International Fisheries and Climate Variability

Climate Variability and Pacific Salmon

Principal Investigators | Project Information | Project Publications

Principal Investigators

Project Information

Pacific Salmon are anadromous fish that migrate across interstate and international boundaries in their oceanic migrations. Because fish spawned in the rivers of one jurisdiction are vulnerable to harvest in other jurisdictions, the United States and Canada have attempted to cooperatively manage salmon harvests under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Their efforts, however, have been stymied by repeated disagreements and by episodes of aggressive competitive harvesting. The most recent breakdown in cooperation began in 1993 when Canadian and U.S. representatives on the Pacific Salmon Commission failed to agree on a set of mutually acceptable harvesting regimes under the terms of the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty. The ensuing six year period of conflict was marked by over-harvesting of fragile components of the resource, growing acrimony, and inflammatory rhetoric. One of the central factors contributing to the dispute was a change in the balance of U.S. and Canadian interceptions of one another's salmon that was linked to dramatic improvements in survival rates and abundance of northern salmon stocks, while southern salmon stocks plummeted. It is now widely accepted that those changes in abundance were strongly driven by the effects of climatic changes on the marine environment. However, the parties to the dispute had initially failed to recognized the significance of environmental variability, and had given little attention to the need to accommodate such changes.

This project describes the evolution of the institutional framework for U.S./Canadian cooperation on Pacific salmon management, and documents the role of climatic regime shifts on the two nations' efforts to maintain cooperation. In addition, the project employs game theoretic models to explain the course of the conflict and to describe the significance of particular treaty provisions and existing rules governing bilateral negotiations. In addition, with the aid of these models, the project evaluates the prospects of the revised management framework established by the 1999 Pacific Salmon Agreement.

A mathematical model of the international fishery game was developed as part of this project to simulate the effects of stochastic changes in stock productivity and/or migratory behavior in the context of varying levels of scientific understanding and ability to forecast those changes. The simulation results demonstrate that improved scientific information can be valuable when cooperation prevails, but it can be highly destructive when two nations are harvesting competitively. In the latter case, improved predictability can lead to a more rapid race to "the tragedy of the commons." This effect is especially pronounced when the resource itself is fragile, in the sense of being characterized by low rates of reproduction and slow growth. On the hopeful side, the simulation results demonstrate that the gains from cooperation can be very large in some cases. This suggests that improved scientific information might foster cooperation by generating a large potential "cooperative surplus."

Project Publications

* denotes a non-NCAR author

*McKelvey, R., K.A. Miller, and *P. Golubtsov, 2003: “Fish-Wars Revisited: A Stochastic Incomplete-Information Harvesting Game,” Chapter 6 - pp.93-112, in Justus Wesseler, Hans-Peter Weikard, and Robert D. Weaver, eds., Risk and Uncertainty in Environmental and Natural Resources Economics, Edward Elgar, 2003.

PDF FileMiller, K.A., 2003: North American Pacific salmon: A case of fragile cooperation. Report of Norway-FAO Expert Consultation on the Management of Shared Fish Stocks, 7-10 October 2002, Bergen, Norway. FAO Fisheries Report No. 695, Supplement. Rome, Italy: FAO, 105-122.

Miller K.A., and M.W. Downton, 2003: Transboundary fisheries: Pacific salmon. In: T. Potter and B. Colman (eds.), Handbook of Weather, Climate and Water. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 851-864.

*McKelvey, R. and K.A. Miller, 2002: The Pacific salmon dispute: Rationalizing a dysfunctional joint venture. Chapter 16 in Sustaining North American Salmon: Perspectives Across Regions and Disciplines, American Fisheries Society, 341-368.

PDF FileMiller K.A., *G.R. Munro, *T.L. McDorman, *R. McKelvey and *P. Tyedmers, 2001: The 1999 Pacific Salmon Agreement: A sustainable solution to the management game? Orono, ME: University of Maine, Canadian-American Public Policy Occasional Paper No. 47. 67 pp.

PDF FileMiller K.A., 2000: Pacific salmon fisheries: Climate, information and adaptation in a conflict-ridden context. Climatic Change, 45, 37-61.

Related Publications

Downton, M.W. and K.A. Miller, 1998: Relationships between Alaskan salmon catch and North Pacific climate on interannual and interdecadal time scales. Canadian J. Fisheries and Aquatic Sci., 55, 2255-2265.

Climate Variability and Pacific Salmon
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International Fisheries and Climate Variability Research Information
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