In-season management for “mixed-stock” and “terminal area” salmon fisheries

With summer salmon fisheries in full swing from Puget Sound to the Washington Coast and Columbia River, we’ve been getting questions from anglers about in-season salmon management. Check out our statement below for information on this topic!

Washington offers both “mixed-stock” and “terminal area” salmon fisheries. Mixed-stock fisheries such as those in the Pacific Ocean, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and the lower Columbia River present unique challenges for fisheries managers who seek to provide sustainable salmon fishing opportunities for healthy or hatchery populations while limiting impacts on sensitive or Endangered Species Act-listed salmon runs that are also present.

In mixed-stock areas, state and tribal fisheries managers must abide by harvest quotas and allowable impacts that are federally approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service based on agreed-upon run forecasts prior to the fishing season, even when actual salmon returns appear to exceed pre-season forecasts. WDFW is working with federal agencies and tribal co-managers to provide greater stability for mixed-stock salmon fisheries in the future, including through a new 10-year Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.

As of right now, WDFW does not have a good way to conduct in-season updates on mixed stock fisheries. This makes it difficult to impossible to adjust run-size or update forecasts while a fishery is being conducted. While it may appear that there are higher than expected returns, there is no way to determine whether these fish are from critical stocks. Without that information, fisheries cannot be adjusted in-season in mixed-stock areas.

Terminal area fisheries, or fisheries nearer to hatcheries and natal rivers where typically only one salmon stock is present, allow state and tribal fisheries managers greater flexibility for in-season fishing adjustments depending on the actual returns of salmon, such as those counted at dams on the Columbia River during the spring, summer and fall. Therefore anglers on the Columbia, other rivers, and in certain bays may see added or expanded in-season fishing opportunities when salmon runs come in above forecast. There is no such mechanism in place for most Puget Sound and coastal marine areas.

We know Washington anglers look forward to salmon seasons each year, with many planning trips months in advance. We share your frustration when scheduled fishing seasons change or close early due to conservation concerns or harvest quotas being met. We do not make these decisions lightly, typically consulting with the Puget Sound sportfishing advisory group and other members of the public. WDFW is committed to providing sustainable fishing opportunities balanced with salmon conservation needs, and we are continually working to improve fisheries management in the interest of salmon, fishermen and women, tribes, and all Washingtonians.

For more on the salmon season-setting process, please visit our webpage: www.wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/season-setting/processes#salmon

Regular updates on Puget Sound salmon catch estimates and quotas are available at: https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/reports/creel/seasonal

Photo of a wild Puget Sound Chinook salmon released in Marine Area 10 by Chase Gunnell / WDFW.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.