Canadian groups ask Governor Dunleavy to stop Alaskan harvest of BC salmon

Side by side photos of underwater and above the a boat of nets and salmon being hauled aboard and workers scrambling.
Photos by Dan Mesec and Steven J. Kaslowski.

BRITISH COLUMBIA – A coalition of Canadian conservation organizations has written Alaskan Governor Mike Dunleavy, asking him to stop Alaska’s harvest of B.C. wild salmon.

A recent report, commissioned by SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Watershed Watch Salmon Society, revealed that Southeast Alaskan commercial fisheries are catching huge numbers of salmon bound for B.C. rivers.

“B.C. wild salmon have hit record lows over the past few years,” says Greg Taylor, fisheries advisor to Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust. “While we’re closing many commercial, recreational and Indigenous fisheries to give salmon a chance to recover, Alaskans are catching those very same fish before they make it home to spawn.”

The coalition says that while commercial fishing was nearly non-existent in B.C. last summer, Alaskan fleets just across the border logged over 3,000 boat-days and harvested over 650,000 Canadian-origin sockeye. In comparison, only 110,000 sockeye were commercially harvested in all of B.C.

According to the report, Alaska provides little or no information on how many Canadian-origin chum, pink, and steelhead that co-migrate with Canadian sockeye are caught in Southeast Alaska each year, but the number is likely in the millions.

“We hope Governor Dunleavy will take these concerns seriously,” says Taylor. “Fortunately, to protect B.C. wild salmon swimming through Alaskan water, Alaskan’s don’t need to stop fishing. They simply need to shift their harvest efforts to inside waters where the majority of the Southeast Alaska seine fleet already fishes and where they can target Alaskan salmon populations.”

The coalition calls into question the ability of the Pacific Salmon Treaty to address this issue. 

“When the Treaty was created in the 1980s, salmon harvests by both countries were in the millions, but now Canada is closing its fisheries because not enough salmon are reaching their spawning grounds,” says Misty MacDuffee of Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

”The core principles of the treaty are to prevent overfishing, reduce interceptions, and ensure both countries receive benefits equal to the production of salmon within their waters. Why are these principles not being met?”

Other concrete actions the coalition has identified to solve this problem include:

  • closing the District 104 net fishery (which intercepts large numbers of B.C.-bound salmon) and moving those vessels to inside waters where they will target Alaska-origin stocks;
  • reducing harvest rates in other Southeast Alaska salmon fisheries to avoid overfishing of Canadian-origin stocks;
  • implementing catch reporting for all target and non-target species as is required in Canadian commercial salmon fisheries; and
  • requiring fishers to release bycatch species back to the water immediately, with the “least possible harm,” and implement sorting practices that enable live release, consistent with the same condition of licences in B.C. fisheries.

The groups hope to meet with the governor, or a designated representative from his office to discuss their concerns and proposed solutions.