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Mediator’s ‘96 Salmon Solution Rejected By U.S., Ok To Canada

Sun., June 1, 1997

A New Zealand diplomat’s secret report suggests the Canadians are right about the festering dispute between the United States and Canada over sharing Pacific salmon.

Christopher Beeby, former New Zealand ambassador, was hired by the United States and Canada to mediate the region’s most complicated international dispute. Canada says U.S. fishermen have been catching roughly 4 million more salmon than they should.

Beeby’s document suggested an accounting formula that would likely force the United States to cut back its fishing dramatically or pay cash to Canada as compensation.

But the recommendations were rejected by the United States, according to Canadian officials. The proposal, written in January 1996, was supposed to be released to the public only if both sides agreed to accept it.

The Seattle Times reported on contents of the report in its Saturday editions.

U.S. officials confirmed Beeby was hired as a mediator but refused to discuss what he did.

“I can’t comment on any aspect of it,” said James Pipkin, the chief U.S. salmon negotiator for the past three years and currently a U.S. representative on the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Canadians see a different reason for American silence.

“I suppose they don’t want to discuss it because they don’t like what it says,” said Heather James, an International Fisheries officer for the Canadian government.

The Pacific Salmon Treaty, signed in 1985, called for an undefined, equitable sharing of fish that navigate the waters of both countries and return to their home rivers to spawn.

Treaty management terms, regulations and quotas were last fully negotiated in 1992. Since then there have been only interim agreements interspersed with management by the states and Canada.

The current round of talks broke down May 20. Since then, Canadian officials have detained four U.S. boats - and fined their skippers - for travel through the Inside Passage without checking in with Canada or stowing their fishing gear.

The protected route between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland is traditionally used by ships traveling between the Lower 48 and Alaska.

Beeby proposed a fish-sharing formula that would “restore equity,” an acknowledgment that the treaty’s sharing provision has not been followed.

He suggested using the wholesale value of fish - the price per pound - to establish the value of the catch by each country.

Beeby, a diplomat for more than 30 years, is a judge with the World Trade Organization and could not be reached for comment.

“This is so important to us because it’s a vindication of what we’ve always been saying, and it comes from a third party, which carries a certain moral weight,” said Geoff Meggs, a spokesman for British Columbia Premier Glen Clark.

But top U.S. negotiators dismissed the idea of using a formula to calculate the dollar value of salmon, calling it a “bean-counting exercise” with no relationship to the natural world.

Dennis Austin of the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife said dollar comparisons are difficult. A 10-pound Snake River sockeye, which is on the Endangered Species List, is actually worth more than $1 million if all the commercial, societal and environmental values are tabulated, he said. Also, a king salmon caught and sold commercially generates less economic activity than the same salmon caught recreationally, he said.

“The bottom line is that the value of each salmon to us can be defined only by us, and Canada will never agree with us on what our fish are worth,” Austin said. “And vice versa with their fish. That’s why Canada goes through the calculations and says we owe them $400 million, and we do the calculations and say we owe them zero dollars.

“We have spent decades trying to play this mathematical game with them, and it doesn’t work,” he said.

The main reason it doesn’t work, Canadians say, is that any figures used will show that the United States is getting more than its fair share.

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