Seine fishers in the Mendenhall River, Alaska. (Courtesy Photo | Tom Moran)

Seine fishers in the Mendenhall River, Alaska. (Courtesy Photo | Tom Moran)

Nothing to stop Alaska from harvesting all sockeye swimming to B.C., says conservation group

“Fisheries in Southeast Alaska have harvested well over a quarter million sockeye salmon”

Two salmon conservation groups are concerned that Alaska’s fisheries are harvesting most of the sockeye salmon for themselves, without consequence.

Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust released a statement on Thursday in which they said more than 250,000 sockeye salmon were harvested in the U.S, most of which were headed to Canadian waters.

“Canadian commercial and recreational fisheries have been closed and Indigenous people are unable to get food fish,“ Greg Taylor, fisheries advisor to Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, said.

Fisheries in Southeast Alaska have remained open while the Fraser and Skeena river systems are experiencing historically low sockeye salmon returns.

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The groups also said the renegotiated Pacific Salmon Treaty — a 1985 agreement between the U.S. and Canada to share management of Pacific salmon — contains no mechanisms in place to hold the state accountable for their impacts on at-­‐risk sockeye salmon swimming to B.C. to spawn.

“The newly renegotiated Pacific Salmon Treaty does not apply to seine fisheries in Southeast Alaska after the last week of July, meaning Alaska can take what it wants with no accountability to its neighbours, or the health of the fish”, stated Greg Knox, Executive Director of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.

READ MORE: B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

The treaty states that if the expected total run of sockeye in the Skeena River is below 600,000 American government shall take “additional management actions,” such as reducing the size of the fishing areas or duration of the fisheries, but only “prior to statistical week 31” (around the end of July). The same applies if returns in the Skeena are below 900,000 but with fewer management measures to be taken.

“Global warming is hitting our salmon hard and Alaska is making this situation worse,” Knox said. “Alaska’s constitution requires that conservation targets for their salmon populations are met before harvesting is allowed. It is irresponsible and unethical for Alaska to knowingly ignore these principles when it comes to Canada’s salmon.”

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has not yet responded for comment on the concerns.

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Jenna Cocullo | Journalist
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