NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council manage the pink salmon fishery in Alaska under the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ off the Coast of Alaska. Pink salmon is the most abundant Pacific salmon species with Alaska accounting for the majority of the US commercial harvest. 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 salmon fisheries in Alaska by setting escapement goals. These goals are in place to ensure that enough salmon escape the fishery and can 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 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.
While most US pink salmon landings occur in Alaska, there are commercial fisheries for pink salmon in Washington state. In Washington, a variety of federal, state, and tribal authorities manage pink salmon fisheries depending on the location of the fishery. Washington’s 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 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in close coordination with the PFMC. Overall, specific management measures can vary by year depending on the season's 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 pink 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 habitats and contains allocation provisions to ensure salmon resources are shared relatively fairly among the user groups. In Washington, specifically the Puget Sound, abundance and harvest are higher during odd-numbered years. As of 2016, Puget Sound pink salmon are not overfished.
Management of pink 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 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. As of 2017, no US pink salmon stocks are listed under the ESA and no Canadian stocks are listed under COSEWIC. While captive rearing in hatcheries helps supplement some wild salmon populations, this is not the case for pink salmon as hatchery production is relatively small.
The Pacific Salmon Commission helps coordinate management and research of shared international pink 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 pink and other salmon species in the northern Pacific Ocean.
In addition to adhering to these commissions and treaties, pink 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. Pink salmon are the most abundant salmon species in Canadian waters and there are an estimated 2220 unique stocks in British Columbia. 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