Port of Peninsula on the Long Beach Peninsula at Nahcotta, Washington

and Some Things about the CHINOOK Indians

Excerpts from Grolliers Interactive Inc., Copyright© 1997

[Crab] • [Oysters] • [Clams] • [Sturgeon] • [Salmon] • [Chinook Indians]

Find more information at the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife web site.


Several crabs are prized as food, including the Alaska king crab, Paralithodes camtschatica, the blue crab, and the Dungeness crab, Cancer magister. Soft-shelled crabs are newly molted crabs whose new shells have not yet hardened.

CrabThe crab is any of about 4,500 species of crustacean arthropods characterized by a flattened, broad body covered by a shell, or carapace. The shell is actually an outgrowth of one segment of the head region. Crabs are found throughout the world, chiefly in marine waters, but they also inhabit fresh water and land. Crabs have as many as 19 pairs of appendages, five pairs of which are developed into walking legs. The first pair of walking legs, the chelipeds, is generally modified into claws by the extension of part of the next-to-last joint up along the last joint to form a pincer. The true crabs, Brachyura, differ from the hermit crabs, Anomura, in having a small, flaplike tail carried flexed beneath the body.

Crabs range in size from the pea crab, family Pinnotheridae, which inhabits living oyster shells and may be less than 1.5 mm (0.06 in) from leg tip to leg tip, to the Japanese spider crab, Macrocheira kaempferi, which may be 3.5 m (12 ft) from leg tip to leg tip.

Life Cycle

The crab's reproductive organs are situated near and just below the heart. They open to the outside at the base of the last pair of walking legs in the male crab and at the base of the middle pair of walking legs in the female. In most species the female carries the eggs cemented to her undersides and protected by the flexed tail.

The developing crabs pass through four stages, two of which (the nauplius and protozoea) occur while still in the egg. Most crabs hatch at the third stage, the zoea, and then change into the fourth stage, the megalops, before assuming adult form. In some crabs, such as the freshwater Potamon, the young hatch as miniatures of the adult. Crabs grow by shedding, or molting, their hard shells. The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, is believed to live about 3 years. The English crab Cancer has reached at least 12 years of age.


Crabs inhabit a diversity of places and eat a variety of foods. Most crabs feed on small fish or worms or else scavenge along the shore or sea bottom. The tree-climbing robber crab, Birgus, however, feeds on coconut meat, which it obtains by drilling through the "eye" of the coconut with its powerful claws; the tree crab, Aratus pisonii, feeds to some extent on mangrove leaves.

Many crabs dig or inhabit burrows, but Hypoconcha carries half of a clamshell over its body. Dromia cuts out and attaches a roof of living sponge to its back. Lybia carries a sea anemone (Triactus producta) in one or both of its claws; it is considered a tool-using crab because it uses the anemone's stinging tentacles for defense and sometimes for stunning or killing prey. Crabs communicate with one another by several means, including claw waving and drumming, as in the fiddler crab, Uca. Stone crabs, Menippe, Chinese land crabs, Helice, and others stridulate much like crickets by bending and rubbing the first walking leg against itself or against ridges on the body.

Crabs belong to the order Decapoda, class Crustacea, phylum Arthropoda.

Bibliography: Burggren, Warren, and McMahon, B. R., eds., Biology of the Land Crabs (1988); Reaske, C. R., The Compleat Crab and Lobster Book (1989); Spence, Alan, Crab and Lobster Fishing (1991).


Oysters are mollusks of the class Bivalvia (or Pelecypoda) and include the true oysters, family Ostreidae, in the order Eulamellibranchia, the winged and pearl oysters, family Pteriidae (or Aviculidae), the spiny oysters, family Spondylidae, and the saddle oysters, family Anomiidae, all in the order Filibranchia. Other classifications may employ different groupings and names. The true oysters, which include the edible oysters, are characterized by rough and irregularly shaped shells that are closed by one, rather than two, adductor muscles.

oysterOysters are found in shallow, brackish, or tidal waters throughout all regions of the world except the coldest. Adult oysters live attached to an object, either by means of tough, horny strands called byssal threads, or the byssus, or by cementing one shell, usually the right, to the object. Living permanently attached and enclosed within protective shells, oysters lack a foot or have a reduced foot, and have a reduced head and associated sense organs. In the true oyster, the upper shell (usually the original left) is larger and hollowed to contain the oyster's body; the lower shell is usually flat but may be concave. Oysters are filter feeders, using their extensive gills and associated hairlike cilia to trap and move tiny food particles to the mouth. In some oysters fertilization is external, both sperm and eggs being shed into the water. In others the female retains and broods the eggs, which are fertilized by sperm drawn in from the outside. Oysters hatch as trochophore larvae and then change to veliger larvae. Some oysters, such as the European edible oyster, Ostrea edulis, show rhythmical consecutive hermaphroditism, in which individual oysters repeatedly change their sex from male to female and then back again. The American oyster, Crassostrea virginica, displays alternative sexuality, in which similar sex changes occur, but the change is erratic and depends on water temperature, food supply, and possibly other factors.

