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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Bilateral Issues

Date: 07/21/2010 Description: Coho salmon in Alaskan stream. - State Dept Image

Bilateral Issues

The United States must work particularly closely with our neighbors to conserve and manage our many shared living marine resources. With Canada, in particular, the State Department has led negotiations to establish a number of formal agreements and treaties that facilitate cooperation on shared resources, including Pacific salmon and halibut, and coordinate efforts to restore and manage fisheries in the Great Lakes.

The State Department also leads bilateral cooperation on fisheries with a number of other neighboring countries, including Russia and Mexico.

Through a treaty concluded with the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency, which was established to help 17 South Pacific countries to sustainably manage the fishery resources that fall within their 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zones, the United States both secures fishing access for U.S. tuna vessels in a large part of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and facilitates broader cooperation on fisheries and marine conservation issues in the South Pacific.

Pacific Salmon

For decades, fisheries managers in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and Southeast Alaska have struggled to ensure effective conservation of Pacific salmon, as salmon originating in the rivers and streams of one jurisdiction are often subject to harvest in another jurisdiction. Such interceptions complicate effective fisheries management, reduce the benefits that a jurisdiction derives from investment in stocking programs, and create concerns over equitable harvest levels. The dispute over interceptions and allocations of Pacific salmon has at times been one of the most contentious issues in the U.S.-Canada relationship.

After several decades of intense disputes, the United States and Canada agreed to a framework for conserving Pacific salmon coast-wide by concluding the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty (the “1985 Treaty”). The 1985 Treaty was designed to conserve and optimize the production of intermingling salmon stocks along the coasts of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Southeast Alaska, to reduce interceptions of salmon originating in one country by fisheries of the other country, and to regulate salmon harvests between the two countries. The 1985 Treaty established the bilateral Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) to provide for coast-wide management of key salmon fisheries. The Commission is comprised of U.S. and Canadian Sections, each of which includes four Commissioners and four Alternate Commissioners. The U.S. and Canadian Sections must agree on all Commission decisions, and the U.S. Section consists of representatives of the states of Alaska, Oregon and Washington, the treaty tribes of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and the Federal government. The Federal Commissioner is typically an expert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, but has no voting rights in the U.S. Section. This individual consults extensively with an alternate from the Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science who provides foreign policy advice and related input to the rest of the Section.

In 2008, under the auspices of the Commission, the United States and Canada concluded negotiations on a new set of rules for most Pacific salmon fisheries. These rules will extend until 2018. Additionally, the Treaty provisions for Fraser River sockeye and pink salmon conservation and harvest sharing will need to be renewed before they expire at the end of 2010.

Pacific Halibut

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), founded in 1923, is one of the most successful fisheries management commissions in the world. Throughout the eighty years of its existence, the IPHC has facilitated unprecedented cooperation between the United States and Canada and has successfully managed the shared halibut stock to historically high biomass levels. The Pacific halibut fishery is diversified over coastal communities ranging from northern California, past the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, to the eastern shore of the Bering Sea, provides a high-quality food source, and yields an annual catch for the United States with a 2007 retail value of over $600 million. Additional revenues generated from extensive guided and recreational fishing on the halibut resource exceed $200 million. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments provide funds to support the Commission, which conducts research to further understanding of Pacific halibut, carries out regular stock assessments, and provides a forum to establish joint catch limits and management measures. In recent years, the Commission has developed innovative electronic data capture and catch monitoring systems.

The United States is represented in the IPHC by a Federal Government Commissioner, usually an expert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) Fisheries Service, and two others with knowledge of halibut fisheries in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The State Department works closely with the three U.S. Commissioners to develop U.S. positions and conduct negotiations with Canada through the Commission.

Albacore Tuna

The 1981 Treaty between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Canada on Pacific Coast Albacore Tuna Vessels and Port Privileges, as amended (the Treaty) allows specified fishing vessels of each country to fish for North Pacific albacore in waters under the fisheries jurisdiction of the other country. The Treaty also allows these same vessels access to certain ports in the other country to obtain supplies and services and to land their catch. The Treaty was amended in 2009 to revise and extend the reciprocal fishing regime for the 2009-2011 fishing seasons.

Great Lakes Fisheries

The Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) plays a critical role in the management of the Great Lakes fisheries, valued at up to $4 billion annually. The FY 2010 submission reflects the minimum funds necessary to continue programs to implement the core missions of the GLFC — to suppress invasive, parasitic sea lamprey; to assist state, provincial, and tribal partners in the achievement of their fish community objectives for the Great Lakes; to facilitate the effective and efficient coordination of fisheries policies on the Great Lakes; and to implement a bi-national fisheries research program. The GLFC also coordinates efforts to prevent other invasive species and restore populations of native fish like American eels. The GLFC has traditionally relied on chemical lampricide to control sea lamprey, but in recent years, the Commission has researched and advanced the use of alternative controls, including barriers to lamprey migration and sterilization of male lampreys.

The United States is represented by four Commissioners and one Alternate appointed by the President. One must be a federal official, and this role is generally filled by an expert from the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior. Other U.S. Commissioners represent the Great Lakes States.


The United States and the Russian Federation hold regular consultations on fisheries and marine conservation issues through a bilateral Intergovernmental Consultative Committee (ICC). This forum was originally established under a comprehensive fisheries agreement the United States concluded with the Soviet Union on May 31, 1988, and has continued under the U.S.-Russia agreement that took its place. The ICC is responsible for maintaining a mutually beneficial and equitable fisheries relationship through (1) cooperative scientific research and exchanges; (2) reciprocal allocation of surplus fish resources in the respective national 200-mile zones, consistent with each nation's laws and regulations; (3) cooperation in the establishment of fishery joint ventures; (4) general consultations on fisheries matters of mutual concern; and, (5) cooperation to address illegal or unregulated fishing activities on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. The agreement expires on December 31, 2008 and is in the process of being renewed.

The current U.S. Representative to the ICC is Ambassador David Balton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and Fisheries Affairs. In addition, there is a 12-member "North Pacific and Bering Sea Fisheries Advisory Body" to advise the U.S. Representative to the ICC. This body includes representatives from the State of Washington, the State of Alaska, and ten other individuals nominated by the governors of those states.

In recent years, the ICC also has served as the forum for the United States and Russia to negotiate a bilateral fisheries management agreement for the Northern Bering Sea, which would enter into force upon entry into force of the 1990 U.S.-Russia maritime boundary agreement.


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