Puget Sound Chinook Resource Management Plan

Puget Sound blackmouth salmon
Toby Black

Despite being listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1999, wild Puget Sound Chinook stocks have continued to fall in the past two decades. This continued decline has become even more pronounced in recent years, affecting the entire Puget Sound ecosystem, as well as local economies and fishing opportunities. The 2019 State of the Sound report noted that Puget Sound is in “grave trouble.”  The next 10 years represent the last, best chance to reverse the decline of Puget Sound Chinook salmon.

As part of an intensified, comprehensive effort to address this decline, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and tribal co-managers in Puget Sound are developing a revised version of the Puget Sound Chinook Resource Management Plan (PSCRMP), which is intended to guide the next decade of Chinook salmon fishing in the Puget Sound region.

A previous version of this plan was submitted in 2017, but was returned as “insufficient” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA requested additional information and clarification to ensure ESA conservation objectives could be met, as well as more information on how the plan might affect the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population.

What is the Puget Sound Chinook Resource Management Plan?

Puget Sound Chinook historical runsize graph 1975-2015

The PSCRMP establishes management strategies that enable the harvest of strong, productive stocks of Chinook and other salmon species, and minimize impacts to weak Chinook stocks. To accomplish this goal, WDFW worked with Puget Sound Indian tribes to develop a resource management plan that meets criteria specified in federal rules.

The plan currently under consideration is anticipated to apply in the years 2021 to 2030.

Among other key factors, the plan considers:

  • The effects on ESA-listed species including the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population;
  • Fishery-related impacts on Puget Sound Chinook in Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska;
  • Constraints on fishing as needed to conserve and rebuild Puget Sound Chinook salmon runs; and
  • The effects of habitat loss and degradation on salmon and fisheries, and associated mitigation strategies.

Why is this plan needed?

The PSCRMP would provide multiyear ESA coverage for Puget Sound fisheries.  Without NOAA agreement that the PSCRMP meets ESA requirements, fisheries in Puget Sound impacting Chinook salmon would not occur.

Since the last multiyear Puget Sound resource management plan expired in 2014, fishery authorizations have been conducted on an annual basis – a cumbersome and uncertain process. A long-term plan provides certainty on management objectives during the annual season-setting process, facilitating scheduling of fisheries for the following season.

What’s different about this version of the plan?

The plan is similar to the 2017 submission but refines some management objectives and provides additional information and supporting analyses, as requested by NOAA.

Some developments in recent years affecting the new plan include:

  • Even in 2017, there were significant concerns that Puget Sound Chinook abundance had not improved since ESA listing in 1999. Puget Sound Chinook have seen continued poor returns in the two years since that time.
  • Additionally, concerns over the declining SRKW population have intensified, which led to significant state legislative action in 2019. As Chinook salmon are the preferred prey of the SRKW, the new report will include a section specifically addressing prey abundance for these orcas.
  • A new Pacific Salmon Treaty was agreed upon in 2018, with significant focus on Chinook salmon management, especially ESA-listed species, including Puget Sound and Columbia River stocks. This includes planned reductions in Alaska and Canadianfisheries, especially when poor Chinook returns are expected.

All of these factors are incorporated into the revised PSCRMP.