Fact Sheet: Salmon

Tiny salmon and salmon eggs
Salmon fry. Photo: Vladimir Zykov/Shutterstock.com

Salmon species

The Council manages Chinook and coho salmon. In odd-numbered years, the Council may manage pink salmon near the Canadian border. Sockeye, chum, and steelhead are rarely caught in the Council’s ocean fisheries.

Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) (“king” or “tyee”) are the largest and most highly prized of the Pacific salmon. Like all salmon, Chinook are anadromous, which means they hatch in freshwater streams and rivers, migrate to the ocean for feeding and growth, and return to their natal waters to spawn. Chinook salmon can live up to seven years. They return to their natal waters after 1-5 years in the ocean.

Chinook from Washington, Oregon, and California range widely throughout the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, and as far south as the U.S. border with Mexico.

Some wild Chinook populations have disappeared from areas where they once flourished, and several “evolutionarily significant units” (distinct populations) have been listed as at risk for extinction under the Endangered Species Act.

Coho or “silver” salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) are found in streams and rivers throughout much of the Pacific Rim. Coho have a life history similar to Chinook. Coho in Council-managed waters typically spend only one year in the ocean. North of central British Columbia, they tend to spend two years in the ocean.

Coho generally use smaller streams and tributaries than Chinook. They are most abundant in coastal areas from central Oregon to southeast Alaska. Like Chinook, Some wild coho populations have disappeared from areas where they once flourished, and several populations are listed as at risk for extinction under the Endangered Species Act.


Because salmon migrate so far in the ocean, managing ocean salmon fisheries is extremely complex.

Salmon are affected by many factors in the ocean and on land, including ocean and climate conditions, dams, habitat loss, urbanization, agricultural and logging practices, water diversion, and predators (other fish, birds, marine mammals, and humans).

Several different regions and groups are involved in the salmon fishery:

Recreational  fisheries take place in the ocean, Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, coastal bays, and in freshwater (including Columbia River Buoy 10). The Council manages recreational catches in the ocean but works closely with states on management in other areas.

Commercial  fisheries include treaty tribal and non-tribal ocean troll and various treaty tribal and non-tribal net fisheries in Puget Sound, Washington coastal bays, and the lower and mid-Columbia River. The tribes manage tribal fisheries in coordination with the Council. The Council manages fisheries in Federal (ocean) waters, but works closely with states and tribes on fisheries in other areas.

Tribal Ceremonial and Subsistence fisheries occur in Puget Sound, Washington coastal rivers and bays, Columbia River and tributaries, and in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers. The tribes manage these fisheries in coordination with the Council.

Council process

The Council’s Salmon Fishery Management Plan guides the management of commercial and recreational salmon fisheries off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The Council works with treaty tribes and its member states (Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California) on salmon management issues.

Management tools such as season length, quotas, and bag limits vary depending on how many salmon are present. There are two central parts of the fishery management plan: conservation objectives, which are annual goals for the number of spawners of the major salmon stocks (“spawner escapement goals”), and allocation provisions of the harvest among different groups of fishers (commercial, recreational, tribal, various ports, ocean, and inland). The Council must also comply with laws such as the Endangered Species Act.

Every year the Council follows a preseason process to develop recommendations for management of the ocean fisheries (below).

DateSalmon management action
JanuarySalmon Technical Team and Council documents become available. Dates and locations of the two Council meetings, public hearings announced. Detailed schedule published. Salmon Technical Team meets to draft the review of ocean salmon fisheries for the previous year.
February – early MarchSalmon Technical Team meets in February to draft preseason report with stock abundance forecasts, harvest and escapement estimates. State and Tribal management meetings take place. Salmon Technical Team reports summarizing the previous salmon season (Review), and projections of expected salmon stock abundance for the coming season (Preseason I) are posted online.
First or second full week in MarchCouncil meeting. Typically, three alternatives are adopted for review at public hearings. These alternatives are initially developed by the Salmon Advisory
Subpanel, refined by the Salmon Technical Team, then considered along with public comment by the Council. Council also considers any emergency actions needed.
Week following March Council meetingPublic hearings announcement released. Preseason Report II released, outlining Council-adopted alternatives.
Prior to April Council meetingAgencies, tribes, and public meet to agree on allowable ocean and inside waters harvest levels north of Cape Falcon. The Council’s ocean fishery options are refined.
Last week of March and first week of AprilGeneral time frame for formal public hearings on the proposed salmon management alternatives.
First or second full week of AprilCouncil meeting. Final management measures recommended to National Marine Fisheries Service for adoption.
Second week of MayFinal notice of Commerce decision. Final management measures published in Federal Register.

How are salmon counted?

Correctly judging the size of salmon populations is a constant challenge. Salmon are affected by many natural and human-caused factors, so their numbers can vary widely. Estimating the effects of changes in ocean conditions, weather, and freshwater habitat on salmon is difficult. Most models rely on the age structure of a given brood (the various ages of fish that make up the population) in combination with knowledge about environmental conditions over time.

