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Pacific Salmon Treaty: Agreement on 10-year extension of fishery arrangements announced
Conservation organization calls the reissuing "a missed opportunity"


May 22, 2008

The Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) today announced an agreement on a ten-year extension of fishery arrangements under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The agreement addresses a number of salmon fisheries in Southeast Alaska, including those near the British Columbia/Alaska border and on several rivers that cross between the two countries.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty, first signed in 1985, is a bilateral agreement under which the U.S. and Canada co-operate on management, research and enhancement of Pacific salmon that swim through the waters of both countries. Under the treaty, fishery arrangements put in place in 1999 expire at the end of December, 2008.

"Ten years ago, the commission had a much more difficult time reaching agreement, and the final negotiations had to be conducted at a government-to-government level," David Bedford, Alaska's representative on the PSC, said. "This time, the Commissioners, along with stakeholders and fisheries management staff up and down the coast, worked hard to conclude an agreement within the Commission process, and this ensured participation by the state and the affected people, organizations and communities."

"Throughout nearly two years of negotiations, the State of Alaska worked in close coordination with fishery representatives," he continued. "While we had to make some sacrifices to reach this agreement, we were convinced that this is a responsible agreement that provides stability for our fisheries and helps ensure the long-term health and sustainability of shared salmon resources."

For Chinook salmon, the most complex of the species covered under the treaty due to the geographic scope of their migration, the revised agreement:

  • maintains the fundamentals of the abundance­based management system established in 1999, which mandates that harvests vary up and down with productivity of the stocks, and has provided substantial benefits to Alaska fisheries.
  • recognizes that Chinook stocks in the area covered by the treaty vary in status with many being healthy and abundant while others are considered to be stocks of concern.
  • recognizes the depressed status of a number of stocks originating in southern B.C. and the U.S. Pacific Northwest (some of which are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act), and reduces the allowable Chinook catch levels for fisheries in in fisheries off the west coast of Vancouver Island in B.C. by 30%, and in Southeast Alaska by 15%.
  • requires the Commission to review the need for the continuation of these levels of reduction in 2014.
  • contains provisions to fund and conduct important programs to obtain additional information critical to conservation and fisheries management which will be of value in the 2014 review. The funding includes $10 million over 5 years to better account for salmon escapement and $15 million for improvements in fishery monitoring.

"The catch reduction is a tough position for us to accept," said Bedford, "but those of us who have been working hard on these talks, including representatives of southeast Alaskan fishing interests, recognized that there are expressed conservation concerns for a number of stocks and that reaching an agreement that mandates additional monitoring and analysis of these stocks should help answer questions about their status and significantly contribute to the review of the reduction that will take place in 2014."

For other Alaskan fisheries covered by the Treaty, the agreement revises fishery provisions for terminal area and in-river sockeye, coho, and Chinook fisheries on the Stikine, Taku, and Alsek rivers. The agreement builds upon the current abundance-based management system for conservation and harvest sharing, provides for additional harvest opportunities for sockeye through responsible stock enhancement on the Taku and Stikine rivers, and addresses possible future opportunities for fisheries on the Alsek River after coordinated stock assessment work.

For relevant fisheries in the boundary area between northern British Columbia and southern Southeast Alaska, negotiators recognized that the fishery arrangements established in 1999 are working well, and the new agreement extends those terms for another ten years. Key provisions in this area relate to the catch ceilings established for some B.C.-bound sockeye stocks harvested in the commercial seine fishery near Noyes Island and the commercial gillnet fishery at Tree Point.

However, Trout Unlimited, America's largest salmon and trout conservation organization based in Juneau, Alaska and Portland, Oregon , today called the reissuing of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between Canada and the U.S. "a missed opportunity" to better ensure healthy, sustainable salmon fisheries for the future that places too heavy a burden on salmon fishermen and coastal fishing communities. The Pacific Salmon Treaty, last renewed in 1999, governs the commercial harvest of Pacific salmon from the Pacific Northwest up through Southeast Alaska.

The Treaty, negotiated by Commissioners from the U.S. and Canada, will take effect in 2009. Trout Unlimited says that once implemented, the new Treaty will cut harvest of Chinook salmon for Southeast Alaska fishermen by 15 percent, and will also cut Canadian Chinook fishing off the West Coast of Vancouver Island by 30 percent. Although some of the toughest and most contentious negotiations circled around Chinook harvest, the Commissioners negotiated other shared fisheries as well, including coho and Transboundary River stocks. Other major provisions in the 2008 Treaty include funding from the U.S. to help Canada buy out salmon fishing licenses in British Columbia, as well as additional funding for improving data and analysis of Canadian and U.S. salmon stocks.

Considering that both Parties were unable to reach an agreement in the early-mid 90's - now referred to as the "Salmon Wars," which at one point led to the blockade of an Alaskan ferry by angry Canadian fishermen - it was no small feat for the Commissioners to reach an agreement this time around, especially given the growing number of ESA-listed Chinook stocks and this season's West Coast fishery closures.

Despite that, Trout Unlimited still believes it's critical for the Treaty to be a more comprehensive and holistic salmon management tool, focusing not just on the marine stage of the salmon life cycle, but the freshwater as well.

"From the outset, we've urged the Commission to use this once-in-a-decade opportunity to transform the Treaty from simply an allocation template into a living, long-term strategy to protect Pacific salmon and their ecosystems up and down the coast," said Jeff Curtis, Senior Policy Advisor for Trout Unlimited. "Unfortunately it appears that many of our recommendations for the use of better science, a real focus on habitat and more flexibility to adjust to ever-changing conditions in the ocean fell by the wayside in favor of the old, familiar regimes that ignore many of the problems and pit fishermen from different regions and different constituencies against one another."

"It's fair to ask fishermen to be accountable, and U.S. and Canadian fishermen have proved time and again they're willing, but it's an unfair and questionable strategy to lock onto the very end of the salmon life cycle and ignore all of the other links in the chain," said Tim Bristol, Alaska Director of Trout Unlimited. "Unfortunately we're seeing that up and down the coast, from the Sacramento to the Columbia to Southeast Alaska. Unless and until fishery managers and lawmakers show the willingness to factor in habitat loss, water quality and quantity, passage problems at dams, ocean cycles and myriad other factors impacting salmon before they ever even see a hook, and then show the courage to act on them, we'll continue to see fighting over an ever-shrinking pie until it's gone."

The Pacific Salmon Commission action is a recommendation to the U.S. and Canadian governments for formal approval. There are domestic processes in the respective countries that will take place in ensuing months, with the goal of having the revised fishery arrangements in place by January 1, 2009. In the U.S., the process for final approval by the State Department includes analysis by the National Marine Fisheries Service that the fishery arrangements meet Endangered Species Act requirements.



Sources of News:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Trout Unlimited


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska