TU Submits Plan to Fix Pacific Salmon Treaty Crisis
Plan would overhaul components of the US/Canada Treaty
1/11/1999 — —
Seattle, Washington – January 11, 1999:
In an unusual display of trans-border cooperation, conservationists from the United States and Canada have developed a comprehensive series of recommendations for resolving an international crisis which is threatening the existence of Pacific salmon runs.
The proposal, which was developed by Trout Unlimited representatives from the United States and Canada, would put in place a series of steps designed to fix the breakdown of the Pacific Salmon Treaty which was signed in 1985 by the United States and Canada. The proposal will be presented this week to the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and White House officials, and to members of the Pacific Salmon Commission.
“All parties have come to recognize that the Pacific Salmon Treaty is broken. For the future of the Pacific salmon and the futures of everyone who depends on those salmon, it is time to fix the Treaty. If we don’t, we will begin seeing the localized extinction of Pacific Salmon in the next few years,” said Tim Hamilton, the Chair of Trout Unlimited Canada.
At the heart of the Trout Unlimited’s ten-point proposal is the requirement that no fishing on shared Pacific salmon stocks — those salmon which originate in both U.S. and Canadian rivers — can occur unless both Canada and United States first agree each year to realistic harvest levels based on current salmon populations. Currently, when the parties fail to reach agreement, the walk away from the negotiating table and go fishing, reverting to domestic regulations. In the past, the parties have intentionally overfished salmon returning to the other country as a negotiating strategy.
In addition to the annual salmon harvest agreement requirement, the proposal also calls for reduced salmon harvest levels through license buyouts, setting annual harvest levels based on realistic salmon population numbers and a fairer allocation of the salmon harvest between the United States and Canada, as well as other recommendations.
“Under this proposal, both the United States and Canada will feel a little pain. But the fact is, if you make the Pacific salmon fisheries more sustainable, eventually both nations will receive benefits far beyond the costs. It’s a lot like taking medicine for a serious illness. While the shot may hurt, in the long run it will mean the survival of the patient. In this case, the patient is the Pacific salmon and the human communities that depend on healthy runs of fish,” said Charles Gauvin, President of Trout Unlimited, U.S.
The Pacific Salmon Treaty was negotiated in an attempt to develop a system in which both countries would share in the management and benefits of salmon that crossed their international boundaries. The hallmarks of the treaty were the long term conservation of Pacific salmon populations and equity for U.S. and Canadian salmon harvesters.
While the Treaty worked reasonably well after it was initially adopted, it began to break down after disputes arose over the equity levels of the salmon harvest between the United States and Canada. It grew worse as Pacific salmon stocks began to decline due to a variety of causes including over fishing, habitat destruction and changing ocean conditions. With fewer salmon and a stalemate in Treaty negotiations, overfishing by both nations is contributing to the collapse of many Pacific salmon stocks.
Since the Treaty’s adoption, Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia coho salmon stocks have collapsed, Snake River Chinook salmon runs were listed as threatened by the United States government in 1992, and Puget Sound chinook stocks have been proposed for listing, as have Upper Columbia spring and Lower Columbia fall chinook stocks. In addition, the State of Washington has been forced to severely restrict coho and chinook salmon fishing off its coast.
While the loss of habitat, dams and poor hatchery practices have all contributed to the devastation of Pacific salmon stocks, Trout Unlimited United States and Trout Unlimited Canada both view the failure of the Treaty as a major obstacle to the recovery of these fish.
Specifically, Trout Unlimited’s proposals for fixing the Pacific Salmon Treaty include:
No fishing of salmon that are migrating from Canadian or U.S. rivers may occur unless both nations first reach agreement on the harvest levels of those salmon.
By the year 2000, Canada and the United States must create a workable system for fairly allocating the salmon harvest among the two nations. Part of that system must include the recognition that the United States, particularly in Alaskan waters, is harvesting too many Canadian origin fish. Canada must also recognize that proposals to strictly account for every fish are neither practical nor equitable.
Both the United States and Canada must abandon the current practice of setting fixed ceilings, based on average salmon populations. Instead, the nations must adopt conservative harvest levels on a year by year basis, based upon annual salmon populations.
The technical committees of the Pacific Salmon Commission, which were created to develop sound, science-based approaches to managing Pacific salmon resources, have instead become tools for both the United States and Canada. The committees must be depoliticized and their work should be subject to independent and impartial peer review.
The United States and Canada must recognize that the production and release of hatchery salmon will not solve the Pacific salmon crisis, and in fact could potentially damage the long-survivability of wild salmon. The two nations must take steps to enhance wild stocks of salmon.
The United States must reduce their harvest of Fraser River sockeye by buying out at least 40 percent of the current non-Native American harvest capacity for those sockeye.
Realistic harvest levels for West Coast of Vancouver Island and United States North of Falcon coho fisheries – based upon realistic annual population levels – must be adopted by the Pacific Salmon Commission. This should result in at least a 65 percent reduction from the actual 1979-82 harvest rates.
The Pacific Salmon Commission must also immediately adopt realistic harvest levels to protect depressed chinook stocks in the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Both the U.S. and Canada must share in the sacrifices as well as the benefits of conservation.
To establish a fair salmon harvest balance, which was the original intention of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, both the United States and Canada must recognize the need to protect the wild stocks of coho and sockeye in the region stretching from southeast Alaska to Northern British Columbia. To accomplish this, total harvest numbers of these salmon must be reduced and Canada given a larger share of the salmon harvest in this region. To help accomplish this and to lessen the impact on the state of Alaska, Trout Unlimited recommends that Alaska receive funding from the United States government to buy out licenses of fishers in this region, targeting non-Alaskan license holders. Alaskans currently hold less than half of the seine permits in Southeast Alaska.
To protect wild stocks of salmon, the United States and Canada must take meaningful steps to reduce by-catch – those salmon which are unintentionally caught and destroyed. That can be done through the use of mass-marking hatchery fish to allow them to be identified and retained while returning wild stocks to the ocean and the employment of selective fishing strategies such as fishing closer to mouth of rivers during salmon runs. The United States and Canada must also base annual allowable harvest levels on the total number of fish caught which currently does not include by-catch. It was estimated that, between 1979 and 1982, by-catch resulted in 295,000 to 491,000 chinook killed annually.
Trout Unlimited United States and Trout Unlimited Canada are North America’s leading coldwater conservation organizations, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Together, the two organizations represent over 110,000 members in 472 Chapters in North America and are the largest trout and salmon conservation organization in the world.