The Five Species

Video: Wild BC Salmon: The Five Species and Lifecycle

The five species of BC salmon all share a similar outward appearance, but offer a marked distinction in flesh colour.

Download our BC Wild Salmon Identification Chart here.


Latin Name Oncorhynchus tschawytscha
Other Common Names Spring, King, Tyee
Average Commercial Weight 9 kg (20 lbs)
Average Commercial Size 56 cm – 81 cm (22 inches – 32 inches)
Life Cycle 4 – 7 years
Migration Chinook migrate upstream from the spring through the fall as far as 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) inland. Chinook fry may go to sea soon after hatching, or after one to two years in fresh water.
Outer Appearance
  • Small eyes
  • Black gums
  • Small round spots on its back, dorsal fin and tail
  • Thick caudal
  • 13 – 19 anal rays
Flesh Colour Ranges from ivory white to deep red


Latin Name Oncorhynchus keta
Other Common Names Silver-bright, Keta (when canned)
Average Commercial Weight 3.5 kg (8 lbs)
Average Commercial Size 56 cm – 66 cm (22 inches – 26 inches)
Life Cycle 3 – 5 years
Migration Chum salmon generally spawn in late fall and usually in the lower tributaries along the coast, rarely more than 150 kilometres (93 miles) inland. Fry emerge in the spring and go directly to sea.
Outer Appearance
  • Dark metallic blue-green back with silver sides and belly
  • Develop dark vertical bars called watermarks on their sides as they mature and migrate to fresh water
  • Large pupil
  • Large mouth with maxillary extending behind the eye
  • No spots on the back, dorsal fin or tail
  • Narrow caudal
  • 13 – 17 anal rays
Flesh Colour Reddish-pink
Becomes paler as fish migrates upstream


Latin Name Oncorhynchus kisutch
Other Common Names Silver, Medium-red (when canned)
Average Commercial Weight 2 kg – 5.5 kg (4 lbs – 12 lbs)
Average Commercial Size 56 cm – 66 cm (22 inches - 26 inches)
Life Cycle 3 years
Migration Adult coho usually return to fresh water between late summer and early fall. Most choose streams close to the ocean, although some will journey as far as 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) inland. Young coho fry are different than the other salmon species as they stay in their spawning stream for a full year after they emerge from the gravel.
Outer Appearance
  • White gums
  • Spots above lateral line and on upper lobe
  • Thick caudal
  • Silver colour adjacent to caudal
Flesh Colour Vibrant reddish-orange


Latin Name Oncorhynchus gorbusha
Other Common Names Humpback, Humpie
Average Commercial Weight 2 kg (4 lbs)
Average Commercial Size 35 cm – 46 cm (14 inches – 18 inches)
Life Cycle 2 years
Migration Pink salmon fry migrate to the sea as soon as they emerge from the gravel and live almost their entire two years in ocean feeding areas. Adults leave the ocean in the late summer and early fall and usually spawn in streams, not fed by lakes, that are a short distance from the sea.
Outer Appearance
  • Shiny silvery skin
  • Large black oval spots on the back and tail
  • Develop a hump on their back when spawning
  • Very small scales
  • 13 – 17 anal rays
Flesh Colour Light rose-pink


Latin Name Oncorhynchus nerka
Other Common Names Red Salmon (when canned)
Average Commercial Weight 2.7 kg (6 lbs)
Average Commercial Size 51 cm – 61 cm (20 inches – 24 inches)
Life Cycle 5 years
Migration Sockeye spawn in streams with lakes in their watershed and stay in those lakes for one to three years before migrating to sea. They move rapidly out of the estuaries and thousands of miles into the Gulf of Alaska and North Pacific Ocean where they feed. They return to their spawning stream when they are three to, at times, even six years old.
Outer Appearance
  • Small black speckles on its deep blue-green back and silver sides
  • No spots on the tail
  • Slender and firm body
  • Develop a bright red body and green head when spawning
  • Large and distinct scales
  • 13 – 18 anal rays
Flesh Colour Deep red to orange red