Chum salmon during upstream migration to spawning grounds
Chum salmon are distributed throughout the river systems of the Puget Sound region, which
includes the streams of north and south Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the Strait of Juan de
Fuca. This region's chum stocks have been grouped into three run timings; summer
(spawning in September and October), fall (spawning in November and December), and winter
(spawning in January and February). The fall run is the largest segment of overall chum
returns; typically making up 90% of the annual total number of chum salmon returning to
Puget Sound. The summer and fall runs, although smaller, provide genetic diversity for the
species and allow chum salmon to utilize a broad range of habitat types.
Over the last three decades, the chum salmon populations of Puget Sound have increased to
the point that they are now the most abundant salmon species in the region. In the five-year
period 1994-1998, approximately 6.2 million wild chum returned to Puget Sound. Chum
salmon are also very successful at a number of hatcheries, and in the Puget Sound region
chum are produced at WDFW, tribal, and federal facilities. The return of hatchery-origin chum
for the above 5 years (1994-1998) was nearly 2.6 million fish. The wild and hatchery returns
combined for those 5 years total nearly 9 million fish, or an average annual return of over 1.75
While these chum numbers are impressive, it is necessary to compare them to historic
numbers to put them into proper perspective. The only salmon numbers available from the
years prior to the 1960s are the numbers of fish reported harvested. An examination of Puget
Sound chum harvest numbers over the last hundred years reveals that the 1988 Puget Sound
catch (commercial and tribal net fisheries) of 1.62 million chum was the fourth highest ever. In
fact, it is necessary to go back to 1916 to find a Puget Sound chum harvest larger than the
1988 catch. The 3 years from 1914 through 1916 achieved al-time high chum harvests,
ranging from 1.69 to 1.88 million fish.
The 1988 chum harvest represents an impressive
single year total, however, a longer span of years would be a better overall measurement of
the status of fish production. One way to evaluate Puget Sound chum salmon is to see how a
recent 10 year period of harvest compares to the highest 10 years of total harvest in the past.
Since catch statistics were begun in 1913, the highest 10 year period of harvest of Puget
Sound chum salmon was 12,147,900 fish caught from 1985 through 1994. This recent span
of years barely edged out the combined harvests between 1914 and 1923 (12,134,600) for the
highest decade of Puget Sound chum harvest.
Interest in sport fishing for Puget Sound chum salmon has increased substantially, both in
marine areas and in rivers. Chum salmon have always been caught in low numbers in the
marine areas of Puget Sound. However, sport anglers are now fishing new areas and using
new techniques, and success rates have soared, making saltwater chum fishing an exciting
and productive experience. Freshwater sport fisheries for chum salmon have been popular for
many years, but the larger chum runs and increased angler interest have caused these
fisheries to expand in recent years.