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  • Genetic and life history variation of southern chum and pink salmon


Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) Conservation Biology CB - Genetics and Evolution


Chum and pink salmon life history
Genetic and life history variation of southern chum and pink salmon
The distribution of genetic and life history variation in chum (Oncorhynchus keta) and pink (O. gorbuscha) salmon in their southern range in North America is key to understanding the factors that limit their distribution and abundance there. These species have the widest natural spawning distributions for salmon across the Pacific rim, and both species are abundant north of the contiguous 48 United States. However, they become less plentiful and persistent south of Puget Sound. Chum salmon are documented to spawn as far south in North America as San Lorenzo River in California and 322 km upstream in the Sacramento River. At the turn of the 20th century chum salmon was the most abundant salmonid in streams between the Sacramento and Columbia rivers, and over a million chum salmon returned to the Columbia River as late as the 1950s, supporting a thriving commercial fishery in Tillamook Bay, Oregon. Pink salmon are less plentiful in the region but considerable numbers have run into the lower Columbia River in past decades, and they are occasionally observed in small numbers in the Trinity River, California. Currently, chum and pink salmon populations south of the Columbia River have all but vanished, and Columbia River chum salmon are now listed under the ESA as a threatened species. The demographics, genetics, and life history of these southern populations has not been well documented; this project is an attempt to collect available information on them.

Research Themes

Recovery and rebuilding of marine and coastal species
The Pacific Northwest is home to several iconic endangered species, including Pacific salmon and killer whales, and several rockfish species. Mandates such as the Endangered Species Act, MagnusonStevens Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grant NOAA Fisheries the authority to manage the recovery of depleted species and stocks. The NWFSC contributes to species recovery through research, monitoring and analysis, providing NOAA managers and regional stakeholders the tools and information they need to craft effective regulations and develop sustainable plans for recovery.

Research Foci

Characterize the population biology of species, and develop and improve methods for predicting the status of populations
To evaluate species status and recovery, it is necessary to understand key aspects of the population biology of the species in question. This includes basic information on abundance, age structure, recruitment, spatial distribution, life history and how the species interacts with its ecosystem. For some recovering species, including most overfished groundfish stocks, many ESA-listed Pacific salmon stocks, and high profile species such as Southern Resident killer whales, this basic information is often reasonably well understood. For other recovering species, such as Pacific eulachon and some ESA-listed rockfish species, even basic information (e.g. stock abundance) is unknown. Even for well-studied species, key information on survival rates for critical life stages and how the environment affects these vital rates is lacking. Without basic information on species dynamics, achieving other goals such as quantifying relationships between human activities and species recovery or even knowing if species recovery goals are being met will not be successful. The NWFSC, in partnership with regional stakeholders, including states, tribes and industry, is conducting research to collect and monitor critical demographic information for recovering species.


use of genetic markers to determine differential reproductive success between adults with different life histories
life history
research focus


None associated


Species Oncorhynchus gorbuscha
humpback salmon, pink salmon
Species Oncorhynchus keta
chum salmon, dog salmon, Keta salmon


Jeff Hard
Principal Investigator
Kathleen Neely
Orlay Johnson
External Collaborator