What to watch for at world salmon meeting

The Daily Gleaner - Commentary

What to watch for at world salmon meeting


In less than two weeks, national government representatives from around the salmon world will meet in Portland, Maine for the annual summit of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization. NASCO is the United Nations of wild Atlantic Salmon, and like the UN, it has strengths and weaknesses.

The idea for NASCO was formed in the late 1970s, when ASF and the U.K.-based Atlantic Salmon Trust began pushing governments for an international response to salmon conservation. The dominant issue was the need to regulate commercial Atlantic salmon fisheries happening far from home rivers in Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

States with resident salmon populations or fisheries agreed to act, a treaty was drafted, and in 1984 NASCO was born. Right away the high seas became off limits. Governments agreed to stop targeting salmon in international waters and agreed to restrict how far off shore people could fish in territorial waters.

NASCO gave Canada, the U.S., and European states, so-called home water countries, a forum to influence distant water fisheries for highly migratory Atlantic salmon. Quotas dropped along with salmon abundance and in some ways NASCO helped avoid, or at least slowed, a race to the bottom.

But over time, once harvests were reduced from reckless levels, NASCO tripped on the stumbling block of domestic politics. As Article 1 of the NASCO treaty states,ďNothing in this convention shall restrict the rights, claims, or views of any party.ĒIn other words, NASCO canít force anything and countries have an inherent right to harvest fish in their domestic waters.

In Greenland, this manifested in a long-running fishery against international scientific advice. The only solution has been private agreements between fishermen, ASF, and our European partner the North Atlantic Salmon Fund. In fact, a new 12-year agreement was signed in late May.

In Canada, around 130 tonnes of wild salmon are caught every year, including fish from mixed populations and rivers not meeting conservation requirements. This doesnít seem to be a big issue at NASCO, perhaps because the harvest is greatly reduced from past decades. Still, our domestic performance saps the moral authority of the federal government to act internationally.

Then you have open net-pen salmon aquaculture. NASCO has made the industry a priority topic because of its negative effects on wild fish and the environment. There have been special sessions, and Canada at NASCO has agreed to the goal of zero escapes and zero impact from sea lice on wild salmon. Yet the federal government has periodically sent industry oriented officials that resist broad consensus on change.

Despite past frustrations like these, there is hope for progress and some interesting things to watch for at the upcoming Portland summit. First, itís actually a negotiation year for Greenland. In 2014 the countryís representatives unilaterally declared a 45 tonne quota, personal and commercial, which expired at the end of the 2017 fishing season. Under the terms of the new Greenland Conservation Agreement, we are expecting that countryís delegates to publicly declare a zero commercial quota and no more than a 20 tonnes subsistence harvest.

For aquaculture, itís a sort-of-negotiation year as well. On issues like fish farming, stocking, invasive species, and domestic fisheries, countries commit to five-year action plans and then report progress annually. The latest five-year cycle expires this year and then a new one begins.

As co-chair of the 37 accredited NGOs at NASCO, ASF receives the progress reports and helps grade governments on their work, but itís often hard to judge because sometimes statements are made with little supporting information. ASF and the other NGOs at NASCO this year will be pushing for better reporting requirements for the next 5-year period, although it will be up to the national delegations to decide whether any changes are made.

Something else to watch for is how the U.S., playing on home ice, reacts to news about the Labrador and Greenland fisheries. Information from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, which provides NASCO with unbiased data and advice, found U.S. wild Atlantic salmon, a federally-listed endangered species, were swept up last year in measurable numbers.

In 2017, 1.1 per cent of fish sampled from the Labrador catch and 1.4 per cent of fish sampled from the Greenland catch were found to be of U.S. origin. Itís a very rough estimate, but this could add up to 150 individual salmon. Small numbers yes, but consider that less than 1,050 wild salmon returned to all U.S. rivers last year, and itís fair to say every fish counts.

NASCO is open to the public when the national delegations make their opening remarks and during any special sessions. It runs this year from June 12-15.

NEVILLE CRABBE is director of communications for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

In Canada, around 130 tonnes of wild salmon are caught every year, including fish from mixed populations and rivers not meeting conservation requirements.