Oregon Focus: State Symbols: Fish

About the Chinook Salmon

drawing of Chinook Salmon
Oregon's state fish, the Chinook Salmon, is under threat from dams, agriculture, logging, and fishing.
The Chinook Salmon was named as the official state fish by the 1961 legislature.
The Chinook is the largest species of Pacific salmon. It averages 22 pounds and some have weighed in at more than 100 pounds. The Chinook Salmon is also known as the Tyee Salmon and King Salmon. The body is silvery with a bluish back. The body color darkens as spawning season approaches. The salmon mature in the 3rd to 8th year of life, most in the 4th or 5th year. They die after spawning in the fresh water streams to which they return. They are identified by the time of year they enter fresh water on their spawning migration--spring, summer, or fall. The largest spring runs are in the Rogue, Umpqua, and Columbia Rivers. The summer runs are in the Columbia River only, and the fall Chinook are common to the larger coastal streams, as well as the Columbia River.
Chinook Salmon provide sport fishing both in rivers and offshore. Large numbers have also been caught by commercial fishing operations. The meat can be eaten fresh, canned, frozen, or smoked.
Salmon provided the basis for the coastal Native Americans' life and so was naturally held in high regard. Many legends, special rites, and taboos were connected with the coming of salmon. Special ceremonies and instructions for spearing and roasting the salmon (especially the first ​of the year) were followed.
cannery trademark label
An 1885 salmon cannery trademark label. Scandinavian Fishermen's Brand Salmon - #190, Scandinavian Packing Company, Oregon. Learn more about salmon trademarks.
One such ceremony instructed the Native Americans to lay salmon caught on the first day of their return to the river with the head pointed upstream. Then the Native Americans were to place a kind of wild raspberry, which is common along the coast, in the mouths. Thus the name salmonberry was given by early traders to this berry. This was an offering to the gods controlling the migration of the salmon.
The Native Americans had special prayers of thanksgiving for the salmon, and for the first fruits of the season (such as strawberries and huckleberries), that were used in the celebration and feasting that took place each year.
The Chehalis Indian prayer that was learned from the Yakimas is this:
"O Howback, the Highest High and the Greatest Great,
we thank you for making these hills. 
We thank you for planting these berries,
for putting the game in the valleys,
and the fish in the rivers,
so that your children can survive.
We thank you that we can gather the berries and catch the salmon."

Suggestions for Teachers

Chinook salmon drawing by Rod Gjedalo
A student drawing of a Chinook Salmon.
Ask students to:
Draw the life cycle of the salmon.
Locate streams nearby where salmon migrate. Visit when the fish are running.
Visit a fish hatchery and a dam with fish ladders or look for related information on the Web.
Invite a fish biologist to give a talk.
Make salmon kites (Japanese style). Use coat hangers in an "O" shape for the mouth and brightly colored tissue paper for the body. Hang as mobiles.
Create a classroom coloring book featuring salmon.
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