Fishermen's News - The Advocate for the Commercial Fisherman

By Tom Ewing 

Pacific Salmon Fisheries: 2018 Inseason Management Measures


February 1, 2019

On December 11, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published its final 2018 “inseason actions” for Pacific salmon fisheries. Inseason actions are part of a continuum of fishery control efforts. Inseason actions modify NMFS’ “management measures” presented at the start of the salmon season; published May 1 in 2018.

Without inseason actions the fishery season would be inflexible, out of sync with actual oceanic conditions. Inseason actions must ally with goals pertaining to conservation and allocation, Indian fishing rights and obligations under the Pacific salmon Treaty. There are many types of inseason actions. Examples include adjustments in landing limits and days open for non-Indian commercial fisheries, transferring unused or exceeded quota to subsequent fisheries and closing fisheries if necessary.

Because salmon fisheries are managed in real time the efficacy and relevance of start-of-season management measures are under constant review. Fishermen, of course, know to be on the lookout for inseason actions, which are announced via NMFS’ telephone hotline and via the USCG Notice to Mariners broadcasts.

Federal regulations require NMFS, “as soon as practicable,” to publish a record of all inseason actions. The December listing included twenty-six inseason actions, the final of a total of 37 in 2018.

When viewed altogether the complete list provides a critical, big-picture perspective, demonstrating just how closely and constantly federal and state fishery managers work to maintain a healthy and sustainable fishery and try to meet the demands of commercial, recreational and tribal fishermen. Fishery scientists collect data on salmon populations via a number of methods, including weir/dam counts, carcass and redd (nest) surveys and electrofishing. This data is used to forecast the management measures likely necessary for an upcoming fishing season.

Of the 37 total inseason actions, the 26 published on December 11 form the most extensive list. By comparison, inseason action #1 was singular, announced on March 13 (published on June 4).

But that first action was huge: it cancelled commercial and recreational ocean salmon fisheries south of Cape Falcon, Oregon to Pigeon Point, California (about 40 miles south of San Jose) – fisheries previously scheduled to open in March and April 2018. Management of the salmon fisheries is generally divided into two geographic areas: North of Cape Falcon (US/ Canada border to Cape Falcon, Oregon) and south of Cape Falcon (Cape Falcon, Oregon to the US/Mexico border).

The reason for the cancellation: to limit impacts on Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon (KRFC) and Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon (SRFC). Neither stock achieved its conservation objectives in 2017; each met the criteria identified in the Pacific Coast salmon Fishery Management Plan as being overfished. State officials from Oregon and California recommended the cancellation based on –

• spawning escapement and abundance history;

• the stocks’ 2018 abundance forecasts; and,

• projected fishery impacts in 2018.

The West Coast Regional Administrator (RA) then determined that this “inseason action was necessary to meet conservation and management objectives for these stocks.”

It’s important to keep in mind that this first inseason action occurred prior to May 1, the start of the 2018-2019 salmon season. Then, the May 1 Notice set the management policies and allowances for the new season.

For example, consider the fishing, and fishing strategies, allowed in one salmon fishery sub-area, from Humbug Mountain, Oregon, to the Oregon/California border – the Oregon Klamath Management Zone (KMZ).

The management plan announced on May 1 by NMFS set new allowances for the Oregon KMZ, previously closed through April by inseason action No.1. NMFS planned to reopen that sub-area on selected dates in May, June, July and August. Among other details, the plan set catch quotas and limits, e.g., May and June allowed a 1,500 per vessel Chinook quota, increasing to 2,000 in July, but dropping back to 500 in August. Importantly, the agency allowed that “any remaining portion of a monthly Chinook quota may be transferred inseason on an impact neutral basis to the next open quota period.”

Fish and fisheries are under close watch. On June 27, the KMZ catch was revisited and inseason action No. 10 reduced the upcoming July allowance, adjusted down from 2,000 landings per vessel to 1,975 because the June landings were too high: 1,556 instead of the allotted 1,500. These numbers aren’t pulled out of thin air. They are calculated, based on models that include recent landings, fishery efforts and statistics and data tracked and developed by the Council’s salmon Technical Team (STT).

Again, the analytics don’t stop. Managers looked ahead to August, with three planned open sessions: August 3–7, 13–17, and 25–29, or a 500 Chinook quota. That quota was changed big-time by inseason action No. 21 on August 2.

