Category Archives: salmon

some big decisions today on Fraser sockeye?

There may be some big decisions today on the morning conference call of the Pacific Salmon Commission. The Fraser River sockeye “Early Summer” group may get a further upgrade in the in-season run size forecast (still an elaborate estimate). If this happens, then more commercial fisheries at the mouth could open to hit these fish.

At this point in time, DFO estimates they have caught 25-30% of the Early Summer run already (approx. 400,000 sockeye). The goal for the year was 25% to protect some stocks within the group.

Fraser River temps are forecast to go above 20 degrees C this coming week and may even peak out at over 21 degrees C. This is deadly for migrating sockeye. But now, of course, lots of folks are “questioning” the models for the river forecasts — however, at the same time weather forecasts are calling for temps peaking at 32 degrees C around Prince George in coming days. I don’t even want to know what this means for places like Kamloops and the Fraser Canyon…

At these temps – the Management Adjustments (MA) – which is a percentage of ‘protection’ given to stock groups (e.g. Early Summers, Summers, etc.)  to protect their migration could reach 100%. On the Early Summers it currently sits at about 84%. If the MA goes to 100% (1.0) then no more fishing for Early Summers as every fish needs to get a chance at swimming upstream.

So if the in-season forecast jumps today, that means the 25% allotted catch on Early Summers will also go up. For example if the run size forecast goes from 1.6 million to 2.0 million this potentially means 25% x 400,000 = 100,000  could be available for catch. But then, if the MA goes up to 1.0 (100%) none of these are available for catch.

100,000 sockeye at say $0.90 to $1.00 per pound (little over $1/lb in Alaska this year) — maybe say an average of 5 lb fish. Let’s say approx. $5 per sockeye then. That’s in the neighborhood of $500,000 of gross revenues to fisherfolks. Add in the value-added processes… etc. etc.

And what we have is a classic debate this morning — between fisheries managers — of economic returns  or environmental returns  — in a literal sense.

($$) vs. (precautionary approach)

Who do you think will win?

why count salmon?

one fish, two fish, red and green fish…

Most of us know the story. Dr. Suess wrote the book to help kids learning to read. A fun rhyming story. Although it was red fish, blue fish…

I haven’t seen the book in awhile; however, I don’t think there were any rhymes about “mark-recapture” sonar hydroacoustical  split-beam single-beam DIDSON data capturing salmon counting wonder tools.

See if Suess’ fish on the right were captured by one of these techno-gizmos utilized for counting salmon they’d show up as some grainy fuzzy blob resembling a baby ultrasound image.

The “advancement” of techno-tools intended to count salmon is a growth industry. There are in-stream tools for counting salmon utilizing sonar-like technology — and for the last decade or more there have been techno-tools such as radio telemetry utilized in the ocean. Little radio transponders are implanted in little baby salmon and  when they migrate out to ocean various radio receivers installed on the ocean floor pick up the signal. Scientists look at the “data” and try to form a picture of where and when those little salmon migrate around parts of the North Pacific.

The other day I saw a presentation on sonar-like device that is installed on a river bank. The device sends out sound waves into the stream, those waves come back to a computer as an image, like a video feed, that can be looked at. Little gray blobs in the shape of a fish moving by can then be counted. The apparent benefit for these types of tools is that they can be used in deeper, larger, maybe murkier streams where visual counting may be more difficult.

Curious enough project… the irony I see is that all of the wires and such from the device run up the stream bank, and are fed into a tiny little shed (basically windowless) situated away from the stream. The salmon “counters” sit in the little dark shed staring at a laptop screen counting gray blobs (I mean…salmon).

One of the problems, apparently, was that the “counters” could only count 20 minutes of data. If the sonar device ran for an hour, or 24/7  pumping out visual images the files would be way too big…

Of course, data capacity of computers is doubling about as fast as you can say “double-shot espresso. ” So, is there a time when a computer program could be written to count the gray blobs, the sonar device could run 24/7 and there would be no need for people? (just ask bank tellers and assembly line workers about how computers replace people rather efficiently).

This brings me to the question — why count salmon?

The basic purpose is to try and determine how many salmon are reaching the spawning grounds. Fisheries management and science calls this: “escapement”.

I have always found this such an odd term; troubling. It gives me memories of movies like “Escape from Alcatraz” and “The Fugitive“.

Escapement — refers to salmon that have “escaped” commercial fisheries and the multitude of predators and gauntlet of natural threats; for example elevated stream temperatures. For example, last year on the Fraser River was the hottest average river temperatures on record.  The average was close to 19 degrees Celsius with peaks nearing the mid-20s.

For salmon — that’s akin to sex in a hot, hot tub. Great for the first little bit, but taxing, exhausting, and dehydrating quickly. Salmon can’t hop out and roll in the snow for cool down…

If we run with this analogy — the whole salmon counting business is rather invasive. These “fugitives” are simply trying to get to the best spot for sex, which has been determined by eons of evolution. Trying to get to the ideal reproduction spot entails dodging nets, hooks, teeth, hot water, pollution, and whatever other dangers. Then around almost every bend of stream they get blitzed by sound waves, or swim into a fence that is directing where they need to swim so they can be counted.

