Many fish species are important to the Copper River system. Burbot, eulachon, needlefish, sticklefish, sucker, and eels are among them, but none compare to salmon in cultural and regional economic importance. Salmon begin life in fresh water lakes and streams, migrate to the ocean and spend from one to four years in salt water maturing, and return to their natal streams to lay their eggs and die. The returning salmon provide food for people and many species of animals, birds and fish, and their decomposing bodies bring needed nitrogen and other marine-derived nutrients to upland ecosystems.

During their life span salmon pass through and often linger in many distinct ecosystems owned and managed by various international, federal, state, tribal and private entities. Conflicting jurisdictional interests create a “crazy-quilt” patchwork of management policies and habitat conservation efforts. The Copper River Knowledge System hopes to contribute to a better understanding of the multiple environments necessary to maintain healthy runs of wild Copper River salmon. The more we know and understand the region, the better we can manage the complex landscape on which wild salmon depend.

All five species of eastern Pacific Salmon are found in the Copper River watershed: Chinook/King, Sockeye/Red, Coho/Silver, Chum/Kita, and Pink/Humpy. In addition, several closely related species are classified as salmonids: Rainbow Trout/Steelhead, Cutthroat Trout, Lake Trout, Arctic Char, and Dolly Varden.


Chinook ADF&G Species Profile
In the ocean Chinook are silver-gray in color, with black spots on the sides, dorsal and tail fins. Up to 58 inches in length and weigh up to 125 pounds, although generally about 30 to 50 inches in length and between 20 and 40 pounds. Generally spend two to seven years in the ocean before returning to spawn . Fry and smolts usually stay in freshwater from 1 to 2 years before migrating downstream to estuaries, where they remain about six months before heading to the ocean.


Sockeye ADF&G Species Profile
In the ocean sockeye salmon are silver, with greenish-blue backs. Spawning males have pale green heads, dark jaws, pale undersides and bright red bodies. Spawning females look generally the same, except for more subdued coloration. Up to 33 inches in length and weigh up to 15 pounds, they average 4 to 8 pounds, and are usually between 18 and 24 inches long. Sockeye salmon spend from 1 to 3 years in freshwater, a significant portion of which is spent in lakes. Once beginning the journey downstream, sockeye salmon progress steadily toward the ocean. After 1 to 4 years offshore, sockeye return to spawn.


Coho ADF&G Species Profile
In the ocean coho salmon are silver in color and can reach up to 38 inches in length and weigh up to 30 pounds; although they average between 24 and 30 inches, and average between 8 and 12 pounds. Spawning occurs from August to November, with the eggs hatching the following spring. Coho fry remain in fresh water environments for 1 to 5 years before migrating to the ocean. After 6 to 18 months, coho return to spawn.


Chum ADF&G Species Profile
In the ocean chum salmon are greenish-blue. Maturing fish have dark bars, red coloring on the sides, and may have gray blotches. They usually weigh between 7 and 18 pounds and are between 24 and 32 inches long. Chum salmon spend little time in freshwater, generally only to reproduce. Chum return to spawn after 3 to 6 years in the ocean.


Pink ADF&G Species Profile
In the ocean pink salmon are blue-green. When spawning, males develop humped backs, hooked jaws and reddish-yellow sides. The females tend toward green. Pink salmon usually weigh from 3 to 5 pounds and are between 15 and 24 inches long. Pink salmon begin their downstream movement almost immediately upon emergence from the gravel and move rapidly into near-shore nursery areas and shallow marine waters. After about 18 months at sea, pinks return to their natal streams to spawn.


Rainbow/Steelhead ADF&G Species Profile
In the sea steelhead are bluish from above and silvery from below. They have small black spots on back and most fins. Up to 45 inches in length and 40 pounds in weight; although usually weighs less than 10 pounds. Spawning in streams and rivers, steelhead rear in freshwater for 1 to 4 years before migrating downstream through estuaries to the open ocean. Steelhead migrate individually rather than in schools like salmon. They spend 1 to 5 years at sea before returning to natal streams or rivers. Steelhead do not die after spawning and may repeat the spawning cycle several times.


Cutthroat trout ADF&G Species Profile
Golden yellow with dark spots, they have a bright red slash below the jaw. Sea-run cutthroat spend 3 to 5 years in fresh water, then migrate to sea in the spring to feed. They spend anywhere from 10 to 100 days a year in the ocean, and typically move back into the lakes in fall or early winter. They are slow to mature, and reach only about 8 inches at 4 years, and about 16 inches in 10 years. Some cutthroat are resident populations and do not migrate to salt water.





© 2011 Copper River Knowledge System