Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
(Chinook Salmon)
Native Transplant
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Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (Walbaum in Artedi, 1792)

Common name: Chinook Salmon

Synonyms and Other Names: king salmon

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Chinook salmon is characterized by small dark spots on the head, back, and caudal fin, black gums on the lower haw, and a fusiform, streamlined, and laterally compressed body. Sea run fish are dark green to blue-black on their heads and back and silvery to white on the sides and belly. Chinook salmon changes to an olive-brown, red, or purplish color during spawning. See also Moyle (1976a); Scott and Crossman (1973); Wydoski and Whitney (1979); Morrow (1980); Eschmeyer et al. (1983); Page and Burr (1991).

Size: 147 cm

Native Range: Arctic and Pacific drainages from Point Hope, Alaska, to Ventura River, California. Occasionally strays south to San Diego, California. Also in northeastern Asia (Page and Burr 1991).

US auto-generated map Legend USGS Logo
Alaska auto-generated map
Hawaii auto-generated map
Caribbean auto-generated map
Puerto Rico &
Virgin Islands
Guam auto-generated map
Guam Saipan
Native range data for this species provided in part by NatureServe NS logo
Interactive maps: Point Distribution Maps

Nonindigenous Occurrences: Chinooks have been stocked in the Colorado basin in Colorado (Wiltzius 1985; Horak, personal communication); unspecified areas in Connecticut (Whitworth 1996); the Delaware and Nanticoke rivers in Delaware (Raasch and Altemus 1991); Kaui, Hawaii (Brock 1960; Maciolek 1984) islands of Kauai and Hawaii (Mundy 2005); the Spokane drainage in Idaho (Idaho Fish and Game 1990, 1996, 1997); Lake Michigan, Illinois (Parsons 1973; Smith 1979; Emery 1985; Underhill 1986; Burr 1991); Lake Michigan and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Indiana (Nelson and Gerking 1968; Parsons 1973; Emery 1985; Underhill 1986; Tilmant 1999); the Missouri River, Iowa (Baird 1876 in Jones 1963); unspecified areas in Kansas (Cross 1967); Tangipahoa and Notalbany rivers, Louisiana (Bean 1882); Swan, Damariscotta, Cobboseecontee, and Long lakes and Pemaquid River, Maine (Kendall 1914a; Everhart 1950); lower Susquehanna, upper Chesapeake, Gunpowder, Patapsco, Patuxent, Potomac, Monocacy, and Conococheague drainages in Maryland (Ferguson 1876); the Shawsheen, Saugus, North, Ipswich, Merrimack, and Nashua rivers, Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester County, and an unnamed river in Bridgewater, Plymouth County, Massachusetts, in historic times and in the North River in recent times (1989) (Hartel 1992; Cardoza et al. 1993); the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan and Isle Royale National Park and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Parsons 1973; Phillips et al. 1982; Emery 1985; Underhill 1986; Michigan Department of Natural Resources 1997; Tilmant 1999; Cudmore-Vokey and Crossman 2000); Lake Superior, and numerous inland lakes in Minnesota (Parsons 1973; Eddy and Underhill 1974; Phillips et al. 1982; Emery 1985; Underhill 1986); Fort Peck Reservoir and the Missouri River, Montana (Holton 1990; Young et al. 1997); the Missouri, Big Blue, Platte, North Platte, Loup, and Elkhorn rivers, Salt Creek, and Birdwood Creek, Nebraska (Jones 1963; Morris et al. 1974) and Lewis and Clark Lake (Nebraska Game and Parks Commission); lakes and rivers in the central Lahontan basin, Nevada (Smith 1896; Miller and Alcorn 1946; La Rivers 1962); two unspecified rivers and large oligotrophic lakes in New Hampshire, including Sunapee, First Connecticut, Squam and Ossippee lakes, Round Pond in Pittsburg (Hoover 1936; Bailey and Oliver 1939; McAffee 1966; Cooper 1983; Schmidt 1986); the Raritan and Delaware rivers in New Jersey (Nelson 1890; Fowler 1906, 1952; Raasch and Altemus 1991); Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Little Moose Lake in Herkimer County (CU 73659), and Green Lake State Park in Onondaga County (CU 72033), New York (Parsons 1973; Smith 1985; Vinyard 2001; Craine 2002); the Missouri River (Lake Sakakawea) in North Dakota (Cross et al. 1986; North Dakota Game and Fish Department 1994, 1997); Lake Erie and its tributaries, and the Tuscarwas, Muskingum, Scioto, and Great Miami drainages in Ohio (Trautman 1957; Parsons 1973; Trautman 1981; Underhill 1986); the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers, and Lake Erie, Pennsylvania (Bean 1892b; Parsons 1973; Cooper 1983; Underhill 1986); Lake Oahe and other unspecified locations in South Dakota (Cross et al. 1986; Marrone 1996; North Dakota Game and Fish Department 1994; Hanten, personal communication); unspecified locations in Texas (Howells 1992a); Fish Lake, Utah (Sigler and Miller 1963; Sigler and Sigler 1996); the Potomac, James, Dan, New, and North and South Fork Holston rivers, Virginia (Ferguson 1876; Jenkins and Burkhead 1994); unspecified locations in Vermont (Cox, personal communication); the Potomac drainage in West Virginia (Cincotta, personal communication); Riley Lake in Chippewa County, Stormy and Pallette lakes in Vilas County, Lakes Michigan and Superior, and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin (Parsons 1973; Phillips et al. 1982; Becker 1983; Emery 1985; Underhill 1986; Tilmant 1999).

