ADF&G releases terms of new Pacific Salmon Treaty

State, commercial harvesters wrestle with terms of new agreement

A new Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiated between the United States and Canada, and critical to fisheries and the economy of Southeast Alaska, is now in effect for the decade ahead, as state and commercial harvester entities wrestle with how to deal with it.

Acting Commissioner of Fish and Game Doug Vincent-Lang notes that his agency released the actual language of the negotiated terms, which were several years in the making, to allow affected users the opportunity to review them, “especially given that the terms adopt new metrics for management of fisheries in Southeast Alaska. This was done to improve transparency,” he said on Jan. 2.

In the upcoming months, the department plans to release its 2019 forecast and management regime for Southeast Alaska fisheries under this treaty, he said.

“Recent declines in productivity of Chinook salmon populations in the North Pacific have managers concerned coastwide,” Vincent-Lang said. “In Alaska, we have identified several stocks of concern and failed to meet escapement goals for seven of 11 indicator stocks in 2018.

And prospects for returns in 2019 are not good,” he said. “While the department is concerned with the reduced fishing opportunities in the new treaty, sustainability of Chinook salmon productivity remains our paramount concern.”

Vincent-Lang said that to reduce impacts to users during times of reduce productivity and fishing, a mitigation package was developed in concert with the renegotiated treaty terms, and that this package also provides funds for treaty implementation by his department and mitigation for Endangered Species Act listed species.

Unfortunately, however, this package has not yet been funded, raising serious questions regarding how the treaty can be implemented and that will be the focus of future discussions, he said.

The Alaska Trollers Association in Juneau meanwhile is expressing concern with cuts of the harvest share for Southeast Alaska under the new treaty.

ATA is disappointed that Alaska has again be forced to give up more of its harvest share of treaty king salmon as a result of Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations, said Amy Daugherty, executive director of ATA. The new treaty will severely impact small businesses and small communities throughout Southeast Alaska, she said.

“It is disappointing that our state did not recover the 15 percent harvest share from the 2009 agreement and agreed to further reduce Alaska’s proportional share of the catch, even when stocks rebound,” she said. “The treaty cuts to trollers and the Southeast sportfish folks exceed the numbers rendered by ADF&G due to an implementation of new management regime,” she said. “It is effectively management by treaty, bypassing the Board of Fisheries and designed by other entities in the treaty negotiations.”

Daugherty said that the ATA supports action to ensure the health of Chinook populations, historically and currently, such as the Alaska Board of Fisheries Troll Management Plans and the Policy for Sustainable Salmon.  The current low abundance notwithstanding, ATA believes the king salmon populations are at the bottom of a consistent cycle and will rebound again in a few years, as they have three times since 1979, she said.

Daugherty noted that the troll fishery ranks among the largest commercial fisheries in the state and that 85 percent of troll permit holders are Alaska residents.

“ATA fought for a better outcome for all harvesters in Southeast: troll, sport and net,” she said.

“We believe the state of Alaska needs to make some changes to their approach to the treaty negotiations in the future or it is going to lose one of its most valuable commercial fisheries and economic engines throughout rural Southeast Alaska,” she said.

The decision for the U.S. and Canada to cooperate in management, research and enhancement of Pacific salmon stocks of mutual concern through a Pacific Salmon Treaty emerged from a decision in March of 1985 between the two nations and formation of the Pacific Salmon Commission. Their goals include prevention of over-fishing and to ensure that both countries receive benefits equal to the production of salmon originating in their waters.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty in place for the past decade expired on Dec. 31, the day that ADF&G released three chapters of new treaty language.

New Treaty language for the primary chapters that affect Southeast Alaska are available at:

Chapter 1:  Transboundary Rivers

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/home/news/hottopics/pdfs/2019_pst_chp_1_transboundary_rivers.pdf

Chapter 2:  Northern British Columbia and Southeastern Alaska

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/home/news/hottopics/pdfs/2019_pst_chp_2_northern_boundary.pdf

Chapter 3: Chinook Salmon

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/home/news/hottopics/pdfs/2019_pst_chp_3_chinook_salmon.pdf