What We Do
NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency responsible for managing, conserving, and protecting living marine resources in inland, coastal, and offshore waters of the United States. We are one of several agencies within the Department of Commerce that work to improve our coastal and ocean resources.
We derive our mandates and authorities from numerous statutes, most significantly the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Along the West Coast, we manage West Coast fisheries for salmon and steelhead, over 90 species of groundfish, coastal pelagics such as anchovy and sardine, and highly migratory species such as billfish, sharks and tunas; promote conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered fish; and manage and conserve marine mammals.
To ensure our management decisions are based on the best available science, NOAA Fisheries works closely with our Fisheries Science Centers. We also partner with local, state and federal agencies, tribes, stakeholders, and others to find science-based solutions to complex environmental issues.
Conserve & Recover Protected Species
Under our mission to protect marine species, we first biologically assess a species’ status to determine if it is “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. If it becomes “listed” under the ESA, we proceed with other protective measures and:
- Designate critical habitat;
- Develop protective regulations;
- Consult with other federal agencies to prevent harm to the species; and
- Work with community-based stakeholders to plan for long-term recovery so that species no longer need protections.
We oversee listed Pacific salmon species and other ESA-listed fish such as eulachon (smelt), green sturgeon, and Puget Sound rockfish. In addition, we protect listed Puget Sound Southern Resident killer whales and Black and White Abalone. We consult with federal agencies to make sure their actions, plans, and programs do not harm these species. We partner with states, watershed councils, tribes, and other entities to protect and restore these species and their habitats; and we provide funding through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the ESA section 6 grant program, and various killer whale programs to support the recovery of these animals.
Pacific salmon have a unique life cycle that includes time in both inland and ocean habitats. They have particular needs at each stage of this cycle. Young salmon need clean, cool water and safe passage to the ocean, where they spend 3 to 6 years feeding and growing. They then need healthy habitat when they return to freshwater as adults to spawn. NOAA Fisheries protects the unique salmon life cycle with biologists and engineers who:
- Restore and protect important freshwater habitat for healthy rearing and spawning of salmon, such as riparian areas and floodplains;
- Design safe fish passage solutions at hydropower facilities, such as federal and non-federal dams requiring federal licenses, and at water diversions throughout the region;
- Manage hatcheries to minimize impacts on wild salmon populations; and
- Work with states and tribes to ensure sustainable commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries.
In the United States, all marine mammals are protected by law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This statute protects marine mammal populations to ensure they are functioning elements of their ecosystem. Of the marine mammal species in the West, some are abundant and healthy, such as harbor seals and gray whales, while others are protected under the Endangered Species Act, in addition to their protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In the Northwest, Southern Resident killer whales in Puget Sound are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA’s role is to be a steward of ocean fisheries in federal waters. We work with partners to manage salmon, groundfish, and coastal pelagic species in ocean and inland waters. We also manage and work together internationally to make sure highly migratory fisheries are sustained and supported. We support salmon fisheries in the Columbia River and Washington Coast through funding and production of hatchery fish at Mitchell Act facilities, and we work with our international partners to fund and implement the Pacific Salmon Treaty. For West Coast groundfish, we employ catch shares and annual catch limits as a tool to rebuild fish stocks and promote healthy fishing communities. Our goal is to manage fisheries sustainably for future generations.
Conserving & Restoring Habitat
NOAA Fisheries protects, restores, and promotes stewardship of coastal and marine habitat to support our nation's fisheries for future generations. Our vision is a healthy and sustainable habitat that provides a range of benefits for abundant fish and wildlife, commercial and recreational opportunities, and resilient coastal communities that can withstand hurricanes, flooding, and other threats. Along the West Coast, NOAA Fisheries reviews and evaluates the impacts of development activities with the region on marine, estuarine, and anadromous fishery resources and their habitats, providing formal recommendations through NEPA or consultations with federal and state agencies to avoid, minimize and ease impacts to essential fish habitat. Continually conducting field work and interagency coordination ensures that damage, impact prevention, and fishery resource measures are scientifically sound.
NOAA has a multi-faceted role in aquaculture, from supporting science and research to federal policy-making and regulation. The West Coast Region works closely with regional tribes, the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, the aquaculture industry, and non-governmental organizations to improve opportunities to grow marine products, such as fish, shellfish, and algae locally. We also work with our partners to responsibly restore populations of native Olympia oysters, pinto abalone, and Pacific salmon.
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