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Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.25.50 AMThis magnificent fish takes its name from the Chinookan peoples – a group of First Nations in the Pacific Northwest originating from the lower and middle Columbia River in the territory bordering between Washington and Oregon states.

The Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are known as the King salmon because they are the largest of the Pacific salmon species and migrate the furthest upstream to spawn in their natal rivers, providing sustenance to First Nations and other peoples in communities located great distances from the coast. They are also sometimes called Spring salmon because some populations return to their natal rivers earlier than other species which normally return in the fall.

A Chinook salmon spends up to 7 years foraging at sea in the North Pacific. This is the phase of the adult life where the fish grows to an incredible size by feeding mainly on other fish. The oceanic phase of the Pacific salmon’s life is the most mysterious as it is difficult to track their movements in the open ocean.

Populations of Chinook salmon are threatened throughout their range (from California north to the Bering sea and west to Japan). Dwindling Chinook populations not only result in the loss of important food for humans, but also in a lack of critical nourishment in the marine food chain, particularly for Killer whales.

On Vancouver Island, the Puntledge River hatchery has established a program to prevent the extinction of the summer-run Chinook. Hydro dams like those found on the Puntledge River are one of the biggest threats to Pacific salmon survival as they degrade critical spawning habitat and prevent natural reproduction.