Playing Politics

March 11, 1996

“What we are concerned about is the future of the salmon fishery and the territorial integrity of a nation,” says François Poulin, president of the Canadian Council of Professional Fish Harvesters (CCPFH), an organization comprised of fishermen organizations from across Canada. Poulin was responding to the latest salvo fired by the United States in the so-called “salmon war” between the two countries. In a surprise move that caught Canadian and even senior level American diplomatic officials off-guard, the U.S. made public the three month old passing of an amendment to its Fisheries Protection Act a change that specifically denies Canadian sovereignty over the Inside Passage. The area of water between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland - and demands that the U.S. State Department recoup monies paid to Canadian in 1994 as a result of the Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin’s imposition of a $1,500 fee to travel the passage in an attempt to force the U.S. back to the negotiating table.

“This is just further evidence that the U.S. is not serious about its desire to conserve salmon stocks,” says Dennis Brown, Vice President of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union and a Canadian Commissioner during Salmon Treaty negotiations. “The U.S. is playing politics with another country’s integrity, while it is the salmon stocks and those who depend on them for their livelihood who are the real losers,” continued Brown.

Canada and the U.S. have been without a treaty since 1992 when parts of the hard fought 1985 Salmon Treaty expired. Brown says stocks in British Columbia simply cannot be rebuilt without a treaty in place. The U.S. appointed Ambassador James Pipken in 1995 to help resolve the dispute, but no agreement was ever reached. Christopher Beebe, the New Zealand ambassador appointed to offer third party mediation, quit just last week in frustration because he saw no basis
of compromise in the U.S. position.

Since 1992, the U.S. has harvested as many as 6 million salmon of Canadian origin annually, something that would not have been permitted under the treaty. “While Canadian fishermen voluntarily reduced catches of chinooks by 50% in 1995 on Vancouver Island and are calling for a complete closure in the Fraser River in 1996, the U.S., and Alaska in particular, refuse to make any changes in its harvesting levels. Indeed chinook, coho and steelhead returns are in criticalcondition, but Alaskan catches have been five times historical averages.”

“The passage of the amendment to the U.S. Fisheries Act is an affront to Canadian sovereignty that has no basis in international law and that no independent country can stand for,” says François Poulin. “The real tragedy,” says Poulin, “is that while politicians argue about international law, salmon stocks continue to decline and peoples’ livelihoods are being place in jeopardy.”

You can see the media release in its original format here.