Yellow-hued salmon are not a new phenomenon

  • By Wayne Kruse Speical to The Herald
  • Wednesday, August 8, 2012 8:18pm
  • Sports

The saga of the “yellow king,” part 2:

A couple of weeks ago, I was emailed photos of an unusual chinook salmon, bright yellow on its belly, lower fins, lower jaw, and the inside of the mouth).

The accompanying text mistakenly said the nice-sized and otherwise prime-looking king was from “local waters,” but the photos had in fact been published first by the Oregon Coast Daily News, attributing the catch to a commercial fisherman off Newport, Oregon in early July.

Local or not, the photos raised an intriguing issue, and it turns out — after a little investigation — that a fair number of anglers in this area either have seen or heard of yellow-hued salmon of all five species, perhaps steelhead, and maybe even trout. More and more salmon with this condition are apparently being seen around the Northwest — particularly on the British Columbia coast and in the Fraser River. That has attracted the attention of government fisheries management agencies.

I spoke first to Laurie Weitkamp, a NOAA research fish biologist in Seattle, who said there was another researcher at a different agency, widely said to be the most knowledgeable on this issue in the Northwest. I called and talked to this second researcher, who is unfortunately prohibited by agency rules from speaking for publication, and so will remain anonymous.

The researcher said little is known about what is called the “jaundice syndrome,” but that there have been examples cited in the literature for more than 30 years, starting with chums in the 1970s. (Weitkamp said the most prominent current example in the state is a run containing what locals call yellow chums in Hood Canal).

It’s not clear whether increasing numbers of yellow salmonids is because of an increasing problem or simply more people fishing and/or more people aware of the situation, the source said. It’s also too early to tell whether the cause is viral, bacterial or the result of a toxicant or other ecological conditions, or being caused by diet or genetic factors.

Reader Bob Norling said he fished an early run of kings in Ucluelet, B.C. in the 1980s and many fish they saw had a yellow tinge below the gill plates, but not as much coloration as that in the Oregon coast photo.

“We were told these were fish raised in a hatchery on the Columbia River,” Norling said, “and that the yellow marking was used to identify and track their stocks.”

According to the researcher, the current coloration probably is not due to diet, and most likely is related to liver function, or lack of same. If you have the stomach for it, go on line and Google “yellow salmon”, then check out three or four of the web sites. At least one shows tumor-ridden livers which have apparently killed salmon in a river system before they could spawn, and there’s a striking photo of bright lemon-yellow fish flesh which is so unnatural it will make your skin crawl.

No one I talked to wanted to touch the dicey question of whether the yellow salmon are fit for human consumption, for obvious reasons. If the flesh looks red and firm, and if the liver does not show tumors, spots or discoloration, the fish may be fine on the table.

But I’m not sure that I, personally, would be all that anxious to dig in.

Buoy 10

The lower end of the Columbia opened on Aug. 1 for two salmon or hatchery steelhead (one chinook), and while slow fishing will probably be the rule for a week or so yet, the numbers already are starting to improve. State checks Saturday showed 90 anglers in 38 boats with 16 fall chinook and 3 coho.

Monitor the catch at

The Buoy 10 Salmon Challenge, sponsored by the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, runs Aug. 23-24 to support NSIA’s efforts for fish and sport fishing. For information, go to, or call 503-631-8859.

Local chinook

Midchannel Bank near Port Townsend continues to be the star of this summer’s selective chinook fishery in marine areas 9 and 10, where checks on Friday at the Port Townsend Boat Haven ramp showed 46 anglers with 48 chinook. On Saturday, it was 59 fishermen with 47 kings and 1 coho.

All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein said a Coho Killer spoon behind a flasher, fished close to bottom in 80 to 120 feet of water, has been the productive system at Midchannel.

Krein said a few fish are still being taken on Possession Bar, and that the Richmond Beach area showed a bite on Sunday, but that better fishing has been available at Pilot Point and Jeffeerson Head.

State checkers tallied 265 anglers with 29 kings and 4 coho at the Port of Everett ramp on Sunday.

Local coho

Marine areas 8-1 and 8-2 opened to catch-and-keep fishing for resident coho Aug. 1, but reports were generally dismal. Results farther south have been better and a few of the silvers are now in the 5- and 6-pound range.

Mike Chamberlain at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood said he saw an 8-pound ocean coho, taken on Possession Bar, over he weekend and, while that would be a little early for ocean fish, it wouldn’t be completely unprecedented.

Lake Wenatchee

Chamberlain said the Lake Wenatchee sockeye season got off to a fair start over the weekend, and it should improve substantially over the next couple of weeks.

Upper Columbia sockeye

The “thermal barrier” has apparently developed, finally, at the mouth of the Okanogan River, keeping sockeye hanging longer in the Columbia and available to sport fishermen. Anton Jones of Darrell &Dad’s Family Guide Service in Chelan said the Brewster Pool sockeye fishery is in full swing, and he suggests trolling a Mack’s Double D dodger, 12 inches of heavy leader, and a mini-squid in pink and white. Space the hooks about 2 inches apart, then bait with one-inch chunks of shrimp cured in Pautzke’s Fire Cure. Start at about 15 feet early in the morning and work deeper.

Baker Lake sockeye

The latest update on the Baker Lake sockeye run is for just under 45,000 fish, according to state biologist Brett Barkdull. As of Aug. 3, the total trapped was 23,443, and the total transferred to the lake was 14,557. Last year’s total, in the lake, was 27,200 fish.

Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington said heavy fishing pressure has moved many of the sockeye from the south shore off Noisy Creek, to the north shore or to the middle of the lake.

“Try someplace the boats aren’t,” John said, “particularly if you see fish rolling or jumping.”

He said a little experimenting wouldn’t hurt, either. “Add a little flash to your squid, try a small Ace Hi fly, use lots of anise, krill or shrimp scent,” he said.

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