Various methods are used to estimate salmon abundance. For adult salmon, fish trapped in weirs or passing dams are counted as they migrate upstream. Biologists count salmon carcasses and redds (nests) while doing stream surveys. Creel surveys help estimate catch in sport fisheries, and commercially-caught salmon are counted using fish tickets from the sale of fish. As juvenile fish move downstream and migrate to the ocean, smolts are counted in rotary screw traps, snorkel surveys, and electrofishing (using electric current to temporarily stun young fish, which are then captured in a net).

Juvenile salmon may be marked with an internal tag, either a coded wire tag (CWT) or a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag. CWTs are placed in the snout of the fish and are used mainly in hatchery fish. They are recovered from dead adult salmon. PIT tags are usually placed in the body cavity of the fish and are recovered from dead adults, but they can also be tracked electronically when a fish passes a receiver (for example at a bridge or dam) as it migrates. Both types of tags provide population and distribution data.

Advisory bodies

The Salmon Technical Team (STT) helps the Council by summarizing data from the previous season, estimating the number of salmon in the coming season, and analyzing the effects of the Council’s recommendations and amendments. The STT is made up of eight people drawn from state, Federal, and tribal fisheries management agencies, all of whom have technical expertise in salmon management. STT meetings, like all Council advisory body meetings, are open to the public.

The Salmon Advisory Subpanel is made up of 16 members who represent commercial, recreational, and tribal interests, as well as a conservation representative. These advisors play a large role in developing the Council’s annual salmon management options in March and April.

The Model Evaluation Workgroup (MEW) reviews and modifies models used to predict the effects of harvest on conservation objectives and allocation provisions. The MEW is made up of scientists from state, tribal, and Federal management agencies.

The Habitat Committee tracks habitat issues for the Council. Many (though not all) of these issues involve salmon habitat. For example, the Habitat Committee has developed several Council comment letters on Klamath and Columbia River dam and habitat issues.

How to get involved

There are a few ways to get involved in the Federal salmon management process. First, read up on how salmon are managed and become aware of current salmon fishery issues. Listen in on the salmon agenda items during the March and April Council meetings (see our website, www.pcouncil.org, for details). Provide public comment by using our e-Portal (see the Council website for link and comment deadlines). Attend a salmon season hearing in a coastal community (usually held in March), or sit in on a Salmon Advisory Subpanel, Salmon Technical Team, or Habitat Committee meeting. If you have time, volunteer to serve on an advisory body.

Challenges in salmon management

Besides counting the fish, challenges include coordinating with international, regional, and local agencies and groups; judging the effects of regional fisheries on salmon stocks; recovering salmon under the Endangered Species Act; dividing the harvest fairly; and restoring freshwater habitat.

Current hot topics relating to salmon include offshore aquaculture, offshore wind energy, salmon bycatch in other fisheries, the differences between wild and hatchery salmon, and the role salmon play as forage for predators such as killer whales.

Council Staff

Robin Ehlke is the Council staff officer responsible for salmon (robin.ehlke@noaa.gov, 503-820-2280 or toll free 866-806-7204)

Fact Sheet: Electronic monitoring

Somebody working on the deck of a fishing boat
Screen shot from an electronic monitoring video, courtesy of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

At-sea monitoring of all fishing trips (100% monitoring) is required as part of the Council’s groundfish trawl catch share program in order to account for discards. Currently, this monitoring is conducted by human observers.

From 2012 to 2018, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) studied the use of electronic monitoring (EM) to examine its potential use in monitoring individual fishing quotas under the catch share program, particularly to document at-sea discard events. EM is the use of video technology to track catches and discards, it should not be confused with vessel monitoring systems, which track the location of fishing vessels.

The Council recommended that EM be an option to provide the industry with a potentially less expensive and more flexible alternative to human observers. Under the program, vessel owners could apply for an exemption to the observer requirement, and if approved by NMFS, could use EM to document allowable discards.

Current activities

In 2019 NMFS published regulations to implement the electronic monitoring program for the whiting and fixed gear fisheries operating in the trawl catch share program. Full implementation of the program has been delayed until January 1, 2022. In early 2021, NMFS expects to publish a proposed rule to implement the bottom trawl and nonwhiting midwater trawl fisheries portion of the electronic monitoring regulations.  The Council will continue to work with NMFS and the industry to examine ways to increase efficiencies and lower industry costs while maintaining the integrity and accountability of the catch share program.


The trawl catch share program, which began in 2011, requires 100% monitoring of all trips. Before the program was put in place, 20% of trips were monitored with observers through the NMFS West Coast Groundfish Observer Program; the observers were paid by the Federal government. The Council considered electronic monitoring while planning the catch share program, but opted to continue using observers and increase the observation level to 100%. Under the program, vessel owners must pay private companies to observe all trips. When the catch share program was put in place, NMFS agreed to pay for a portion of the observer costs to help the fleet through the adjustment period. In September 2015, the industry was required to pay the full cost. 

The requirement to pay for observers is one of the most expensive compliance costs associated with participation in the catch share program. All vessels are billed for observers on a per-day basis, so observer costs are the same for both small and large vessels. Because vessels are billed per day both for at-sea and for standby time during a trip, vessels may incur higher costs for standing down due to bad weather; therefore, the observer fee system can put pressure on vessels to fish in unsafe conditions.