Ecology: Chinook salmon is anadromous, migrating from streams to the ocean to grow and mature and returning to their natal streams to spawn. Fry may migrate to sea after as few as three months or as many as three years, but most stay one year instream. Instream, chinook feeds mainly on macroinvertebrates; after migrating from the stream, it feeds primarily on small forage fish. Landlocked Chinook salmon in the Great Lakes usually leaves its natal stream within a few months of hatching (Michigan DNRE 2011).

Means of Introduction: Authorized introductions for sportfishing. Stocking began as early as 1874 in several states. Parsons (1973) give detailed accounts of stockings in the Great Lakes. The first stocking of large numbers of Chinook salmon in the Great Lakes occurred in 1967 in Lake Michigan and Lake Superior in part to control alewfie. Chinook salmon was first planted into Lake Superior in 1967 by the state of Michigan. This introduction was extended to Minnesota in 1974, Wisconsin in 1977, and Ontario in 1988. Annual plants of spring fingerlings between 1989 and 1991 averaged approximately 350,000 in Michigan, 509,000 in Minnesota, 384,000 in Wisconsin, and 300,000 in Ontario. By 1970 the species had been planted in all the Great Lakes (Parsons 1973). Between 1873 and 1933, about 11 million Chinook salmon were stocked in the Great Lakes basin (Parsons 1973). In a second attempt to establish chinook, another six million were stocked 1967-1970. Stocking numbers of Chinook salmon in Lake Ontario peaked in 1984 at 4.2 million fish and ranged from 3.2 million to 3.6 million annually from 1984 to 1992. From 1994-1996, stocking ranged from 1.5-1.7 million fish and from 1997-1999 stocking ranged from 2.0-2.2 million fish (Mills 2003). From the mid-1980s to 1992, the Michigan DNR stocked approximately 3.5 million Chinook salmon fingerlings into Lake Huron (Ebner 1995). Chinook salmon was stocked in West Virginia in 1874 (Cincotta, personal communication). Chinook salmon was also stocked in Nevada, but became extinct by 1911 (Vinyard 2001). Chinook salmon was stocked into Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota since 1976 using eggs collected from Lake Michigan fish. Beginning in 1982 it was also stocked downstream into Lake Oahe, South Dakota (Marrone 1996).

Status: Most attempts to establish populations failed. However, Chinook salmon has been found to spawn and reproduce in the Great Lakes (Negus 1995; Peck 1999). In Lake Huron, 7 out of every 8 Chinook salmon in the population come from natural reproduction (Michigan DNRE 2011). Chinook salmon is the most heavily stocked species in Lake Ontario (Kerr 1991). Chinook salmon is no longer present in Utah (Sigler and Sigler 1996).

Impact of Introduction: Competes with native lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush, in the Great Lakes (Page and Laird 1993). Chinook salmon is a predatory fish and as such may impact populations of smaller fish. Some agencies in Lakes Michigan and Ontario drastically reduced their stocking quotas in the 1990's for Chinook salmon and are concerned about their impact on the fish community, namely declining populations of alewife and other forage fish (Schriener 1995). Jones et al. (1993) predicted that maintaining high levels of predator demand by stocking chinook and other top predators at the current rate would eventually lead to an alewife collapse, possibly followed by the further collapse of other small forage fish populations. Chinook had totally eliminated rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax in two small New Hampshire lakes where the salmon was stocked to control the smelt (McAffee 1966).

