Better late than never, the United States and Canada finally concluded the negotiations to renew the Pacific Salmon Treaty, which governs the harvest of salmon stocks shared between the two nations. The Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC), made up of representatives of both countries, finally concluded the negotiations in May, four months behind schedule. From TU’s perspective, the agreement will provide benefits for salmon, but we believe the two countries missed an opportunity to make the treaty reflect more commitment for overall conservation of a shared resource, reverting in the end to the more familiar and overly simple reductions in fishing rather than facing all the causes of salmon declines comprehensively. In particular, the Commissioners failed to commit the Parties to work to conserve salmon habitat.
In addition to habitat issues, TU pressed the PSC to adopt three principles: that the U.S. and Canada commit to conserving biological diversity of salmon stocks in their harvest management; that the Parties commit to adopt a cautious approach to harvest management, particularly in light of changes in ocean conditions; and, that the PSC open their processes to public input.
As always, the chinook salmon provisions garnered the most attention and controversy. In the end, parties agreed to cuts in the chinook salmon catch in Southeast Alaska by 15% and to make a 30% cut in the Canadian catch of chinook off of the West Coast of Vancouver Island. The cuts in the Alaska chinook fishery will benefit Oregon Coastal chinook stocks, including the fish that return to the rivers flowing into Tillamook Bay, as well as mid-Columbia and Snake River fall chinook. The reduction in West Coast Vancouver Island fisheries will benefit Puget Sound chinook, lower Columbia River fall chinook and upper Columbia River summer chinook. Unfortunately, this approach of relying on ever-deeper harvest cuts while neglecting habitat issues will ultimately drive both commercial and recreational salmon fishing to negligible levels, as has happened this year in California and Oregon.
The good news is that the PSC specifically committed to develop and implement measures to protect and conserve biological diversity through a precautionary approach, adopting two of TU’s principles. The PSC directed their scientists to develop a framework for that approach and to present it to the Commission by 2014. In addition, there is a commitment to fund further research and management efforts to improve data on harvest rates of the various salmon stocks caught in mixed stock fisheries as well as improving the models that estimate salmon abundance and drive harvest rates. TU raised habitat issues with the Commission at every opportunity. In large part because of the press of negotiations on allocation issues, discussion of habitat language was deferred and will be discussed over the next several years.
TU also made considerable progress in opening up the PSC process to public and conservation organization participation. For the first time in decades, the PSC held several open meetings where TU was able to address the Commission. The Commission will review its by-laws over the next several years with the likely result that there will be more opportunity for participation of conservation groups in the process.