Although information collected by observers for catch share monitoring (mainly accounting for discarded fish) could be collected through electronic monitoring, cameras cannot completely fulfill all scientific monitoring needs. Therefore, observers will still be necessary to collect biological samples to support stock assessments and other important fishery-dependent information, such as interactions with protected species.

Fact Sheet: How to get involved

Why get involved?

Many different types of people are concerned about fisheries, including commercial fishermen, fishing families, recreational fishers, processors and suppliers, environmentalists, tribal members, chefs, diners, scientists, the tourism industry, and local communities. Whatever their background or motivations, these groups share the common desire to ensure the health of fish populations and the marine ecosystems they depend on.

If you are a member of the commercial fishing community or if your business serves recreational anglers, the best reason to get involved is because this is the process that controls your livelihood. You may not have control over the weather, ocean conditions, or market prices, but if you get involved in the Council process you can have some input into the decisions that affect your business.

Getting involved means commitment and hard work. It may mean reading documents, talking to unfamiliar people, attending meetings, speaking in public, writing letters or emails, joining or forming an association, or joining an advisory subpanel.

Ten ways to get involved:

Many members of the fishing community and the public don’t have the time or resources to attend Council meetings. Luckily, there are ways to get involved in management without having to leave the comfort of your home or vessel.


The first step to getting involved in the Council process is to learn about it. Learn how the Council system operates; learn about the context of the problem you are interested in. Learn how Council members see things, and why. Learn what acronyms and terms  like “CPUE” and “optimum yield” mean (an acronym and definition list is available on the Council website, and as an information sheet). That way you will be more comfortable providing input, and your input will be more valuable.

Some ways to learn:

Join a group

Join a group that represents your interests. This will give you a greater voice, more motivation, and a larger pool of knowledge to draw from. There are groups organized around environmental issues, fishing gear types, fisheries, communities, and other interests. There are also groups that cut across interests and gear types. If you can’t find a group, form your own.

Make informed comments

Your comments will be most effective if they show that you know about the underlying laws and concepts that the Council must follow in managing fisheries. Try to frame your comments and objections in these terms. Whether writing or testifying, make sure that your comments are relevant to whatever the Council is discussing at the moment. Know what stage of the process the Council is in. For example, are there important deadlines approaching? What political pressures are influencing this decision? (See “Public Comment and the e-Portal” and “Council Testimony” for more information on testifying).

Get to know someone

Getting to know someone is one of the best ways to make sure your voice is heard. Get to know your Council representative, other Council members, Committee members, and staff. If possible, get to know your fish and wildlife department’s local port biologists and discuss issues with them. (See the roster on the Council website for lists of Council members and advisory members).

Talk informally

One of the best ways to interact with the Council is simply to call up a Council member or staff member. This provides a more personal way to discuss issues that concern or interest you. When calling, explain who you are, what your question or problem is, and ask for help in understanding what’s going on. Ask for a list of the committees and key Council members responsible for your fishery, and ask whom you should call to get more background or advice. You can also talk at meetings and hearings, in the halls during meetings, or at the Council office. Be sure to attend informal events associated with Council meetings. You may also want to talk with state agency staff and your Federal and state representatives.

Attend a meeting

All regular Council meetings and advisory meetings are open to the public. Advisory body and technical committee (or management team) meetings are generally more informal than a full Council meeting, and may be a better opportunity to express your opinions and ideas.

Council meetings are generally held in Portland/Vancouver,Seattle/Tacoma, northern California, Boise, Spokane, Orange County, or San Diego, because these larger cities have airports and plenty of hotel and meeting space.

Because Council meetings are not convenient for many who live in coastal areas, state agencies and other entities sometimes hold public hearings, meetings, and workshops in local areas to inform the public and obtain input on proposed fishing regulations. Local residents may contact the head of their state fish and wildlife department to request that a meeting be held in their community. Summaries of the comments made at Council‐sponsored hearings are provided to Council members.

Dates and locations of upcoming meetings are available on the Council website.


Members of the commercial and recreational fishery, the environmental community, and the public are encouraged to testify at Council meetings and hearings. This involves speaking in a formal public forum.

At Council meetings, the Council members and staff generally sit in a “U” formation and everyone else sits in chairs at one end of the room. You will have to walk up to a microphone to make your comments. Because of time constraints, public comment is limited to five minutes for individuals and ten minutes for representatives of groups.

If comments are supplied to the Council by the briefing book deadline before the meeting date, they are included in the packet of information (briefing book) that is posted online approximately two weeks before the Council meeting.

It is best to be well-prepared and as calm as possible when providing testimony. Read up on Council decisions related to your topic of interest and make sure that your comments are organized and relevant. 


The Council reads and considers all comments that arrive before the public comment deadline. See our fact sheet on public comment for more information.

Since NMFS reviews all Council decisions, it is also effective to write or call the West Coast Region of NMFS.


Interested citizens may serve on an advisory body. If you are interested in serving, talk to the Executive Director, Deputy Director, or the key staff person for the fishery.

Get involved in research efforts

Occasionally, calls go out for vessel owners to charter their vessels for research efforts. While this is not a direct way to get involved in the Council process, it does help create connections with scientists and managers, and it allows vessel owners and scientists to learn more about each others’ methods. It can also provide some extra income. Unfortunately many of these opportunities are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will It really make a difference?

