February 1997 Sockeye Update

February 1997 – Issues & Opinion

2/4/97 – 1997 Fraser River Sockeye update – run size rumor predicts a low of 11 million to a high of 29 million Sockeye with the conservative estimate being 24 million, plus an additional, but as yet unannounced volume of Pink salmon. The US Non-Indian share of a possible 2.5 million or more Sockeye is, as of this moment, still in doubt.

Canada has not yet released the figures necessary to make an accurate prediction – this is apparently part of their negotiation strategy – thus, on the Equity issue they can force the US to cede a known quantity of Coho for an unknown number of Sockeye. Basically this strategy would lock the US into a smaller share of the Sockeye.

The Tribal share of the US share is NOT in doubt; they’ll get 50% of the US TAC (Total Allowable Catch). The only possible way for the Tribes to cede one fish is for the Federal Government to force them to, which is not likely.

Any reduction in US harvest of Fraser River Sockeye would come exclusively from the NON-Indian share. Canada would trade to the US at the ratio of 1 sockeye = 4 Coho.

There are two factors at work. One is Washington State’s new Sport Priority Policy which basically manages for Sport harvest, and whatever remains goes to the public at large via the Commercial fishery.

The Second factor is the threat of a Federal take over of the entire Washington State Salmon fishery under the Endangered Species Act. Since the WA state has failed to produce healthy coho and Chinook stocks, certain runs of these fish are considered candidates for Listing. The only way Washington State can avoid this is to get more of these fish to the spawning grounds. Therein lies the rub.

Last year WA gave away a considerable portion of the NON-Indian share of Sockeye to do this, or that’s what they told Canada they planned to do. However, after Canada passed through the West Cost Vancouver Troll fishery 650,000 US origin Coho, WA turned it’s Sport and Charter boat fleet loose on the passed through fish. Few, if any, extra fish reached their rivers’ of origin.

Canada is not happy about this turn of events. And such duplicity makes this year’s negotiations more difficult, and Canada more likely to stonewall the negotiations, as well as make it’s traditional threats such as impounding or imposing large fees on US fishing vessels passing thru it’s Inside Passage waters. Which forces skippers to either pay the large fee or risk losing the crew and boat by going outside into the open North Pacific Ocean.

All this because someone high up in WA fisheries management decided on a policy of valuing the salmon fishery strictly on the amount of money generated by sales of live fertilized salmon eggs and carcasses from it’s hatcheries to the highest bidder. This money is then placed into the WA General Fund and used to justify the Fisheries budget.

So more and more Coho, Chinook, Steelhead, and Dolly Varden were exported worldwide, and fewer and fewer were left to renew the resource. The interesting note is that these are exactly the species that are Threatened with ESA Listing.

The other effect was that in accord with the 1985 Treaty with Canada, WA was specifically directed to produce more of Coho and Chinook to address Equity Issues. Since WA always had some excuse or other why not, it was never done, thus leading to today’s problems.

But the Managers kept their jobs, increased their salaries and hired hundreds more biologists to study such things as household backyard ecosystems, and along the way built themselves and $85 million building in the shape of a fish.

A Potential Third factor

While there is every likelihood that the Non-Indian share of Fraser Sockeye will again be traded off to Canada – ‘Equity’ to induce them to pass US Origin Coho through their fisheries in the Strait of Juan De Fuca and off Vancouver Island B.C. However, the history to date is that these US Coho are caught anyway in one Canadian fishery or another. Net gain to US Coho reproduction = Zero. Net gain to the Canadians = $$. Net gain to the Tribes = $$. Net gain to Non-Indian commercial salmon fishermen = Bankruptcy. (A policy instituted by a former Director of the recently demised WA. Department of Fisheries). Nice policy, eh? No discrimination here.

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