What We Do
NOAA Fisheries is the federal agency responsible for managing, conserving, and protecting living marine resources in inland, coastal, and offshore waters of the United States. We are one of several agencies within the Department of Commerce that work to improve our coastal and ocean resources.
We derive our mandates and authorities from numerous statutes, most significantly the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In the Northwest, we manage West Coast fisheries for Pacific salmon and over 90 species of groundfish; promote conservation and recovery of threatened and endangered fish; and manage and conserve marine mammals.
To ensure our management decisions are based on the best available science, NOAA Fisheries Northwest works closely with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. We also partner with local, state and federal agencies, tribes, stakeholders, and others to find science-based solutions to complex environmental issues.
Conserve & Recover Protected Species
Under our mission to protect marine species, we first biologically assess a species’ status to determine if it is “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. If it becomes “listed” under the ESA, we proceed with other protective measures and:
- Designate critical habitat;
- Develop protective regulations;
- Consult with other federal agencies to prevent harm to the species; and
- Work with community-based stakeholders to plan for long-term recovery so that species no longer need protections.
We oversee 18 listed Pacific salmon species and other ESA-listed fish such as eulachon (smelt), green sturgeon, and Puget Sound rockfish. In addition, we protect listed Puget Sound Southern Resident killer whales. We consult with federal agencies to make sure their actions, plans, and programs do not harm these species. We partner with states, watershed councils, tribes, and other entities to protect and restore these species and their habitats; and we provide funding through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the ESA section 6 grant program, and various killer whale programs to support the recovery of these animals.
Pacific salmon have a unique life cycle that includes time in both inland and ocean habitats. They have particular needs at each stage of this cycle. Young salmon need clean, cool water and safe passage to the ocean, where they spend 3 to 6 years feeding and growing. They then need healthy habitat when they return to freshwater as adults to spawn. The NOAA Fisheries Northwest organization reflects the uniqueness of the salmon life cycle with biologists and engineers who:
- Restore and protect important freshwater habitat for healthy rearing and spawning of salmon, such as riparian areas and floodplains
- Design safe fish passage solutions at hydropower facilities, such as federal and non-federal dams requiring federal licenses, and at water diversions throughout the Northwest;
- Manage hatcheries to minimize impacts on wild salmon populations; and
- Work with states and tribes to ensure sustainable commercial, recreational, and tribal fisheries.
In the United States, all marine mammals are protected by law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. This statute protects marine mammal populations to ensure they are functioning elements of their ecosystem. Of the 30 marine mammal species in the Pacific Northwest, some are abundant and healthy, such as harbor seals and gray whales, while others are protected under the Endangered Species Act, in addition to their protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In the Northwest, Southern Resident killer whales in Puget Sound are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA’s role is to be a steward of ocean fisheries in federal waters. We work with partners to manage salmon and groundfish fisheries in ocean and inland waters. We support salmon fisheries in the Columbia River and Washington Coast through funding and production of hatchery fish at Mitchell Act facilities, and we work with our international partners to fund and implement the Pacific Salmon Treaty. For West Coast groundfish, we employ catch shares and annual catch limits as a tool to rebuild fish stocks and promote healthy fishing communities. Our goal is to manage fisheries sustainably for future generations.
NOAA has a multi-faceted role in aquaculture, from supporting science and research to federal policy-making and regulation. The Northwest Region works closely with regional tribes, the states of Washington and Oregon, the aquaculture industry, and non-governmental organizations to improve opportunities to grow marine products, such as fish, shellfish, and algae locally. We also work with our partners to responsibly restore populations of native Olympia oysters, pinto abalone, and Pacific salmon.
For the latest news, photos, and more, connect with the Northwest Region:
Contact NOAA Fisheries
503.230.5400 in Portland, Oregon
206.526.6150 in Seattle, Washington