Canada, U.S. agree on salmon protection

Associated Press

The U.S. and Canada have reached a new 10-year agreement aimed at preventing overfishing of salmon off the western coast of Canada and southeast Alaska.

The plan announced Thursday by the Pacific Salmon Commission could most affect chinook salmon, which migrate from Washington to the waters of British Columbia and Alaska, where they are often caught by sport and commercial fisheries.

Under the proposed change to the existing Pacific Salmon Treaty, the U.S. would give Canada $30 million for its effort to reduce commercial salmon fishing; Alaska would receive about $7 million. Washington would receive about $7 million to improve chinook habitat.

Alaska will reduce its catch of wild salmon 15% over the next 10 years; Canada will make a 30% reduction.

In addition to management of chinook, the plan addresses coho, chum, and pink and sockeye salmon. Officials believe it could allow about 1 million more chinook to return to hatcheries or spawning areas in Puget Sound.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire called the agreement historic.

"This could not have happened had we not come with a common goal and a collaborative approach," she said. "We now have a fighting chance to save the salmon."

The pact must be approved by federal officials and the Canadian government; the money to be allocated to Canada, Alaska and Washington state needs congressional approval.

The agreement comes less than a month after federal authorities declared the West Coast ocean salmon fishery a failure, opening the way for Congress to appropriate economic disaster assistance for coastal communities in California, Oregon and Washington.

The declaration stemmed from the sudden collapse of the chinook salmon run in California's Sacramento River, where the salmon return to spawn. Scientists are studying the causes of the collapse, with possible factors including ocean conditions, habitat destruction, dam operations and agricultural pollution.

The agreement does not address the coastal salmon fishery collapse.

Bill Ruckelshaus, chairman of the Puget Sound Partnership and former Environmental Protection Agency chief, said the increase of about 100,000 chinook returning to the region each year eventually would help the fish recover enough to be taken off the endangered species list.

"Our goal is to restore the whole ecosystem in Puget Sound," he said. "Restoring the salmon is a big part of that."

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