March 7, 2018
On Dec. 1, 2017, state and treaty tribal co-managers submitted to NOAA Fisheries updates to a fisheries plan that guides conservation and harvest of Puget Sound chinook salmon in Washington. NOAA Fisheries has informed the co-managers that the plan is insufficient for full evaluation and has provided the state and tribes some initial direction on necessary revisions.
In the coming months, the co-managers will work to revise the 10-year plan. On March 6, NOAA provided guidance on conservation objectives for wild Puget Sound chinook salmon for the 2018-2019 fishing season.
- The plan defines conservation goals for state and tribal fisheries that have an impact on wild Puget Sound chinook salmon,
which are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Under that law, no fisheries affecting Puget
Sound chinook can occur without a conservation plan approved by NOAA Fisheries.
- In setting conservation goals within the plan, state and tribal co-managers also consider the impacts to Puget Sound chinook
in salmon fisheries in Alaska and British Columbia.
- The updated plan was developed by the co-managers through court-mediated negotiations — requested by the tribes and
federal government — that began earlier this year. As requested by the tribes and federal government, the negotiations
place under a confidential court process, which limited participation to representatives of the federal government, the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and tribal co-managers.
- The previous plan, approved in 2011, expired in 2014. Since then, state and tribal fisheries have been conducted under
annual authorizations — a cumbersome and uncertain process.
- Updates to the plan are designed to refine the management of state and tribal fisheries to better support conservation and
recovery efforts for wild Puget Sound chinook salmon stocks, whose numbers have continued to significantly decline since
they were listed for protection in 1999.
- Under the updated plan, there will be reductions to state and tribal fisheries in Washington, especially in years with
expected low salmon returns. For example, increased protections for wild chinook salmon returning to the Stillaguamish and
Snohomish rivers will likely further restrict numerous fisheries because those fish are caught in many areas of Puget Sound.
- Restrictions to state and tribal fisheries throughout Puget Sound vary annually depending on the abundance of individual
salmon stocks projected to return to the Sound's streams each year.
- If NOAA approves the plan, it will guide salmon fishing seasons for a 10-year term. The original timeline was for the plan
to cover fisheries from 2019-20 to 2028-29. However, with the delay it now appears that the plan would not be in place until
the beginning of the 2020-21 fishing season.
- Once approved, a long-term plan will provide certainty for required federal ESA authorization. That would reduce the risk
of having to cancel or delay state salmon fisheries in Puget Sound due to the uncertainty of an annual federal approval
- State and tribal fish managers intend to submit revisions to the plan by August 2018.
- NOAA Fisheries has already informed the state and treaty tribes that the plan is insufficient, noting that several key
salmon stocks would not meet new — more restrictive — federal conservation objectives. For that reason, NOAA is
asking the co-managers to provide more information and analysis on the conservation objectives within the proposed plan.
- State and tribal co-managers agreed to 2018-19 Puget Sound salmon fisheries in mid-April, after working with
representatives from NOAA fisheries to determine the conservation guidelines for the upcoming fishing season.
- Information on 2018-19 recreational salmon fisheries in Washington's ocean waters and the Columbia River is available at
WDFW's North of Falcon webpage. The webpage also includes information
on some notable Puget Sound sport fisheries, as well as an overview of chinook and coho fishing opportunities in the
Sound's marine areas. Details on all recreational salmon fisheries will be provided in the 2018-19 Washington Sport
Fishing Rules pamphlet, which will be available in late June.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, advised state
fishery managers to strike a better balance between conservation and harvest opportunities as they work with tribal
co-managers to revise the proposed plan.
- During a Jan. 23 conference call, the commission instructed state fishery managers to explore
a variety of options as they revisit catch rates and other pieces of the plan. Commissioners asked WDFW to consider mitigation
tools to offset impacts from fisheries. Those tools include increasing habitat restoration efforts; improving hatchery
operations, including increasing production to support salmon recovery efforts; and reducing populations of predators, such as
seals and sea lions.
- Additionally, commissioners directed WDFW staff to provide regular updates both to the commission and to citizen advisors during public meetings. WDFW is inviting the public to participate in the Puget Sound Sportfishing Advisory Group's meetings and conference calls, during which state fishery managers will discuss updates on the plan and NOAA's 2018-19 guidance.
- After receiving clarification on the plan from the co-managers and determining the plan is sufficient for full review, NOAA
Fisheries will begin a review process expected to take about 18 months. The process will include the development of a federal
biological opinion (known as a BiOp), which is an assessment of the plan designed to ensure it will not harm the survival and
recovery of an ESA-listed species. In addition, NOAA will conduct a National Environmental Policy Act review and develop an
Environmental Impact Statement. There will be opportunities for public comment during that review process.