SEATTLE -- U.S. tribal and non-tribal commercial fishers have postponed the
harvest of fish from the Early Stuart component of the Fraser River sockeye run.
Washington state, tribal, and federal fisheries managers met today in Seattle to
evaluate current information about the Fraser sockeye run. Based on careful
consideration of current run size and in-season test fishing information, U.S. managers
decided that a U.S. fishery on Fraser sockeye should not begin at this time.
It had been anticipated, based on pre-season information, that the U.S. fishery
might begin as early as Monday. However, information made available today to both
countries' managers by the staff of the bilateral Pacific Salmon Commission suggested
the run was either a few days late, or smaller, than forecasted. U.S. managers will meet
Monday, and are expected to determine at that time when a fishery should begin.
Friday's decision to postpone fishery plans was made after tribal, WDFW and
federal members of the U.S. side of the Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser River
panel reviewed scientific data about the size and expected timing of the various
components of the sockeye run. American commercial fishers will harvest the sockeye
as they move through the U.S. waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan
Islands and Point Roberts.
The Canadian government was informed earlier this week of the U.S. plans.
These plans were designed to harvest 2.8 million Fraser sockeyes.
The fishery decision, normally made by the bilateral Fraser Panel, was made by
the Washington State and tribal managers after American and Canadian negotiators
tried for months without success to reach a salmon harvest agreement under the
auspices of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Even lacking such agreement, U.S. managers
fully intend to comply with agreed procedures for coordinating with Canada all decisions
about managing the sockeye fishery.
"Obviously, we had opted to have a long-term agreement in place by now," said
Bern Shanks, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But the fish
will soon arrive in Washington waters. The issue considered today was when to start
fishing so we do not miss opportunities to harvest a portion of the run that is not needed
on the spawning grounds."
Lorraine Loomis, Tribal representative on the U.S. Fraser Panel, said "We plan a
conservative, responsible fishery that will give our fishers an opportunity to harvest a
fair share of the sockeye, well within our historic harvest averages. We will not overfish.
The first priority of American managers will meet the spawning goals established by
Canada to ensure conservation of the resource."
The first few weeks of the season will focus on the so-called Early Stuart run of
sockeye. This run, just one of several stocks heading for the Fraser River during the
summer, is expected to number more than a million fish. The Early Stuart fish return to
Stuart Lake, hundreds of miles up the Fraser River.
This year's U.S. share of the Early Stuart run is consistent with the share tribal
and non-tribal fishers have harvested historically. The U.S. catch, which varies annually
with the size of the run, has ranged as high as 900,000 fish.
Biologist estimate this year's total Fraser River sockeye run will total 18 million
Treaty Indian and non-tribal fishers expect to share a U.S. harvest objective of
about 20 percent of the run. U.S. federal, tribal and WDFW fish managers will obtain
weekly updates of the run size and catches, and then decide the following week's
"If there are fewer fish, we will cut back our harvest. If there are more, we will
increase it," Shanks said. "This is the essence of abundance-based management,
which has been very successful for many years for the Fraser sockeye."
"Conservation is the most important goal for all the salmon species, and we
won't lose sight of it." Loomis added.
Shanks and Loomis called upon the Canadians to mirror Washington's
conservative approach to managing the Fraser runs, when they make decisions
regarding Canadian harvest of Washington-bound coho off the west coast of
"Wild coho from some American rivers - as well as native coho from British
Columbia streams - are in serious trouble," Shanks said. "We must face the fact that
overfishing off the west coast of Vancouver Island is a major contributor to this decline.
We will not successfully rebuild either country's wild runs unless Canada makes major
adjustments in how it manages its west coast Vancouver Island troll fishery."
Under the original terms of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, Canada was allowed to
take up to 1.8 million coho off Vancouver Island's west coast. Approximately half of
those fish are from the United States. In recent years, changed ocean conditions and
reduced production have rendered that harvest level far too high. As the treaty
negotiations neared their recent collapse, Canada announced it would agree to the
United States proposal of 560,000 coho for the West Coast Vancouver Island troll
fishery in 1997, but still insisted on a ceiling of one million for 1998, without any
indication of the size of next year's runs.
As much as three-quarters of the wild coho originating in the Stillaguamish,
Snohomish, Quillayute, Queets, Skagit and other Washington rivers can be taken if
Canada harvest 1.8 million coho off Vancouver Island, providing far too few fish for
spawning needs and U.S. fisheries.
Shanks and Loomis repeated their desire for a long-term, science-based formula
for managing coho that is as effective as the regime that has governed Fraser sockeye
harvests for many years. They added that the most important requirement is to meet
the conservation needs of the fish. That means large harvests when fish are abundant,
and limited or no harvest when wild runs are small.