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The US/Canada Albacore Treaty Should Continue To Be Suspended - The US View United States, January 16, 13

Is the U.S. outsourcing its local albacore tuna catch to Canada?
From a local west coast albacore tuna fleet perspective the answer is “yes”. Despite U.S. albacore fishermen not favoring a continuation of the fishing regime under the U.S./Canada Albacore Tuna Treaty, the U.S. Department of State is moving forward with a proposal to put in place a 2013 regime. They are citing increasing pressure from Canada to potentially retaliate against other U.S. agreements and ventures not connected remotely to the albacore fishery off the west coast. U.S. fishermen believe they are about to be thrown under the bus by their own government.
The U.S./Canada Albacore treaty established in 1981 was suspended in 2012 at the U.S. fishermen’s request. The treaty has worked well for many years allowing access to each other’s domestic waters to fish for albacore tuna. However, over the past decade the Treaty has swung completely out of balance due to increased fishing effort of the Canadian albacore fleet. The dramatic growth of this fleet since 1996 with access to U.S. waters and markets reduced the albacore catch of U.S. fishermen and caused dangerous crowding in the U.S. EEZ off Washington and Oregon. Suspension provided the first opportunity in 30 years to gain some perspective how the absence of a regime has impacted the U.S. fleet.
The vast majority of the U.S. albacore fleet now prefers continued suspension of the fishing regime for at least one more year. Joint NMFS and DFO working groups have been established to collect and evaluate information on fleet economics. WFOA members strongly feel at least one more year without Canadian effort in home waters will yield a better understanding of the costs and benefits and avoid potential inconclusive results due to inadequate data.
The entire U.S. albacore fishing fleet is frustrated that its requests to wait one more year have been ignored. WFOA members find the U.S. government proposal premature. U.S. fishermen’s concerns and requests have gone unresolved to this point. All U.S. fishermen want a clear understanding of the effect of continued Canadian presence on their livelihood.
Prior to 1996 the Canadian albacore fleet was very limited (less than 10 vessels), in size and capacity, and most Canadian vessels fished for albacore only when salmon and other fisheries were slack. Since then, landings and effort information show a very strong increase in the fishing capacity of the Canadian fleet. This current Canadian effort is well beyond the effort levels that existed when the Treaty was entered into.
Over the past 10 seasons excluding 2012, the Canadian, troll fleet has caught on average about 4,000 tons of albacore per season in the U.S. EEZ. This represents about 40% of the entire U.S. catch. Most of this catch is delivered in Canadian ports thus creating an outflow of millions of dollars from the U.S. Even when vessels unload in the U.S. most of the income also goes back to Canada.
Along with increased effort there has been a leasing system initiated for U.S. access permits. This has led to a state where costs of the permit have resulted in pressure on individual Canadian vessel operators to be exceedingly aggressive in their fishing methods in order to remain profitable.
Fishermen view the U.S. Department of State’s call to establish a fishing regime for 2013 a de facto finding that the greatest economic value to the U.S. obviously is via B.C. Regardless of the economics, we are distressed that the primary consideration of the U.S. government is to impose a fishing regime for the sake of having one. This may aggravate problems on the fishing grounds to dangerous levels. We are also concerned that the rush to conclude an agreement for the sake of an agreement may foreclose on opportunities for effected parties’ to formulate a regime which actually can be equally beneficial to both countries.

We are glad U.S. Dept of State and NMFS are interested in resolving this issue; but, fishermen need help in other areas to remain competitive with the Canadian fleet and the international fleet in general. The U.S. albacore fleet is stable and support U.S. coastal communities with their business. The Canadian fleet is transitory and most of their catch and income flows back to Canada while their fish compete with U.S. fishermen in a finite market. The U.S. in a time of high unemployment and distressed economics would be best served by supporting U.S. sustainable and healthful industries that support the local economies and not outsource our catch at home to a foreign country.