School of pink salmon

About The Species

U.S. wild-caught pink salmon is a smart seafood choice because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.

Population Level

Above target population levels.

Fishing Status

At recommended levels.

Habitat Impact

Fishing gear used to catch pink salmon rarely contacts the ocean floor and has little impact on habitat.


Regulations are in place to minimize bycatch.


  • Alaska:
    • Pink salmon are the most abundant Pacific salmon.
    • Pink salmon populations in Alaska were not overfished in 2013, and there have been record catches exceeding several hundred million pounds statewide in the past several years.
  • Pacific Northwest:
    • Puget Sound pink salmon (last assessed in 2013) may not be at record levels, but they’re also not overfished.
    • Due to their unique 2-year life cycle, returns of pink salmon are much larger in odd-numbered years.
  • Populations are affected by:
    • Changes in ocean and climatic conditions.
    • Habitat loss from dam construction and urban development.
    • Degraded water quality from agricultural and logging practices.
  • Population conservation efforts include:
    • Captive-rearing in hatcheries.
    • Removal and modification of dams that obstruct salmon migration.
    • Restoration of degraded habitat.
    • Acquisition of key habitat.
    • Improvements to water quality and instream flow.
  • The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund supports the restoration of salmon species.
  • Pink salmon are the smallest of the Pacific salmon found in North America, weighing between 3.5 and 5 pounds, with an average length of 20 to 25 inches.
  • Pink salmon can be distinguished from other Pacific salmon by the large dark oval spots on their back and entire tail fin as well as their general coloring and form.
  • In the sea, pink salmon are steel blue to blue-green on the back, silver on the sides, and white on the belly.
  • Breeding males become dark on the back and red with brownish green blotches on the sides.
  • Males also develop a hump on their back, which is why they are often called “humpback” salmon.
  • Breeding females are similar but less distinctly colored.
Behavior and Diet
  • Pink salmon are anadromous – they hatch in freshwater streams and rivers then migrate out to the saltwater environment of the ocean to feed and grow.
  • Unlike coho, Chinook, or sockeye salmon, pink salmon do not reside in freshwater for an extended period.
  • Young pink salmon (fry) typically migrate directly to estuarine and marine waters soon after they are born.
  • Once they reach the ocean, they feed voraciously and grow rapidly. In fact, they’re among the fastest growing of the Pacific salmon species.
  • After about 1½ years of feeding and growing in the ocean, maturing pink salmon return to freshwater to spawn, usually from August to October.
  • Females pick suitable nesting places and construct nests (redds) in the riverbed by turning on their sides and vigorously flexing their bodies and tails, digging a shallow hole.
  • Females have between 1,200 and 1,900 eggs. They deposit them in the redds, where males fertilize them.
  • The female stays and defends her redd from other females until she dies, usually within 2 weeks.
  • All pink salmon die after they spawn.
  • They typically spawn around the age of 2.
  • Because the pink salmon life cycle is so regular, independent populations spawn in even and odd years. For example, in the southern part of their range, they usually spawn in odd years.
  • Throughout most of Alaska, there is no dominant year, except in the northwestern part of Alaska where even-year runs predominate.
  • Pink salmon feed on small crustaceans, zooplankton (tiny floating animals), squid, and small fish.
  • In freshwater, aquatic invertebrates, other fishes, birds, and small mammals prey on pink salmon eggs, alevins, and fry.
  • In the ocean, other fishes (including other Pacific salmon) and coastal seabirds prey on pink salmon fry and juveniles.
  • Marine mammals, sharks, other fishes (such as Pacific halibut), and humpback whales feed on adult pink salmon.
  • In freshwater spawning habitats, bears are predators of adult pink salmon. Wolves, river otters, and bald eagles will also occasionally eat pre-spawning adult pinks.
  • After salmon spawn and die, salmon carcasses are a valuable source of energy and nutrients to the river ecosystem. Carcasses have been shown to improve newly hatched salmon growth and survival by contributing nitrogen and phosphorous compounds to streams.
Location Description

Pink salmon are found on both sides of the North Pacific, from Alaska to Puget Sound in Washington State and from Russia to North Korea.
In North America, they’re found from the Arctic coast in Alaska and territories in Canada to central California, although they do not reproduce in significant numbers south of Puget Sound.

  • NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fishery Management Council manage pink salmon on the West Coast.
  • Managed under the Pacific Coast Salmon Plan:
    • Every year, the council reviews reports of the previous fishing season and current estimates of salmon abundance. Using this information, they make recommendations for management of the upcoming fishing season.
    • Their general goal is to allow fishermen to harvest the maximum amount of salmon that will support the fishery while preventing overharvest of the resource and ensuring that salmon populations with low abundance can rebuild.
    • Specific management measures vary year to year depending on current salmon abundance, and include size limits, season length, quotas, and gear restrictions.
    • The council usually increases harvest limits for pink salmon in odd years when more adults are returning to spawn.
    • Management of pink salmon must also comply with laws such as the Endangered Species Act.
    • Final recommendations are implemented by NOAA Fisheries. Check here for the current season’s management. State and tribal managers use council management recommendations to shape their policies for inland fisheries, to ensure that conservation objectives are met.
  • NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage pink salmon in Alaska.
  • Managed under the Fishery Management Plan for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska:
    • All management of the salmon fisheries in federal waters is deferred to the State of Alaska, which is also responsible for managing the commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries for salmon in state waters. This ensures that management is consistent throughout salmon’s range.
      • Managers regulate the fishery based on “escapement goals” to ensure harvests are sustainable. They want enough salmon to be able to escape the fishery and return to freshwater to spawn and replenish the population.
      • Salmon fishery management largely relies on in-season assessment of how many salmon return to freshwater to spawn.
      • Managers set harvest levels based on these returns. When abundance is high and the number of fish returning is much higher than that needed to meet escapement goals, harvest levels are set higher.
      • In years of low abundance, harvest levels are lowered.
    • During the season, scientists monitor catch and escapement, comparing current returns with those from previous years, to keep an eye on abundance and actively manage the fishery.
  • Off the West Coast and in Alaska, the Pacific Salmon Treaty and the Pacific Salmon Commission help coordinate management, research, and enhancement of shared U.S. and international salmon stocks, including pink salmon.