NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the Chinook salmon fishery in Alaska under the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska. Alaska accounts for around half of the US Chinook salmon harvest, and the fishery is of significant commercial and cultural importance. All management of salmon fisheries occurring in federal waters – including commercial, recreational, and subsistence – is deferred to the State of Alaska. This helps ensure that management remains consistent throughout the state as well as through the salmon’s range.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulates the salmon fisheries in Alaska by setting escapement goals. These goals are in place to ensure that enough salmon escape the fishery and are able to successfully return to freshwater and spawn – replenishing the population. Each year, managers and scientists conduct in-season assessments to determine the number of salmon returning to freshwater to spawn. Based on these returns, harvest limits are set, and scientist and managers will monitor and record both catch and escapements in real-time. When abundance is high and the number of fish returning is much higher than needed to meet escapement goals, harvest levels are set higher. When abundance is low, and catch levels are exceeding escapement goals, harvest levels are set lower and the fishery may close earlier than expected.
Generally, the US West Coast only accounts for a smaller portion of the total North American salmon harvest; however, this is not the case for Chinook salmon as West Coast landings account for a significant proportion of the North American catch. Along the US West Coast, a variety of federal, state, and tribal authorities manage Chinook salmon fisheries depending on the location of the fishery. US West Coast ocean salmon fisheries are managed by NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) under the Pacific Coast Salmon Plan. The PFMC reviews this plan annually by comparing the reports of the previous fishing season to the estimated abundance for the current year. Based on these reports a management plan is recommended by the PFMC for the upcoming fishing season – with final implementation to be carried out by NOAA Fisheries. State and tribal managers also use these recommendations to shape their own policies for inland fisheries – with these policies then being carried out by the tribes or state Fish and Wildlife agencies in close coordination with the PFMC. Overall, specific management measures can vary by year depending on the seasons’ estimated abundance, but generally include:
- Size limits
- Time and area restrictions
- Establishing season length
- Catch quotas
- Gear restrictions
The overall goal of these measures is to ensure that fishers can harvest the maximum amount of Chinook salmon the fishery can support while preventing the overharvesting of the species and ensuring populations with low abundance can rebuild. Additionally, the FMP identifies essential fish habitat and contains allocation provisions to ensure salmon resources are shared relatively fairly among the user groups.
Management of Chinook salmon fisheries must also comply with measures outlined in the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well as the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Many salmon populations are considered depressed – with some Chinook salmon populations considered to be “Threatened” or “Endangered” under the ESA and COSEWIC. The causes of these declines vary – but can include obstruction of natural migration routes by dams, pollution, and climate change. Managers set measures to minimize bycatch of ESA- listed stocks and require the live release of Chinook during specified times in particular locations. To help supplement wild populations, captive rearing in hatcheries occurs throughout the salmon’s native range. Many of these hatchery stocks are also protected by the ESA, as they are necessary for rebuilding wild populations.
The Pacific Salmon Commission helps coordinate management and research of shared international Chinook stocks between the US and Canada. The Commission is comprised of a sixteen-person body with four commissioners and four alternates representing the interest of commercial and recreational fishers as well as federal, state, and tribal governments from each country. The body was originally formed by the US and Canadian government to implement the Pacific Salmon Treaty. First ratified in 1985, the Pacific Salmon Treaty is a bilateral agreement that aims to prevent overfishing, provide optimal harvest, and ensure equal benefits of salmon production between the two countries. The US, along with Canada, Russia, Japan, and South Korea, is also a member of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. The primary goal of the Commission is to provide a mechanism for international cooperation of Chinook and other salmon species in the northern Pacific Ocean.
In addition to adhering to these commissions and treaties, Chinook salmon are managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in Canada under: the Southern Pacific Salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP) (covering waters south of Cape Caution, including the Fraser River watershed), the Northern Pacific Salmon IFMP (covering waters north of Cape Caution, including the Skeena River watershed) the Salmon Transboundary Rivers IFMP (covering the Alsek, Stikine, and Taku River watersheds), and the Wild Salmon Policy. Canadian Chinook production occurs mainly in major river systems such as the Fraser and Yukon Rivers. Management strategies mirror those in the US, with managers conducting preseason forecast which estimate abundance, setting total allowable catch limits and escapement goals, and real-time in-season monitoring. Additional management measures include:
- Time and area restrictions
- Limited licenses
- Gear restrictions and the use of selective fishing techniques
- Live release of weak, threatened, and/or endangered stocks