NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the chum salmon fishery in Alaska under the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska. Alaska accounts for the majority of the US chum 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 to 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.
There are hundreds of chum salmon stocks in Alaska and the fishery is well managed. While some stocks are experiencing decline, some are remaining steady and even increasing. As of 2017, no Alaskan chum salmon stock is listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Along the US West Coast, a variety of federal, state, and tribal authorities manage salmon fisheries depending on the location of the actual 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. All Pacific salmon species and any listed under the ESA fall under the jurisdiction of this plan; however, there are no directed fisheries for chum salmon in federal waters. As such, the plan only outlines fishery management objectives for Chinook, coho, and pink salmon along with any stock listed under the ESA.
Chum salmon are primarily caught in inland waters in Washington State. The Washington Department of Fish and Game (WDFG) and different Tribal Nations jointly manage these inland fisheries. The major Washington chum salmon fisheries occur in Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, Willapa Bay, and the North Coast. In the Puget Sound, WDFG and the Puget Sound Treaty Indian Tribes co-manage the chum salmon fishery; while in Gray Harbor, the WDFG and the Quinault Indian Nation jointly manage the fishery. The Willapa Bay fishery is mostly made up of non-tribal fishers. Like other salmon species, Washington State chum salmon fisheries are also managed using pre-season forecasts that predict the number of chum salmon returning each year (fall, winter, and summer runs). Using these estimates, managers determine the total amount of chum salmon that can be caught during the run, all while allowing for escapement goals to be met. Managers monitor the catch in real-time. To help supplement wild populations, captive rearing in hatcheries occurs throughout the salmon’s native range. Some areas like Grays Harbor include additional management measures such as targeting hatchery-raised fish (distinguishable via “markings”) to reduce pressure on natural populations.
Two US West Coast chum salmon stocks are listed as “Threatened” under the ESA: Hood Canal Summer-run Chum and Columbia River Chum – with numerous historical populations of both stocks now considered extinct. The causes of these declines vary, but can include obstruction of natural migration routes by dams, pollution, and climate change. In addition to following requirements outlined under the ESA, fishery managers may also set specific measures to help these threatened stocks recover. For instance, all fishing for chum salmon is prohibited in Hood Canal and Admiralty Inlet in the summer through early fall. Additionally, habitat restoration projects are also underway to help struggling stocks.
The Pacific Salmon Commission helps coordinate management and research of shared international chum salmon 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 chum and other salmon species in the northern Pacific Ocean.
In addition to adhering to these commissions and treaties, chum 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), the Yukon River Chinook and Fall Chum Salmon IFMP, and the Wild Salmon Policy. Management strategies mirror those in the US; with managers conducting preseason forecast that 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