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Salmon Treaty Mugged by the Usual Suspects

Opinion / Editorials by
The Seattle Times - November 1, 1999

ALASKAN fishermen sit in the catbird's seat, happily hooking coastal salmon that swim by from Canada and the Pacific Northwest. They make a good living catching fish from other places.

Those salmon runs from elsewhere have fallen on hard times, and the effort to equitably managed the entire pool of fish for the benefit of all has been a nasty, bruising business.

The revised, four-month-old Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada was born of an epic struggle to satisfy regional and international interests.

Canada gave up a lot, and anger within the fishing industry has not died down. Indeed, Canada's chief negotiator was given a new job in Ottawa to get him out of British Columbia ahead of the lynch mobs.

For its part, the U.S. promised to invest in restoring salmon runs to the tune of $160 million. What Congress approved was barely a third of that, with a disproportionate share going to Alaska.

To further inflame matters, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, exempted the salmon fishery back home from the Endangered Species Act. Alaska did agree to reduce its coastal interceptions slightly, but it continues to feast on salmon from Washington and the Columbia basin. The governor, Democrat Tony Knowles, has the unmitigated gall to suggest that Alaska be left alone until the hydroelectric-bedeviled habitat in the lower 48 is cleaned up.

This one-two punch left environmental groups twitching with conflicted spasms. They could not abide Stevens exploiting the ESA, but they loved the sound of Knowles' on safe passage for salmon, meaning dam removal.

The combined effect of the two is to undercut the treaty and help Alaska land more fish from someplace else.

Grim pragmatism suggests granting the Alaskans an ESA exemption may make the most tactical sense, particularly if it is tailored toward the runs less at risk and least in play. It's an ugly precedent that precludes future cutbacks, but failure to secure the money actively subverts the U.S. role in an international treaty.

Knowles can hardly complain about the pace of habitat restoration if his rhetoric is used against the treaty and the budget.

If some of the salmon woes are cyclical, as the scientists say, at some point, Alaska will need help for fish troubles close to home. Won't that be interesting.

Opinion / Editorial
Salmon Treaty Mugged by the Usual Suspects
The Seattle Times, November 1, 1999

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