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WASHINGTON - Six years after imposing a fee on U.S. fishing vessels transiting the Inside Passage, Canada has closed the book on the controversy by contributing to salmon conservation efforts.
The flap began in June 1994, during a breakdown in Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations between the U.S. and Canada. Tensions were running high between the two countries as the fishing season began.
For a two-week period, Canada levied a fee of $1,500 per passage on American boats. Two hundred and sixty U.S. vessels paid a total of $284,364.
The U.S. government has consistently claimed the fee was illegal, while the Canadians said they were justified under international law.
Through the efforts of the Alaska congressional delegation, the fishermen were repaid by the U.S. government in 1998. Most were Seattle-based fishermen, according to an aide to U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican.
But the transit fee has remained an irritant, surfacing each time U.S. and Canada officials conferred about fishing issues.
Last month the Canadians settled the matter by depositing a check for $500,000 Canadian ($335,570 U.S.) into two conservation funds established by the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
Raymond Chretien, Canada's ambassador to the U.S., said the contribution was made ``in the context of our continued investment in salmon enhancement and recovery activities.''
Chretien added, ``We share a relationship that is a model for the world in transboundary stewardship of natural resources and the environment, as indeed in many other fields.''
Chretien also was quick to defend the fee, which he said ``was taken reluctantly during a particularly difficult period for the Pacific Salmon Treaty.''
``Canada's actions in this respect were nevertheless consistent with its international obligations and with the applicable principles of international law,'' the ambassador said.
Murkowski, who has been pressing the Canadian government to make restitution, said he welcomed the Canadian response. ``We needed to put the strains of the difficult negotiation behind us and move forward together on conservation and enhancement efforts,'' he said.
``The gesture will be very much appreciated by everyone who wants to see the salmon runs restored to their former abundance.''
The United States has already agreed to provide $140 million over several years to the salmon conservation funds.