Whale of a problem: US, Canada struggle over fishing

Canada has launched a "test of friendship" with the United States over Washington's failure to conclude a fishing and boundary treaty. The fishing issue has grown into what Ottawa says overshadows almost all diplomatic relations between the two neighbors.

A delegation of Canadian lawmakers will visit the US Senate late in July to press for passage of the agreement, signed by the Carter administration almost a year-and-a-half ago.

Week by week, Canada increases its quota of cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder on the rich fishing ground of the Georges Bank in order to force ratification of the treaty -- and potentially force confrontation among Canadian and American fishermen on the high seas.

But US fishermen, who have learned to organize in recent years, have responded in kind, taking increased catches of valuable scallops beyond the treaty's proposed quotas.

What complicates the clash even more for President Carter and the Canadian officials -- who have spent four years of rigorous negotiations to resolve the fishing and boundary dilemmas posed by new 200-mile offshore economic zones -- is the recent appointment of former Maine Sen. Edmund S. Muskie as US Secretary of State.

As a Maine senator, Mr. Muskie only half-heartedly supported the treaty. Now he is under pressure from former colleagues to reopen talks or accept modifications on the treaty. But he also must take up Mr. Carter's campaign for treaty ratification or face possible public ridicule from Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who brought up the treaty issue with the President at the recent Venice summit.

"This treaty is important to the Canadians, and they are putting a great deal of pressure on the senators," says a Senate Foreign Relation Committee staffer. "It is symbolic of all other issues between the two nations: the problem of acid rain, an auto worker agreement, and a big river project in North Dakota. Plus, Canada got a good deal in the treaty and they want to preserve it."

The chief treaty opponent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, wants the agreement amended to include assurances of adequate supplies of scallops for US fishermen, and renegotiation of the treaty in three years, rather than leaving it permanent, as now proposed.

A meeting last week between New England senators and Vice-President Walter F. Mondale, however, produced little consensus on how to resolve the deadlock.

"The fishermen are afraid of being locked into quotas and boundaries while the President is afraid of being accused in public by Mr. Trudeau of not keeping his agreements," points out a Senate aid. Most observers say the administration simply miscalculated the political balance needed for the treaty's support and now faces the anger of Canadian diplomats who did not foresee the problem in the Senate. "The Canadians see this as a test of friendship. Now it's up to Muskie to be an honest broker and use his political acumen to get the US out of this mess," says Leigh Ratiner, counsel for the American Fisheries Defense Committee, which opposes the treaty.

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