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Salmon Tours – November 9, 2013 – FREE EVENT

Celebrate the return of the salmon to Kitsap County on Saturday, November 9, 2013. Click to read more.


The Salmon Connection

The water people use indoors and outdoors to drink, cook, clean, wash and landscape is the same water salmon need in streams to survive. Conserving water will help increase stream flows, especially during the dry summer months. Conserving water protects Salmon as well as our future water resources. One way we can protect salmon is through our gardening practices. Salmon friendly gardening can preserve habitat, reduce runoff and keep harmful chemicals out of the water.

Salmon Friendly Gardening Practices

  • Build healthy soil with compost - mulch garden beds to conserve moisture.
  • Choose the right plant for the right place - minimize lawn areas.
  • Use water wisely - water deeply but infrequently.
  • Use natural fertilizers and pest controls - think twice before using chemicals on lawns and gardens.
  • Direct rain water appropriately - send runoff into grassy swales or rain gardens.
  • Protect shoreline habitats - plant trees as buffers to prevent erosion into streams and Puget Sound.

Salmon Facts

Pacific Salmon are anadromous which means that although they live in salt water seas most of their lives, they return to fresh water streams to spawn. Pacific Salmon are classified in the order: Salmonidae, genus: Oncohynchus "on-ko-rink-us" and include five species in the Pacific Northwest. They are:

  1. Gorbuscha "gor-boo-scha" or Pinks (Humpies)
  2. Nerka "ner-ka" or Sockeye (Reds)
  3. Keta "kee-ta" or Chum (Dogfish)
  4. Tshawytscha "tau-wee-cha" Chinook (Kings - sometimes referred to as Black Mouth)
  5. Kisutch "ki-souch" or Coho (Silver).

Note: the following pictures depict Salmon sporting their spawning colors.

Chinook (Kings) have the largest body size of the Pacific Salmon. Greenish blue to bronze to black on their back, they have large regular spots on back, upper sides and tail. The body is quite dark at spawning with black gums (sometimes called Black Mouths). They have a conspicuous thickening at the base of tail. Most migrate seaward within its first year and spend two to four years at sea before returning to fresh water shortly before spawning, August to January. Chinooks are most often found in large streams or rivers. Many stocks spawn far inland. Chinook are raised in hatcheries, released and return in Kitsap County.


Coho (Silvers) are blue backed with silver flanks when at sea. They turn dark green on the back in fresh water. Black spots are on the back and tail only. Coho spend at least two years as juveniles in freshwater before going to saltwater. They spend one full year at sea. They spawn during November or December. There are some native Coho Salmon returning to Kitsap County streams. Coho are also raised in fish hatcheries in Kitsap County.



Pinks (Humpies) are blue on the back and silvery on their sides with large oval black spots on the tail and back. Their spawning colors are red to green. Males form a hump on their backs. They move quickly out to freshwater after emergence. They spend two years at sea. Pinks return to their home streams to spawn between July and September.




Sockeye (Reds) are greenish blue with fine black speckles on their backs and on their silver sides. Spawning adults develop green heads and bright red bodies. They spawn August to November, usually in streams, but sometimes in lakes where groundwater swells up through gravel beds. Most juveniles live in lake areas for one to three years followed by one to four years in the ocean. Some stocks, Kokanee, remain in fresh water throughout their lives.



Chum (Dogfish) Salmon have distinctive blotchy purple with yellow and pink streaks on sides during spawning with no spots on the tail. Chum migrate downstream immediately after emergence from gravel and spend three years at sea. Chum return between October and December. They generally spawn close to saltwater. Chico Creek has the largest native Chum Salmon run in Kitsap County. Chum Salmon are also raised in hatcheries in Kitsap County.

Note: Steelhead and Coastal cutthroat are also included in the genus Oncorhynchus.


The Salmon Story

The spawning run to the home stream begins far out at sea. Salmon hang out in the estuary until a good rain enables them to move quickly upstream. The salmon are able to find their home stream at about the same time as their cohorts which results in a mass spawning. Once on their ancestral gravel, females look for suitable egg-laying territories called redds. The salmon have changed colors and sport distortions of jaws and teeth. White fungus may grow on the skin of the spawning fish. The fish no longer feed and are intent on one thing: spawning. Once a location for a nest is located, the female turns on her side and dislodges gravel with her tail eventually producing a cone-shaped hollow. This digging attracts males. Males fight each other to ward off competitors. The successful male joins the female at the nest, where the eggs are released. Around 3,000 eggs are deposited in the nest. The male immediately releases his milt which fertilizes the eggs. As soon as the eggs are fertilized the female covers the nest with gravel. She guards her nest until she dies. Males may move on in search of late females before finally dying.

Soon the stream is littered with fish carcasses. Underneath the gravel thousands of eggs are very much alive. Soon a large embryonic eye will become visible through the clear membrane of each egg. The gravel covered eggs develop for three or four months as they overwinter in the streambed. During this time, a tiny hatchling called an alevin pops out. Remaining in the gravel, the alevin gets its nourishment from the yolk sac bulging from its abdomen. Finally it emerges from the gravel as a fry or fingerling. It forms parr marks along its sides to camouflage it from its many predators. The fry spend much of its time hidden along the undercut banks or under logs or gravel feeding on aquatic insects.

Once ready to migrate out to sea, salmon move downstream to the estuary. They gradually adapt to saltwater by going through a process called smoltification. These smolts grow rapidly by feeding on the rich diet provided there. The salmon then make their way out to sea to live their adult lives in the great ocean pasture. As adults they generally live in schools combing the ocean for prey such as sand lance, herring rockfish and squid. Once triggered to make the return journey to spawn, they navigate with the aid of an inner magnetic map and a strong sense of day length. Honing on to smells encountered during the juvenile phase of life, they return to their home streams. Predators encountered from egg to adult have decreased the numbers of Salmon dramatically. Out of the approximately 3,000 eggs originally in the nest, two adult Salmon will return to spawn to close the circle of the Salmon life cycle.

Resource: Field Guide to the Pacific Salmon by Adopt-a-Stream

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