Do You Know: Pink Salmon?

Drawing: Pink Salmon in Marine Phase

Quick Facts:

  • Scientific name: Oncorhynchus gorbuscha.
  • Pink salmon are the most abundant of the seven species of salmon in BC waters.
  • Pinks have a short, two-year lifespan.
  • Fishermen know these salmon as “humpbacks” or “humpies” due to the humped back developed in males as they return to spawn.

This species is found in streams and rivers from California north to the Mackenzie River, with their principal spawning areas between Puget Sound, Washington, and Bristol Bay, Alaska. They migrate to their home stream from July to October, and while some go a considerable distance upstream, the majority spawn in waters close to the sea. During the spawning period, both sexes change from their blue and silver colouring to a pale grey.

Pink Salmon Migration Map

Pink Salmon Migration Map

A peculiarity of this species is its fixed, two year lifespan. Immediately after they emerge from the gravel in the spring, the young pink fry enter the ocean and after a few days to several months in the estuary and nearshore zone, they move out into the open ocean in large schools. There, pink salmon feed on the small and nearly invisible animals called zooplankton, especially krill, which gives their flesh the bright pink colour for which they are named.

Drawing: Pink Salmon in Spawning Phase

Despite their short life span and small size, the migrations of Pink salmon are extensive, covering thousands of kilometres from their home streams. During ocean feeding and maturing, pink salmon are dispersed throughout the Pacific Ocean from northern California to the Bering Sea. During fall and winter, pink salmon spend more time in the southern parts of their range.

Pink salmon are mainly caught by purse seine, gillnets or trolling gear. Troll catches are normally sold as fresh fish, while those taken by net are most often canned. Recreational fishers generally catch pinks with the use of artificial lures.

For further identifying information about pink salmon, please see our Recreational Fishing Salmon Identification pages.

Material for this page taken from Underwater World: Pacific Salmon and The Incredible Salmonids (out-of-print), and additionally supplied by the Fisheries and Aquaculture Management Branch of DFO.