Your influence on Council decisions is related to the amount of energy you put into being involved. Involvement can range from signing an online petition, to writing an email or letter, to serving on an advisory subpanel or team. No matter what level of involvement you choose, your views will have more weight and influence if you learn about the context of the decisions being made, the timeline for the decision-making process, and the best ways to communicate with Council members and advisory body members.

As a member of a fisheries association said, “If you want to get involved in fisheries management, you should be willing to go to meetings and become an active participant, be willing to listen to others’ views, and communicate clearly your own ideas.” 

Who to contact

The Council rosters provide contact information for all members of the Council’s advisory subpanels (which include industry representatives), management teams (which are generally made up of scientists), the Council staff, and Council members. All Council staff can be contacted at 866‐806‐7204 (toll free) or 503‐820‐2280.

IPHC now accepting applications for Area 2A Halibut licenses (2021)

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is now accepting applications for Area 2A Halibut licenses (2021). Please see the IPHC website for further information. You may contact the IPHC Secretariat at: secretariat@iphc.int, should you have any questions or require assistance.

Fact Sheet: Advisory bodies

The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s advisory bodies (including technical and management teams, advisory subpanels, committees, and work groups) prepare and review information and provide input to help the Council make decisions.

All advisory body meetings are open to the public, but the advisory subpanels offer the best opportunity for public involvement in the process.

Scientific and Statistical Committee

All scientific information used by the Council to make decisions must go through the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), a group of scientists from state and Federal agencies, academic institutions, and other sources. Among other things, the SSC reviews fishery management plans (FMPs), plan amendments, and other documents; and helps the Council evaluate scientific information. The SSC has subcommittees that focus on salmon, groundfish, highly migratory species, coastal pelagic species, ecosystem management, and economics.

Advisory subpanels

Advisory subpanels represent the commercial and recreational fishing industry, tribes, the public, and conservation interests. They advise the Council on fishery management issues (such as annual management measures, FMPs, and amendments) and provide input into fishery management planning.

The Council has five advisory subpanels—one for each management plan:

Groundfish Advisory Subpanel (GAP). This panel includes three fixed gear (at-large) commercial fishers, one conservation representative, two processors, one at-sea processor, three sport anglers, two open access fishers, one bottom trawler, one midwater trawler, two
at-large trawlers, one tribal representative, and four charter boat operators (one each for Oregon, Washington, northern California, and southern California).

Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel (CPSAS). This subpanel includes three California commercial fishers, one Oregon commercial fisher, one Washington commercial fisher, three processors (one from each state), one California charter or sport fisher, and one conservation representative.

Highly Migratory Species Advisory Subpanel (HMSAS). This subpanel includes one member each from the commercial troll, purse seine, gillnet, and private recreational fisheries; two from the charter fisheries (one north, one south of Point Conception); two commercial at-large members; two processors (one northern, one south of Cape Mendocino); one conservation representative; one general at-large member; and one public at-large member.

Salmon Advisory Subpanel (SAS). Currently, this group comprises one tribal representative from California, one tribal fisher from the Washington coast, one gillnetter, three charter boat operators and three trollers (one from each state), five sport fishers (one each from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and two from California), one processor, and one conservation representative.

Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel (EAS). This subpanel consists of three representatives each from California, Oregon, and Washington, and one tribal representative.

Enforcement Consultants

Enforcement Consultants are representatives from state police agencies, state fish and wildlife agencies, NMFS Office of Law Enforcement divisions, and the Coast Guard. They provide advice to the Council about whether proposed management actions are enforceable and how they affect safety at sea. There are six enforcement consultants who serve indefinite terms.

Habitat Committee

The Habitat Committee (HC) works with other teams and panels on habitat issues that affect Council fisheries. The group helps develop ways to resolve habitat problems and avoid future habitat conflicts, and it makes recommendations for actions that will help achieve the Council’s habitat objectives. The HC includes members from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, National Marine Sanctuary, NMFS region, NMFS science center, conservation, states, tribes, and fishing industry, as well as at-large members.

Groundfish Allocation Committee

The Groundfish Allocation Committee (GAC) is charged with developing options for allocating certain groundfish species among the commercial and recreational sectors and among gear groups within the commercial sector. The purpose of the GAC is to distribute the harvestable surplus among competing interests in a way that resolves allocation issues on a short- or long-term basis. The GAC is made up of Council members, plus seven non-voting members who represent the non-whiting trawl, whiting trawl, fixed gear, open access, and recreational sectors; conservation groups; and processors.

Plan development, technical, and management teams

Plan development, technical, and management teams are working groups of state, Federal, and tribal biologists and economists.

Technical and Management Teams monitor fisheries and prepare stock assessments and fishery impact analyses. They may monitor catch rates and management impacts, analyze or recommend harvest limits, develop rebuilding plans, or conduct other tasks assigned by the Council. Currently, the Council has a Salmon Technical Team, Groundfish Management Team, Coastal Pelagic Species Management Team, Highly Migratory Species Management Team, Salmon Model Evaluation Workgroup, and Groundfish Endangered Species Workgroup.

Plan Development Teams focus on the development of fishery management plans. Currently there are no Plan Development Teams in operation.

