Chum Salmon

Catching Chum Salmon in Norman Wells, NT

Common Name: Chum Salmon, dog salmon

Scientific Name: Oncorhynchus keta (Walbaum 1792)

How to Identify a Chum Salmon:

    • Chum salmon have NO spots.
    • Chum salmon in spawning colour have stripes.

What do they look like?

In the ocean, the body of a Chum Salmon is streamlined and silvery in colour with no distinct black spots on back, sides or fins. When Chum Salmon return to the freshwater to spawn, they become darker in colour and develop red or green vertical bars. They do not have any spots on their backs, sides or fins. Spawning Chum Salmon also have extended, hooked snouts and barred teeth. The appearance of males changes more than that of the females.

Chum salmon in silver bright "ocean phase" Chum salmon in spawning colour with stripes

How do they live (what is their life-cycle)?

Chum Salmon adults return to a freshwater river, often the river from which they were "born", to spawn. Chum Salmon migrate upstream and seek spawning locations in gravel river beds where the water flowing through the gravel never freezes, even in winter. The eggs and milt (sperm) are deposited in a depression dug in the gravel. After spawning, the adults die. The eggs develop over the winter and the fry emerge from the gravel in the spring, usually at the same time as the ice leaves the river. Chum Salmon juveniles are thought to head directly out to the ocean after they leave the spawning nest in the gravel. They spend some time in the estuary (where the river meets the ocean) eating and getting used to the salt water of the ocean before heading out to the ocean to eat and grow. Chum Salmon spend between 2-4 years in the ocean before returning to spawn as adults. It is unclear where the Chum Salmon spend their winters at sea. They may follow currents west to the Bering Sea (Alaska), they may spend the winters in the Arctic Ocean, or they may do a combination of those (or other) options.

Chum Salmon in spawning colour.

What do they do?

Much of the biology of salmon in the Arctic is not yet known, and is being discovered with this research. In the Canadian Arctic, Chum Salmon are caught along the coast and in the Mackenzie River from August - November, and have also been captured in nets set under the ice in winter. Adult salmon do not eat while swimming upstream to spawn. It is not known if juvenile Chum Salmon eat while moving downstream from the spawning locations to the ocean. Spawning locations are not known but are suspected in the Liard River, the Slave River and the Peel River.

Where are they found?

Chum Salmon have the largest natural distribution of all Pacific Salmon species, ranging from the Lena River, central Siberia to the Mackenzie River, Canada in the Arctic Ocean and from Korea to California in the Pacific Ocean. In the Canadian Arctic, chum salmon are the most frequently caught salmon species and are found along the coast of the Beaufort Sea, and along the entire length of the Mackenzie River, including in the delta, the tributaries and in Great Bear Lake and Great Slave Lake.

Map showing catch locations of all chum salmon (red dots on map) captured and turned into Fisheries and Ocean Canada from 2000-2013. Map produced by the GIS Department, Aurora Research Institute.