Developing & Promoting Responsible Fisheries

Our Approach

While our region has made significant strides over the past 30 years to restore lost habitat and reduce human impacts that harm wild fish recovery, little to no progress has been made to address unsustainable salmon harvest practices that have persisted throughout the Pacific Northwest for over a century. 

Through research, legal advocacy, and public education, we're working to advance an alternative, science-based framework that rethinks how, when, and where we fish for salmon in order to promote responsible and sustainable fisheries management.

Overfishing Mixed-stock Fisheries

In mixed-stock fisheries, healthy, harvestable salmon swim side by side with stocks threatened with extinction, making it impossible to protect those populations in the greatest need of recovery and leading to the failure of many populations to rebuild or recover from their currently depleted state.

Mixed-stock fisheries in the open ocean indiscriminately harvest fish from rivers throughout the coast, regardless of their status under the Endangered Species Act, causing coast-wide loss of wild salmon abundance, diversity, and size with devastating consequences for endangered Southern Resident orcas and local indigenous and fishing communities whose fish never return home.

Further compounding the problems created by mixed-stock fisheries are the limitations of conventional fishing gear that cannot effectively avoid or release threatened and endangered stocks unharmed.

"The biggest obstacle to salmon recovery is not a lack of science or a lack of scientists; rather, it is persuading management agencies to adopt a conceptual foundation that is consistent with current science and incorporates the precautionary dictates inherent to a place-based management approach."

The Failure of Wild Salmon Management: Need for a Place-Based Conceptual Foundation

The Original Place-based Fisheries

Historically, indigenous people of the northeastern Pacific fished for salmon when the fish returned to their natal rivers. Since they fished in or near the river, the impact of the fishery was confined to the river.

European colonists arrived and brought new technologies that helped fishermen expand how and where they could fish. Sail power, then gas and diesel engines and factory canneries forever changed the ability to exploit this rich new resource. Fishers were no longer confined to fishing the rivers near their communities. In the rich, new, ocean fishing grounds, fishers caught salmon that originated from many distant rivers. This shift to an ocean fishery represents the start of the mixed-stock fishery and the dilemma it poses for our region and the international managers that are now in charge of the fishery.

A new study published in BioScience suggests returning to historical indigenous fishing practices and systems of salmon management are key to restoring culturally and ecologically resilient Pacific salmon.

Our Initiatives

Wild Fish Conservancy's research and education campaigns are working to better inform the public, policy makers, and resource managers of the harmful role mixed-stock ocean fisheries and conventional fishing methods play in reducing the diversity, abundance, and size of wild salmon and steelhead.

Through our responsible fisheries initiatives, we are working to advance and advocate for solutions to these problems that are based on science, not politics, and that can benefit wild salmon, steelhead, orcas, and coastal communities into the future.

The Fish Trap Project

Far too often, threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead are harvested or die needlessly as a result of the limitations of today’s conventional fishing methods— impeding salmon and steelhead recovery, further reducing available prey for starving Southern Resident orcas, and forcing indigenous and other coastal communities to constrain or close fisheries entirely.

Searching for a solution, Wild Fish Conservancy began evaluating fish traps in 2016 to determine if this ancient fishing technique could be revitalized as an alternative commercial fishing method capable of aiding in the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead and providing new opportunities for coastal communities and their economies.

Learn more about this research project that is finally providing a solution to a century-old problem for the benefit of wild fish, orcas, fishers, and coastal communities alike.

Criteria for a Good Catch

Researchers from Wild Fish Conservancy, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the University of Montana are proposing an alternative framework for certifying wild salmon that recognizes the ecological inter-dependance between wild salmon and the natal watersheds where they spawn, rear and to which they are locally adapted.

Learn more about this framework published in Facets journal that is now being adopted by progressive companies like Patagonia Provisions that are committed to providing their consumers with products that meet this high standard.