Level of Concern:


Southern Oregon/Northern California Coastal (SONCC) Chinook salmon in California are limited to only a few watersheds, but populations remain stable. They may be vulnerable to natural events such as fires, earthquakes, or floods due to their small population size and limited range.

How we're working to save them:

  • Create volitional passage to spawning habitat in Battle Creek.
  • Increase juvenile survival by restoring floodplain habitats along lower Battle Creek, the mainstem Sacramento River, and the Yolo and Sutter bypasses.
  • The proposed trap and haul programs to truck both adult and juvenile winter run Chinook around Keswick, Shasta, and McCloud dams should be viewed as a last resort extinction prevention effort which should only be implemented after all other restoration measures have been exhausted.
Click here to learn about CalTrout’s overall “Return to Resilience” plan to save California’s salmonids from extinction.

Where to find Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Chinook Salmon:

Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Chinook Salmon Distribution

Southern Oregon/Northern California Coastal Chinook range from the Elk River, Oregon to the Klamath River’s confluence with the Trinity River. The majority of SONCC Chinook are found in Oregon streams. In California, they are found in the Smith River, Wilson Creek, and a few tributaries of the lower Klamath River such as Blue Creek. Unlike other Chinook salmon in California, SONCC Chinook tend to migrate and feed at sea north of Cape Blanco, Oregon.

How they Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Chinook Salmon Scored:

From CalTrout's SOS II Report


SONCC Chinook are similar in appearance to Chinook from other basins in California, but are generally more rounded in shape and heavier. The Smith River regularly produces the largest Chinook salmon in the state, up to 36 kg (about 84 lbs.), though most average 10 kg (22 lbs.).


SONCC Chinook abundance has varied widely over time. The lower Klamath river tributaries likely supported a few thousand spawning adults each year. On the Smith River, historical run sizes are not known, but current numbers likely represent only a fraction of what they once were. Recent abundance estimates for SONCC Chinook in the Smith River are between 15,000 and 20,000 returning adults per year and the population is assumed to be stable.

Habitat & Behavior

SONCC Chinook generally migrate upstream to natal rivers in fall months (September- December) in the Klamath River and late-fall (November-December) in the Smith River to spawn. Depending on season and location, the majority of Chinook returning to spawn are three years old, though in some years four year old fish are the most abundant. Spawning typically peaks in December. Chinook use larger cobbles to build their redds than other salmon species. After 40-60 days, eggs hatch and fry emerge about a month later. Juvenile SONCC Chinook often spend at least a few months in fresh water feeding and growing before undertaking taxing ocean migrations. They emerge from the lower Klamath tributaries starting in February and migrate downstream through July on their journey to the sea.


SONCC Chinook salmon from the Smith River and lower Klamath River tributaries share genetic similarities. Lower Klamath River Chinook are genetically distinct from those in Klamath River tributaries upstream of the Trinity River confluence. In Blue Creek, there is a discrete late fall-run of Chinook, which seems to be segregated from other fish but requires more study. Very small numbers of spring-run Chinook salmon return to the Smith River in most years, but the relationship between these fish and the fall-run SONCC Chinook is not well understood at this time.