Standing committees

Standing committees are made up of current Council members. The Budget Committee generally meets three times a year to review the Council’s budget and grant proposals, and the Legislative Committee monitors Federal legislation on Council operations and West Coast fisheries and develops a position and course of action for Council consideration.

Ad hoc committees

Ad-hoc committees are created to serve special needs—for example the Trawl Catch Share Community Advisory Board, Groundfish Cost Recovery Committee, Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Policy Advisory Committee, and Groundfish Electronic Monitoring Technical Advisory Committee.

For more information on the membership of the Council’s advisory bodies, contact the Council at the phone number on the first page of this information sheet or see the Council website at www.pcouncil.org.

Appointments and reviews

The Council continuously considers appointments to fill vacancies and adjust to personnel changes. All advisory Subpanel positions, the SSC at-large positions, and the HC tribal, industry, conservation, and at-large positions are limited to three-year terms.  Every third year, the Council reviews the composition and membership of all term-limited Advisory Body positions and appoints members for the subsequent three-year term.

Fact Sheet: Trawl catch shares

First, a little history

The story of catch shares begins in 2000, when the groundfish fishery was declared a Federal disaster. Several species had been declared overfished, and the Council used trip limits to manage the fishery for species other than whiting. (Trip limits set the amount of fish allowed to be landed in a given two-month period). Responding to the stock rebuilding requirements of the Magnuson Stevens Act, the Council reduced trip limits and closed large areas of the continental shelf to fishing.

These restrictive trip limits had a negative consequence: they forced vessels to dump excess fish overboard, mostly dead. This was a wasteful and widely unpopular practice that needed to be changed.

At the same time, shorter and shorter seasons were making the whiting fisheries inflexible and inefficient. (The catcher-processor sector had formed its own private co-operative agreement in 1997, which was working well and was later included in the catch share program.)

The restrictions and closures to protect overfished species were very hard on the fleet and the communities that depended on a healthy fishing industry. Because the trawl fleet lands such a large amount of fish throughout the year, its health is critical to maintaining the fishing infrastructure (ice machines, hoists, processors) needed by other fisheries, including salmon, crab, shrimp, and others.

In 2003, a Federal buyout of trawl permits removed almost half of the capacity of the trawl fleet and allowed some trip limits to be increased. Although this helped somewhat, it did not solve the problem. Around that time, people began discussing the creation of a trawl catch share program.

Catch share programs can completely transform fisheries management. They have been used in many regions to solve problems related to too much effort pursuing too few fish. The Pacific Council designed its catch share program to balance the needs of the fishery with those of communities, new fishery entrants, and small boat fishermen. The goals included increasing individual accountability, reducing bycatch, and improving economic efficiency, among others. Fishermen, processors, community representatives, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, West Coast states, nongovernmental organizations, and NOAA Fisheries all contributed to the program’s successful development and implementation.

The trawl catch share program was put in place in 2011 after eight years of discussion and dozens of public meetings. The Council continues to make adjustments to improve the system.

The groundfish fleet

The non-tribal commercial groundfish fishery has four sectors: limited entry trawl (including vessels that deliver to processors on shore and those that deliver at sea), limited entry fixed gear endorsed for sablefish, and limited entry fixed gear not endorsed for sablefish, and open access. (The fishery is described in detail in our groundfish fact sheet.) On average, the groundfish fishery is the second most valuable fishery on the West Coast, in some years exceeding the most valuable fishery, Dungeness crab.

The limited entry trawl sector accounts for over 90% of the total weight of the groundfish fishery and is generally a mixed-stock fishery, which means that it is difficult to target any single species without also catching some other species, including overfished stocks. Of the trawl gears, bottom trawl gear is least selective, and midwater trawl gear targeting whiting is most selective (over 98% whiting).

Just before the catch share program was put in place, there were roughly 170 trawl permits, 160 sablefish-endorsed fixed gear permits, and 65 other fixed gear permits. There were as many as 700 or 800 open access participants, although only 200 or 300 were “substantially engaged” in any given year.

How the program works

The catch share program included two major actions:

  • Creating the catch share system itself (Amendment 20 to the Groundfish Fishery Management Plan, or FMP).
  • Allocating among sectors the catch for many of the species covered under the quota system (Amendment 21 to the Groundfish FMP).

The catch share program created different management systems for the three main trawl sectors:

  • For vessels delivering to processors on shore, it created a system of individual fishing quotas (IFQs). 
  • For the at-sea mothership sector, it created catcher vessel co-ops. (Motherships are processors at sea that buy catch from shorebased vessels).
  • For catcher-processors (vessels which both catch and process fish, usually whiting), it continued the existing fleet co-op.

Each year, the Council sets harvest limits for each managed species (or species complex) based on stock assessments. Whiting is divided among the three trawl sectors (shorebased, mothership, and catcher processors), while bycatch for the at-sea whiting fishery is generally subtracted from the available catch before it is allocated among sectors. Other groundfish species are allocated only to the shorebased trawl sector.

Once sector allocation is complete, the species allocations go to their respective sectors. Shares may not be transferred between these sectors. 

