With just days to go before the salmon fishing season starts, there still is no sign the United States even wants to return to the bargaining table to end the Pacific salmon dispute.
Canada’s chief negotiator, former United Nations ambassador Yves Fortier, will contact his U.S. counterpart today to see if there is a basis for formal talks to resume.
“It’s in the interest of the fish stock,” said Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy. “We all have to be mindful that there’s a very fundamental conservation principle at stake here.”
Axworthy warned that fish stocks could be devastated if something can’t be done to ensure salmon conservation before the season opens in two weeks.
Axworthy took time out from the summit meeting of the leaders of the world’s major industrialized countries to meet with Fortier over the weekend. Fortier flew to Denver after talks bogged down and broke off in Richmond, British Columbia, on Friday.
Talks in Richmond adjourned with the two sides far apart on how much of the salmon catch will be allotted to each country.
“We still are prepared to look for a solution,” said Axworthy. “But we don’t think we can have a deal at any price. It has to be based upon clear Canadian interest.”
Axworthy said there has been constant communication between Canadian and U.S. officials on the salmon issue in Denver but the real talks have to be left to the negotiators at a bargaining table.
But even if talks resume, it might be impossible for a deal to be concluded before the salmon season begins.
It may be necessary for both sides to come to a provisional agreement to allow the season to begin in an orderly way. Stakeholders, particularly in the United States, might have to approve any agreement after it already has gone into effect.
“It would be a provisional agreement, but it at least would give us the basic guidelines we would need to proceed into the new fishing season,” Axworthy said.
The only alternative would be binding arbitration, but the United States consistently has refused to turn the matter over to an arbitrator, saying that would be a violation of U.S. sovereignty.
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien briefly took the matter up with President Clinton on Saturday but received no commitment from him.