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Groups Want New Fish Treaty

by Les Blumenthal, Washington, D.C., Bureau
The News Tribune, September 26, 2005

Coalition says most chinook caught by Canadian trollers are from U.S.

WASHINGTON -- Even as the federal government spends more than a half-billion dollars a year to restore Pacific Northwest salmon runs, new DNA samples show nearly 90 percent of chinook caught by Canadian fishermen off the west coast of Vancouver Island come from the United States.

And most of the fish caught by Canadian trollers are endangered salmon from Puget Sound and the Columbia River Basin, according to a coalition of utilities and sport-fishing groups threatening to sue unless the Pacific Salmon Treaty between Canada and the U.S. is renegotiated.

"The Canadian catch should be a key piece of any effort to restore these runs," said Svend Brandt-Erichsen, a Seattle lawyer representing the coalition.

If the Canadians don't agree to adjust their catch, the United States should consider barring imports of Canadian fresh and canned salmon, Brandt-Erichsen said. Federal law bars the importation of endangered species.

"It's often said we have no leverage over Canadian fishing," he said. "We do. It's against the law to import improperly caught Endangered Species Act fish."

In a letter to Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the coalition gave 60 days' notice of its intent to sue unless the treaty with Canada is renegotiated. Such notice is required before a lawsuit can be filed against the federal government.

"I don't know how this will shake out," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in Seattle, which coordinates the region's salmon recovery efforts. "We have to see what the plaintiffs say in their filing."

A spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., had no comment.

The DNA testing showed that 88 percent of the chinook salmon caught by Canadian troll fishermen between October 2003 and September 2004 were from the United States. Salmon are born in fresh water and migrate to the ocean, where they spend several years before returning to fresh water to spawn and die.

Almost 20 percent of the chinook caught by Canadians were from Puget Sound and almost half were from the Columbia River Basin, including the Snake River.

Almost 60 percent of U.S. chinook salmon caught off Vancouver Island were from endangered and threatened runs protected under U.S. law, Brandt-Erichsen said. The endangered and threatened fish include both native and hatchery-raised ones. The Bush administration recently decided to cover hatchery stocks under the Endangered Species Act.

"This is one of the implications of listing hatchery fish as protected fish," said Brandt-Erichsen.

The DNA sampling was analyzed by U.S. and Canadian scientists on a Pacific Salmon Commission technical committee, he said. The commission administers the treaty between the two countries.

Even though the sampling involves fish caught only by troll fishermen, Brandt-Erichsen said the trollers are responsible for the largest share of the Canadians' overall salmon catch.

The federal government had concluded in a 1999 "biological opinion" that the Canadian catch would not jeopardize U.S. stocks, Brandt-Erichsen said. That opinion needs to be revisited, he said.

Federal and state agencies are spending an estimated $600 million a year trying to restore the Columbia River Basin salmon runs. A salmon plan recently unveiled for Puget Sound would cost about $1.5 billion over 10 years.

The coalition threatening the lawsuit includes Fish First, Friends of the East Fork and the Snohomish County Public Utility District. The Salmon Spawning & Recovery Alliance and the Native Fish Society are not members of the coalition but support the effort.

Les Blumenthal
Groups Want New Fish Treaty
The News Tribune, September 26, 2005

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