Molecular population genetics of non-model organisms has been dominated by the use of microsatellite loci over the last two decades. The availability of extensive genomic resources for many species is contributing to a transition to the use of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for the study of many natural populations. Here we describe the discovery of a large number of SNPs in Chinook salmon, one of the world’s most important fishery species, through large-scale Sanger sequencing of expressed sequence tag (EST) regions. More than 3 Mb of sequence was collected in a survey of variation in almost 132 kb of unique genic regions, from 225 separate ESTs, in a diverse ascertainment panel of 24 salmon. This survey yielded 117 TaqMan (5′ nuclease) assays, almost all from separate ESTs, which were validated in population samples from five major stocks of salmon from the three largest basins on the Pacific coast of the contiguous United States: the Sacramento, Klamath and Columbia Rivers. The proportion of these loci that was variable in each of these stocks ranged from 86.3% to 90.6% and the mean minor allele frequency ranged from 0.194 to 0.236. There was substantial differentiation between populations with these markers, with a mean FST estimate of 0.107, and values for individual loci ranging from 0 to 0.592. This substantial polymorphism and population-specific differentiation indicates that these markers will be broadly useful, including for both pedigree reconstruction and genetic stock identification applications.