Pacific Salmon Treaty Threatened by Poor King Salmon Runs

In 1985, Canada and the United States signed the Pacific Salmon Treaty. This treaty was established “for the conservation, rational management, and optimum production of Pacific Salmon”. It provided for both countries to set limits, share information, and improve habitat. One key disagreement the treaty sought to resolve was the “overharvest by one country of the other country’s fish.” For the past three years, poor salmon runs have caused Alaska not to meet its treaty commitments. This year’s salmon runs are also in jeopardy.

Will there be enough salmon in the Yukon River to fulfill the Pacific Salmon Treaty?

Will there be enough salmon in the Yukon River to fulfill the Pacific Salmon Treaty? / Photo by dave bezaire & susi havens-bezaire

Article III of the Pacific Salmon Treaty outlines the principles of the agreement:

1. With respect to stocks subject to this Treaty, each Party shall conduct its fisheries and its salmon enhancement programs so as to:

(a) prevent overfishing and provide for optimum production; and

(b) provide for each Party to receive benefits equivalent to the production of salmon originating in its waters.

2. In fulfilling their obligations pursuant to paragraph 1, the Parties shall cooperate in management, research and enhancement.

3. In fulfilling their obligations pursuant to paragraph 1, the Parties shall take into account:

(a) the desirability in most cases of reducing interceptions; and

(b) the desirability in most cases of avoiding undue disruption of existing fisheries; and

(c) annual variations in abundance of the stocks.

Alaska has reduced fishing in order to try and meet treaty obligations. The Fairbanks News Miner reports:

Even with major cuts in subsistence fishing up and down the Yukon River, the number of king salmon that reach the Canadian border might not satisfy a treaty agreement between Alaska and Canada.

With an estimated 75 percent of the chinook run accounted for, biologists are projecting the size of this year’s run to be 120,000 to 130,000. Somewhere around 50,000 to 55,000 of those fish will have to make it to Canada to meet Canadian escapement and harvest objectives, biologist Steve Hayes said.

According Hayes, genetic testing has revealed more Canadian fish in this year’s run, even though the numbers are about the same as last year for the total run. A sonar counter is in place to count the fish as they cross the Canadian border. Subsistence fisherman in Alaska are upset as their season has been restricted, and they blame the government for mismanaging the resource that allow multinational pollock boats to harvest salmon as a “bycatch”. Others accuse Alaska of not enforcing closures.

This is not the first time the US has violated the Pacific Salmon Treaty. In 1997, “the Canadian government formally accused the United States of violating the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty and requested that the United States submit the issue to binding arbitration. The next day, angry Canadian fishers began a three-day blockade of the U.S. ferry Malaspina when it entered port in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.” Will this year’s poor King Salmon runs spark another round of the Pacific Salmon War?

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Author: Jennifer Lance

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