Recent Conflict

The recent breakdown in efforts to renegotiate the expired fishing regimes revolved around two issues. The first was a long-standing dispute over the meaning and enforcement of the treaty's equity provisions. The second was disagreement regarding actions required to meet the treaty's stated goal of rebuilding chinook stocks from the Columbia River northward to southeastern Alaska. When the treaty went into effect, all parties recognized that interceptions could not be reduced to zero and that the interception balance would vary from year to year. They also recognized that the balance would tend to favor either the United States or Canada in each of the six covered fisheries. Canada hoped, however, that the treaty would lead to a rough balance in total interceptions. In particular, they expected that their own interceptions of U.S. coho and chinook would roughly offset the value of U.S. interceptions of Fraser River salmon (Munro and Stokes, 1989; Munro et al, 1998).

Nature and the actions of each party to the agreement have thwarted these expectations. The Canadian commissioners charged that the harvest ceilings failed to ensure an equitable division of the catch. They claimed that Alaska consistently intercepted an excessive number of Canadian salmon. Canada was unable to offset increasing Alaskan interceptions because declining southern coho and chinook abundance prevented Canadian harvesters from reaching the agreed-upon ceilings for harvests of those stocks along the west coast of Vancouver Island. At the same time, fishing interests along the U.S. West Coast claimed that Canada's efforts to


reach the ceiling resulted in overharvesting of those fragile stocks. Alaskan officials countered the Canadian charges by arguing that increased interceptions were unavoidable given the increased abundance of their own intermingled stocks.

When the fishing regimes expired, the Canadians used the opportunity to reassert their demands for a quantitative approach to the equity issue. In previous rounds of regime setting, the Canadians had acquiesced to the quota approach. However in their view, the treaty principle that each party should receive "benefits equivalent to the production of salmon originating in its waters" (Treaty, Article III, para. 1) should be interpreted literally as a dollar-for-dollar balancing of the value of a nation's harvest with the value of the salmon spawned in its waters. According to Canadian calculations, the United States owed Canada a considerable debt. The U.S. delegation never favored a quantitative approach, arguing instead that: "[A]n effort to create an accounting scheme would invite costly, and perhaps divisive and inconclusive debate over biological and economic variables" (Yanagida, 1987, p. 591). U.S. officials have been quick to point out that slightly different biological assumptions and valuation rules can give vastly different results regarding amounts owed and even the direction of the equity imbalance (Personal communication, Tom Cooney, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, June 22, 1995; Munro and Stokes, 1989). The U.S. side preferred to treat each of the covered fisheries separately, giving due recognition to the treaty provision disfavoring economic disruption of historic fisheries. Each party's refusal to accept the other's approach to the equity issue resulted in a protracted stalemate.

In addition to Canadian/U.S. differences over implementation of the treaty's equity provisions, a rift developed between Alaska and the other U.S. parties over chinook harvests. When the treaty was ratified, the parties agreed to a program of limiting harvests in order to rebuild naturally spawning chinook stocks by the year 1998. While Alaska's chinook harvests have not increased, declining runs in British Columbia and the southern US. jurisdictions pushed the rebuilding goal further out of reach. Tensions on the U.S. side reached a boiling point in 1995 when the Northwest treaty tribes and the states of Washington and Oregon sued Alaska and won an injunction that closed the southeastern Alaska chinook fishery for the remainder of the season (Confederated Tribes and Bands v. Baldridge [W.D. Wash. September 7, 1995],

As the treaty dispute escalated, the Canadians employed a variety of desperate tactics in an effort to force the United States back to the bargaining table. For example, in 1994, British Columbia tried to pressure the southern U.S. parties by pursuing an "aggressive fishing strategy." That strategy failed to win any concessions and resulted in dangerous overharvesting of part of the Fraser River sockeye run by the Canadian fleet (Fraser River Sockeye Public Review Board, 1995). By the summer of 1997, British Columbia's salmon harvesters had become so frustrated that approximately 150 fishing vessels participated in a blockade that held the Alaska Ferry hostage in the Canadian port of Prince Rupert for 3 days (Hogben et al, 1997; D'oro, 1997).

Canadian frustration was fueled by Alaska's unwillingness to take actions to reduce the interceptions imbalance. Such concessions made little sense from Alas ka's standpoint because they would impose costs on Alaska without commensurate benefits. In fact, Alaska never had much to gain by participating in the Pacific Salmon Treaty, and apart from possible suits over interference with Native American treaty fishing rights, the other U.S. parties have very few bargaining chips to use in their negotiations with Alaska. Alaska's favorable position arises from the fact that many salmon stocks swim northward as juveniles to feed and mature in the Gulf of Alaska. As adults, they swim southward to return to their natal streams. This migratory pattern gives Alaska a natural advantage in exploiting chinook salmon from the southern U.S. jurisdictions and certain Canadian stocks while harvesters in the southern U.S. jurisdictions do not intercept Alaskan origin salmon.

In addition, as Alaska's own salmon became more numerous, Alaska's fishery managers found it increasingly difficult to limit interceptions. In southeastern Alaska, salmon harvesting occurs primarily in areas where Alaska's fish are intermingled with stocks originating elsewhere. Fish caught in those offshore areas are in top condition and at peak value. The Alaskans argue that interceptions cannot be kept constant when their own stocks increase, unless they allow a larger number of their own fish to escape harvesting in those prime areas. Those fish could contribute to spawning escapements or they might later be harvested in a river or estuary where their commercial value is often much lower. However, with spawning escapements already strong, and markets glutted with lower valued "canning quality" salmon, neither of those options is attractive. The Alaskan stance in the negotiations has consistently been that they should be allowed to reap the rewards of their own good salmon management and that they are not to blame for the declining southern stocks.

Canadian efforts to promote a fish-for-fish approach to the equity issue, Alaskan intransigence, and the helplessness of the other U.S. parties to halt the declines of their salmon resources collided in a dangerous muddle. This situation threatened the health of some highly valued salmon stocks and cast a rancorous cloud on relations between the two nations.

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