Oyster Beds

Oyster beds are concentrations, or colonies, of oysters and may be natural or artificial. Artificial beds are established to produce oysters as a food crop--the culture of pearl oysters is done in baskets and is not quite comparable--and these beds may be very large. In France, for example, tens of thousands of tons of oysters may be harvested from such beds each year. Natural oyster beds also may be large, and the numerous empty shells of dead oysters may form an extensive mound called an oyster "reef." Such reefs develop in warm-water shallow bays and estuaries and may be 6 m (20 ft) high and extend oceanward from the shore as a narrow bar up to 8 km (5 mi) long.

Oyster beds develop in waters of about 15 deg to 25 deg C (59 deg to 77 deg F) with salinities as low as about 10 parts per thousand. The mass of shells forms a firm bottom on which young oysters settle and attach along the sides. Thus an oyster bed, once established, tends to develop through addition of successive generations of residents. The mound also makes a desirable substrate to which other organisms, such as barnacles, mussels, and worms, may attach. Oyster beds also trap sediment, which contributes to their structure, but the living oysters may be killed by a large amount of sediment or by a sudden influx of fresh water. Oyster beds have been recorded from the fossil record as far back in time as the Cretaceous Period, more than 65 million years ago.

Bibliography: Boyle, P. R., Molluscs and Man (1981); Hedeen, Robert A., The Oyster (1986); Morton, J. E., Molluscs (1967).


Clam is the common name of a large group of often edible, mostly marine, bivalve mollusks (see mollusk) belonging to the class Bivalvia, or Pelecypoda (see bivalve). Different species are variously called geoduck, quahog, hard-shell or soft- shell clam, littleneck, cherrystone, and other names. The oyster, scallop, and mussel are closely related.

clamThe body of the clam, laterally compressed, is enclosed by a mantle tissue and two symmetrical shells (valves) held closed by two large muscles and joined by a dorsal hinge joint. The muscular foot is used to burrow in mud or sand. Buried clams leave tubes, or siphons, extended above the surface to maintain water currents needed for respiration and feeding. Most clams are only a few centimeters long, but the giant clam of the Indian and Pacific oceans may be nearly 130 cm (50 in) long and weigh 227 kg (500 lb).

Clams are lamellibranchs--that is, they have flat, platelike gills. As filter feeders, clams also use the greatly enlarged gills as food collectors. A water current is brought into the shell by ciliary action and passed between gill filaments before being ejected. Particulate food matter, especially protozoa and organic wastes, clings to the gill filaments and eventually is engulfed in a mucous mass and passed to the mouth.

The clam has a three-chambered heart. Its nervous system consists of three pairs of ganglia with connectives (there is no defined head region); sense organs are concentrated in the mantle tissue. The animals are either male or female. During reproduction eggs and sperm are released into the ocean, where fertilization takes place. Young clams are temporarily attached to a support by byssus threads--tough protein strands secreted by a foot gland. The young clams then free themselves and burrow into mud or sand. Some clams are very long-lived.

Stephen C. Reingold. Bibliography: Manzi, J. J., and Castagna, M., eds., Clam Mariculture in North America (1989); Vaught, K. C., A Classification of the Living Mollusca (1989); Waine, P. R., Culture of Bivalve Molluscs (1991).

STURGEON {stur'-juhn}

Sturgeons, family Acipenseridae, are among the most primitive of the actinopterygian (ray-finned) fishes. Sturgeons and paddlefishes, family Polyodontidae, are the only surviving members of the Chonodrostei, a group that includes many extinct fish families. Sturgeons have an elongated body and head and a sharklike upper lobe of the tail fin. The mouth lies far below the head and has four fleshy barbels in front of it. The head itself, sometimes flattened, is covered by large interlocking skull bones. Sturgeons are scaleless except for five rows of large, pointed, platelike scales running along the top and sides of the body. Their skeleton is part bone and part cartilage, placing them midway between sharks and bony fishes. They are confined to Northern Hemisphere waters. The marine species live as adults in marine waters but return to freshwater rivers and streams to breed.


Sturgeons are slow-moving bottom-dwellers. They locate food by their sensitive barbels and by taste buds located outside and around the mouth. Small invertebrates comprise the bulk of their diet. The fishes are famed for their blackish roe (eggs), which are salted and called caviar. (A number of kinds of fish eggs are used to produce caviar, but sturgeon caviar is purportedly superior.) The roe are usually taken by killing the female, but because females may take up to 12 years to reach maturity, this method has caused drastic reductions in sturgeon populations. The modern conservation method of stripping (squeezing the abdomen to release the roe) allows the female to be returned alive to produce more eggs. Sturgeons have also been caught for their flesh and oil.

