Chinook salmon are a very important species of the Pacific Northwest. The largest of all Pacific salmon, Chinook (also called king salmon) provide a food source for a diversity of wildlife and are also highly valued by people who harvest salmon commercially, recreationally, and for culturally significant purposes. While in the ocean, Chinook salmon can grow to weigh more than 40 pounds and are silver in color, which protects them against predators in salt water. The tail, back and upper fins have irregular, black spots. After returning to fresh water streams to spawn, Chinook salmon turn darker in color and undergo other changes. Male Chinook salmon develop a hooked nose and, unlike females, have a ridged back when they return to their natal waters to spawn. Most Chinook salmon live about three to seven years, spending their first year or so in freshwater habitat. They then move to the estuaries and open ocean where they spend two to four years feeding before they make the return journey to spawn and die. Chinook are known as long-distance swimmers and will travel to the farthest reaches of the Columbia to spawn. Whether this species of salmon is defined as a spring, summer or fall-run Chinook depends on the season in which it begins its migration back from the ocean.
Spring Chinook salmon
Spring Chinook salmon in the Columbia River Basin are in danger of extinction and extensive protection measures are being taken to protect and supplement the dwindling wild populations and to restore and maintain healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystems. Grant PUD funds and implements hatchery programs which release approximately 460,000 spring Chinook into the White River and Nason Creek near Leavenworth, and into rivers and streams in the Methow and Okanogan river basins.
Summer Chinook salmon
Summer Chinook salmon in the upper Columbia River Basin are not in danger of extinction and are considered to be a healthy population. Grant PUD supports three summer Chinook hatchery programs which release approximately 660,000 juvenile hatchery fish into the Wenatchee, Methow, and Okanogan rivers each year. These programs support tribal, commercial, and recreational fisheries.
Fall Chinook salmon
Fall Chinook salmon that spawn above McNary Dam on the Columbia River are called “upriver bright” fall Chinook. This population of Chinook is considered to be very healthy. Grant PUD releases 5.6 million upriver bright fall Chinook juveniles annually from Priest Rapids Hatchery near Priest Rapids Dam. Grant PUD’s program supports large recreational fisheries on the Columbia River in addition to extensive commercial fisheries ranging as far away as Alaska. The largest population of naturally spawning fall Chinook salmon in Washington state occurs in the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River. In addition to hatchery supplementation, Grant PUD incorporates many protective measures in hydropower operation, including flow management in this stretch of the Columbia River, in a way that protects the naturally spawning population of fall Chinook at specific times when incubating eggs and young juveniles are developing.