Wild salmon and watersheds campaign lead, Dave Mills

Last month, American and Canadian commissioners met in Portland to discuss emerging issues in the Pacific Salmon Treaty. For the first time in years, Alaska’s disproportionate harvests are being discussed out in the open. With that comes an opportunity for our commissioners to step up and address an imbalance that is threatening Canadian fish and the people and ecosystems that depend on them. This is some good news to kick off the first Alaska’s Dirty Secret campaign update for 2023. 

Alaska’s Dirty Secret is a project of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Watershed Watch Salmon Society. We work closely with other allies in B.C. and Washington State. All of us live in communities that are in a race to conserve dwindling salmon stocks like Chinook and sockeye, and all of us are seeing a higher percentage of the catch ending up in Alaska’s nets.

Unfortunately, at the Canada/US Treaty table, transboundary alliances like ours are a little more difficult to build. Washington State and British Columbia are facing a shared threat from Alaska and honest dialogue has a habit of eroding entrenched positions. From what we heard at the Treaty talks, Alaska’s representatives aren’t yet willing to have the tough conversations that are needed, but their colleagues in Washington and Oregon might help us crack open some space for honest dialogue. As Leonard Cohen said, cracks are how the light gets in.

The second great piece of news arrived just before Christmas when a Federal Court judge in Seattle issued a landmark opinion recommending the termination of southeast Alaskan Chinook troll fisheries, which for decades harvested majority non-Alaskan Chinook “at unsustainable levels with cascading and coastwide consequences for fishing communities throughout British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington.” It’s now up to the presiding District judge to make a final ruling in the case.

After a tough 2022 when Alaska scooped up 2.1 million Canadian salmon, two pieces of good news are like wind in our sails. Here’s our 2023 plan to capitalize on that momentum.

  1. First, we’re going to open up dialogue directly with Alaskans. They have a new congressional representative, Mary Peltola, who is as pro-wild-salmon as politicians get. We are pushing our provincial and federal politicians to talk with her about Alaska’s plunder of B.C. salmon.
  2. Second, we’re going to help our representatives at the Pacific Salmon Commission keep their eye on the puck. The 1,000 letters you sent to the Fisheries Minister last year helped, and we’ve been meeting one-on-one since to make sure they have the most up-to-date information possible about Alaskan interceptions. We’ve met with Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, DFO’s new Deputy Minister, Annette Gibbons, plus many other provincial and federal officials. We also met recently with Nathan Cullen, B.C.’s new minister responsible for fisheries, asking him to step up and defend B.C. salmon and steelhead.
  3. Finally, we’re going to take our case directly to the people who consume Alaska’s seafood in Canada and the lower 48 states. Alaska has coasted on their reputation as a sustainable seafood provider for too long. We already put the brand validators like OceanWise and the Marine Stewardship Council on notice. This year, if Alaska’s fishery managers aren’t willing to change their behaviour, we’re going straight to their customers. So, stay tuned. It promises to be a rollicking campaign.