Recall that any remaining portion of a quota may be transferred inseason on an impact neutral basis to the next open quota period. Whereas the allowance was reduced from June to July, it went way up in August, from 500 to 1,430 Chinook per vessel. Why? Again, officials considered landings to date and the SST’s calculations. Their assessment: an “unused July quota” could be rolled over to August, an increase shared fifty-fifty among tribes and non-tribes. Tribal fishermen are frustrated with recent salmon allowances, calling the numbers too low, insufficient for tribal needs.

Halibut is affected by salmon fisheries, caught incidental to salmon and halibut landings are closely watched. For example, inseason action No. 13, on July 13, suspended retention of Pacific halibut caught incidental to salmon. That suspension started the next day, July 14. State officials acted after updating landings data to determine the amount of Pacific halibut allocation that remained, to avoid exceeding that allocation. This wasn’t just for the Oregon KMZ but for the entire Pacific, at least the US portion from Canada to Mexico.

On July 24, however, inseason action No. 15 cancelled the suspension. Starting July 26, until August 8, managers set a retention allowance, although a bit more complicated: The commercial salmon fishery could keep five incidentally caught Pacific halibut, with revised landing and possession limits of no more than one Pacific halibut per each three Chinook salmon, except one Pacific halibut could be possessed or landed without meeting the ratio requirement, and no more than 10 halibut could be possessed or landed per trip. (For compliance, probably not an easy message via telephone hotline or Coast Guard broadcast.)

Fishery managers calculated that inseason action No. 15 allowed access to the remaining allocation of Pacific halibut but did not exceed that allocation. Also important: “inseason action was needed to meet management objectives set preseason.” Management objectives are concerns throughout all of the inseason actions, not just the KMZ examples referenced here. There are at least 12 major sub-areas in the Pacific salmon management zones, again, extending from Canada to Mexico; each sub-area may be impacted by specific inseason actions.

Consider, for example, efforts taken on August 8 – inseason action No. 23 – to sustain the recreational fishery in the Columbia River subarea. To meet management objectives, NMFS managers, via inseason transfers, regularly move numerical blocs of fish around, decreasing their accountings in one area in order to augment numbers in other areas.

No. 23 transferred a quota of 3,000 coho salmon to the Columbia River subarea – 2,400 from the commercial salmon fishery north of Cape Falcon, Oregon, and 600 from the recreational salmon fishery in the Westport subarea. The objective: to prolong the Columbia River subarea recreational salmon fishery, scheduled to remain open through September 3, 2018, but which was exhausting its coho quota.

However, on August 23, inseason action No. 27 cancelled the transfer, returning the bloc of fish after managers determined that “none of the 2,400 coho quota previously transferred was landed in the recreational fishery.”

One core objective for fishery managers is to protect and sustain the fishery. Equally, though, managers seek to provide as much access as warranted, so that fishermen and the industry of fishing work more, not less. Fishery managers don’t crunch the numbers for academic reasons. Good numbers can mean more work.

When viewed in full, inseason actions raise questions: Did they work? How are they judged as successful, or not?

There are no exact answers for a science defined by surrogates and proxies.

Peggy Mundy is an NMFS program manager who works with the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Mundy said that fishery management is evaluated based on three main criteria, an effort that starts after the Council produces its annual Review of Ocean salmon Fisheries, due in February. This Review analyzes landings, fishing effort, and economic impacts.

“We measure success by several metrics,” Mundy explained.

Did we optimize catch without exceeding quotas?

Did we provide fishing opportunity consistent with the goals set preseason?

Did fishery impacts remain within the impacts forecast preseason?

As answers move closer and closer to a definitive, big-picture “Yes,” based on consistent, reliable data, that’s when programs and efforts may be cast as successful. This look-back then restarts the whole process: trying to set the management measures needed by next May to keep fisheries healthy, sustainable – and open for fishing.


This article is written as the federal government shutdown continues into its second week. The Department of Commerce (which includes NOAA and NFMS) has a document called “Plan for Orderly Shutdown” listing critical functions, staffed by employees in “Excepted Positions,” to continue despite the budget craziness. Fisheries functions include:

Weather, water, and climate observing, prediction, forecast, warning, and support;

• Law enforcement activities for the protection of marine fisheries; and,

• Fisheries management activities including quota monitoring, observer activities, and regulatory actions to prevent overfishing.

Business as usual, then, at least for a while. Keep in mind that the regulatory activities for Pacific salmon season are sequential and specific. Budget issues could eventually upset those NMFS activities, schedules and deadlines.

Tom Ewing is a freelance writer specializing in environmental, energy and transportation issues.


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