Where have all the Chum gone?

Where have all the Chum gone?
I have been fishing the Skagit/Sauk system for over 25 years and can remember large runs of Chum salmon returning to this river system. Over the last decade I have been observing less and less fish, especially in the last two or three years. Is it my faulty sampling or are the Chum ending up in the fish market? While I do not activelly fish for Chum their decline concerns me because their presents adds to the overall river health.


MA-9 Beach Stalker
Our amazing world class north Sound chum fisheries were sold out to commercial harvest in exchange for more sport fishing access to summer run chinook in the salt. This started back in 2008. Another great fishery sold out by Washington state. It was a good deal if you own a nice saltwater boat tricked out with downriggers, but not so good for late fall river anglers.

Evan Virnoche

I remember 20+ days about 5 years ago. Now I'm lucky if I can hook one everytime. And when I do the quality of fght has been down as far as moldy nasty chum on verge of death
I have also watched the runs decline, and I think it is a huge problem for our Puget Sound Rivers. These fish (Besides odd year Pinks) were really the last consitiently strong return of salmon to our rivers. Once done spawing their dead bodies provided a large amount of food for the whole river system. I beleive that without reigning in the commercial harvest of chum we will see declines in the all other fish species for the affected rivers.

Pull the nets and let them spawn.


Active Member
Chum like the rest of our salmon and steelhead populations experience good and bad periods of marine survival. Early last decade we were seeing record returns of chum through out Puget Sound. As nearly always the case when we see a period of record or near-record returns those abundances become the expected norm and as those abundances decline (which they will always do) we find that unexceptable. We are current seeing returns more typical of a couple decades ago than those recently.

While the above is true it is equally true that the lion share the harvest (whether real or paper fish) goes to the commercial fleet. That reflects the long term state policies. If anglers would like to see an increase emphasis on providing fish for recreational fisheries then they must lobby for changes in those policies (which is determine by the WDFW commission under its North of Falcon policies). Or of course we can sit on the river banks and keyboards and complain about what used to be.

davec -
The above is generally the case for Puget Sound chum however the Skagit have its own chum problems. During the periods of excellent chum returns across the sound the Skagit fish did not respond nearly as dramatically as the other populations. Clearly something is going on in the basin that is less than favorable to chums; and while no one knows for sure what those factors are. Over the last 30 years or so there has been signficant efforts enhance upper Skagit chum habitats as part of City of Seattle light mitigation for its dams. However those enhancements have not seem to have provided the expected benefits. I have to wonder whether there are some flow issues that may be affect the in-river chum production.

Just another example of how complex anadromous fish issues can be.

This has long been a sore subject for me as someone who grew around the Nooksack and Skagit, two rivers that used to host a ton of chum. It was hard to keep them off your line just a handful of years ago....

Problems in order of most important to least important IMO:

1. Eggs are worth 60$/lbs in Asian markets. Chum eggs do taste great. I have tried caviar from all the Pacific Salmon and surprisingly chum are the best! Who would have guessed? if it weren't for this, I doubt the fishing pressure on these guys would be so intense.

2. Chum hatchery programs (which were very successful I am told due to unique life history) were cut because you can't clip these fish when they are at the smolting phase since they are the length of a fingernail. In most cases, WDFW Hatchery policy requires reared fish to be clipped.

3. Traditional runs of fish targeted by commercials are all gone and the chum is the bone that was thrown to the struggling commercials for better or worse. Much of the fishing pressure on these guys is non-native commercial fishing. It is about the only opportunity around the Puget Sound for non-native commercial salmon fishermen.

4. Sports anglers snagging them and harassing them. I have seen the few remaining spawning grounds on the Skagit get raked again and again and again. It seems the, "there are unlimited chum!" mentalities haven't caught up to the reality and sporties still don't respect these fish.
North PS chum runs have been trending down for the the last 8 years at least. Seems to be a number of contributing factors, the most significant being harvest (increased market value) and biological (entering the low end of a population cycle).

The finger pointing fishermen in me wants to put more of the blame on commercial harvest, but I don't have all the facts to support that. I do know that the first couple years the big commercial harvest took place, the runs got obliterated and have never seemed to recover. If Chum are indeed in a natural downward population cycle, the corresponding harvest efforts have been very poorly timed and managed.

I understand that every species experiences up and downs, but the disappearance of the Chum has been pretty extreme. This past November I floated a section of an S river where I used to see thousands of Chum... and saw exactly ZERO the entire float... zero! Side channels and other habitat that used to be packed with spawning chum were 100% empty. That degree of change can't just be a population cycle.

Sadly, because its just Chum, nobody seems to give a sh*t.