A blockade of Canadian fishing boats kept an Alaska ferry from leaving port Saturday in a dispute over Pacific salmon that U.S. and Canadian fishermen share.
The Malaspina docked early Saturday morning but was immediately surrounded by about 100 fishing vessels. The ferry was allowed to unload vehicles and people and take on about 300 new passengers, but it was unable to depart as scheduled at about 8 a.m., said Bob King, spokesman for Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles.
Fishermen said they planned to hold the ferry there until the Canadian government responds to their claims that Alaska has been catching too many sockeye salmon bound for spawning waters in British Columbia.
The Alaska Marine Highway System, which runs the ferries, has ordered the Malaspina’s captain to sit tight and not provoke the situation, King said.
“Our immediate concern is the safety of the passengers,” King said.
On Friday night, fishing boats prevented an Alaska vessel carrying tons of salmon from docking at a Prince Rupert seafood plant. The Alaska boat and a British Columbia fishing vessel collided, slightly damaging the Canadian boat.
No injuries were reported. The Alaska vessel headed back to U.S. waters.
The blockades followed an announcement Friday that Washington fleets would resume fishing for sockeye salmon headed toward the Fraser River to spawn. U.S. fishing regulators said that salmon run was bigger than expected, but Canadian officials said reopening the fishery would endanger the breeding stocks.
The dispute stems from stalled negotiations over revisions to the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985, which sets fishing guidelines for salmon shared by fishermen in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.
Canadians say U.S. fishing fleets catch up to 5 million more salmon a year than they are entitled to. British Columbia fishermen also say Alaska sets its quotas too high for some salmon species such as chinook, endangering fish stocks that spawn along the west coast of Vancouver Island.
With treaty talks in limbo, Alaska fishing managers have been setting their own salmon quotas, saying their numbers leave plenty of room to protect fish stocks. Canadians, though, say the U.S. fish catch is too high, depleting salmon runs and forcing British Columbia fleets to lower their own quotas.
British Columbia Premier Glen Clark said the government is pressuring American fleets to reduce their catch but that frustration has boiled over among Canadian fishermen.
“It was obvious to everyone that pressure was building in Prince Rupert,” Clark said.
Canadian fishermen also blocked an Alaska ferry at Prince Rupert in 1995. Some state leaders have said Alaska should stop sending ferries into Prince Rupert and find another port to replace it.
King said ferry-system director Gary Hayden has been instructed to look into alternative ports. The ferry system links southern Alaska to Washington state.