Puget Sound Salmon and Steelhead Fisheries
Puget Sound fisheries are co-managed by Treaty Tribes and the Washington State government. Salmon fisheries occur in the marine regions of the U.S. waters of the Salish Sea. Salmon and steelhead fisheries also occur in the freshwater systems of this area.
Puget Sound fisheries provide tribal, ceremonial and subsistence, recreational, and tribal and non-tribal commercial harvest. The co-managers of these fisheries are the Treaty Indian Tribes who fish in the Puget Sound region and the government of Washington state. The co-managers oversee the fisheries under the Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan and the jurisdiction of United States v. Washington. In the spring of each year, the pre-season preparation for Puget Sound fisheries occurs at the same time as the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the broader North of Falcon processes. These forums work together to meet salmon conservation goals and fish harvest objectives for tribal and state fisheries in both freshwater and ocean environments.
Puget Sound fisheries locations
Puget Sound salmon fisheries occur in the marine areas of Puget Sound, the U.S. waters of the Southern Strait of Georgia, and the U.S. waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca out to Cape Flattery on the northwest coast of Washington. Salmon and steelhead fisheries are also located in most of the river systems that flow into this area.
For more information on:
- Puget Sound Salmon Management and Catch Reporting Areas
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Area maps
Historical Fisheries in Puget Sound
Puget Sound tribal communities and families who historically lived in the region subsisted mainly on salmon, steelhead, and other marine and coastal animals and plants. Salmon was, and remains, not just a food source for tribal communities, but a ceremonial and spiritual resource central to tribal culture and an iconic species to the broader Northwest. From 1854 to 1856, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens negotiated several treaties with the native tribes of Puget Sound. The treaties were: the Treaty of Point Elliot, The Treaty of Medicine Creek, the Point-No-Point Treaty, and the Treaty of Neah Bay. In these treaties, the native people of Western Washington relinquished their territory in exchange for the U.S. promise that the local tribes would retain small reservation homelands. Additionally, local tribes reserved their rights to fish, hunt, and gather resources they depend on at traditional locations off the reservations.
What is United States v. Washington?
During the 1960s and 70s, several high-profile cases involving tribal fishing and the state of Washington’s law enforcement actions against fishermen concluded in the United States v. Washington court case, also known as the Boldt decision. In 1970 the United States, on its own behalf and as a representative of Pacific Northwest tribes, sued the state of Washington in federal court. The case was based on the fishing section of the treaties signed by Pacific Northwest tribes in the 1850s, which stated that tribes could continue to fish in their traditional fishing locations. In 1974, U.S. District Judge George H. Boldt decided that language in the treaties meant that the treaty tribes have a right to take up to 50 percent of the harvestable fish returning to each river and migrating through the tribes “usual and accustomed” areas. Non-treaty fisheries have a right to the other 50 percent. The decision established that tribes have treaty-reserved fishing rights to harvest fish at traditional tribal fishing locations. Additionally, the treaty language was interpreted as a promise of protection for the treaty tribes’ supply of fish to provide the tribes with a livelihood. The case enforces and implements reserved fishing rights for treaty tribes for salmon and steelhead in western Washington.
Learn more about United States v. Washington:
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission supports 20 treaty tribes in western Washington in their roles as natural resources managers. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) was established after the United States v. Washington ruling of 1974 (the Boldt decision). The decision reaffirmed treaty-reserved fishing rights and acknowledged the member tribes as co-managers with Washington State in salmon harvest management. Member tribes of the NWIFC are: Lummi, Nooksack, Swinomish, Upper Skagit, Sauk-Suiattle, Stillaguamish, Tulalip, Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Nisqually, Squaxin Island, Skokomish, Suquamish, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Lower Elwha Klallam, Makah, Quileute, Quinault, and Hoh. Each of the tribes manages their own fisheries and works with the State of Washington and the other Treaty Tribes to collectively manage salmon fisheries.
- Learn more about Puget Sound treaties and tribes with the Northwest Indian Fishery Commission
- Tribal rights in Western Washington
Management of Puget Sound Fisheries
Salmon and steelhead fisheries in Puget Sound are jointly managed by the 17 Puget Sound Treaty Indian Tribes and the State of Washington (through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) under the authority of United States v. Washington. These parties together are known as the co-managers. The co-managers developed the Puget Sound Salmon Management Plan in 1985. The Plan provided a framework to guide conservation, allocation, and fair sharing principles based upon the standards determined from United States v. Washington. The Plan outlines and describes the foundation for the development of management goals and salmon harvest amounts. The Plan also contains conditions for yearly evaluation of and revision to the management framework, and proposes methods for the exchange of information and resolution of disputes. The State of Washington and Treaty Tribes must also manage their fisheries based on the obligations described in the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
What is the North of Falcon process?
Each year, Puget Sound fisheries are planned as part of the North of Falcon process. The NOF process provides for pre-season planning for management of ocean and freshwater salmon fisheries between Cape Falcon (on the north Oregon coast) and the Canadian border. The process includes fisheries in the Columbia River, Puget Sound, and inland Washington waters. Participants consist of state, federal, and tribal fishery managers, and commercial and recreational representatives. The process includes a series of public meetings with state, tribal, recreational and commercial fishing representatives, and the public.
The annual NOF process is closely coordinated each year with the Pacific Fishery Management Council March and April meetings. The PFMC establishes ocean salmon seasons that occur from 3 to 200 miles off the West Coast states. The coordination of ocean, inland marine (such as those in Puget Sound), and freshwater fisheries ensures coordinated and comprehensive fisheries management to meet conservation goals.
Learn more about:
- North of Falcon process, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife page
- North of Falcon timeline of process
Connections between Fisheries and Forums
This image illustrates the relationship between the forums of the Pacific Salmon Commission, North of Falcon process, Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the fisheries of Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Although separate management forums, each contributes, supports, and is interrelated with the management of Pacific salmon and steelhead on the West Coast.
What is the role of NOAA Fisheries in Puget Sound Fisheries?
NOAA Fisheries works with tribal and state co-managers to develop annual and long-term harvest plans for Puget Sound salmon and steelhead fisheries that are consistent with the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Puget Sound Chinook salmon and Hood Canal summer chum salmon were both listed as threatened in 1999 under the ESA. Puget Sound steelhead were listed as threatened in 2007 under the ESA. NOAA Fisheries works with the co-managers to protect and conserve ESA-listed Puget Sound salmon. The Puget Sound co-managers have managed Puget Sound fisheries through yearly or multi-year agreements reviewed by NOAA Fisheries beginning in 2000. NOAA Fisheries also ensures that fisheries management complies with the Pacific Salmon Treaty as implemented through the Pacific Salmon Commission.
How can I get involved?
Public involvement is an important part of Puget Sound fisheries management. Some of the ways you can get involved include: