From freshwaters to commercial harvest
There’s a reason why the Chinook salmon is the most coveted of the five Pacific salmon species. It’s a sturdy fish that has an astonishingly intricate mechanism of navigation, making it possible for them to swim through freshwater and marine environments. They are also a popular game fish and a traditional food source.
During the developmental stages of the Chinook, they learn and remember smells, along with other chemical natures of their environment. This is called imprinting. Salmon imprint the smells of their freshwater habitat, eventually growing and swimming out to the ocean, imprinting those surroundings. Once they have reached full maturity, they swim back to the freshwaters in which they began. This homing instinct is in their genetic makeup; however, what is not in their genetic makeup is their pattern of migration.
It’s recently been discovered that salmon imprint the Earth’s magnetic field. Alaska salmon can detect slight variations in the field by their lateral line, which is ultrasensitive to vibrations and electrical currents. Any changes in the magnetic field causes returning salmon to shift their migration route. This suggest that salmon have their own GPS and know where they are at all times.
Chinook’s are the largest of Alaska’s salmon, but they are the least abundant. The annual commercial take of all salmon species from 1990 to 2006 averaged around 172 million. Of that 172 million, only 630,000 were Chinook. This means that Chinook only represents .4 percent of commercial salmon catch. Because of its rarity, Chinook is a cultural icon when it comes to sport fishing.
In 1985, Les Anderson caught a 97 pound Chinook in the lower Kenai River. He achieved a world record and set the bar high for anglers. This big catch also enthralled the world and introduced people to the sport of fishing. Before Anderson’s catch, the sport harvest of Chinook was around 43,060. After his record breaking catch, harvest numbers grew to 116, 402. Presently, Chinook harvest has peaked to 204, 468.
Spring starts the season for commercial fishing. The Copper River hails the season’s first Chinook catches, but this only represents a small portion of the state. In fact, the vast majority are taken from the Southeast-Yakutat district. The methods used to catch these salmon includes drift-gill and set-gill netting, seining, and trolling. Trolling harvests the most fish, but seiners rank a close second. The price of Chinook caught by seining in the Southeast-Yakutat is around $6.70 per pound. Catches from the Copper River ranges $27.99 to $38.95 per pound.
For Alaskan natives, Chinooks are tremendous source of sustenance. The Yukon River Chinook are particularly valued for their fat reserves and are considered by many to be the best salmon for human consumption. These salmon arrive shortly after the thawing of ice on the river. They are most effectively caught using large basket traps. Chinook sustenance fishers yield 167, 000 fish every year. Sustenance fishing is state regulated, and when harvest restrictions are placed to conserve Chinook, sustenance fishers have law preference over other fisheries.
Image Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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