One of the main goals of the catch share program was to make the fishery more efficient, which was expected to lead to fleet consolidation. The Council recognized that too much consolidation could harm communities and crew. Therefore, for each species in the shorebased IFQ program, the Council placed limits on the amount of quota shares an individual could control and the amount of quota pounds a vessel could fish. For the mothership sector, limits were placed on the amount of catch history any entity could own, the amount a vessel could catch, and the amount any single mothership processor could process. No limits were provided for the catcher-processor sector, since allocations for that sector went to the entire sector. 

Diagram showing how groundfish are allocated in the trawl catch share fishery
Sector allocation in the trawl catch share fishery

The Council also designed an “adaptive management” program. Ten percent of the shoreside nonwhiting quota shares are set aside into a public trust pool (adaptive management program quota shares) for use by managers to modify program impacts. These quota shares can be used to support community and processor stability, conservation, new entry, or unintended and unforeseen consequences. For example, if a certain port was likely to lose landings, these shares could be used to provide incentives to fishermen to continue to land in that port. To date, a need for this quota has not been identified and so the related quota pounds have been passed through to quota share owners.

Spotlight on sectors

The shorebased sector

The shorebased program covers catcher vessels that deliver to traditional fishing ports, as opposed to catcher vessels that deliver to at-sea processors.

The shorebased IFQ program includes 29 different groundfish species and complexes (including whiting) that are harvested by trawlers delivering to processors on shore. Additionally, individual bycatch quota is required for Pacific halibut.

The catch shares allocated for each species for the long-term are called quota shares.  At the start of the catch share program, quota shares were allotted to the owners of catcher vessel limited entry trawl permits based on their catch history and other factors. In addition, shorebased processors received 20 percent of the shorebased sector’s whiting quota shares. Quota shares can be transferred among participants and to new entrants, including crew members, communities, processors, or any other entity eligible to own a U.S fishing vessel.

Each year, quota share owners receive an allocation of quota pounds that must be used to cover their catch. Vessels are then responsible for buying or leasing the quota pounds in order to cover their harvest. If their harvest exceeds their quota pound holdings, they may not continue to fish until they have acquired quota pounds to cover their deficit. Vessels with trawl permits are also allowed to use non-trawl gears to catch their trawl quota pounds (known as gear switching).

Shorebased vessels generally harvest a mix of species, though for whiting trips the incidental catch of other species is low. Their ability to harvest all of their allocations depends on their ability to control the mix of species in their catch. Some species are always likely to be in shorter supply and to limit overall harvest. 

For example, quota pounds for overfished species are usually more expensive than for other species, because the allowed harvest is low and fewer quota pounds are issued. This creates an incentive to avoid known hotspots for these species and to develop gear to avoid them. Those who are best able to avoid the overfished species fare best economically, as they can land the rest of their quota without being shut down. If they can avoid catching overfished species, they can also generate revenue by leasing their unneeded quota to others.

More recently, sablefish has limited the catch of some complexes.  While avoiding sablefish might allow more of those complexes to be harvested, they are a valuable stock, so avoiding sablefish could substantially decrease trip revenue.

The mothership sector

Motherships are at-sea processors that receive deliveries from other vessels. The mothership co-op program now covers only whiting, but it initially also covered four overfished rockfish species. Since those species have been rebuilt, the Council has recommended that they be managed with set-asides rather than catch quota.

Owners of trawl permits who had sufficient participation history were allocated mothership quota as “catch history” rather than quota shares. While quota shares are divisible and can be owned by someone who does not own a trawl limited entry permit, mothership catch history cannot be divided and can only be transferred as a unit from one limited entry permit to another.

Unlike the shorebased IFQ program, where each vessel is responsible to the government for its own compliance, in the mothership program, individual vessels are responsible to the co-op and the co-op is responsible to the government for complying with its allocation. When a permit owner joins a catcher-vessel co-op, its whiting catch history is assigned to the co-op, and an annual allocation is made to the co-op based on the catch history of its members. Permit owners who do not join a co-op have their history assigned to an open fishery in which their vessels compete for the available harvest. Thus far, all vessels have chosen to form a single co-op serving all motherships. As part of the program, mothership processors were also issued mothership limited entry permits.

Catcher-processor co-ops

When the license limitation program was created in 1994, catcher processors bought permits from smaller vessels and combined them into larger permits to accommodate the catcher-processors. Ten such permits were created through this process. In 1997, these permits joined together in their own co-op. The catch share program protected the catcher-processor co-op by continuing an earlier limitation on new entrants to this sector. Each year, sector participants join to form a single co-op, which manages the sector’s entire allocation of whiting. If at some time in the future the sector fails to form a single co-op, the system will convert to an IFQ program and quota shares will be allocated equally among all catcher-processor permits.

Ongoing program development

When the program was put in place, many old trawl regulations remained that might no longer be needed. The Council has been looking at these old regulations and considering whether to change or remove them. For example, the Council extended the shoreside whiting season, eliminated several restrictive gear regulations, and allowed vessels to carry multiple trawl gear types at the same time.  Additionally, the Council is finalizing recommendations to eliminate the shelf area closure for the use of trawl gear. These “trailing actions” are described on the Council website.


