Two countries finally get serious about salmon crisis

Ten years and a threatened chinook salmon population can tame the bitterest of rivals. In 1998, the Pacific Salmon Commission negotiations for a new…

Ten years and a threatened chinook salmon population can tame the bitterest of rivals.

In 1998, the Pacific Salmon Commission negotiations for a new bilateral agreement collapsed, forcing the Canadian and American governments to craft a deal head-to-head.

Now, the committee has hammered out a new deal without the discord that marred previous negotiations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

And it’s led to big changes.

Significant cuts to the Canadian-American chinook salmon harvest will happen within the year if the two countries approve the commission’s proposed agreement.

Last week the commission released its proposed agreement that aims to improve long-term conservation and sustainable salmon harvests for the 10 years beginning in 2009.

After 18 months of negotiations, the commission agreed on fair-harvest sharing policies for five species of salmon comprised of thousands of stock ranging from healthy to threatened and declining.

“There was a time prior to the 1999 agreement when this kind of success simply was not achievable by the commission,” said Don Kowal, the commission’s executive secretary.

“The new agreement will provide for effective conservation of the (salmon).”

Investments from both countries and improved joint monitoring are the focus of the agreement.

The chinook salmon portion of the agreement proved difficult to negotiate because the scope of the harvest is wide and complex, according to the commission.

Southeast Alaska’s salmon catch will be cut 15 per cent while the west coast of Vancouver Island would see a 30 per cent reduction, sending one million more fish through rivers.

Scaling down the harvest is an attempt to help the rebuilding of depressed natural spawning grounds in the Yukon.

Protecting spawning numbers in the Yukon is particularly important for the continued success of fisheries in both countries.

But stock management is difficult because the health, size and age of chinook salmon vary widely from area to area, so both countries are being asked to fund new monitoring initiatives.

An improved tagging system will reduce uncertainties about salmon stocks.

Canada will provide $7.5 million on top of $41.5 million from the US to fund the chinook provisions in the new agreement.

If approved, the US would provide $30 million in compensation to Canadian fisheries impacted by the new conservation programs, the majority of funding to be received by the Vancouver Island fishery.

Canada will consult with First Nations and others involved in the fishing industry before consenting to the new agreement.

Last summer highlighted troubles within the chinook salmon fisheries in the US and Canada.

US fisheries were blasted for the mismanagement and overfishing of chinook salmon that led to the closure of commercial and domestic fisheries in the Yukon.

Some suggested the countries’ two different systems of tagging salmon — used to estimate salmon runs —led to overfishing.

About 23,000 to 25,000 salmon passed into Yukon waters last year, short of the 33,000 to 43,000 goal.

The agreement — spanning two countries, four states, BC, the Yukon and dozens of First Nations — also revises harvest-sharing agreements in other fisheries, including refined provisions governing the chum fishery management in BC.

More information can be found on the commission’s website at www.psc.org.

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