Pink salmon
Oncorhynchus gorbuscha (Walbaum, 1792)

member of the Salmon Family (Salmonidae)

Adak Island, Alaska September 1982

photo by Mary Stefansky












What's In a Name?
Pink salmon: taken from the coloration of the fish along its sides and back during spawning

Oncorhynchus (on-co-wren´-cuss) means "hooked snout" in Greek
gorbuscha (gore-bush´-kah) an old Russian name for this species


    Where Do They Live?
The pink salmon is an introduced exotic species. Like the coho and chinook salmon, pink salmon normally live in the Pacific Ocean and spawn in the streams of eatern Russia and north western United States. In Minnesota, pink salmon live in Lake Superior, usually in the upper 20-m of the water column. When they are ready to spawn, they move into streams along the North Shore.


How Big Do They Get?
How Long Do They Live?
Pink salmon are the smallest of the salmon in Lake Superior. They grow to 4 kg (14 lbs) on the Pacific Coast, but in Lake Superior they are typically 300-400 mm (12-16 in) and 0.45-1.4 kg (1-3 lbs). The current Minnesota record is 2 kg (4.5 lbs) and 588 mm (23.5 in) long. Pink salmon typically live for 2 years. A very few live for 3.

    What Do They Eat?
Young salmon eat sideswimmers, waterfleas, and other small crustaceans. Juveniles and adults in the lake add small fish and opossum shrimp (a crustacean) to their diet.

What Eats Them?
Pink salmon alvins (free-swimming embryos) and small juveniles are preyed upon by other salmon species and occasionally lake trout. While spawning, they also may be eaten by otters, raccoons, and foxes. Humans mainly catch pink salmon in the fall during their spawning run.


How Do They Reproduce?
Most pink salmon have a 2-year life cycle. Eggs are lain in the fall and the salmon that hatch from them return to spawn 2 years later. Their spawning season in streams usually starts in mid-September and continues into early October. Many return to the same North Shore stream from which they hatched, but some wander to other Lake Superior tributaries even outside of Minnesota. They spawn in gravel and coarse sand where the female scrapes out a nest. The female lies in the middle of the newly finished nest and after a short period a male will join her. The pair release eggs and sperm together and the female covers the eggs by digging upstream. Several males may spawn with the same female. A single female may lay 800-1600 eggs, depending on her size. All the fish die after spawning.

The embryos develop through the fall and early winter and hatch during January and February depending on water temperature. The hatchlings, called alevins (free-swimming embryos), remain in the gravel for 3-4 months living off their large yolk sacs and developing their fins. Once their fins are developed they swim up into the current and drift downstream, eventually reaching the lake in April and May. They spend 2 growing seasons in Lake Superior before returning to spawn.


Conservation and Management
Anglers come to the North Shore in September and early October to fish for pink salmon. The Minnoesota Department of Natural Resources does not stock this species, but it does monitor the catch.




Permission is granted for the non-commercial educational or scientific use of the text and images on this Web document. Please credit the author or authors listed below.

Photographs by Konrad P. Schmidt
Text by Ted Halpern ,Nicole Paulson & Jay T. Hatch in cooperation with
the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' MinnAqua Aquatic Program

This page developed with funds from the
MinnAqua Program (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fisheries)
and the
Sport Fish Restoration Program (Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of the Interior)

Maintained by Jay T. Hatch
General College and James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/St. Paul

Last updated 23 October 2002