Salmon and Steelhead Fisheries in the Mainstem Columbia River and Snake River
Salmon and steelhead fisheries in the mainstem Columbia and Snake rivers are cooperatively managed by the states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, the Columbia River Treaty Tribes, and the federal government.
Management of fisheries in the mainstem portions of the Columbia and Snake rivers occurs under the authority of the United States v. Oregon Management Agreement (see description below). These fisheries are managed under Treaties between the U.S. and American Indian Tribes, state laws, the Columbia River Compact, the Pacific Salmon Treaty, and federal laws including the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).
Mainstem Columbia and Snake River
The map below displays the areas of the Columbia River managed for fisheries under the United States v. Oregon Management Agreement. These areas include the Columbia River mainstem and the Snake River to the Washington and Idaho border. The orange rectangles represent the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
What is United States v. Oregon?
United States v. Oregon is the ongoing Federal court proceeding that was brought in 1968 to enforce the reserved fishing rights of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. In the United States v. Oregon proceedings, the court ruled that the regulatory power of the states over Indian fishing is limited because of the treaties made between the United States and the tribes in 1855. These treaties reserved up to 50% of the salmon harvest to the tribes and established the rights of tribes to fish in their “usual and accustomed” areas. Fisheries in the Columbia River are managed by the terms of the United States v. Oregon Management Agreement under the authority of the federal court.
Management of Columbia River Fisheries
The graphic below illustrates the United States v. Oregon management process, the participating parties, and the regulations that dictate management of Columbia River fisheries.
What is the United States v. Oregon Management Agreement?
The United States v. Oregon Management Agreement ensures equitable sharing of harvestable fish between tribal and non-tribal fisheries. The Management Agreement also conserves ESA-listed species, and provides the framework for management of fisheries and hatchery programs in much of the Columbia River Basin.
The participants in the current Management Agreement include: the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Both Treaty and non-treaty fisheries are addressed in the Management Agreement. The Agreement includes harvest sharing arrangements between the Treaty and non-treaty parties to the agreement, and the conservation objectives for various fish species managed under the Agreement. Additionally, the Agreement includes provisions for research, monitoring, and dispute resolution among the parties. The Treaty Tribes’ fisheries include commercial, ceremonial, and subsistence (C&S) fisheries ensured by treaties. Non-treaty fisheries include all state fisheries and tribal fisheries conducted by tribes that do not have treaty fishing rights.
Planning Process for Columbia River Fisheries
Fisheries managers meet regularly throughout each year to review information, set regulations and seasons, and plan fisheries. An overview of the procedure is shown below.
Forecasts are made for each of the salmon stocks to estimate the number of salmon that may return to the Columbia River during a given year. These forecasts are based on the returns of the stocks in previous years. Forecasts are completed early in the calendar year.
Tribal and state fishery managers propose fishing plans that meet conservation and fish harvest goals. Interested parties review the salmon forecasts and scientific reports. Based upon the information provided, managers determine the amount of salmon available for harvest.
NOAA Fisheries verifies the plans to ensure they comply with the ESA and other federal laws. Meetings are held to provide the public with a chance to review and comment on the plans. This occurs after the forecasts are made and before the fisheries begin.
Monitor and Adjust
During the season, fishery managers monitor catch and returns from the various salmon stocks. Differences from pre-season predictions may lead to changes in fishery management strategies to meet conservation and harvest goals. The modifications include changes in the allowable salmon catch and the times and areas open to fishing. This occurs throughout the season.
When the season is over, fishery managers estimate the number of salmon caught and the number of salmon that returned to spawning grounds and hatcheries. The information is used to reconstruct the run of each salmon stock that returned during the year, assess the year’s fishery performance relative to expectations, and make improvements in management tools where appropriate. This occurs late in the year and then the planning process begins again.
Joint Staff Reports
The Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife prepare yearly Joint Staff Reports which provide detailed information on the status of salmon and the management guidelines for Columbia River fisheries.
What is the Columbia River Compact?
The Columbia River Compact (Compact) is an agreement between Oregon and Washington ratified by Congress. Together, the two states set non-tribal commercial fishing regulations for waters of the Columbia River where they share jurisdiction. In the Compact, the two states agreed that laws would be amended or adopted only by mutual consent. Congress ratified the Compact in 1918, and by congressional and statutory authority, the Compact adopts seasons and rules for Columbia River commercial fisheries. Under the Compact, the states consider the effect of non-tribal commercial fisheries on treaty rights, fish escapement, and impacts on species that are listed under the ESA.
While the Columbia River Compact applies only to non-tribal commercial fisheries, the states also apply the principle to recreational fisheries occurring in the waters of the Columbia River. Recreational fisheries are set during Joint State Hearings.
What is the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission?
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) was formed in 1977 by the four tribes with treaty fishing rights in the Columbia River: the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. These tribes use salmon for ceremonial, subsistence, and commercial purposes, and view salmon as essential to both their cultures and the region’s ecosystem. CRITFC works on behalf of its member tribes to help coordinate their fisheries resource management goals and restore Columbia Basin salmon runs. CRITFC conducts fisheries research, fisheries management, and planning for tribal salmon fisheries in the Columbia River between Bonneville and McNary dams.
What is the role of NOAA Fisheries in mainstem Columbia and Snake River Fisheries?
In the United States v. Oregon Management Agreement, NOAA Fisheries has a role as a manager and tribal trustee to ensure that fisheries are consistent with the provisions and obligations of the United States v. Oregon Management Agreement.
NOAA Fisheries also works with the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and the Columbia River Treaty Tribes to ensure that fisheries comply with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Several species of Pacific salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin are listed under the ESA.
ESA-listed salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River basin
- Lower Columbia River
- Upper Columbia River Spring-run
- Snake River Spring/Summer-run
- Snake River Fall-run
- Upper Willamette River
- Lower Columbia River
- Middle Columbia River
- Upper Columbia River
- Snake River Basin
- Upper Willamette River
What is the North of Falcon process?
The North of Falcon (NOF) process is a pre-season planning process between state, federal, and tribal fishery managers, and commercial and recreational representatives. The objectives of the NOF process is to ensure that fisheries meet legal, allocation, and conservation objectives for salmon stocks that return to NOF waters. The NOF process involves the planning and management of ocean and freshwater salmon fisheries between Cape Falcon, Oregon, and the Canadian border, and includes fisheries in the Columbia River, Puget Sound, and inland Washington coastal waters. The NOF process includes a series of public meetings with Federal, state, tribal, and industry representatives.
The NOF planning process is closely coordinated with the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) meetings that occur in March and April every year. The PFMC establishes salmon seasons that occur from 3 to 200 miles off the West Coast states. The coordination of ocean and freshwater fisheries is important to make sure that conservation and allocation goals are met, and that the responsibility of conservation is shared among the fisheries and parties.
Learn more about:
- North of Falcon Information
- North of Falcon process from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (PDF, 1 page)
- Several public meetings are held throughout the North of Falcon process. Find a schedule of when public meetings occur and how to join NOF meetings.
Connections between Fisheries and Forums
This image shows the relationship between the Pacific Salmon Commission, North of Falcon process, Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), and the fisheries of Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Although separate, each contributes, supports, and is interrelated with the management of Pacific salmon and steelhead on the West Coast.
How can I get involved?
Oregon and Washington set seasons and regulations for recreational and commercial fisheries through Joint State and/or Compact Hearings. These hearings are open to the public and allow for public comments.