Proceedings of the Third World Fisheries Congress: Feeding the World with Fish in the Next Millenium—The Balance between Production and Environment

Window of Opportunity: Shifts in Governance, Policy, and Resource Abundance

Donna M. Petrachenko, Susan P. Farlinger, Paul Macgillivray


In this paper, we examine recent changes in the management of the salmon fishery on Canada’s Pacific coast, which has had a rich history. First Nations communities located on the Pacific coast of Canada have long harvested Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp. Since the late 1800s, salmon has supported an all-citizen commercial fishery that accounted for the majority of commercial value of fish harvests in the area during the last century. More recently, salmon—often fished by locals and foreign tourists alike—have become prized in recreational fisheries that serve as many as 400,000 anglers in a given year.

Historically, salmon had been sufficiently abundant to provide for aboriginal use as well as support significant commercial and recreational fisheries. Over time, salmon resources have become “fully subscribed,” as many fisheries resources are now; symptoms such as overcapitalization and the demand for predictable public and aboriginal access have begun to characterize management of these fisheries resources. In recent times, aboriginal interest has become more defined, as a result of both renewed community activities and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada that have clarified the government’s fiduciary responsibilities with respect to the fishery at large.

Allocation of fisheries resources has become a key accountability of fisheries management. In past years, the priority of conservation in the exercise of fisheries allocations was subject to interpretation and argument in the absence of consensus around even broadly defined objectives. Definition of goals such as “public good” and consensus on broad, sustainable use principles are emerging to engage citizens in effective policy development and management decisions.

The basic approach to managing the salmon fishery remained unchanged for many years. Although salmon stocks tended to fluctuate in abundance from year to year, the overall abundance generally was high enough to satisfy the major requirements for First Nations fishers, a recreational fishery with limited restrictions on anglers, and significant commercial harvests. During the past 15 years, considerable attention has been devoted to issues of allocation—how to share the available harvest—and in-season management. However, there has been little enduring progress on fundamental fisheries management reforms, nor has there been a comprehensive policy framework to guide salmon management.

Recently, significant progress has been achieved in establishing fundamental changes in the salmon fishery. A strong policy framework has been clearly articulated and has guided the development of more specific operational policies and fisheries management objectives. The commercial salmon fleet has been halved through a voluntary license-retirement program funded by the government. This essential development has been achieved in the face of dramatic reductions in salmon catches and landed values.

Such large-scale change occurs when many factors or crises culminate in action. We discuss the Canadian Pacific salmon fishery with respect to these factors, the specific issues and problems in the fishery, the work done to date, and ongoing components related to implementing such a significant change.

Various factors culminated in the 1990s to provide the impetus for change and create an external environment that was receptive to altering age-old practices. The most significant of these were a new view of conservation, globalization and information exchange, changes in ocean environment and abundance of fish, and changes in the characteristics of fishery itself that resulted from these and other conditions.