Summer is nearly upon us, which means commercial fishing crews that operate in Southeast Alaska are patching up their holds, booking their ice orders, and checking engine oil.

Wild salmon and watersheds campaign lead, Dave Mills.

Meanwhile, salmon are making their way from the high seas to rivers across B.C. and Washington State. These salmon are travelling near the Southeast Alaskan coast on their way home. For Alaskan fishers, this means big money is up for grabs for whoever can get to these salmon first.

Our Alaska’s Dirty Secret campaign, working to stop Alaska’s interception fisheries, is entering its second year. We are seeing some important wins. Here’s the state of play as we enter another frenetic salmon-harvest season.

Alaska’s Impact

The truth is, we don’t know the full impact of Alaska’s interception fisheries.

It could be worse than anyone suspects, because management tools British Columbians use, like publicly reporting by-catch, and ensuring non-target species are returned to the water alive, are not used by the Alaskans.

What we know is that in 2022, Alaskan fishers caught well over 2 million of our salmon on their way home to B.C. waters while our marine fisheries were closed or curtailed. Many B.C. fishers are now sitting at their kitchen tables with their families, discussing government offers to buy back licenses, while Indigenous communities agonize over whether traditional food and ceremonial harvests will proceed. At the same time, keystone wildlife like our grizzlies and endangered orcas face food shortages unless we take strong action against Alaskan interception of B.C. salmon.

Why we’re fighting back

The federal 5-year Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative to rebuild fisheries and recover stocks is underway. It’s an investment of $647 million. That’s great, and Watershed Watch supports it. However, it would be tragic if B.C. salmon populations bounce back only to be captured in Alaskan nets.

In its first year, our campaign took some big steps.

First, we raised the issue with the public and decision-makers, and attracted over 125 stories from the media. That got  Alaska’s interception fisheries onto our politicians’ radars and into the Pacific Salmon Commission treaty talks.

Also, more than 1,000 letters were sent to Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, and they made a difference.  According to freedom of information requests filed by reporters with the National Observer, Alaskan poaching of Canadian salmon is now the top concern for our federal fisheries minister. This is tremendous progress for an issue that wasn’t on the political agenda as early as the beginning of last year!

And there’s more good news as our Washington State allies Wild Fish Conservancy won a decisive court battle to stop Alaska’s Chinook troll fisheries from bypassing management requirements for endangered species – in this case, food needs for our southern resident killer whales. Southeast Alaska’s Chinook troll fishery has been suspended. This means more precious B.C. Chinook will return home to the benefit of communities, human and non-human, that depend upon them.*

That said, the trollers will still be out there catching coho, chum and other species, and will be required to simply “release” the Chinook they catch – likely dead. So they will still kill B.C.-bound fish by the thousands.

Upending the status quo

As our campaign moves forward, the fight to curtail Alaska’s interception fisheries remains a David vs Goliath struggle. Alaska’s fishing industry is an economic and political behemoth, and Watershed Watch needs your help. If we want to bring them to the table, we need to hit them where it matters most: in their pocketbook. That’s why we’re going after the Alaskan seafood brand, so that everyone from regular consumers to chefs, to brand certifiers will be exposed to straight facts on Alaska’s Dirty Secret.

The truth of the damage being caused by Alaska’s Interception Fisheries is on our side, and we’re going to spend the coming months making sure this truth reaches a large audience .

I’m going to hit the road this summer and meet with elected officials, First Nations leaders, fishers and other allies across the province. I’ll be hearing what they have to say, sharing the hard-hitting numbers we have on Alaska’s interceptions of B.C. salmon, and building momentum so we can tackle this threat with a strong, united coalition.

We are also ramping up our advertising campaign, to make sure as many people as possible know about this issue, and take action.

If you haven’t already, please send a letter and get your friends or family to do the same.

*Since writing this update, a US appeals court overruled the decision and the Alaska Chinook salmon troll fishery will now proceed.