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U.S., Canada Still Fishing for Agreement on Salmon

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From Reuters

Increasingly at odds over everything from wheat to wood, U.S. and Canadian trade officials tried but failed Thursday to defuse their fish war.

Negotiators sat down at the table for three hours and emerged with little to say except that new talks will follow.

“It was a useful and productive dialogue,” a Commerce Department spokesman said. “Another meeting is scheduled.”

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The dispute over salmon erupted in May when the two sides failed to agree on this year’s Pacific harvest and abruptly called off negotiations.

A Canadian official played down Thursday’s slim results, saying the two sides will meet again next week in Toronto.

“I don’t think brilliant breakthroughs were expected today. This was just a start,” the embassy aide said.

In other words, the two sides remain at loggerheads.

Canada says U.S. vessels are catching too much of its prized sockeye salmon, hauling in the Canadian fish as the salmon try to return to spawning grounds in the rivers of British Columbia.

Thursday’s resumption in talks followed the personal intervention of Vice President Al Gore, rarely a player in international trade matters.

Last Saturday, however, Gore told Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin that Washington would return to the table if Canada lifted a contentious $1,125 license fee it slapped on U.S. fishing boats last month.

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Washington had complained that the fee--imposed on U.S. boats between the Pacific Northwest and Alaska--was inconsistent with international law and forced cash-strapped fishermen to take dangerously to the open seas.

Canada, in turn, said the get-tough approach was the only way to bring the Americans back to the negotiating table. Indeed, the tactic appeared to work, even if the dispute was not resolved.

The talks pitted U.S. Commerce Deputy Undersecretary Douglas Hall against Canada’s Deputy Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bill Rowat and Assistant Deputy Minister Pat Schamut.

Talks on the 1994 sockeye harvest quotas stalled in May, and time is running short before the season opens in earnest.

Canada says all it wants is equity; it complains that U.S. overfishing nets Americans $49 million more in Canada-bound salmon than Canadian vessels catch in U.S.-bound sockeye.

The latest U.S. quota proposal--offered under a 1985 harvest treaty--would only serve to boost the imbalance to $75 million and endanger already-depleted Canadian stocks, officials there say.

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Along with fish, the two sides are embroiled in a host of other trade spats. And while each one amounts to but a blip in the big picture--a $210-billion two-way trade flow--any one could spawn a wider retaliatory trade war.

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