Also known as the humpback salmon or humpie, pink salmon is the smallest but also the most abundant wild Alaskan salmon. They have an average length of 18-24 inches and weigh about 3-6 lbs. On average, more than 100 million wild-caught pink salmon are harvested each year in Alaska. They typically mature and begin their journey back to freshwater in July or August. They can still be found and caught in rivers and streams through September and into the beginning of October in some places.
Life Cycle, Diet, and Appearance
The pink salmon matures in two years and then dies shortly after spawning. This unique two-year life cycle explains why there is a big difference in the harvest from one year to the next. In odd-numbered years, the average harvest for wild-caught pink salmon is around 140 million fish. In even-numbered years, this average falls to about 75 million.
While they spawn in freshwater rivers, they almost immediately head out to sea after they are born. Pink salmon feed on krill and other small crustaceans, zooplankton, squid, and small fish. Nevertheless, pink salmon typically have lower mercury levels and other toxins compared to other seafood due to their short life cycles.
Only the males develop the dorsal hump, so the easiest way to tell humpies apart from other salmon is the dark spots on their back and tail fin. The name pink salmon comes from the color of the flesh and meat on the inside. Outside, their dorsal skin is a blue-green, their sides are silver, and their belly is white.
Wild-Caught Pink Salmon Harvesting
Unlike most wild salmon harvesting, humpies are more often caught with purse seining, as opposed to gillnetting. Purse seining involves catching the salmon while they are still in the open sea. The boat will encircle entire schools of pink salmon with a purse seine net before enclosing and trapping the fish. In contrast, gillnetting is the preferred method for harvesting migrating salmon—including pink salmon. This involves dropping a vertical “curtain-like” and letting the salmon swim into the trap before drawing the net closed. Purse seining vessels tend to be larger with a greater capacity for harvesting and hauling salmon. Thus, pink salmon tends to be a more affordable option for wild Alaskan salmon, although pink salmon prices for home delivery are not that much higher than they are for sockeye or coho salmon.
Catch Your Own Wild Pink Salmon
While wild-caught pink salmon accounts for a huge portion of the wild Alaskan salmon sold to restaurant chains and commercial food producers, it’s also a favorite of salmon fishing tours and family-friendly excursions in Alaska as well as the Pacific Northwest. The smaller size of the pink salmon makes them an easier catch for the average fishermen and especially for children.
That said, while pink salmon continue to be abundant in their ocean habitat and in rivers and streams in large swaths of the Alaskan wilderness, they have become scarce in certain watersheds where they were once abundant. You can’t simply go out anywhere and expect to catch wild pink salmon. Whether catching your own pink salmon or having it shipped to your home, you’ll want to know the best tips for cooking pink salmon.