The catch share program substantially reduced bycatch, and efficiency for the fleet as a whole has increased. The fleet generally appears to be doing better economically, although the expected consolidation has taken place. Since, under the catch share program, fishermen know exactly how many fish they are allowed to take before the season begins, they can plan for the season and enter into more secure marketing and processing arrangements. They also have the flexibility to time landings to the best market conditions. They have more freedom to streamline their businesses and are held individually accountable for every fish brought on board their vessels. Catch shares provide a clear economic rationale for conserving resources. Just as shareholders in a company want the business to prosper so their shares gain value, fishermen in catch share systems need the fishery to remain sustainable.

On the other hand, it appears that many available species are being under-harvested, likely due to concerns about catching overfished species. This effect may decline as species are rebuilt.

For more information on the effects of the program, see the five-year catch review finalized in 2017. 

For more information, please contact Council Staff Officer Jim Seger.

Fact Sheet: Exempted fishing permits

Exempted fishing permits (EFPs) allow for fishing activities that are exempt from the usual fishing regulations. They are a way for people and organizations involved in the fishery to experiment with new gears or techniques. The Council recommends EFPs to National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for granting them.

Examples of past projects supported by an EFP include developing new gear types for an underutilized fishery and developing devices to reduce catch of prohibited species.

Why EFPs?

EFPs are commonly used to explore ways to reduce impacts on depressed stocks, encourage innovation and efficiency, measure the bycatch of overfished or other constrained stocks associated with certain fishing strategies, and evaluate current and proposed management measures. EFPs can also be used to study how to increase the use of underutilized species, explore areas of expansion for the groundfish fishery, and make harvesting more efficient.

Who can apply?

Anyone who would like to undertake fishing activities that would otherwise be prohibited, but fit within the purposes of an EFP, can apply for one. This includes Federal or state agencies, marine fish commissions, nonprofit organizations, and individuals. You don’t have to be the owner or operator of the vessel(s) for which the EFP is requested, but a copy of the permit must be on a participating vessel at all times during the EFP project.

Applying for an EFP

The deadlines for submitting EFP proposals varies depending on the fishery. (EFPs are conducted for groundfish, highly migratory species, and coastal pelagic species, but not salmon). Contact the relevant Council staff (listed below) about the specific schedule for submitting proposals for Council review.

Applicants for an EFP in any fishery must submit a completed application in writing that explains and justifies the goals of the EFP. The advisory bodies, Council, or Scientific and Statistical Committee may ask for additional information. It can take several Council meetings for all of the necessary review to occur. Applicants are required to collect data and provide reports on results of approved EFPs.

See examples:

For best results

For best results, you should work with a NMFS Science Center, or other research organization, on the experimental design before submitting an EFP application to assure that your approach is sound. This will speed up the review process.

Once a Council recommendation is forwarded, NMFS publishes a Federal Register notice of the receipt of your application. NMFS may also need to write an environmental analysis of the impacts of the EFP before the permit can be issued. Given this process, plan on at least 6 to 18 months from the date of application submittal before the EFP is issued.

More information

For more information on EFPs, contact:

All are available by telephone at 503-820-2280.

Fact sheet: Habitat and essential fish habitat

Young fish swim among the weeds
School of juvenile chinook/king salmon Photo credit: USFWS/Togiak National Wildlife Refuge

Habitat is the environment where an animal lives, feeds, reproduces, and grows.

Many fish move through different habitats during their lives. For example, a fish might spawn in the surf zone, but live as an adult in open water; or might move seasonally into different depths or substrates. Fish move into different habitats for feeding, spawning, to avoid predation, and for other reasons.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) identifies habitat loss as a key issue of concern, and requires Councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to identify and protect the habitats of species managed under fishery management plans.

Councils may restrict certain fishing locations or gear to protect EFH, deepsea corals, or other habitats not specifically designated as EFH.

Essential fish habitat is “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.” This may include areas that were historically used by fish, like a river above a dam.

A habitat area of particular concern (HAPC) is “a specific habitat area or type of habitat that plays an important role in a species’ life cycle, or that is sensitive, rare, or vulnerable.” Councils may restrict fishing in HAPCs.

Essential fish habitat (EFH)

EFH is “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity,” including areas that were historically used by fish, like a river above a dam. In their fishery  management plans, Councils must identify and describe EFH for all life cycles of each managed species. 

These descriptions must address each life stage and managed species, and must include maps and other details related to habitat needs. Councils must periodically review and update EFH provisions as new information becomes available. 

EFH descriptions must address fishing impacts that may adversely affect EFH, and may include fishing-related actions to protect EFH such as time and area closures, gear restrictions, and other actions.

Each fishery management plan must also describe impacts from non-fishing activities that could affect EFH. In cases involving a Federal action, NMFS must provide the “action agency” with conservation recommendations to avoid, minimize, or mitigate for the impacts. Such Federal actions might include permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for dredging or jetty maintenance, or U.S. Forest Service plans for forest management activities.

Fishery management plans may also include “habitat areas of particular concern,” which are a subset of EFH designed to highlight especially important habitat areas or types that should be given greater consideration in developing conservation recommendations for both fishing and non-fishing activities.

Groundfish EFH

The Council’s groundfish fishery management plan includes more than 100 species that range over the entire U.S. West Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Groundfish include many species of rockfish, sablefish, flatfish, and Pacific whiting that are often (but not exclusively) found on or near the ocean floor or other structures.

