Council Guide: Part IV: Fishery Management Plans

The fisheries management process is based on fishery management plans (FMPs). An FMP is a set of management objectives and strategies for achieving them. Councils develop FMPs, amend them, and make decisions like setting harvest limits within the framework of existing FMPs. In their decision making, the Councils are required to use the best scientific information available and to meet the National Standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. They must also comply with the other Federal laws. The Council currently has FMPs for salmon, groundfish, coastal pelagic species, and highly migratory species, and has an ecosystem management plan that is used to integrate ecosystem information into the management process.

Councils do not manage harvesting of all fish species. There is not enough funding available to do so, and state or inter-state management works for many species. Councils focus their efforts on the major fisheries that require regional management. For the Pacific Fishery Management Council, those include the following categories.


The groundfish managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish FMP include more than 90 different species that, with a few exceptions, live on or near the bottom of the ocean. These are made up of rockfish, flatfish, roundfish, some sharks and skates, and other species.

Since there is such a wide variety of groundfish, many different gear types are used to target them. While the trawl fishery harvests most groundfish, they can also be caught with troll, longline, hook and line, pots, gillnets, and other gear.

The West Coast groundfish fishery is divided into four major sectors: limited entry commercial (trawl and fixed gear), open access commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries.

All sectors of the groundfish fishery are limited by the need to rebuild groundfish species that have been designated as overfished (bocaccio, cowcod, Pacific Ocean perch, canary rockfish, darkblotched rockfish, yelloweye rockfish, and petrale sole). Rebuilding plans for these species are in effect, and currently bocaccio, darkblotched rockfish, and petrale sole are predicted to be rebuilt by 2015. Because of the slow reproduction rate and small stock size of some species, the overall groundfish harvest has been significantly reduced.

Groundfish are managed through a number of measures including harvest guidelines, quotas, trip and landing limits, area restrictions, depth restrictions, size limits, seasonal closures, and gear restrictions (such as minimum mesh size for nets and small trawl footrope requirements for fishing on the continental shelf). The limited entry trawl sector is rationalized in a system of individual fishing quotas and harvest cooperatives. The limited entry fixed gear sector is comprised of fishermen who qualify for limited entry permits endorsed for line or pot/trap gears and who mainly target sablefish and some rockfish. The open access sector targets groundfish (mainly sablefish and slope rockfish) with fixed gear or other non-trawl gear, and also includes harvesters who incidentally catch groundfish in non-groundfish fisheries. In general, no trawl gear is allowed in this sector. The recreational sector includes anglers targeting groundfish species and others take groundfish incidentally using recreational gears and regulations. Recreational fisheries are managed by the coastal states in coordination with the Council. The tribal sector is made up of commercial tribal commercial fishermen who have a Federally recognized treaty right to fish for Federally-managed groundfish in their “usual and accustomed” fishing areas. These tribes, all located in Washington state, include the Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah. Formal allocations to these tribes exist for sablefish and Pacific whiting. Other groundfish species allocations for this sector are decided by annual Council action.

Groundfish Advisory Bodies:

Groundfish Management Team
Groundfish Advisory Subpanel
Groundfish Allocation Committee

Groundfish staff officers: John Devore, Kelly Ames

Highly Migratory Species

Highly migratory species (HMS) are fish that move great distances in the ocean to feed or reproduce. In their migrations, they may pass through the waters of several nations and the high seas. Their presence depends on ocean temperatures, availability of food, and other factors. Highly migratory species are sometimes called “pelagic,” which means they do not live near the sea floor, or “oceanic,” which means they live in the open sea. They are harvested by U.S. commercial and recreational fishermen and by foreign fishing fleets. Only a small fraction of the total harvest of most stocks is taken within U.S. waters.

Many different gear types are used to catch these species, including troll, drift gillnets, harpoon, pelagic longline, coastal purse seine, large purse seine, and hook-and-line. (Some of these gears are illegal in certain states). Recreational fishermen generally use hook-and-line gear.

The FMP for West Coast commercial fisheries covers north Pacific albacore, yellowfin, bigeye, skipjack, and northern bluefin tunas; common thresher, pelagic thresher, bigeye thresher, shortfin mako, and blue sharks; striped marlin and Pacific swordfish; and dorado (also known as dolphinfish or mahi-mahi). Because these species migrate across international boundaries, they are mainly managed through regional organizations such as the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which includes countries catching HMS in the Eastern Pacific.

The Department of State, along with NMFS, takes a lead role in negotiations at the international level. The Council provides a way for domestic constituents to channel management recommendations to the international level. The Council is also involved in deciding how measures agreed to at the international level will be applied to U.S. fisheries.

HMS advisory bodies:

HMS Management Team
HMS Advisory Subpanel

HMS staff officer: Kit Dahl

More information:

HMS Background
HMS fact sheet

Pacific Halibut

Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) are large flatfish found on the continental shelf from California to the Bering Sea. Halibut have flat, diamond-shaped bodies, can weigh up to 500-700 pounds, and can grow to nine feet long. The Council recommends Pacific halibut harvest regulations to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. It also sets limits on how many halibut can be caught in other fisheries managed by the Council, like the salmon troll and sablefish fisheries.

