U.S.-Chile fisheries talks to be held in capital city

Posted: Thursday, April 01, 2004

Representatives of the Chilean government will be in Juneau at the end of July for fishing talks with U.S. officials.

Federal fisheries officials conduct bilateral meetings with Chile and other fishing nations such as Iceland, Japan, Canada and Spain every year, said Deputy Director Rebecca Lent of fisheries for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"In the business of fisheries and managing living marine resources, we have to collaborate with other countries. We're working with the same fishing fleets, working on the same stocks or interacting with the same protected species. We have found it's very helpful for us to develop relationships with fishing nations around the world," Lent said.

She said the location for the 2004 meeting with Chile, which will be held July 27-29, is a nod to the Chileans' desire to meet in one of the more exotic quarters of the country.

The choice of location is also interesting given the Alaska fishing industry's attitude toward Chile's farmed salmon. Last year, the United States imported 112.5 million metric tons of farmed salmon from the South American nation. Chilean farmed salmon made up $657 million, or about 5 percent of total U.S. seafood imports, in 2003.

The once-robust Alaska wild salmon industry has foundered due largely to the year-round availability of fresh farmed salmon from Chile, Canada and Scotland.

The bilateral talks won't focus on fish farming, Lent said.

"We will be talking with them about a number of other things, such as research and enforcement. We've been working with the Chileans on sea-turtle migration and reducing sea-turtle bycatch in longlines," she said.

At last year's conference, discussions on salmon farming focused mostly on trade issues.

The conference is not open to the public, though there may be some room on the agenda for members of the Alaska fishing industry to meet informally with the Chileans, said Cindy Hartmann of NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The agenda has not been nailed down.

Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, which opposes fish farming, said members of his organization would probably be interested in talking with representatives of the Chilean government.

"We have issues of concern that affect Chile, and there are situations in Chile that affect us," he said.

Lent said the Chilean government is aware that fish farming is a sensitive topic in Juneau.

"We have told them one of the interesting things in Alaska would be to talk about the salmon industry and the salmon market," she said.

Other issues that may be discussed are migratory species such as Pacific swordfish and Pacific tuna.

"Our fleets could be targeting on similar stocks depending on how far south our fleets go and how far north theirs go," Lent said.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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