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Fish tales: Understanding (and solving?) the U.S.-Canadian
B Y L A U R E L W I L L O U G H B Y , A S S I S T A N T E D I T O R
So why is there a problem with salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest?
While it is, certainly, a country-to-country squabble between the United
States and Canada, some say the problem -- and the solution -- has as much to
do with the regional similarities shared among Alaska, British Columbia
and Washington, as it does with our national boundaries.
Add to this "regionalism vs. nationalism" debate a whole separate level
of the argument, one that questions which individual fishers actually
have the right to pull salmon from the water.
"What you have are too many user groups going after the same fish," said
Stan Hagen '63, a former B.C. cabinet member who attended PLU as a
"First you have the political divisions: Alaska, British Columbia and
Washington state. Then there are the various types of fishermen: those
with native fishing rights, assorted commercial groups and sport
fishermen," he said.
||The (fish)bone of contention
Chinook and coho salmon migrate to Alaskan waters to spawn. In British
Columbia's interpretation, Hagen said, Alaskans are intercepting Canada's
fish, but Washingtonians feel the same way: that Canadians are dipping
into the waters and snatching fish that would eventually reach Washington
waters. Clearly, some solution is needed -- fast.
And, as Hagen tells it, overfishing and quarrels over who has the right
to fish where are not the only forces calling for a quick settlement of
"El Nino's warmth has caused a huge increase in schools of mackerel from
the south," he noted, adding that mackerel love to dine on baby
"So four years from now, when those salmon would have matured into
catchable fish, we're going to have an even smaller stock to work with,"
With so many different players operating in a web of political and social
levels, how do we even choose a framework to assess the problem of the
dwindling salmon supply in the Northwest?
United States vs. Canada? Looking to literature for
"Over the last 20 years or so, this part of the continent has
increasingly been seen as a common region, with the U.S.-Canadian border
becoming less and less important," said Peter Grosvenor, a political
science professor at PLU. He discussed two books from recent decades that
can help people understand the fishing debate from a regional, vs. a
"Ectopia," a 1975 novel by Ernest Callenbach, was based on the premise of
California, Oregon and Washington seceding from the United States in
protest of nuclear weapons. The former states made up a new nation, one
set apart by its concern for the environment.
This idea was then picked up in the '80s by Joel Garreau, former editor
of the Washington Post. His 1981 book, "The Nine Nations of North
America," a factual observation, suggests that the official political
maps of the United States, Canada and Mexico bear little relationship to
There are actually nine nations in North America, Garreau said, that
distinguish themselves by such common features as culture, climate,
commerce and environmental concerns. For example, an area that includes
Mexico, Arizona and other parts of the Southwest holds a distinct
"If we extend Callenbach's idea for our region to include British
Columbia and the Alaskan coastline," Grosvenor said, "what you have is a
large area, such as Garreau suggests, with a similar world view,
geographic terrain and political/environmental issues.
"President Clinton himself has heralded this as the Pacific Age," he
said. "Our art, food and geographic identity, even our common growing
relations with Asia, are seen as a model for the way the world is
"Why can't we all just get along?"
If, as some suggest, the Northwest areas of Canada and the United States
are becoming one "Cascadia," why does the current salmon conflict remain
insoluble? Part of the explanation lies in introducing another
"ism" -- globalism.
Closely related to its regional counterpart, globalism suggests that we
"basically make the world a better place through global free trade and
environmental protections," Grosvenor said. "National boundaries don't
disappear, but they become blurred. And our Cascadia is a case study for
But the current, multilevel salmon debate runs directly counter to the
harmony a globalist's Cascadia would suggest. Why?
"Globalism is strongest when we're dealing with abundance, vs. a scare
resource," Grosvenor said. "So when push comes to shove, the flags come
out, and people identify themselves once again as members of a
So what is the answer?
If this all sounds confusing, there's a good reason: it is. "We may be
waging the salmon conflict at a regional level," Grosvenor said, "but
only at a national level is it going to be solved."
To that end, Stan Hagen notes one possible solution. "Canada and the
United States need to study the example of how resources are managed for
another local sport and commercial fish: halibut," he said. The
International Halibut Commission, comprising representatives from Alaska,
British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, sets rules for halibut fishing
across the board, equally for all involved.
"The upshot is that there are now more halibut available for the various
fishing groups than there were before the agreement," Hagen said.
Concerning the salmon supply, there is nothing to be gained from
international finger-pointing and retaliatory actions, he
"We should be looking at the structure of the I.H.C. and the reason it
succeeds," Hagen said, "because it truly exists to serve the resource. If
we don't do the same type of thing with salmon, the stocks will
Fish don't have pockets
A person could say that fish aren't too smart, at least not in geography.
They don't know whether the water in which they live is off the coast of
North America, South Yemen or Stratford-upon-Avon. They only know how to
do a few things -- swim, eat and spawn -- and these occur without knowledge
of international boundaries or whose right it is to take them from the
According to Hagen, this might be the key to approaching any new
"Fish don't have pockets, they can't carry passports and they have
neither an idea nor a care about whose water they're swimming in," he
said. "We might have better luck solving the salmon problem if we took a
similar stance and stopped looking at this from an 'us vs. them'
"My thought is that the fish don't belong to either Canada or the United
States. They are a common property and resource of the human race. We
have to start asking, 'What are we all going to do about this together?'"
More information on the U.S.-Canadian
salmon wars can be obtained from http://headlines.yahoo.com/Full_Coverage/Canada/Canada_U_S__Salmon_War/.
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