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What Is the State Fish of Alaska?

By Lakshmi Sandhana
Updated: May 17, 2024

The official state fish of Alaska is the chinook salmon, also known as the king salmon, spring salmon, and tule. Tyee, quinnat, and blackmouth are some of the other names given to the state fish of Alaska. The largest of all the Pacific salmon, the king salmon is important for both sport and trade and is known to grow to enormous proportions. Alaskans devote many hours to fishing, and for many, battling a king salmon is the ultimate experience. It is a tough fish and may put up a fight lasting for several hours once hooked on the rod. This species of salmon may also take the line to the bottom and just stay there until the fisherman gives up or allows another person to have a go at reeling it in.

Fishing is central to the economy of Coastal Alaska; seafood harvesting and processing are estimated to amount to six percent of all the jobs found in the entire state. The state fish of Alaska is prized for the flavor of its pink flesh, its size, and its fighting spirit. Some Native American tribes still celebrate the occasion of catching the first chinook of the season each year with a special ceremony. The largest king salmon ever caught is believed to be more than 120 pounds (about 54 kilograms); it was found in a fish trap in 1949 near Petersburg in Alaska. The official Alaska state record reports the catch of a salmon that weighed 97 pounds (about 44 kilograms), caught in the Kenai River.

The king salmon can be found in many areas of Alaska, covering the southeast panhandle right up to the Yukon River. The best season for catching the state fish of Alaska is from May through July. Alaskans, however, are not the only ones who seek it out. Grizzly bears are great fans of the state fish of Alaska and enjoy swatting them out of the water when the they swim upstream to spawn. The clarity of the water of the river or stream plays a great role in a fisherman's ability to catch king salmon; rivers that run muddy with silt don't offer enough visibility for successful fishing.

These fish have an interesting life cycle — they hatch in freshwater in gravel nests made by the female salmon. The female may lay around 3,000 to 14,000 eggs in total over several nests until all her eggs are released. Both male and female chinook die after spawning, and the eggs hatch in winter or early spring. The tiny fish are are called fry, and they grow in freshwater eating plankton and insects until, at two years of age, they move on to the ocean. The young salmon live in the ocean for some time, and when they mature, they begin preparing for their return trip home.

Kings consume great amounts of squid, herring, and other fish in the year prior to their journey to build up strength. They then migrate back to freshwater to spawn and die. The state fish of Alaska is an extremely strong-willed fish and stops eating once it enters freshwater; for instance, it only strikes when aggravated by a fisherman's tackle or annoyed by some other fish. The maturation process for king salmon may take anywhere from two to seven years, so the salmon caught in traps or on a line vary in size depending on their age. Fishermen practice many techniques to catch king salmon, from annoying it with a hook to rigging the hook with cured salmon eggs in an attempt to trick them into returning the eggs to the nest.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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