FAQs: 2018 Status of Salmon Stocks

NOAA Fisheries determined in August 2018 that five Pacific salmon stocks are now “overfished” and one stock is “subject to overfishing.” 


Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon

Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon

Queets coho

Juan de Fuca coho

Snohomish coho

Subject to Overfishing

Upper Columbia River summer-run Chinook salmon


NOAA Fisheries notified the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) of these determinations in June and has published a notice in the Federal Register (August 6, 2018).

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), NOAA Fisheries monitors the status of federally managed fish stocks to ensure they are harvested and managed at sustainable levels.  If a stock is determined to be “subject to overfishing,” measures must be put in place to end the overfishing.  If a stock is determined to be “overfished,” a rebuilding plan must be developed to rebuild the population to sustainable levels. 

What do overfishing/overfished determinations mean?

Each federal fishery management plan (FMP) includes criteria for managed stocks that are used to make stock status determinations, and these must be consistent with the MSA.  For salmon stocks along the West Coast, the Pacific Coast Salmon FMP outlines these criteria as part of the management framework for 67 Pacific salmon species. 

Subject to Overfishing

Generally, when harvest of a particular fish stock exceeds the allowable exploitation rate, then the stock is determined to be “subject to overfishing.” This does not mean the stock is overfished, but rather that the rate of fishing exceeds what is considered sustainable for the stock, and if that rate of fishing were to continue, then it could lead deplete the stock’s population leading to an overfished determination.

Approaching Overfished

Salmon stocks are managed to allow sufficient numbers of mature salmon to escape harvest (called “escapement”) and return to fresh water to spawn.  Under the Salmon FMP, to ensure long-term sustainability, each salmon stock must meet its prescribed escapement level.  For determining whether a salmon stock is “approaching overfished,” its escapement is considered over a three-year period.  When its escapement forecast in the current year combined with actual escapement in the two previous years falls short of the level prescribed in the FMP, then the stock is determined to be “approaching overfished.” Managers then shape salmon fisheries for the upcoming year to increase escapement for the stock, to avoid a potential “overfished” determination in the coming year(s).   


When a salmon stock’s actual spawning escapement averaged over a three-year period (specifically, the geometric mean of the most recent three years) falls below the level specified in the Salmon FMP, the stock is determined to be “overfished.” This term is used regardless of whether fishing was the cause of insufficient escapement or other factors are subsequently determined to be the primary cause.  An overfished determination indicates that the stock is depressed and signals conservation concern.  Under these conditions, a rebuilding plan must be developed to improve the escapement, generally rebuilding the stock within 10 years. 

How were these determinations made? When will they be re-assessed?

Each year, state, federal, and tribal fisheries biologists review and advise the Council of the status of salmon stocks managed under its jurisdiction.  This review is published each February and March in the Council’s annual Review of Ocean Salmon Fisheries and Preseason Report I:  Stock Abundance Analysis, which are available on the Council’s website (www.pcouncil.org).  

The 2018 reports indicated that harvest of the Upper Columbia River summer-run Chinook salmon stock had exceeded the allowable exploitation rate specified in the Salmon FMP, leading to the determination it was subject to overfishing.  The determination was based on the most recent data available, which for the Upper Columbia River summer-run Chinook salmon stock was from 2015.  The projected exploitation rate for 2015 was 89% compared to the allowable exploitation rate of 75%.  The overfishing determination ends when the observed annual exploitation rate no longer exceeds specified limits in the FMP.  The Council’s next review will be published in the March 2019 Preseason Report I and will indicate whether the overfishing determination should continue.

The three-year geometric mean escapements for Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon, Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon, Queets coho salmon, Juan de Fuca coho salmon, and Snohomish coho salmon published in the Review of 2017 Ocean Salmon Fisheries indicated that recent average escapement has fallen short of escapement goals set in the Salmon FMP.  In response, the Council recommended management measures to NOAA Fisheries that greatly restricted ocean harvest impacts on these stocks in 2018. In the meantime, the Council is developing rebuilding plans for these stocks. 

Does the overfishing determination mean these salmon are going to be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

No, this determination is made under the MSA and is not related to any ESA listing decisions.  Recently, however, NOAA Fisheries received a petition to list Chinook salmon from the Klamath-Trinity River Basin under the ESA, and Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon is one component of the stocks under review.  That ESA status review, to determine if the petitioned actions are warranted, is currently underway.  

How did the overfishing occur?

In short, the harvest or exploitation rate for the Upper Columbia River summer-run Chinook salmon stock exceeded what was anticipated in the management plan by 14 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which this can be assessed.  Ocean harvest off Alaska and British Columbia and, to a lesser extent, off Washington and Oregon contribute to impacts on Upper Columbia River summer-run Chinook salmon.  Fisheries managers work together under the international Pacific Salmon Treaty and other agreements to limit fisheries impacts, but sometimes unanticipated changes in abundance, migration patterns or fisheries occurring prior to those in the southern U.S. cause them to exceed the limits.  The overfishing determination signals that further scrutiny is warranted and harvests may need to be reduced if the situation continues.  Although the harvest rate for this stock recently exceeded what was anticipated, abundance of the stock provided ample escapement well above the escapement goals set in the salmon FMP.

How did the overfished status occur?

Escapement for the two overfished Chinook salmon stocks has declined since 2013 for Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon and 2014 for Klamath River fall-run Chinook salmon.  To improve escapement, fishery managers have reduced harvest in California and southern Oregon in recent years.  Washington coho stocks had strong returns in 2014, but 2015 had unanticipated low returns for all of these stocks.  Most rebounded in 2015, but the three overfished stocks (Queets, Juan de Fuca, and Snohomish) have not.  The Council’s Salmon Technical Team, which includes biologists from NOAA Fisheries, are working with co-managing agencies to identify causes for the declines of the five overfished stocks.

Are Pacific salmon fisheries sustainable?

Yes, federally managed U.S. fisheries, including Pacific salmon fisheries, are managed sustainably through a dynamic and public process that uses the best science available under the MSA. Stock status determinations are part of this science-based management process, ensuring continued monitoring and signaling when caution is necessary.  This approach has earned the U.S. a strong reputation as a global leader in sustainable fisheries management.

If these stocks are subject to overfishing and overfished, why are we still harvesting them?

Harvest may still occur in this situation, and management measures were thoughtfully established this year to account for the stocks’ status. The overfishing determination was based on data from 2015 and the overfished determinations are based on compiled data from 2014 through 2017. The Council and NOAA Fisheries responded to weak Chinook and coho salmon stock forecasts by severely restricting, or even prohibiting, retention of salmon in ocean fisheries in areas where the affected stocks are most vulnerable to fishing. Depending on the reason for lower escapements, reductions in harvest are often sufficient to increase escapement and resolve the overfishing and overfished events.  Post-season assessments will inform fishery managers how effective these measures were in addressing these recent trends, and NOAA Fisheries and the Council will take action to rebuild any stocks that remain overfished.

What happens next?

If Upper Columbia River summer-run Chinook salmon remain subject to overfishing next year, NOAA Fisheries will work with the Council to examine the contribution of non-Council managed fisheries to overfishing and alert the managers of fisheries with significant impacts on the involved stocks, as recommended in the FMP.  For the overfished stocks, NOAA Fisheries has informed the Council of the overfished determination and the Council is developing rebuilding plans for each of these stocks.  The MSA allows two years for development and implementation of rebuilding plans. In the interim, salmon fisheries will be managed with the goal of each of these stocks achieving its prescribed escapement specified in the FMP.