Four genera of sturgeons are recognized. Huso is distributed from the Adriatic Sea drainage to the Amur River in Eurasia. One species, the beluga, H. huso, is the largest of all freshwater fishes. Specimens have reached a length of 8.4 m (28 ft) and a weight of 1,260 kg (2,800 lb). This species also produces the finest caviar. The genus Acipenser, closely related to Huso, is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Most North American sturgeons belong to Acipenser, including the largest North American fish, the white sturgeon, A. transmontanus, which reaches nearly 130 kg (286 lb). Smaller sturgeons include the genus Pseudoscaphirhynchus of the Aral Sea basin and the genus Scaphirhynchus of North America, which reaches a length of about 90 cm (3 ft) and a weight of 2.7 kg (6 lb).

\E. O. Wiley. Bibliography: Binkowski, F., and Doroshov, S., eds., North American Sturgeons (1985).

SALMON {sam'-uhn}

In the salmon market the western salmons have now become more prominent than Atlantic salmon. The Sockeye, O. nerka, is the species most often used for canning, along with the Chinook, O. tschawytscha, the largest salmon (up to 50 kg/110 lb), which, with the coho, O. kisutch, is a popular sport fish. Products of the Pacific salmon fishery, centered in Alaska, are distributed by American, Russian, and Japanese producers. Decrease in productivity in all salmon fisheries has come with heavy fishing, human settlements, and the conversion of rivers to industrial, agricultural, and urban use.

Chinook or king Salmon pictured above (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha)

Salmon, along with trout, chars, graylings, and whitefishes, comprise the family Salmonidae and are valuable as both a commercial and a sport fish. The four genera, which include Salmo and Oncorhynchus, are found in cold or temperate waters. Widely distributed, the Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar, for example, can be found in American waters north of Cape Cod and in eastern Canada; from North America east to the Kara River, including Iceland and Greenland; and in European seas and rivers as far south as Portugal. Although salmon and trout resemble one another--for example, in having vomerine teeth on the roof bone of the mouth--they usually show differences in the color patterns of their bodies.

The life of the Atlantic salmon is typical of all salmon. The young fish descend the streams of their origin and disperse into the rich feeding water of the cold seas. Growth is rapid, and when they are sexually mature, usually after 3 years, they return to the streams they left. Beginning in early summer in the longer streams and extending into the winter, large numbers of fish can be observed in their run upstream. Often they must swim against tremendous obstacles. How the right river system and the precise nest site are identified is not known, but considerable research indicates that the fish sense a chemical code peculiar to their home stream.

In headwater branches of rivers the fish select suitable sites over gravel, the water depth ranging from very shallow to 3 m (9.8 ft) deep, where temperatures range from 0 deg to +6 deg C (32 deg to +43 deg F). Here the females excavate a nest by creating currents with tail-fin vibrations that loosen the gravel. A clean depression results when a male and female repeat a courtship vibration together. A resulting extrusion of eggs and sperm settles into the gravel. A female may release upward of 10,000 eggs through a series of such spawnings. The parents (of Salmo genus) abandon the site and return to the sea. The female salmon has a better record of survival than the male, although both may take part in several spawning seasons. The Pacific salmon, however, die following spawning. They generally have to surmount longer rivers, reaching elevations as high as 2,400 m (7,900 ft) above sea level.

After a larval development of 6 weeks, young salmon embryos hatch as alevins, bearing an external yolk sac. When the feeding mechanism has developed, the fry--sometimes called parr--feed upon river bottom life forms. As fingerlings 15 cm (6 in) or more in length, now known as smolt, most of the young begin the journey to the sea. Some may not descend until their fifth year. The oily content of the ocean diet gives the salmon flesh its pink color and enables the fish to grow rapidly.

Richard Gordon Mille. Bibliography: Caras, Roger, Sockeye: The Life of a Pacific Salmon (1975); Field, N., and Machlis, S., Discovering Salmon (1984); Mills, D., Ecology and Management of Atlantic Salmon (1989); Sedgwick, S. D., The Salmon Handbook (1982).


The Chinook were a North American Indian tribe of the Pacific Northwest, occupying the shores of the lower Columbia River in Oregon northward to Shoalwater Bay in Washington. The name was applied to speakers of several dialects of the Chinookan language, the main divisions of which were Upper Chinook, spoken by the Wishram and Wasco, and the now-extinct Lower Chinook of the Clackamas, Chilukitqua, Cathlamet, Clatsop, and Chinook proper. The Chinookan economy was based on salmon fishing and hunting.

Chinookan-speaking groups were numerous and prosperous. Indians from the distant interior congregated at The Dalles on the Lower Columbia to trade furs, mountain-sheep horn, and war captives for salmon, coastal shells, and other goods exchanged by the Chinook. Chinook jargon, a simple aboriginal communications system, was adopted and spread by white traders of the 18th century. The incursion of the Northwest Company and Hudson's Bay Company into the Columbia River region in the early 19th century broke the Chinook trade monopoly and introduced European diseases that decimated the Indians. From an estimated population of about 16,000 in 1805, their numbers were reduced to only about 100 by the 1850s.

Philip Drucker. Bibliography: Williams, Lewis, Chinook by the Sea (1924).

Visit the official website of the Chinook Nation.

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