The Pacific Salmon Treaty

In March, 1985 the United States and Canada agreed to cooperate in the management, research and enhancement of Pacific salmon stocks of mutual concern by ratifying the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The Treaty embodies the commitment made by Canada and the United States to carry out their salmon fisheries and enhancement programs so as to:

  • prevent over-fishing and provide for optimum production, and
  • ensure that both countries receive benefits equal to the production of salmon originating in their waters.

In fulfilling these obligations, both countries agreed to take into account:

  • the desirability in most cases of reducing interceptions
  • the desirability in most cases of avoiding undue disruption of existing fisheries, and
  • annual variations in abundance of the stocks.

Pacific Salmon Treaty

Treaty between the government of Canada and the government of the United States of America concerning Pacific Salmon

Why We Have the Treaty

Salmon fishery managers of Canada and the United States are challenged by the fact that some of the Pacific salmon each country produces are caught by fishermen of the other country. This harvest of one country’s salmon by another’s fishermen is called interception.

Interception exists because salmon swim across international borders, beyond the jurisdiction of the government in whose water they were spawned. The fish migrate long distances, spending several years at sea. In the course of their migratory cycle, United States-spawned fish enter the fishery zones of Canada and Canadian fish enter United States waters, where they are vulnerable to the other country’s fishing fleets.

Salmon interceptions have been the subject of discussion between the two countries since the early part of this century. Over the years, research by both countries revealed that Alaskan fishermen were catching salmon bound for British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington; Canadian fishermen were capturing coho, chinook and other species bound for rivers of Washington and Oregon; fishermen in northern British Columbia were intercepting salmon returning to Alaska, and United States fishermen were catching salmon as they traveled through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and San Juan Islands towards Canada’s Fraser River.

Unless management policies and conservation concerns are jointly agreed, one nation may harvest too many of the other country’s stocks and frustrate the home country’s management plans. Uncontrolled interceptions may also jeopardize the administrative and financial support needed for salmon enhancement programs: the home country may be reluctant to invest in hatcheries or habitat protection and restoration if the fish produced are caught by fishermen of another nation. Intercepting fisheries encourage overharvest and discourage investment in conservation and enhancement.

Through the years, the United States and Canada reached agreements over the management of particular salmon stocks in limited regions; for example, Fraser River sockeye and pink salmon. However, the number and diversity of each country’s intercepting fisheries defied small-scale solutions. The Pacific Salmon Treaty is broad in scope, enabling it to serve as the means to coordinated management of the coast-wide salmon resource.

Significant Revisions to the Pacific Salmon Treaty – 1999 to Present

The arrangements and institutions established in 1985 proved effective in the early years of the Treaty but became outmoded after 1992 when the original fishing arrangements expired. From 1992 to 1998, Canada and the United States were not able to reach agreement on comprehensive, coast-wide fisheries arrangements. In 1999 government-to-government negotiations culminated in the successful renewal of long-term fishing arrangements under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Some of the key elements introduced with the 1999 ten-year Agreement included the creation of the Transboundary Panel and the Committee on Scientific Cooperation, a move from fisheries based on negotiated catch ceilings to abundance-based management fisheries, and the establishment of the Northern and Southern Restoration and Enhancement funds.

In 2008 and again in 2018, the Pacific Salmon Commission recommended new ten-year agreements to the Governments of Canada and the United States for the conservation and sharing of Pacific salmon. The product of intense negotiations, the agreements advanced science-based conservation and the sustainable harvest of salmon migrating across the U.S.-Canadian border. The new fishing regimes are in force from 2019 through the 2028, with regular PSC review of stock status and regulatory effectiveness throughout that period.

The new fishing regimes are contained in the following Chapters of Annex IV of the Treaty:

  • Chapter 1. Transboundary Rivers
  • Chapter 2. Northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska Boundary Area
  • Chapter 3. Chinook Salmon
  • Chapter 5. Coho Salmon
  • Chapter 6. Southern British Columbia and Washington State Chum Salmon

Amendments to Chapter 4 (Fraser River) are pending federal approval in each country, and are due to enter force January 1, 2020.

Yukon River Salmon Agreement – 2002

In 1985, the Pacific Salmon Treaty included a commitment by Canada and the United States to carry on further negotiations concerning Yukon River salmon. The Parties exchanged notes concluding an agreement on Yukon River salmon in December 2002. There is a formal relationship between the Yukon Agreement and the Pacific Salmon Commission in that the Yukon River Agreement forms Chapter 8 of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. However, the Pacific Salmon Commission has no legal responsibility to administer the Yukon Agreement or to oversee the work of the Yukon Panel.