Canada and the United States declared an end to their long-running “salmon war” today with a fishing agreement officials said was designed to protect the dwindling fish stocks on the Pacific coast.
The treaty sets quotas for dividing the catch between the two countries’ fishermen for the next 10 years, and creates $140 million in conservation funds that will paid for by the United States but managed by both sides.
“Today we mark an end to the last several years of stalemate ... an end to the U.S.-Canada salmon war,” said Gov. Gary Locke of Washington state, which was part of the U.S. negotiating team.
Canadian Fisheries Minister David Anderson said the pact, which revises part of the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty, means the countries will be working together to increase salmon abundance rather than “fighting over a shrinking pie.”
The countries have been unable to set comprehensive quotas for salmon catches off Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon and Washington state since 1992 when the last agreement expired, and each side has accused the other of taking too many fish.
The stocks of coho, Chinook, sockeye and other salmon species have declined in recent years due to overfishing and environmental problems, including damage to the coastal rivers where the fish lay their eggs.
Salmon Cross Borders
The salmon are an international issue because fish that breed in Canadian rivers often swim through U.S. waters during annual spawning runs, and salmon heading to U.S. rivers can pass through Canadian territorial waters.
The dispute has erupted several times, with Canada seizing some U.S. boats and British Columbia once threatening to stop the U.S. Navy from access to a Canadian facility used to test submarines.
The most serious incident happened in the late summer of 1997, when a 200-boat flotilla of angry British Columbia fishermen blockaded an Alaskan ferry for three days in the harbor of Prince Rupert.
While Thursday’s agreement appeared to smooth the international waters, it threatened to ignite a political storm in British Columbia, where fishermen and officials have accused Anderson of being too soft on the United States.
“Canadians should be asking whether this agreement really addresses the need for the U.S. to stop fishing our weak stocks,” said John Radosevic, of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union.
Canada last summer sharply restricted salmon fishing off its coast, and the United States has moved to protect nine stocks of salmon and steelhead trout in the Pacific Northwest by listing them as endangered species.
Past efforts to negotiate new quotas have often snagged on Alaska’s objections to reducing its catch of Canadian-bound fish. Alaska has maintain any problems in Canada’s stocks are the result of weak Canadian environmental practices.
Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles said the agreement recognizes Alaska’s position that reducing fishing will not solve the problem if Canada and the United States do not better protect river breeding grounds.
Under the pact, Alaska and Washington state will reduce fishing on some stocks of Canadian-bound salmon. Canada will also reduce fishing on some salmon headed to the Pacific Northwest states.
Change Quota System
Anderson said the countries have also agreed to change the way they establish catch quotas in both countries to an “abundance-based” management system that will better protect weak stocks.
The existing system to set quotas made both sides fish as much as they could regardless of the stocks health, said Anderson, whose office barred fishermen and environmentalists from the news conference announcing the pact.
The $140 million will have to be approved by Congress, but the Clinton administration’s representative in the negotiations, Lloyd Cutler, said the White House did expect trouble.
President Clinton has already asked Congress for $100 million for salmon habitat restoration in the Pacific Northwest, and the funds announced Thursday will be in addition to the earlier request.
The agreement could face a challenge from Canadian aboriginal groups, who have special fishing rights, and are upset that they were excluded from the latest round of negotiations.
A representative of U.S. Indian tribes, who were included in the talks, praised the pact, and said it reflected an understanding that people to be more respectful to salmon as a “non-human neighbors.”