Spawning sockeye salmon, a species of pacific salmon, are seen making their way up the Adams River in Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park near Chase, B.C., on Oct. 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Pacific Salmon Treaty failing to address harvest of struggling B.C. stocks: advocates

Pacific Salmon Treaty failing to address harvest of struggling B.C. stocks: advocates

VANCOUVER — Significant numbers of salmon returning to spawn in British Columbia are being caught in southeast Alaskan fisheries, hindering Canada’s efforts to preserve and rebuild stocks that are declining to historic lows, B.C. salmon advocatessay.

Canada and the United States ratified the Pacific Salmon Treaty in 1985 to manage cross-border harvesting,but it wasn’t designed to deal with climate change and stocks that are in crisis, said Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust based in Terrace, B.C.

“We can’t protect and rebuild B.C. salmon without Alaska giving us a hand, there’s just no way,” he said. “The productivity of a lot of our populations has gone way down, so they can’t sustain high harvest levels anymore.”

The treaty states that both countries should manage their fisheries to prevent overfishing and ensure they each receive benefits equal to the salmon that spawn in their respective waters. But as B.C. stocks decline, the treaty is failing to deliver that balance, said Knox, who is a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission’s regional panel focused on northern B.C. and Alaska fisheries.

The Pacific Salmon Commission, which manages the treaty, is holding its annual meeting this week.

Greg Taylor, fisheries adviser for the B.C.-based Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said Alaska has an “effective veto” in the treaty process since decision-making requires consensus between B.C., Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

Alaskan law requires that certain salmon management objectives are met, he said, including targets for the number of fish that make it back to their spawning areas.

However, that’s not the case for salmon that are returning to rivers in B.C., said Taylor, who previously sat on the commission’s northern panel.

Alaska doesn’t have an incentive to curtail its harvesting of salmon that spawn outside its jurisdiction, he said, even as the Canadian government and First Nations in B.C. have limited harvesting to help preserve stocks.

Doug Vincent-Lang, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the state’s fisheries remain in compliance with the treaty.