British Columbia fishermen dropped their nets for the 1997 salmon season Monday and some wondered what the fuss was about.
As Premier Glen Clark accused Americans in an open letter of ignoring conservation, fishermen on both sides of the border say they’ve never seen so many salmon.
“The run looks good,” said gillnetter Calvin Siider, who was fishing near Port Hardy on Monday.
“It looks the best I’ve ever seen it. The Americans aren’t going to commit political suicide by overfishing. They have a right to these fish too. We all do.”
The lack of fishing season rules between the two countries was a result of Canadian and U.S. negotiators failing to reach agreement on catch quotas under the 1985 U.S.Canada Salmon Treaty. So each country is setting its own season.
American fishermen said they’ve also been told the numbers are even higher than anticipated.
“This is how we make our living. We conserve,” said Washington state fisherman Jim Jenkins. “I assume that the fact we are out here is because the numbers have been shown to be coming up or we wouldn’t be open.”
Canadian gillnet fishermen were out in their boats Monday for the first 12-hour opening in the Juan de Fuca and Johnstone straits. Depending on the catch, there may be another opening on Tuesday.
Siider said although the fish are there, fishermen were hampered by rough weather.
The early Stuart run, the first and most valuable of the season, is returning to spawn a week later than usual.
Scientists have expected there would be about one million fish in the run, although Siider and others say it looks bigger than that.
The healthy numbers prompted the Americans to open their fishery last weekend, a move that British Columbia officials say is a provocation because the United States hasn’t fished the run in years.
While Canada has restricted its fishery to short time periods, specific areas and only certain boats, the United States has hit the run hard, officials say.
In his letter, Clark writes that Washington’s commercial fishing interests have “failed the first test of salmon conservation. You don’t fish until you are certain the stocks can take it.”
It’s not the number of early Stuart fish that is the problem or even that the Americans are fishing the run, Clark said. It’s that the U.S. went ahead and opened its fishery last weekend before scientists were sure it was safe to do so.