NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the coho 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 US and global coho 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.
There are more than 20 different coho stocks in Alaska. Alaskan salmon fisheries are well managed and according to a 2012 assessment – Alaskan coho populations are near or above target populations. 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.
NOAA Fisheries and the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) manage the coho salmon population along the US West Coast (Washington, Oregon, and California) 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. Specific management measures can vary by year depending on the seasons’ estimated abundance, but generally include:
- Size limits
- Establishing season length
- Catch quotas
- Gear restrictions
The overall goal of these measures is to ensure that fishers can harvest the maximum amount of coho the fishery can support while preventing the overharvesting of the species and ensuring populations with low abundance can rebuild. The overall status of coho stocks in California, Oregon, and Washington varies. In 2013, many individual stocks were not considered overfished; however, the Central California Coast stock is listed as endangered, three stocks are considered threatened, and one is listed as a species of concern under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As such, management of coho salmon must additionally comply with measures outlined under the ESA. Captive rearing of salmon in hatcheries supports nearly all coho fisheries.
The Pacific Salmon Commission helps coordinate management and research of shared international coho 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 coho and other salmon species in the northern Pacific Ocean.
In addition to adhering to these commissions and treaties, coho 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.