Due to natural variability, there will be major quality differences in wild salmon, no matter how well the fish is handled. Learning about specific runs of salmon, more so than specific species, is often the best way to find consistency in wild salmon that fits specific needs. White Chinook salmon get their lighter flesh color because its food source consists of sardines or anchovies compared to pinkier flesh from salmon that consume mostly krill. There can be considerable price variation with higher oil content fish getting a higher price in the market. Because Chinook have such a high oil content, they are often smoked. Chinook is graded under 7, 7-11, 11-18, and 18 up. Fresh and frozen is mostly available headed and gutted.
Estimated sustainability of North American Chinook salmon based on a combination of 2004-2014 landings using 2016 Seafood Watch ratings is broken down accordingly:
~30% "Best Choice (green)" from Alaska
~60% "Good Alternative (yellow)" from California, Oregon, Washington (outside Puget Sound), and British Columbia (outside South Coast)
~10% "Avoid (red)" from Puget Sound, Washington and British Columbia - South Coast.
Chinook salmon have low fecundity, compensated in part by a large number of eggs. Chinook salmon in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon have been particularly susceptible to habitat loss, climate change, pollution, introduced species, overfishing, and dam construction.
Chinook salmon stocks in Alaska are considered healthy, but Chinook salmon populations in California and Oregon south of Cape Falcon are declining. Of the Chinook salmon populations in the Pacific, two are “endangered,” seven are “threatened,” and one is a “species of concern.” According to scientists, the Sacramento River winter-run Chinook population could go extinct within 50 years. In 2016, Seafood Watch listed wild Chinook salmon in Puget Sound as 'avoid' because the stock is currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Habitat impacts ( Wild)
Chinook salmon are caught using gillnets, purse seines, and trolling gear, all of which rarely touches the seafloor so there is little lasting physical impact on these habitats.
Endangered winter-run Chinook is often caught unintentionally by fishermen targeting other salmon since it’s difficult to differentiate among the stocks. In the Chinook fishery, gillnets can ensnare seabirds although a 2016 Seafood Watch report noted that, anecdotally, bird bycatch rates are low.
Management measures in Alaska, which include limits on gear sizes such as boat length and mesh size, are considered highly effective. A Seafood Watch report from 2016 noted that significant progress had been made in managing salmon along the U.S. West Coast. Despite the complicated presence of endangered species, Seafood Watch considered management of most of these salmon fisheries to be careful and highly effective.