Mailing Address
PO Box 43200
Olympia, WA 98504-3200

Phone: 360-902-2267
Fax: 360-902-2448

Bradley Smith, Ph.D., Chair
Larry Carpenter, Vice Chair


Commission Policy Documents

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POLICY  TITLE:  Forage Fish Management Policy, Goals and Plan POLICY NUMBER:  POL-C3012  
Cancels:    Effective Date:  January 24, 1998 
    Termination Date:   
See Also:   Approved by:  /s/ Lisa Pelly 
      Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair 

DOWNLOAD: Signed copy of POL-C3012 (PDF)

It shall be the policy of the department to maintain healthy populations of forage fish species and individual stocks of forage fish while assuring the integrity of the ecosystem and habitat upon which marine resources depend. If insufficient information exists or the condition of the resource is poor, a conservative approach to fisheries will be taken. Fishery management plans will consider the role of forage fish in the marine ecosystem and the need to supply sufficient quantities of forage fish for ecosystem needs. A precautionary approach to resource management shall be utilized. The department shall consider the best scientific information available.

Consistent with the general goals established by the Commission for the Department, the following specific goals will guide the management of the forage fish resources of Washington.

  • Maintain healthy populations of forage fish in Washington.
  • Fisheries shall be permitted, as appropriate, for sustainable resources.
  • Washington based fishing industries (fishing, processing and marketing) shall receive consideration of an opportunity to utilize harvestable forage fish resources within state waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Management plans shall consider by-catch and wastage and provide for estimation of the magnitude of each and recommendations made for their reduction.
  • Increase public confidence in forage fish management.
  • All significant fisheries will have sufficient monitoring to estimate catch and evaluate resource condition and population trends.
  • Stock status summary of principal species of forage fish shall be produced every two years.
  • Document and protect spawning habitat of forage fish species.
  • Implement the Wild Salmonid Policy as it relates to forage fish and their habitats.

Following the direction given in the forage fish policy and goals, the following plan of action will be implemented by the Department.

Habitat Surveys and Protection
Forage fish spawning habitat surveys are a high priority for forage fish management. Activities related to spawning ground documentation will include:

  • conducting spawning habitat documentation surveys in areas likely to face human caused alterations.
  • providing expert testimony in court cases or other legal activities, maintaining and updating databases, depending on funding.
  • providing limited surveys in case or urgent need, upon request.
  • completing a formal report which summarizes existing information and making it available to the public and interested officials.

Fishery Management

  • Management of forage fish shall include provisions for rapid change in abundance.
  • Forage fish shall be managed to avoid periods of low abundance.
  • The achievement of maximum yield shall not be a goal of forage fish management.
  • Consideration will be given to both recreational and commercial fishing interests when stock conditions permit fishing.
  • The Department shall conduct a review and report on potential forage fish by-catch in each significant commercial fishery.

Stock Assessment

  • Stock assessments shall be based on direct measurement of fish populations whenever possible.

The following plan of action shall be implemented for individual forage fish species:


  • The Department will participate in interstate planning and research efforts for coordinated management of the west coast sardine resource.
  • The Department will investigate and, if feasible, allow a new commercial experimental fishery for sardine. This fishery would require coordinated management and include special monitoring/review for bycatch concerns. Any fishery is dependent on action by the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
  • Annually review stock status, fishery results and fishery regulations.

Surf Smelt

  • The Department will seek to increase its monitoring of fisheries and resources to:
    1. establish a biological database
    2. estimate growth and mortality rates.
  • In the absence of better information, manage each individual spawning ground as a unique stock.
  • Spawning habitat surveys shall emphasize potential surf smelt spawning grounds.
  • The Department will seek to increase the mapping of surf smelt spawning habitat.
  • Annual review stock status, fishery results and fishery regulations.


  • The Department will participate in interstate planning and research efforts for coordinated management of the anchovy resource.
  • Annually review stock status, fishery results and fishery regulations.
  • No other agency action is planned for anchovies during the length of this plan.


  • The Department will work with appropriate government agencies and the public, develop a harvest management plan for Columbia River smelt.
  • The Department will pursue reduced harvest levels of Columbia River smelt until information is available for scientific management of the resource.
  • The Department will seek to document eulachon spawning grounds.
  • Annually review stock status, fishery results and fishery regulations.

Sand Lance

  • The Department will end commercial fishing for sand lance in all state waters.
  • Spawning habitat surveys shall emphasize potential sand lance spawning grounds.
  • The Department will seek to increase the mapping of sand lance spawning habitat.
  • Annually review stock status.


  • Conduct surveys of known spawning grounds annually.
  • Continue to gather biological data from selected spawning stocks.
  • Annually review stock status, fishery results and fishery regulations.
  • Institute no new commercial fisheries of herring in state waters. Continue the moratorium on commercial fisheries for herring in coastal waters.
  • In the absence of information, treat each spawning ground as an individual stock.
  • Investigate, and report on sources of increased herring mortality.
  • Participate in information exchange with herring researchers and managers from British Columbia and other areas.
  • Institute a system of marine protected areas which include herring spawning grounds.
  • Continue coordinated management with appropriate tribal governments.