Where have all the Chum gone?

Somewhere, recently, I read a report about the fish run trends. As I recall, I read that the runs seem to follow a cycle of ten and one hundred years. Perhaps what we are seeing is a downturn in the run and can be contributed to the ten year cycle. That, I am sure , is not the only reason. Habitat degredation has a bunch to do with it, I am sure, as well as the netting policies. It seems we can't get out of our own way when it comes to the fisheries. It's interesting that as the chum seem to be disappearing, the pink runs are gaining momentum. They have been huge in the past eight to ten years and the fish are getting bigger each run. I wonder if Nature is compensating in some way?


Well-Known Member
A number of factors influence chum salmon abundance. The over-harvest that is often referred to was limited only to the 2008 run (IIRC) when actual abundanse was much lower than forecast. That set up the low return of dominant 4 year old fish in 2012. Odd year chum runs are normally much smaller than even year runs in river systems that also have pink runs, like the Nooksack, Skagit, Stilly, and Snohomish. Another factor is the burgeoning PS pink runs, especially in river systems that formerly had extremely small pink salmon runs. Clearly something has changed when the Green River system that used to have almost zero pinks has a run larger than the Skagit's. Pink salmon fry hatch and out-migrate earlier than chums, most likely causing the odd-even differences in chum abundance. Huge increases in PS pink salmon means the estuary is heavily grazed or over-grazed when the later arriving chum fry get there. That doesn't do the chum population any good. And then there are the natural swings in abundance Smalma referred to, along with floods during key incubation periods for certain Skagit and other system cohorts. And suddenly it's no longer as easy as it used to be one or two decades ago to be a PS chum salmon.



MA-9 Beach Stalker
No doubt that the heavy chum netting in Puget Sound back in 2008 set us up for a disappointing 2012 run. 2012 should have had a very healthy run of fish on the Skagit, Sky, and Stilly. Some say "bad ocean conditions", but that is code for bad fisheries policy. Too bad the chum had to be sacrificed to revive the summer chinook fishery in north Puget Sound. Those smelly chum and their river nutrients won't be missed,... except maybe by the dollies and bald eagles.


Proud to Be Alaskan
chums are a tough species to manage. They also happen to be the last thing that makes commercial guys in the PNW any money at all. They can't really fish for anything else.

Seriously we chase chums for fun, just to get kicks by torturing something, maybe put one or two in the smoker. For commercial fishermen its their job. Its how they put food on their table. Lets maybe stop demonizing them.


Active Member
agree with most said here. the cycle does seem to be down. but so should the netting have been greatly reduced the same.
a some what bright spot, is that i have seen areas on the sky that were empty for the last 5 years had some good numbers of chum this year. fingers crossed. the sky being very hard hit for a while now.
also did count some chum on the skagit this year in areas i did not see them last year.
so maybe its slowly picking up.


Well-Known Member
It's always nice to see a bright spot, but the Skagit chum escapement was the second or third lowest on record. Lowest ever for an even year run I think.

If you want a real eye opener, go just a few miles north to the Squamish in BC, and see how many chums fill up that river. Absolutely blew my mind to see that.


Proud to Be Alaskan
chum management is super hard, even in season, first of all they spawn super low in the river systems so its hard to have in season counting. In season data is generated most places by commercial catch rate, aerial surveys and the like, combine this with crazy mixed stock fishery politics and its a super tough job. The good news is that chums are pretty prolific, and small years can result in huge returns.

We had a ridiculous chum escapement in the Susitna river drainage this year, likely due to the super poor king run resulting in no commercial fishing. It made the trout fishing awful you couldn't get a drift without snagging 10 chums.
The state has managed Skagit bay chums pretty closely for a long time, with one day here or there and many years no openings at all, Everett bay too for that matter. Now Bellingham bay is a entirely different story, with a 5 day a week schedule in Nov. This is not a new phenomena, I started fishing in the 70's and we fish until Dec, and let me tell you the fleet is a mere shadow of what it was then. To many other things going on to lay the blame at the feet of commercials.
So then what are our limiting factors here.

I don't remember ever seeing "Keta" (Aka Chums) being sold in the grocery store until the last 5/6 years. These fish are getting to the Grocery Store somehow. My guess is Tribal- not commercial is taking the majority of the Chum to market.

I feel like there is plenty of spawning habitat out there.

I know that the we lose reds every year on the Nooksack to a December flood/highwater event.

Are there hatchery plants of Chum on the Northfork of the Nooksack?

Or do we just say that Marine Survival is to blame?

The point is, what are things that could be changed? No hatchery plants, continued river restoration and ... Limit Commercial/Tribal Harvest. Not much that can easily be done about Marine survival.