Coho Salmon Identification is Critical in California’s Ocean Fisheries

Coho salmon
Coho salmon

Media Contacts:
Alex Letvin, CDFW Marine Region, (707) 576-3456
Carrie Wilson, CDFW Communications, (831) 649-7191

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife reminds ocean sport anglers to be vigilant about properly identifying their salmon before keeping them. The ocean salmon fishing season in California is well underway and proper identification is critical for the survival of coho (or silver) salmon, a protected species.

Chinook (or king) salmon is the primary species targeted in California’s ocean waters. The retention of coho salmon, however, is prohibited in all California ocean fisheries in order to protect Central California coast and Southern Oregon-Northern California coast coho stocks. Both stock complexes are severely depressed and listed under both state and federal endangered species acts.

The current drought in California is likely adding further stress to these coho stocks. Thus, it is especially crucial this year to avoid any unnecessary mortality when handling and releasing coho salmon.

Ocean sport anglers will most likely encounter coho during early summer. Taking the time to correctly identify each salmon caught before removing it from the water can maximize survival of released coho. Netting or dropping a coho salmon onto the deck of a boat can cause both scale loss and trauma that will likely reduce its chance of survival when released.

The most reliable method for identifying coho is through examination of the lower mouth and gums. The gums at the base of the bottom teeth on a coho salmon are gray, whereas Chinook gums are all black. Another way to distinguish a coho from a Chinook is to rub a finger along the fin rays of the caudal (tail) fin. The fin rays on a coho will feel rough like the edge of a dime, whereas the fin rays on a Chinook are smooth.

To help avoid coming in contact with coho salmon, anglers should rig their trolling gear to fish deeper as coho are more often found in the top 30 feet of water. Using larger lures that select for the larger Chinook salmon will also reduce chances of hooking a coho salmon.

For complete ocean salmon regulations, please visit the Ocean Salmon webpage at: call the Ocean Salmon Hotline at (707) 576-3429.