Negus (1995) proposed that stocking of chinook in Lake Superior could be modified to alter predation pressure on important prey species. However, hatchery-reared Chinook salmon were found to make up only 25% of the sport fish catch in Lake Superior, such predominance indicating that Chinook have become naturalized and stocking efforts may only marginally effect Chinook biomass in the lake (Peck 1999). Hatchery-reared Chinook in Lake Huron only contribute 1 out of every 8 fish in the population (Michigan DNRE 2011).

Scott et al. (2003) found that the presence of chinook salmon causes delayed nesting and reduced survival of Atlantic salmon during spawning in Lake Ontario. Additionally, Atlantic salmon were generally more active and males engaged in more agonistic behavior (head-down, lateral display, parallel swim) when Chinook were present. Such effects could have a negative impact on present Atlantic salmon restoration efforts there.

Remarks: Chinook salmon has not been stocked in Oklahoma (Pigg, personal communication). Parsons (1973) gave detailed stocking information for the Great Lakes. During the 1970s, nearly all Chinook salmon in the Great Lakes reached sexual maturity by age 3. in the 1990s, however, 20% became sexually mature at age 4 (Ebner 1995). Lakewide average weight (kg) at age in Lake Huron is 1.8 kg at age 1, 5.2 kg at age 2, 7.2 kg at age 3, and 8.1 kg at age 4. (Ebner 1995). Wurster (2005) found that Chinook salmon in Lake Ontario occupy epilimnetic waters approaching their upper lethal limit of 22°C in the summer months, presumably because the highest prey fish biomass is found near 20°C. Rand (1998) estimated survival rates of stocked Chinook salmon in Lake Ontario to be 45% to 47%.

References: (click for full references)

Bence, J.R., and K.D. Smith. 1999. An overview of recreational fisheries of the Great Lakes. In Taylor, W.W., and C.P. Ferreri (Eds.), Great Lakes Fisheries Policy and Management: A Binational Perspective. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI. pp. 259-306.

Crawford, S.S. 2001. Salmonine introductions to the Laurentian Great Lakes: an historical review and evaluation of ecological effects. Canadian Special Publication of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences No. 132. 205 pp.

Crawford, H.M., D.A. Jensen, B. Peichel, P.M. Charlebois, B.A. Doll, S.H. Kay, V.A. Ramey, and M.B. O’Leary. 2001. Sea grant and invasive aquatic plants: a national outreach initiative. Journal of Aquatic Plant Management 39(1):8-11.

Cudmore-Vokey, B., and E.J. Crossman. 2000. Checklists of the fish fauna of the Laurentian Great Lakes and their connecting channels. Canadian Manuscript Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 2500: v + 39 pp.

Ebner, M.P. [Ed.]. 1995. The State of Lake Huron in 1992. Great Lakes Fishery Commission Special Publication. 95-2. 140 pp.

Emery, L. 1985. Review of fish introduced into the Great Lakes, 1819-1974. Great Lakes Fishery Commission Technical Report 45:1-31.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada. 2008. Survey of recreational fishing in Canada: Selected results for the Great Lakes fishery, 2005. Catalogue No. Fs23-522/2005-1E.  Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Ottawa, Ontario. Available: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/stats/rec/gl/gl2005/Report-eng.pdf

Hansen, M.J. [Ed.] 1994 The State of Lake Superior in 1992. Great Lakes Fishery Commission Special Publication 94-1.

Ivan, L.N., E.S. Rutherford, and T.H. Johengen. 2011. Impacts of adfluvial fish on the ecology of two Great Lakes tributaries. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 140:1670-1682.

Jones, M.L., J.F. Koonce, and R. O'Gorman. 1993. Sustainability of hatchery-dependent salmonine fisheries in Lake Ontario: the conflict between predator demand and prey supply. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 122:1002-1018.

Kerr, S.J., and G.C. LeTendre. 1991. The State of the Lake Ontario Fish Community in 1989. Great Lakes Fishery Commission Special Publication 91-3. 38 pp.

Kocik, J.F., and M.L. Jones. 1999. Pacific salmonines in the Great Lakes basin. In Taylor, W.W. and C.P. Ferreri, (Eds.). Great Lakes Fisheries Policy and Management: A Binational Perspective. Michigan State University Press, East Lansing, MI, pp. 455-488.

Marrone, G. 1996. Chinook salmon. South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, Division of Wildlife, Pierre, SD. http://www3.northern.edu/natsource/FISH/Chinoo1.htm (accessed 3/4/2011).

