, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 37-61

Pacific Salmon Fisheries: Climate, Information and Adaptation in a Conflict-Ridden Context

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Abstract

Pacific Salmon are anadromous fish that cross state and international boundaries in their oceanic migrations. Fish spawned in the rivers of one jurisdiction are vulnerable to harvest in other jurisdictions. The rocky history of attempts by the United States and Canada to cooperatively manage their respective salmon harvests suggests that such shared resources may present difficult challenges for effective adaptation to climate change. On June 30, 1999, the two nations signed an agreement which, if successfully implemented, may end several years of rancorous conflict. For the previous six years, they had been unable to agree on a full set of salmon "fishing regimes" under the terms of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. This conflict was sparked by strongly divergent trends in the abundance of northern and southern salmon stocks, and a consequent change in the balance of each nation's interceptions of salmon spawned in the other nation's rivers. The trends are attributable, in part, to the effects of large-scale climatic fluctuations. This case demonstrates that it may not be a simple matter to respond effectively to a climate change. Adaptation is difficult when a resource is exploited by multiple competing users who possess incomplete information. If, in addition, their incentives to cooperate are disrupted by the impacts of the climatic variation, dysfunctional breakdowns in management rather than efficient adaptation may ensue. Institutional factors will determine the extent to which the management of such resources can adapt effectively to climate variability or long-term climate change.