Species overview: The pink salmon is one of several Pacific salmon species successfully introduced into waters of the eastern U.S. Reports of pink salmon spawning in several Pennsylvania Lake Erie tributaries date from 1979. Today, they are rarely found in Pennsylvania tributaries. Pink salmon spawn once in their lives and then die. It’s believed that pink salmon arrived in Lake Erie as a result of British Columbia stocks that were introduced into Lake Superior in the 1950s. In Russian, “gorbuscha,” part of the pink salmon’s scientific name, means “hump-backed.” Pink salmon are also called “humpies” and “hump-backed” salmon.
Identification: The pink salmon may reach lengths of 24 inches in the ocean, but seldom more than 18 to 20 inches in fresh water. Large, dark, oval spots are found on the adipose fin, tail and the upper sides of the body. The upper surfaces are blue to blue-green. The sides are silvery and in breeding males become pale-reddish with greenish-brown blotches. Breeding males also develop elongated jaws, the upper one longer and hooked downward. In addition, a noticeable hump appears on the back between the head and dorsal fin. Counting the number of scales in the row just above the lateral line can be helpful in separating the pink salmon from other salmon species. The pink salmon has 169 or more scales in this row, compared to fewer than 155 on other species.
Habitat: Pink salmon are anadromous in the ocean. Pennsylvania’s pink salmon live in Lake Erie and ascend tributary streams to spawn in late summer or early fall. Plankton are the main food of young salmon entering Lake Erie. As they grow, they eat a variety of smaller fishes.
Life history: As do other salmon species, pink salmon build redds, or nests, after ascending Lake Erie’s tributary streams. The female fans out an area lying on her side, pushing the gravel aside. Some pink salmon redds can be as deep as a foot or more and three feet long. The female deposits about 1,500 to 1,900 eggs. Females guard their nests until they die, a few days after spawning. The eggs hatch from December through February, and the young feed on the yolk sac in the redd until the yolk sac is absorbed. In April or May, the newborn pink salmon swim downstream to Lake Erie. Pink salmon spawn at about age 2. Anglers catch pink salmon in Lake Erie by trolling a variety of crankbaits and spoons.
Gallery of Pennsylvania Fishes Chapter 15