U.S. government-Chilean fishery talks begin today in Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Chilean fishery officials have landed in Juneau this week for trade talks with the U.S. government.

Important topics on the bilateral agenda include monitoring bycatch, illegal fishing and aquaculture, officials from both countries said Tuesday.

The Alaska wild salmon industry has been troubled since the early 1990s due largely to the emergence of salmon aquaculture. Chile is one of the big players in that industry. In 2003, the United States imported 112.5 million metric tons of farmed salmon from Chile. The South American product made up about 5 percent of total U.S. seafood imports.

Aquaculture also has raised pollution concerns. To address those issues, "we'll talk about ecosystem-friendly ways to manage aquaculture," said Jim Balsinger, Alaska regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, during a reception for the Chileans on Tuesday night at the Timberline Bar and Grill on Mount Roberts.

Though NMFS and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, promotes aquaculture development in offshore waters, Balsinger said there is "no near-term likelihood" of it happening in Alaska.

"But we'd be foolish not to ask the questions," he said, explaining that worldwide demand for seafood products won't be met solely by fishing the oceans.

"You can't catch that (amount)," Balsinger said.

Whether fish farms develop offshore of Alaska or elsewhere in the United States, "it's going to impact coastal economies, the environment and our Alaskan fisheries," said Paula Terrell, of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.

Felipe Sandoval, Chile's fisheries undersecretary, said he hopes to have productive conversations with U.S. regulators on the aquaculture issue. Other priority topics for Sandoval include better management of fisheries and enforcement to protect endangered species.

"We have a chance to share our experiences and also solve problems," Sandoval said.

This is the seventh time that NOAA and Chilean fisheries officials have met for trade talks, but it is the first time in Alaska.

Sandoval said through a translator that holding the trade talks here is appropriate because it's a "place where fishing is very important."

On Thursday, members of the U.S. and Chilean delegations plan to sign a new memorandum of understanding, which basically serves as an agreement that the nations will exchange information related to fishery activities, including regulations and management practices.

The new memorandum will contain only minor revisions to the current memorandum, signed in 1995, according to NOAA officials.

The 1995 agreement won't expire until June 2005, but a new one needs to be signed now because the two delegations will not meet again until 2006.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.

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