Conserving Salmon on the High Seas

Posted by Robert C. Jones
December 4, 2012
A Chinook Salmon Jumps Dagger Falls

The conservation and management of wild salmon in the North Pacific Ocean is a priority for the Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Many American families rely on fish and other marine resources for their livelihoods; annually, the U.S. commercial fishing industry catches $370 million worth of salmon and more than 3 million U.S. saltwater recreational anglers fish for salmon in the Pacific northwest region of the United States.

International law generally prohibits fishing for salmon on the high seas (that is, ocean areas beyond the fisheries jurisdiction of any nation). However, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing for salmon on the high seas remains a persistent problem that detrimentally affects the sustainability of North Pacific salmon stocks and threatens the productive use of these marine resources for American citizens. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, annual global economic losses in all fisheries due to IUU fishing are estimated at approximately $10 billion to $23 billion. The protection of salmon from illegal fishing is a critical part of a multifaceted effort to ensure the sustainability of salmon fisheries throughout the North Pacific region.

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) is an international organization that promotes the conservation of salmon in the North Pacific and its adjacent seas, and serves as a venue for cooperation in and coordination of scientific research and fisheries enforcement activities. The members of the NPAFC are Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States. Among the primary roles of the NPAFC is to enforce the prohibition of fishing for salmon on the high seas of the North Pacific. This year, cooperation among member countries led to the apprehension of a stateless vessel engaged in illegal driftnet fishing by the USCG High Endurance Cutter RUSH.

Early this October, I traveled with the U.S. Delegation, made up of representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Coast Guard, the State Department, the environmental community, and fishing industry, to Saint Petersburg, Russia, to participate in the 20th Annual Meeting of the NPAFC. Among my colleagues representing the U.S. at the meeting were Washington State Commissioner Gary Smith, Deputy Regional Administrator Robert Mecum of the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region, Captain Greg Sanial of the U.S. Coast Guard District 17, headquartered in Juneau, Alaska, and David Gravallese, Attorney-Adviser with the State Department's Office of the Legal Adviser.

We discussed scientific data that revealed an increase in the abundance of Pacific salmon in the North Pacific to record high levels! This is strong evidence suggesting that the international collaborative efforts under the NPAFC are paying off, given the steep declines salmon faced in the latter half of the 20th century.

During the Commission's meeting, leading salmon researchers from the United States and other member countries brought forward research and discussed factors that may be contributing to variability in abundance patterns among salmon species and potential changes in abundance over the next several years. These factors include potential impacts of ocean conditions on stocks, particularly migration and survival of juvenile salmon in ocean ecosystems, and especially, fishing -- legal and illegal.

While these are encouraging signs that international cooperation on salmon management is paying off, the United States will continue to push for greater collaboration for the conservation of salmon. Consumers can make a tremendous impact on the conservation of salmon by purchasing products that are caught in a sustainable manner. With all of the seafood guides out there, determining what seafood to buy can be a bit daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Check out this website produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on how to make an informed decision next time you are at the fish market.



Florida, USA
December 5, 2012

Matt in Florida writes:

An interesting article! Who operates these 'stateless' vessels? Are they the fishing pirates of the high seas out to catch whatever and wherever? Or are they commercial fishing vessels from a specific country that took a day off from legality?


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