May 27, 1997 in Nation/World

Canadians Detain U.S. Fishing Boats Action Follows Collapse Of Talks On U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty

Rory Marshall Associated Press

A third U.S.-flagged fishing boat was detained by Canadian authorities Monday for failing to notify them as it entered Canadian waters, officials said.

The detentions followed last week’s breakdown in talks to renew the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The collapse of the negotiations here prompted the Canadian government to order strict enforcement of regulations that require U.S. boats to notify Canadian officials and stow their fishing gear below decks when passing through Canadian waters.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman did not return a call for comment on what actions the United States might take in response to the detentions.

But Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy downplayed the seizures Monday, saying the vessels were brought into port to be checked.

“As soon as that assessment and examination are complete, they will be released,” he said.

A Seattle-based fisherman who has participated in the talks to split the regional salmon harvest called Canada’s actions “simply harassment.”

The 110-foot crab boat Four Daughters was taken into custody early Monday off northeastern Vancouver Island for failure to hail in, said Bud Graham, a spokesman for the Canadian Fisheries Department. The vessel’s homeport was not immediately identified.

On Sunday, the Seattle-based Nautilus and the Janet G, which was based on Vashon Island before its recent sale to a Petersburg, Alaska, man, were escorted into Port Hardy, British Columbia.

All three crews were released pending court appearances today, said Lt. Steve Teschendorf of the U.S. Coast Guard here.

The Canadian regulations requiring U.S. boats to check in and stow their fishing gear have been in effect since last year, but enforcement began only last week. The maximum fine is about $350,000 U.S., “but it’s extremely unlikely that that would be the ruling of the courts,” Graham said.

The crews will be free to leave following their court appearances, Canadian Press reported.

Foreign vessels licensed to fish in Canada are exempt from the rules.

Canadian Press reported that salmon talks are expected to resume Friday. Axworthy earlier indicated they would resume this week.

Late last week, British Columbia Premier Glen Clark said the province was giving 90 days notice of its plan to cancel a license for U.S. Navy vessels to use Vancouver Island’s Nanoose Bay weapons testing facility.

Clark was scheduled to meet Tuesday with Washington Gov. Gary Locke.

“We’re not doing this to be provocative for the sole purpose of sort of poking the elephant,” Clark said Monday. “Hopefully we’ve got their attention…(and we) can sit down and get a treaty quickly and be good neighbors as we want to be.”

The salmon talks were held under the auspices of the Pacific Salmon Commission, a panel with members from both nations that administers the treaty. The 1985 pact is supposed to be renewed annually, but negotiators have not been able to reach agreement on terms for renewal since 1994.

The pact covers salmon management in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and southeast Alaska, and guarantees each nation “equity,” which is defined as benefits from the fish in the proportion to spawning that occurs in each nation’s inland waters.

Canada says U.S. fishermen have been catching roughly 4 million more salmon each year than they should be, costing the Canadian industry $45 million each year.

In the absence of treaty terms, each side has used information gathered by the Pacific Salmon Commission to govern its own fisheries without a coordinated effort to preserve and enhance dwindling runs in Oregon and Washington.

Yves Fortier, the chief Canadian negotiator, said last week’s negotiations stalled when his U.S. counterpart, Mary Beth West, revealed that she lacked the power to compromise on some issues.

U.S. officials suggested the Canadians broke off the talks to avoid risking a loss of support for Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Canada’s June 2 elections.

Bob Thorstenson of Seattle, vice president of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association and one of the stakeholders involved in earlier talks, agreed U.S. boats should comply with Canada’s rule and notify authorities when they are in Canadian waters.

“The main issue, of course, is simply harassment, because the Canadians have failed to come to the realization that their long-held views on equity are incorrect,” he said Monday.

Canada wants equity based simply on the number of fish caught, without taking into consideration such things as the value of U.S.-caught fish that are processed in Canada, Thorstenson said.

He said the Nautilus is a tender that has delivered fish caught in Alaska waters to processors in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

“I don’t think the guys are intentionally running through their waters” and breaking regulations, he added, noting that about 1,000 U.S. fishing boats will be traversing Canadian waters between now and the end of June on their way to southeast Alaska fishing grounds.

“This is sort of like first-graders having a spelling bee and telling the guy that if he doesn’t spell it right then they’re going to take him out to the playground and bloody his nose,” Thorstenson said.

In British Columbia, meanwhile, some Canadian fishermen cheered the detentions.

“I think it will be helpful. I think there should be more of it,” John Sutcliffe, a spokesman for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, said from Vancouver.

But a fishery worker in Port Hardy worried the move would only drive the two sides further apart.

“It’s just going to create more problems than it solves. It’s just politicians flexing their muscles,” said the worker, who declined to be named, in an interview with Canadian Press.

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