Groundfish EFH includes all waters and substrate from the high tide line (including estuaries) to 3,500 meters (1,914 fathoms) in depth. (For a more technical explanation, go to http://tinyurl.com/24kvnx7 section 7.2). The figure below shows the overall extent of Pacific Coast groundfish EFH.

The Council identified five HAPC types: estuaries, canopy kelp, seagrass, rocky reefs, and “areas of interest.” Areas of interest can include a variety of submarine features, such as banks, seamounts, and canyons. They can also include other types of spatially-delineated areas such as all Washington State waters and the Cowcod East Conservation Area off Southern California.

The Council has also adopted measures to minimize and mitigate the adverse impacts of fishing on groundfish EFH. These include areas closed to bottom trawling and/or all bottom contact fishing (such as longline and pot fishing) to protect sensitive habitats.

Coastal pelagic species EFH

The coastal pelagic species (CPS) fishery includes four finfish (Pacific sardine, Pacific (chub) mackerel, northern anchovy, and jack mackerel), and market squid. CPS finfish generally live nearer to the surface than the sea floor, and can move substantial distances throughout their lives. The definition of EFH for CPS is based on the temperature range where they are found, and on the geographic area where they occur at any life stage. This range varies widely according to ocean temperatures.

The east-west boundary of CPS EFH includes all marine and estuary waters from the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington to the limits of the EEZ and above the thermocline where sea surface temperatures range between 10° and 26° centigrade. (A thermocline is an area where water temperatures change rapidly, usually from colder at the bottom to warmer on top). The southern boundary is the U.S./Mexico maritime boundary. The northern boundary is more changeable and is defined as the position of the 10° C isotherm, which varies seasonally and annually. (The 10° C isotherm is a rough estimate of the lowest temperature where finfish are found, and represents their northern boundary).

Salmon EFH

Salmon range from more than 1,000 miles inland to thousands of miles out at sea, and thus depend on a wide variety of habitats to complete their life cycle. EFH in fresh water includes all of the water bodies on the West Coast that salmon historically occupied, except the habitat above some impassable barriers. Salmon EFH also includes the entire West Coast EEZ north of Point Conception, California, and the marine waters off Alaska that are designated salmon EFH by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The figure on the next page shows the overall extent of EFH for Chinook, coho, and Puget Sound pink salmon. Sockeye salmon, chum salmon, steelhead, and pink stocks originating outside of Puget Sound are not federally managed, and thus do not have EFH established.

The Council is required to minimize the negative impacts of fishing activities on essential salmon habitat, such as the effects of fishing gear (to the extent the gear impacts habitat, or removes salmon prey species), the effect of salmon fishing on reducing nutrients in streams due to fewer salmon carcasses in the spawning grounds, the presence of marine debris and derelict gear, shellfish harvest, and recreational fishing activities. The Council may use gear restrictions, time and area closures, and harvest limits to reduce negative impacts on salmon EFH. However, the Council has not imposed such restrictions on the salmon fishery.

Highly migratory species EFH

Defining EFH for highly mobile species such as tuna, swordfish, and sharks is a challenging task, not unlike defining EFH for coastal pelagic species. These species range widely in the ocean, both in terms of area and depth, and often spawn well outside the U.S. EEZ. Their habitat is defined by temperature ranges, salinity, oxygen levels, currents, shelf edges, and seamounts, and varies substantially among species.

The fishery management plan for highly migratory species contains descriptions of their EFH. EFH for the tuna species generally encompasses Federal waters off southern California, but for albacore tuna adults, EFH extends north to the U.S.-Canada border. In addition, some species are nearer to shore than others, or prefer different temperature ranges. EFH for sharks varies, but is associated more with the EEZ off California that off the Pacific Northwest.

The Habitat Committee

The Council’s Habitat Committee (HC) provides advice to the Council on a wide variety of habitat-related issues.  The HC works with other advisory bodies on habitat issues, helps develop ways to resolve habitat problems and avoid future habitat conflicts, and makes recommendations for actions that will help achieve the Council’s habitat objectives. Meetings are open to the public.

EFH consultation

The National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for providing conservation recommendations for any Federal agency action that may adversely affect EFH.  Actions that occur outside of EFH, but that might affect the habitat, must also be taken into account. Private landowners do not need to consult with NMFS on private land activities (however, such activities may be subject to other regulations). Only if the project is funded, permitted, or authorized by a Federal agency and the project may adversely affect EFH is consultation with NMFS required. In addition, Councils and NMFS may issue conservation recommendations on state agency actions that may adversely affect EFH. 

Deep water habitat protections

As part of the review of Pacific Coast Groundfish EFH, concluded in 2018, the Council also approved habitat protections for benthic habitats deeper than 3500 meters. The Magnuson Act includes discretionary provisions that may be used to provide habitat or species protections in areas outside of designated EFH. The new provisions prohibit groundfish bottom contact fishing activities in all U.S. EEZ waters deeper than 3500 meters. Although there is no bottom contact fishing occurring in those areas, the Council would consider exempted fishing permit applications if someone wished to begin fishing there.

For more information, contact Council staff officer Kerry Griffin (Kerry.griffin@noaa.gov) or call the number on the front page of this fact sheet. For information on the Habitat Committee, contact Jennifer.Gilden@noaa.gov.