WDFW LogoWashington Department of Fish & Wildlife
WDFW LogoConservation

Harvest - Overview

Role in Recovery

Kingston Release Conservation and Sustainable Opportunities
Salmon fishing has played an important role in the economy and culture of the Pacific Northwest for centuries. Today, salmon fisheries contribute approximately $175 million per year to Washington's economy, provide recreational opportunities for more than 150,000 anglers and sustain timeless tribal traditions.

To preserve this legacy, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has worked with tribal co-managers and NOAA Fisheries to develop an integrated harvest-management system that supports sustainable fisheries while protecting weak salmon populations.

A milestone in that effort was the development of "mark-selective" fisheries in the late 1990s, when WDFW began to restrict the catch to hatchery-reared salmon in specific areas. By mass-marking hatchery salmon before their release, WDFW made them readily identifiable on the fishing grounds.

This strategy has allowed fisheries to continue even in areas where wild salmon populations have been listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). In those areas, the inadvertent "take" of any listed fish is closely monitored to ensure compliance with strict federal conservation standards.

These conservation measures have brought significant changes to Washington's salmon fisheries, reducing the annual catch in many areas - particularly Puget Sound. At the same time, they have also preserved fishing opportunities throughout the state and the resources that make them possible.

Harvest: Then & Now

Then   Now
Opening Day Green Lake 1952   Puyallup Opening Day
  • Most hatchery fish are not fin-clipped before release, so fishers cannot distinguish them from wild fish

  • Fishing is regulated by time, location, and gear restrictions to limit impacts on wild fish while providing fishing opportunities

  • Limited biological basis for how much impact from fishing is allowed on wild fish

  • Hatchery and wild fish spawning in streams are counted as equal

  • ESA listed wild salmon and steelhead comprise a small percentage of fish on spawning grounds

  • Commercial and recreational fisheries distributed across salmon species

  • Most hatchery chinook, coho, and steelhead are fin-clipped before release, so fishers can distinguish them from wild fish

  • Fish managers are able to further limit impacts to wild fish while providing fishing opportunities because fishers can distinguish wild fish from hatchery fish

  • Productivity of wild fish is a major driver for how much impact from fishing is allowed

  • Assessments of spawning fish independently track hatchery and wild adults

  • More ESA listed wild salmon and steelhead make it to the spawning grounds

  • Commercial fisheries now prioritized on healthy wild stocks of sockeye, pink, and chum salmon; Recreational fisheries prioritized on healthy hatchery stocks of Chinook, coho, and steelhead.

Economic Benefits

Father and son fishing It is estimated that recreational fishers spent $904 million in Washington in 2006 pursuing species such as salmon, steelhead, trout, crab, and clams, with tourists to Washington State contributing over $65 million of those expenditures.

(Compiled by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: WDFW Publications)

Hatchery salmon and steelhead form the backbone of our fisheries with over 75% and 90% of the salmon harvested in Puget Sound and the Columbia River, respectively being hatchery origin, while over 90% of the steelhead harvested across the state are hatchery origin.

Local personal income generated from Puget Sound hatchery production: $11.4 million annually in commercial fisheries and $18.4 million in sport fisheries.

Local personal income from coastal hatchery production: $1.5 million annually in commercial fisheries and $7.6 million in sport fisheries.

Local personal income from Lower Columbia River hatchery production: at $1.5 million annually in commercial fisheries and $27.9 million in sport fisheries.

Collectively, local personal income from these three regions: $14.4 million in commercial fisheries and $53.9 million in sport fisheries.


Washington's salmon and steelhead fisheries are managed cooperatively in a unique government-to-government relationship.

One government is the state of Washington. The other governments are Indian tribes whose rights were established in treaties signed with the federal government in the 1850s. In those treaties, the tribes agreed to allow the peaceful settlement of much of western Washington, and provided the land to do so, in exchange for their continued right to fish, gather shellfish, hunt and exercise other sovereign rights.

A 1974 federal (U.S. v. Washington) court case (decided by U.S. District Court Judge George Boldt) re-affirmed the tribe's rights to harvest salmon and steelhead and established them as co-managers of Washington fisheries.

For more information how WDFW and Tribal Nations work together please go here >> Co-Management

WDFW Harvest Priorities

Girl with fish Fishery management must change to protect and restore wild salmon and steelhead. Future fishing opportunities will increasingly depend on our ability to focus fisheries on hatchery-produced fish while meeting or exceeding ESA, recovery, or conservation goals for wild salmon and steelhead.

WDFW must:
  • Expand selective fisheries to increase opportunities for recreational and commercial fishing on hatchery fish and reduce the harvest of wild salmon
  • Develop alternative commercial fishing gear to enable the selective harvest of hatchery fish while protecting wild fish
  • Improve fishery monitoring to assure that impacts to wild fish are accurately assessed
  • Ensure compliance with fishing regulations
  • Clearly identify fishery management objectives, review the status of wild salmon and steelhead, and adjust harvest rates to better protect at-risk stocks
For more information on
salmon recovery and conservation, please contact
the WDFW Fish Program.

For problems accessing this
website or data found on this
website, please contact