In 1985 Canada and the United States signed the Pacific Salmon Treaty and formed the Pacific Salmon Commission in an attempt to regulate and allocate harvests within the Chinook salmon fishery while conserving stocks in British Colombia as well as in Washington and Oregon. Alaska's refusal to reduce the harvest of its Southeastern troll fishery to meet Canadian management goals has intesified the conflict in recent years. The source of the conflict lies in the fact that the Southeast troll fishery is primarily an intercept fishery, with the majority of its Chinook harvest originating from salmon runs in B.C., Washington, and Oregon. Canada wants a larger allocation of the harvest while reducing harvest levels to protect weak salmon runs in B.C. In 1994 the PSC's Chinook Technical Committee called for significant reductions in 1995 harvest levels but was unable to present an acceptable multilateral management plan. With the breakdown of PSC negotiations Alaska implemented its own abundance based management plan, harvesting 175,000 of a 230,000 Chinook quota before Canada, Washington, Oregon, and a group of Native American tribes won a federal ban on Alaska's Southeastern troll fishery. However, this fall Alaskan negotiators managed to reconcile Washington, Oregon, and Native American plaintiffs to their new management plan, leaving Canada little or no leverage in the conflict.
The nature of the Southeastern troll fishery as an international intercept fishery makes political confilict almost inevitable. Canada's calls for a reduction in Alaskan harvest levels is weakened by their desire for a larger share of the reduced harvest. The highly political aspects of allocation issues have confused the scientific theories involved in the conservation and management efforts. Canadian fishery officials question the scientific integrity of the Alaskan abundance based management plan which sets a quota based on stock projections made from abundance figures in the early days of the season. Canada fears that a weak incoming year class will be decimated by the Alaskan model, endangering 68 small runs of wild Chinook salmon in B.C. that are the target of conservation efforts, as well as weak canadian hatcheries. Alaskan fishery scientists, however, refuse to allow seasonal fluctuations in hatchery stocks to directly inform their wild stock assessments. Canadian models which allow for this have dramatically underestimated population figures in past years according to alaskan fishery scientists. Dificulties in clarifying and agreeing upon a common scientific approach towards developing quotas highlights and exacerbates the weaknesses of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The Pacific Salmon Commission lack of enforcement capabilities allows the U.S. signatories to manhandle Canada with little or no repurcussions. Canada's lack of legal or political recourse can be seen in its 1994 attempt to deny its Fraser river salmon stocks to U.S. fishers by "vacuum" fishing off most of its stocks. However, the long term damage to its salmon run makes this an unlikely political recourse. The only eforcement available is a multilateral agreement which, given the alternative scientific models for establishing harvest levels, is unlikely anytime soon.
Obviously, a standardized scientific approach would deny either party the advantage of the competing scientific models. This will be difficult to accomplish given the political and economic agendas of the interested parties. Unfortunately, the Pacific Salmon Treaty does not level the playing field among the participating political and economic entities. Alaska has little economic or political incentive to reduce its catch to meet Canadian demands. When faced with a federal ban, Alaska sucessfuly managed an agreement with Washington, Oregon, and Native American groups. In effect, Alaska motivated to avoid the negative impacts of a federal ban on its Southeast chinook fishery. Make Alaska and the other parties more responsible for not reaching a multilateral agreement and the Pacific Salmon Treaty will become more politically and economically binding.