McAffee, W. R. 1966. Landlocked king salmon. Pages 294-295 in A. Calhoun, editor. Inland Fisheries Management. California Department of Fish and Game.

Mills, E.L., J.M. Casselman, R. Dermott, J.D. Fitzsimmons, G. Gal, K.T. Holeck, J.A. Hoyle, O.E. Hohannsson, B.F. Lantry, J.C. Makearewicz, E.S. Millard, I.F. Munawar, M. Munawar, R. O'Gorman, R.W. Owens, L.G. Rudstam, T. Schaner, and T.J.Stewart. 2003. Lake Ontario: food web dynamics in a changing ecosystem (1970-2000). Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 60: 471-490.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MIDNRE). 2011. Chinook salmon studies. http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10364_52259_10951_11244-98592--,00.html (Accessed 3-4-2011).

Negus, M.T. 1995. Bioenergetics modeling as a salmonine management tool applied to Minnesota Waters of Lake Superior. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 15:60-78.

Page, L.M., and C.A. Laird. 1993. The identification of the nonnative fishes inhabiting Illinois waters. Report prepared by Center for Biodiversity, Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign, for Illinois Department of Conservation, Springfield. Center for Biodiversity Technical Report 1993(4). 39 pp.

Parmenter, R.R., and V.A. Lamarra. 1991. Nutrient cycling in a freshwater marsh: The decomposition of fish and waterfowl carrion. Limnology and Oceanography 36(5):976-987.

Peck, J.W., T.S. Jones, W.R. MacCallum, and S.T. Schram. 1999. Contribution of hatchery-reared fish to Chinook salmon population and sport fisheries in Lake Superior. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 19:155-164.

Rand, P.S., and D.J. Stewart. 1998. Prey fish exploitation, salmonine production, and pelagic food web efficiency in Lake Ontario. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 55 (February, 1998):318-327.

Rand, P.S., C.A.S. Hall, W.H. McDowell, N.H. Ringler, and J.G. Kennen. 1992. Factors limiting primary productivity in Lake Ontario tributaries receiving salmon migrations. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 49(11):2377-2385.

Schreiner, D.R. (Ed.). 1995. Fisheries management plan for the Minnesota waters of Lake Superior. Special Publication #149. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Duluth, MN, 87 pp.

Scott, R.J., D.L.G. Noakes, F.W.H. Meamish, and L.M. Carl. 2003. Chinook salmon impede Atlantic salmon conservation in Lake Ontario. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 12:66-73.

Tiegs, S.D., E.Y. Campbell, P.S. Levi, J. Rüegg, M.E. Benbow, D.T. Chaloner, R.W. Merritt, J.L. Tank, and G.A. Lamberti. 2009. Separating physical disturbance and nutrient enrichment caused by Pacific salmon in stream ecosystems. Freshwater Biology 54(9): 1864-1857.

Tilmant, J.T. 1999. Management of nonindigenous aquatic fish in the U.S. National Park System. National Park Service. 50 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Region 3 Fisheries Program, and Great Lakes Fishery Commission (USFWS/GLFC). 2010. Great Lakes Fish Stocking database. Available: http://www.glfc.org/fishstocking/index.htm

Vinyard, G.L. 2001. Fish Species Recorded from Nevada. Biological Resources Research Center. University of Nevada Reno. 5 pp.

Wurster, C., W. Patterson, D. Stewart, J. Bowlby, and T. Stewart. 2005. Thermal histories, stress, and metabolic rates of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in Lake Ontario: evidence from intra-otolith stable isotope analyses. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 62 (March, 2005): 700-713.

Young, B.A., T.L. Welker, M.L. Wildhaber, C.R. Berry, and D. Scarnecchia, editors. 1997. Population structure and habitat use of benthic fishes along the Missouri and lower Yellowstone rivers. Annual Report of Missouri River Benthic Fish Study PD-95-5832. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 207 pp.

Other Resources:
Great Lakes Fish Stocking Database

Distribution in Illinois - Illinois Natural History Survey

Great Lakes Water Life - Great Lakes Sea Grant

Fishes of Wisconsin - Wisconsin Sea Grant

FishBase Summary

Author: Fuller, P., G. Jacobs, M. Cannister, J. Larson, and A. Fusaro

Revision Date: 6/26/2014

Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., G. Jacobs, M. Cannister, J. Larson, and A. Fusaro, 2018, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (Walbaum in Artedi, 1792): U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=920, Revision Date: 6/26/2014, Peer Review Date: 4/1/2016, Access Date: 1/22/2018

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Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2018]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [1/22/2018].

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