Remember the Salmon War?

February 15, 2024

By: David Mills

It was 1997 and Canadian fishers on the West Coast were fed up. With the Pacific Salmon Treaty lapsed, Alaskan fleets had caught close to four times their allotment of B.C.-bound sockeye, claiming it was incidental bycatch, leaving virtually nothing for B.C.’s central and north coast fishers. Sound familiar?

In retaliation, the North Coast fleet blockaded the Alaska ferry after it docked in Prince Rupert, setting off an international dispute. Then-premier Glen Clark threatened to close the Nanoose Bay torpedo testing range to the U.S. Navy and fired an angry letter off to the U.S. president at the time, Bill Clinton. One month later, B.C.’s south coast fleet poured into Johnstone Strait to intercept America’s entitlement to Fraser River sockeye.

The dispute got ugly and it took a toll on both salmon populations and fishing communities. Our politicians demonstrated backbone, though, and forced Alaska to the table for a new Pacific Salmon Treaty signed in 1999. 

David Mills

Fast forward nearly 25 years and it feels like deja vu. Alaskan fleets today catch more B.C. salmon and steelhead than B.C. fishers do, decimating those species and the ecosystems and livelihoods that depend on them. Our salmon runs are so vulnerable to this Alaskan plundering because many of them must swim through Alaskan waters on their way home to spawn in B.C. rivers. 

Credit: Tavish Campbell

Last season, just off our northern boundary, seiners and gillnetters in southeast Alaska harvested over 18 million salmon—more than all of the fisheries in B.C., Washington, and Oregon combined. It is estimated that nearly 45 per cent of the Skeena steelhead run was killed in Alaskan nets. Central coast rivers were eerily empty of chum, while in southeast Alaska 1.8 million were harvested. Alarming as those numbers are, the real death toll is much higher: Alaskan fishers are only required to report their bycatch in the first few weeks of the fishing season. For the remainder, the dead chinook and steelhead bycatch are left uncounted. Our research shows 3.1 million of those fish were likely Canadian.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty is supposed to protect each country from exactly this type of interception over-fishing. Clearly it’s not working. Members of the Pacific Salmon Commission are meeting this week in Vancouver but there is no expectation they will actually make progress toward stopping the plunder. When they can be bothered to show up, the Alaskan delegation stonewalls Canadian attempts to negotiate. And why not? Nobody is intercepting their fish, or harvesting them to the brink of extinction.

With Fraser sockeye in steep decline, Canada has lost its leverage. We can’t compel the U.S. delegation to bring Alaska to the table to protect a Washington State sockeye allocation that no longer exists. Infuriatingly, so-called eco-labels, including the Marine Stewardship Council and Vancouver-based Ocean Wise, greenwash this slow march to extinction and certify Alaskan salmon as sustainable.

Two years ago, Watershed Watch and SkeenaWild Conservation joined forces to fight back. 

We’ve been hounding our politicians to stand up to the Alaskans and helped our commissioners elevate this issue to the No. 1 priority at the treaty table. We’ve put the Marine Stewardship Council and Ocean Wise on notice that we are going to challenge their greenwashing of Alaska’s brutal interception fisheries. And our list of allies is growing.

In Washington State, conservation groups are in court challenging Alaska’s failure to account for the food needs of southern resident orcas when establishing unsustainable fishing quotas. In Alaska, the mismanagement of that state’s own salmon populations have led to court actions and demands for Congressional intervention.

But it’s not enough. We need Canadian consumers and those around the world to take Alaskan salmon off the menu. 

To learn more please read about Alaska’s Dirty Secret and send a letter to Ocean Wise and the Marine Stewardship Council demanding they stop greenwashing this unsustainable fishery. 

Together, we can stop this. We have to.

Share This Story!

Remember the Salmon War?

February 15, 2024

By: David Mills

It was 1997 and Canadian fishers on the West Coast were fed up. With the Pacific Salmon Treaty lapsed, Alaskan fleets had caught close to four times their allotment of B.C.-bound sockeye, claiming it was incidental bycatch, leaving virtually nothing for B.C.’s central and north coast fishers. Sound familiar?

In retaliation, the North Coast fleet blockaded the Alaska ferry after it docked in Prince Rupert, setting off an international dispute. Then-premier Glen Clark threatened to close the Nanoose Bay torpedo testing range to the U.S. Navy and fired an angry letter off to the U.S. president at the time, Bill Clinton. One month later, B.C.’s south coast fleet poured into Johnstone Strait to intercept America’s entitlement to Fraser River sockeye.

The dispute got ugly and it took a toll on both salmon populations and fishing communities. Our politicians demonstrated backbone, though, and forced Alaska to the table for a new Pacific Salmon Treaty signed in 1999. 

David Mills

Fast forward nearly 25 years and it feels like deja vu. Alaskan fleets today catch more B.C. salmon and steelhead than B.C. fishers do, decimating those species and the ecosystems and livelihoods that depend on them. Our salmon runs are so vulnerable to this Alaskan plundering because many of them must swim through Alaskan waters on their way home to spawn in B.C. rivers. 

Credit: Tavish Campbell

Last season, just off our northern boundary, seiners and gillnetters in southeast Alaska harvested over 18 million salmon—more than all of the fisheries in B.C., Washington, and Oregon combined. It is estimated that nearly 45 per cent of the Skeena steelhead run was killed in Alaskan nets. Central coast rivers were eerily empty of chum, while in southeast Alaska 1.8 million were harvested. Alarming as those numbers are, the real death toll is much higher: Alaskan fishers are only required to report their bycatch in the first few weeks of the fishing season. For the remainder, the dead chinook and steelhead bycatch are left uncounted. Our research shows 3.1 million of those fish were likely Canadian.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty is supposed to protect each country from exactly this type of interception over-fishing. Clearly it’s not working. Members of the Pacific Salmon Commission are meeting this week in Vancouver but there is no expectation they will actually make progress toward stopping the plunder. When they can be bothered to show up, the Alaskan delegation stonewalls Canadian attempts to negotiate. And why not? Nobody is intercepting their fish, or harvesting them to the brink of extinction.

With Fraser sockeye in steep decline, Canada has lost its leverage. We can’t compel the U.S. delegation to bring Alaska to the table to protect a Washington State sockeye allocation that no longer exists. Infuriatingly, so-called eco-labels, including the Marine Stewardship Council and Vancouver-based Ocean Wise, greenwash this slow march to extinction and certify Alaskan salmon as sustainable.

Two years ago, Watershed Watch and SkeenaWild Conservation joined forces to fight back. 

We’ve been hounding our politicians to stand up to the Alaskans and helped our commissioners elevate this issue to the No. 1 priority at the treaty table. We’ve put the Marine Stewardship Council and Ocean Wise on notice that we are going to challenge their greenwashing of Alaska’s brutal interception fisheries. And our list of allies is growing.

In Washington State, conservation groups are in court challenging Alaska’s failure to account for the food needs of southern resident orcas when establishing unsustainable fishing quotas. In Alaska, the mismanagement of that state’s own salmon populations have led to court actions and demands for Congressional intervention.

But it’s not enough. We need Canadian consumers and those around the world to take Alaskan salmon off the menu. 

To learn more please read about Alaska’s Dirty Secret and send a letter to Ocean Wise and the Marine Stewardship Council demanding they stop greenwashing this unsustainable fishery. 

Together, we can stop this. We have to.

Share This Story!

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

Stand with us to defend wild Pacific salmon

One Comment

  1. Thomas Stevens March 18, 2024 at 9:48 am - Reply

    How do I recognize Alaskan salmon? I am already receiving your e-mails

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