What kind of fish is always looking up? A Halibut.

Photo courtesy of ODFW

The first time you see a halibut could be a surprise. Halibut are flatfish with eyes on one side of their bodies and some are giant!

Things are looking up

Halibut don’t start out as a one-sided. As a larva, halibut have eyes on both sides of their head. As they begin to mature, their left eye migrates over their snout to the right side of their head. They begin swimming one-sided which facilitates living on or near the ocean floor. They are always looking up. Hunting.

But wait, there’s two

There are two varieties of halibut off the southern Oregon coast: California (Paralichthys californicus) sometimes known as California Flounder and Pacific (Hippoglossus stenolepis). The two are very different. If you pull in one that is over 30 lbs. there is a good chance that it is a Pacific.

What if they are smaller?

It gets harder to identify them when they are smaller. The easiest way to identify them is to compare the lateral line shape. Pacific halibuts have a straight lateral line; California have an arched that goes above the pectoral fin.

Halibut Comparison:

Let’s dive a little deeper for more comparisons.

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Dept. Fish and Wildlife, MyODFW (https://myodfw.com/articles/2019-halibut-newsletter#pacific)
–US Fish and Wildlife Service (https://myodfw.com/fishing/species/pacific-halibut   and /species/California-halibut)
–Wikipedia, Pacific Halibut (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_halibut)
–Fish Watcher (https://www.fishbase.in/summary/514)
–National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Studying bottom-dwelling fishes and crabs of the Eastern Bering Sea Shelf,” BobLauth(https://archive.fisheries.noaa.gov/afsc/Science_blog/EBS_6.htm)

The Pacific Fishery Management Council finalized recommendations for the 2020 ocean salmon season recently. Forecasts for Columbia basin hatchery Coho Salmon abundance are very poor this year. Recreational Coho quotas were reduced from what was available in 2019. (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/salmon/)

Coho that has returned to fresh water. (Courtesy of NOAA)

It hasn’t always been this way

The State of Oregon in February 1995 considered listing Coho, sometimes called Silvers, as a threatened or endangered species. At that time, findings did not justify the listing for either State or Federal designations.

In 1998, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) authorized the first selective hatchery Coho (fin-clipped) fisheries. These selective fisheries allowed limited, but successful, targeted Coho salmon fisheries to resume the development of Coho.

By 2011, small scale non-selective Coho seasons opened along the Central Coast in September. Oregon Coastal Natural (OCN) Coho had made a strong recovery.

This September season proven to be an effective management option because it targeted abundant OCN Coho and limited fishery impacts on other Coho populations of concern.

Fast forward to 2020

These September seasons continue to be very popular with the angling public. ODFW created a great snapshot for Coho and Chinook salmon limitations and seasons in three general areas along the Oregon Coast. Download a copy of ‘2020 Recreational Ocean Salmon Season’ one-page map at: https://www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/salmon/Regulations/docs/2020_Rec_Ocean_Salmon_Season_Map.pdf.

Lookalikes

In the ocean, Coho and Chinook salmon can look very similar. Anglers must correctly identify the species of salmon being caught in order to follow regulations. Restrictions, such as legal lengths and seasons, often vary based on the species.

Anglers who incorrectly identify their catch may, and be in conflict with regulations, could have their fish confiscated and pay a fine.

Avoid identification problems

Coho have a distinct banding pattern on their lower jaw that ODFW considers as the single best way to identify them. There are dark bands on the inside and outside of the gum line and a white gum line in the middle. The back border can be very narrow.

Other distinctive markings include spots on the upper lobe of their tails. The sides of the Coho also become red when they return to freshwater. Their backs, heads, and fins will become dark greenish color.

Coho are one of five species of Pacific salmon

Coho spawn in freshwater, yet spend a great deal of their lives in the ocean. Spawning and juvenile rearing usually occurs in tributary streams or lakes that contain a lot of small gravel. In-stream structures, such as large and small woody debris, and tree-lined banks attract Coho. These structures can help control water temperature and provide protection from predators.

The juvenile smolts migrate to the ocean in the spring of their second year. Some males, known individually as a “Jack” return to the freshwater. The number of jacks returning is a fairly accurate abundance predictor for the fall. A two-year-old Coho may be more than two feet long and weigh eight pounds.

Heavy Eaters

During the next 16-20 months, Coho feed heavily in offshore waters. Their diet includes small fish such as herring, sandlance, anchovies, and sardines. Sometimes it also includes juvenile pink and chum salmon and sablefish. Some Coho will overwinter in-land in streams and lakes.

Coho return in the late summer or fall as a 3- or 4-year old to spawn in their natal streams. All Coho salmon die after spawning. Adults may reach 25 pounds or more, and rarely exceeding 15 pounds.

Human Interface

Coho salmon are high in protein and excellent table fare. Indigenous people have revered Coho as a food staple and symbol of life and sustenance.

Ocean and climate, habitat loss, and degraded water quality changes impact Coho populations. State and Federal agencies carefully monitor fish stocks to prevent over fishing, and promote restoration and conservation efforts.

References and additional information:
–2020 Oregon Sportfishing Regulations” booklet
–ODFW has several online articles (see https://myodfw.com).
–National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a very thorough page on Coho (see https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/coho-salmon).

Chinook salmon

The Chinook salmon is an important keystone species for the U.S. Pacific Northwest. It is a vital food source for a diversity of wildlife, including orca whales, bears, seals, and large birds of prey.

Chinook salmon is prized by people who harvest salmon both commercially and for sport. Chinook are the largest Pacific salmon species.

Big guys

On average, these fish are 3 feet long and weigh approximately 30 pounds. Some individuals can grow to over 5 feet long and 110 pounds!

Chinook salmon live about three to seven years. Juvenile salmon stay in freshwater habitat for the first year or so, before moving to the estuaries and then the open ocean. Estuaries provide a lot of food and nutrients to the developing salmon.

Return to breed

The fish spend approximately two to four years feeding in the ocean before returning to the spawning grounds to breed and die.

Endangered

The Chinook Salmon is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. The Sacramento River winter-run population in California is classified as endangered wherever it is found.

Other naturally spawned populations in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington are classified as threatened. Why the Chinook and other Pacific Northwest salmon have declined is no mystery.

4 H’s

The causes are known as “the four H’s”: harvest, habitat, hatcheries, and hydroelectric power.

Harvest refers to the overfishing by commercial fishing interests.

Habitat refers to degradation of a species home range, usually by pollutants. Another example would be increases in water sediments making a stream uninhabitable by the salmon or their eggs.

Captive-bred hatchery fish, released in the waterways used by native fish, compete and interbreed with the natives and weaken their stocks.

Hydroelectric dams have had perhaps the largest impact, blocking migration routes. Flood control and power generation were the original goals of these dams, rather than fish. As such, the dam construction changed the quality, quantity, rate of flow, temperature of the water, and species mix in rivers, lakes, and tributary streams.

Protection of Chinook salmon is crucial to maintain healthy Pacific Northwest ecosystems and to provide a delicious food source for years to come.