacific salmon in either fresh or salt water. Statewide sport harvest usually totals fewer than 25,000 chums.
Market Description: Chum salmon have always been of particular importance to native people as food for themselves and their dogs. This white-fleshed fish is caught commercially to be sold fresh, frozen, and dry salted or smoked. Chum salmon are generally considered to have the lowest flesh quality of the five Pacific salmon species.
Buying Tips: Commercial and sport fisheries operating in marine water frequently catch chum salmon that are in ocean bright condition. These fish are the highest quality chum salmon and are the best choice for table fare.