Alaska salmon negotiators accept fewer ‘treaty fish’

Gov. Bill Walker looks out over Sitka Sound on June 22, as trollers pass by calling for him to not sign a Pacific Salmon Treaty annex that further cuts Alaska’s allocation. (Photo by Emily Kwong/KCAW)

Alaska will see a reduced salmon allocation under a proposed salmon treaty deal with Canada. That’s according to a proposed 10-year extension of the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

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For more than 30 years, the Pacific Salmon Commission has allocated salmon stocks shared between the U.S. and Canada. It’s re-negotiated every 10 years, and the latest version expires at the end of 2018.

Formal talks finished in mid-August. Now, the numbers are out: Alaska will accept a 7.5 percent reduction, compared to 12.5 percent for Canada. In Washington and Oregon, the cuts range from 5 to 15 percent.

“There’s some that would consider it to be winners and losers and I think in this case, I think everybody was equally disappointed,” said Alaska Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Charlie Swanton, who headed Alaska’s delegation.

It’s unclear just what the reduction will mean for Alaska’s fisheries; a lot will be up to the Board of Fisheries when it meets in March. But it will certainly mean less fishing time and other conservation measures.

Reaction was mixed.

“The decrease is unfortunate,” said Samantha Weinstein, executive director of Southeast Alaska Guides Organization. “We always regret losing the opportunity for clients to catch even just one more fish, but conservation needs to be put first.”

But Alaska’s troll fleet – which has seen historic reductions in its lucrative chinook catch this year – had urged delay.

“It’s always been crystal clear that we don’t want any cuts,” said Amy Daugherty, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “We have of course a variation of opinion throughout our organization but no one wanted cuts.”

Commercial fishermen, most of them trollers, held rallies in recent months urging the governor not to commit to more cuts.

Some appealed directly to President Donald Trump, calling it a bad deal for Alaska.

Gov. Bill Walker said he’d met with treaty critics. But a one-year delay he said he’d floated during a recent visit to Washington D.C. wasn’t feasible.

“I realize some fishery groups are unhappy with this outcome,” the governor said in a prepared statement, “but I commend Commissioner Swanton and his team of industry and fishery negotiators for their tireless effort to get the best deal possible for Alaska.”

Sitka troller Caven Pfeiffer said that’ll be remembered come November.

“The troll fleet is not going to take this lying down,” Pfeiffer said. “This is going to be something that Gov. Walker is going to have deal with this fall when he’s running for re-election.”

Chinook salmon returns are at historic lows.

Swanton said federal biologists warned that the existing treaty is inadequate to conserve threatened fish species.

“And if we didn’t have a treaty,” Swanton said, “it is likely and it has happened in the past, where some provisions of the Endangered Species Act would essentially be affecting how the state of Alaska operates our salmon fisheries in Southeast Alaska.”

In other words, it could invite federal intervention into the state’s fisheries.

The ink’s not dry yet. The deal is still pending legal review in Washington and Ottawa. Only then can it be formally ratified by diplomats from both countries.