British Columbia groups demand Alaska halt salmon interception

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A coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in British Columbia has urged Alaska to end the interception of hundreds of thousands of salmon travelling towards the Canadian region. 

“We are gravely concerned over the growing and unsustainable impacts commercial salmon fisheries in parts of Southeast Alaska are having on B.C.-bound salmon runs,” the coalition stated, warning it represents “a significant gap in the Pacific Salmon Treaty” that “must be addressed with urgency.”

The Pacific Salmon Treaty, signed by the United States and Canada in 1985, saw both countries agree to cooperate in the management, research and enhancement of Pacific salmon stocks by, for example, preventing over-fishing and providing optimum production.

Writing to the Governor of Alaska, Mike Dunleavy, the coalition highlighted how “Canadian Pacific salmon populations are hitting record lows and over the past few years”, hitting commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries in British Columbia, which “have seen unprecedented closures with severe economic, social and cultural impacts in our communities”.

Citing a recently released report from the Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus, the coalition criticised how Alaskan fisheries are intercepting salmon returning to British Columbia rivers in a way that has sparked “growing concern” about the decline of Canadian salmon abundance.

“We don’t know the true impact of the Southeast Alaskan fishery on Skeena and other B.C. steelhead populations because Alaska is not monitoring their catch of non-target species and does not require their live release. Common knowledge of Southeast Alaska seine fishing practices indicates the vast majority of the non-target catch is discarded dead”, the NGOs stated.

In recent years, British Columbia salmon populations have fallen to record lows in recent years, with the federal government having closed 60 percent of commercial salmon harvest in June 2021, as well as announcing a fishing licence buy-back program under the country’s $647-million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative.

To resolve their concerns, the NGOs requested that Alaska take a number of measures swiftly to reduce the impact on the salmon industry and help rebuild the depleted Canadian-origin salmon populations. Among the measures proposed, the NGOs suggest closing the District 104 net fishery, which they claim intercepts large numbers of British Columbia-bound salmon, cutting harvest rates in other Southeast Alaskan salmon fisheries, implementing catch reporting for all species and launching an immediate review of the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

“Alaska has a reputation as a world leader in responsible fisheries management. However, the interception fisheries in Southeast Alaska that target B.C.-bound salmon do not meet your state’s own rigorous management standards and would likely be challenged under your state’s constitution if they were impacting Alaskan salmon populations to the same degree they are impacting B.C. salmon populations”, the group concluded.