The king of fish

  • Illustration of a salmon

    Evan Cantor

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories.

The hefty chinook salmon, also known as the king salmon, often exceeds 30 pounds. In 1949, a 126-pound chinook salmon was caught near Petersburg, Alaska. It remains the largest chinook on record.

In the past 25 years, the number of chinook caught in Washington's ocean fisheries has dropped by 96 percent - from 560,000 a year to 23,000. In the Puget Sound, the annual catch has fallen 70 percent.

Like all species of Pacific salmon, chinook hatch in fresh water, spend part of their life in the ocean, and then swim upstream to spawn in fresh water, where each female deposits between 3,000 and 14,000 eggs in several gravel nests. All chinooks die after spawning.

Adult chinook are most commonly four to five years old, but some males reach maturity by the age of two or three. These precocious males are known as "jacks' and are typically smaller than other adults.

Chinook are the most "piscivorous' of Pacific salmon, meaning that they eat the most fish. While in fresh water, they eat mostly insects and plankton; in the ocean, they eat squid, crustaceans and fish such as herring and pilchard.