U.S. Stance Means Salmon Could Join
by Scott Sutherland
VICTORIA (CP) - Salmon squabbles may soon be added to the growing list of trade skirmishes between Canada and the U.S. - battles that include softwood, beef, wheat and potatoes., an Opposition MP warns.
John Cummins, Canadian Alliance fisheries critic, said a decision by the U.S. Congress not to pay its share of the budget for the Pacific Salmon Commission is another sign of Canada's fallen standing in Washington.
The Vancouver-based commission draws equal funding from both sides of the border, monitoring threatened salmon stocks that are shared under the Canada-U.S Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Despite a full Canadian contribution this spring, the money is running out and "there were very strong indications that the commission would be closing at some point early in September," Cummins said Friday.
In March, the U.S. Congress cut funding for fiscal 2003. In July, the House appropriations committee refused to fund the commission for 2004, raising the spectre of a full U.S. withdrawal.
Cummins, MP for Delta South-Richmond, said it's another indication of the broken fences that the federal government must mend with the administration of President George W. Bush.
"About a million bucks, that's what we're short here to keep the salmon commission operating," he said. "The American Congress spends a million dollars like you or I might spend a buck for a coffee."
Larry Cassidy, a U.S. commissioner from Washington state, has said that the loss of funding will not nullify the bilateral salmon treaty, renegotiated in 1999.
But if the commission were to close, it would make it harder to enforce the agreement and could lead to renewed confrontations between Canadian and U.S. fishermen.
The treaty issue came to a head in 1997 when American fish boats headed to Alaska through Canadian waters were subjected to searches and a transit fee.
Some Canadian fishing boats blocked an Alaska-bound ferry in Prince Rupert, claiming Americans were taking too many B.C.-bound fish.
B.C. frustration over Ottawa's handling of negotiations also sparked a federal-provincial confrontation. Then-premier Glen Clark threatened to deny Canadian and U.S. navy ships access to a weapons-testing range off Vancouver Island.
Ottawa responded by expropriating the Nanoose Bay weapons range, a move later overturned in court.
In an interview earlier this week the commission's executive secretary, Don Kowal, said some or all of the commission's staff may soon be dismissed.
Cummins said he suspects powerful Alaskan politicians may be behind the decision to withhold the commission's funds.
Last year, Frank Murkowski, then a senator for Alaska, asked the U.S. secretary of state to reopen the Pacific Salmon Treaty in response to British Columbia's decision to lift the moratorium on salmon farm expansion.
Murkowski now is governor of Alaska while his daughter Lisa has been named to fill his Senate seat. The state's senior senator, Ted Stevens, chairs the Senate appropriations committee.
"There's a strong Alaska lobby here and Alaskan senators in key positions that would ensure the money would flow have (instead) decided to turn off the tap," Cummins said.
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