Halibut have been fished by native Americans on the West Coast for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The U.S. commercial fishery started in 1888, when halibut were first landed in Tacoma, Washington. Today, the U.S. West Coast non-Indian commercial directed halibut fishery uses a derby fishery system of ten-hour seasons and fishing period limits. Total catch is set up by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, but the Council allocates portions of the halibut catch to the commercial (non-Indian) fishery (including incidental salmon troll and directed halibut longlining); the incidental longline sablefish fishery; the sport fishery; and the treaty Indian commercial, ceremonial and subsistence fisheries.

Halibut are one of the most valuable fish species in the northern Pacific. Longlining is the main commercial gear used to target halibut. In 2003, about 89 million pounds of halibut were removed from the population through directed and incidental catch.

Halibut is also a very popular target for recreational anglers. Oregon, Washington, and California have catch limits for recreational halibut fishing, as with commercial and tribal halibut fishing. The demand for halibut sport fishing is so high that closed seasons, minimum size limits, bag limits, and possession limits are all used to control the recreational fishery and extend the season as long as possible.

Pacific halibut fishing is an important part of several tribal cultures, and many tribal members participate in commercial, ceremonial and subsistence fisheries. In 1995, the U.S. prohibited directed non-treaty commercial fishing north of Pt. Chehalis, Washington in order to allow the tribes to harvest their allocation of halibut.

Halibut advisory bodies: None

Halibut staff officer: Kelly Ames

More information:

Halibut Background Information
Halibut Fact Sheet


The Council manages ocean sport, commercial, and tribal salmon fisheries, while individual states manage recreational salmon fisheries in rivers and streams. Chinook and coho salmon are the main salmon species managed by the Council. In odd-numbered years, the Council may manage special fisheries near the Canadian border for pink salmon. Sockeye, chum, and steelhead are rarely caught in the Council’s ocean fisheries.

Salmon are affected by a wide variety of factors, including ocean and climatic conditions, dams, habitat loss, urbanization, agricultural and logging practices, water diversion, hatchery management, and predators (including humans). Salmon are an important source of spiritual and physical sustenance for Northwest tribal members, and they are symbolically important to many other residents of the Northwest.

Because salmon migrate so far when in the ocean, managing the ocean salmon fisheries is an extremely complex task. Several different regions and groups are involved in the salmon fishery:

  • Recreational: Ocean; inland marine (Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, coastal bays); freshwater (including Columbia River and Buoy 10)
  • Commercial: Treaty Indian and non-Indian ocean troll; Puget Sound troll, seine, and gillnet; Washington coastal bays gillnet; lower Columbia non-Indian gillnet; mid-Columbia treaty Indian gillnet
  • Tribal Ceremonial and Subsistence: Gillnet, dip net, and hook-and-line conducted in Puget Sound, Washington coastal bays, the Columbia River and other Washington rivers, and the Klamath River

The Council’s Salmon FMP describes the goals and methods for salmon management. Management tools such as season length, quotas, bag limits, and gear restrictions vary depending on how many salmon are present. There are two central parts of the FMP: an annual goal for the number of spawners of the major salmon stocks (“spawner escapement goals”) and allocation of the harvest among different groups of fishers (commercial, recreational, tribal, various ports, ocean, and inland). There are specific conservation goals and incidental take allowances for salmon stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act; the Council must comply with these conservation provisions.

Salmon advisory bodies:

Salmon Technical Team
Salmon Advisory Subpanel
Model Evaluation Workgroup

Salmon staff officer: Mike Burner

More information:

Salmon Background Information
Salmon Fact Sheet

Coastal Pelagic Species

Coastal pelagic species (CPS) include northern anchovy, market squid, Pacific bonito, Pacific saury, Pacific herring, Pacific sardine, Pacific (chub or blue) mackerel, and jack (Spanish) mackerel. “Pelagic” means these fish live in the water column as opposed to living near the sea floor. They can generally be found anywhere from the surface to 1,000 meters (547 fathoms) deep. Five of these species (Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, market squid, northern anchovy, and jack mackerel) are managed under the Council’s CPS Fishery Management Plan.

Coastal pelagic species are harvested directly and are also caught in other fisheries. Generally, they are targeted with “round-haul” gear including purse seines, drum seines, lampara nets, and dip nets. These species are also taken incidentally with midwater trawls, pelagic trawls, gillnets, trammel nets, trolls, pots, hook-and-line, and jigs.

Market squid, which make up the largest portion of the CPS fishery, are fished at night with the use of powerful lights that attract the squid to the surface. They are either pumped directly from the sea into the hold of the boat or caught with an encircling net.

Coastal pelagic species are found in the Exclusive Economic Zones of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., as well as in international waters outside the U.S. EEZ. Within the U.S. EEZ, sardines are caught by U.S. commercial fisheries, by party and charter boats, and by anglers. Beyond the U.S. EEZ, sardines are caught in Mexican and Canadian fisheries.

The CPS FMP prohibit the harvest of krill species. This proactive Council recommendation was intended to protect krill’s vital role in the marine ecosystem.

CPS advisory bodies:

Coastal Pelagic Species Management Team
Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel

Salmon staff officer: Kerry Griffin

More information:

CPS Background Information
CPS Fact Sheet