And the purpose?

Simple really.

The entire purpose of counting salmon is to plug numbers into equations which then suggest humans can capture “x” number. That “x” number is apparently the “surplus”.

It’s piggy-bank economics. What’s the purpose of counting all your pennies?

To determine “how-much-you-got”.

Counting pennies is pretty easy. The cold, hard copper is right there in front of you. You know it’s a penny, you can read the year it was produced. You can make nice stacks and dream of all the 99-cent iTunes songs you can buy. You can stack the pennies on your elbow and flip down quickly to see how many you can catch before gravity takes over….

Salmon? not so much.

Counting salmon is tougher than laying on your back in the fall and counting all the Canada geese that fly over. Or, counting all the cars attached to a train going by.

Counting salmon is fraught with error: viewer error, counter error, species error, nighttime error, timing error. We simply can’t count all the salmon. And, hence, why counting salmon became pretty big business. With advancing technology, folks assume the better the technology, the more accurate our counting. The more accurate our counting, the better we can base our “harvesting” decisions.

The better we can base our “harvesting” decisions — the better we can “manage” the resource, the salmon.

Big problem.

If the initial numbers (“escapement” estimates) are fraught with error, assumptions, and estimates; then the worse those margins of error become the further we move down the equation.

What happens when you try to build a tower when one of the walls is slightly shorter? Eventually it comes down like a house of cards.

The original error becomes more and more emphasized the further along we go. Eventually… disaster.

The greatest irony of all this counting — it’s getting easier. It’s getting easier every year.

Why? Because, there are less and less salmon to count.

And soon enough — on our current route — there could potentially be few commercial fisheries. At that point; will there be any point in counting…?

And really, if the technology is fraught with error would we not be better off economically putting the millions of dollars pumped into technology — into people instead?

Could we not hire hundreds of people with the same amount of money to actually physically walk streams, snorkel sections of rivers, and get a good idea over years of observation? They could then potentially observe other things going on out there — like maybe starving bears…

Is there not a rich source of traditional knowledge that suggests how salmon were counted in the past when there was not the same techno-gizmos? How did downstream aboriginal communities make sure salmon got to upstream communities and spawning grounds?

Unfortunately, I can find reams and reams of techno-gizmo studies (that still only produce “estimates”) and basically zero studies that look beyond our techno-gizmo obsession.

is it time to Think: before it’s too late?

I mentioned in a post last week that I was reading the book Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything.

As stated on the inside book cover:

Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams reveal the nuances that drive wikinomics and share fascinating stories of how masses of people (both paid and volunteer) are creating TV news stories, sequencing the human genome, remixing their favorite music, designing the human genome, finding cures for diseases, editing school texts, inventing new cosmetics, and even building motorcyles.

Early in the book, with the subtitle “Age of Participation” Tapscott and Williams suggest:

Call them the “weapons of mass collaboration.” New low-cost collaborative infrastructures — from free Internet telephony to open source software to global outsourcing platforms — allows thousands upon thousands of individuals and small producers to cocreate products, access markets, and delight customres in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past. This is giving rise to new collaborative capabilities and business models that will empower the prepared firm and destroy those that fail to adjust.

There are some impressive stories and case studies in the book on collaboration at work. For example, the story of how Boeing has taken collaboration to a new level. All the various components of Boeing’s new jets are manufactured around the world; once everything is ready a jet is put together in a matter of days at Boeing’s facilities.

The opening story of the book is about Canadian miner Goldcorp turning the common practice of proprietary geologic science in mining – on its head. They opened some of their private, generally highly-protected geological information to the general mining community and various scientists — so as to get assistance in better identifying potential ore bodies and such. The project has been a huge success.

There’s also the stories of pharmaceutical companies such as Proctor & Gamble starting mass collaborative science initiatives (InnoCentive) whereby the general population can look to solve some of the companies various product development issues and problems – and get paid for it.


One of the other authors I really enjoy – and have commented on several times in other posts – is Edward de Bono; the creator of the the term and practice Lateral Thinking.  I just recently discovered de Bono’s blog Six Thinking Hats and his new website.

In a post from last summer de Bono highlights his new book:

My latest book (published July 2nd) is called ‘THINK: before it is too late’. In it I suggest that the biggest problem facing humanity is not climate change but inadequate thinking. We are very complacent and even proud of our thinking. We can land men on the moon. WE can tap atomic energy. We have the internet, WE have supersonic flight etc. We have done very well in the area of science and technology because we have developed ‘thinking for finding the truth’.

I have suggested the new word ‘ebne’ which means excellent but not enough. Our existing thinking is ebne but not enough. We have never developed ‘thinking for creating value’.

In conflicts we rush to judge who is wrong and seek to punish that party. We do not try to design a way forward.

Edward de Bono 20th July 2009

When it comes to wild salmon — can we begin a process of mass collaboration?

When it comes to wild salmon — can we get past ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’; ‘my science is better than your science’; ‘I have more rights than you’?

When it comes to wild salmon — can we stop searching for “the truth” and simply design a way forward, while “creating value”?

Many folks might suggest we better: Think: before it’s too late.


Some might suggest it’s already too late — just ask commercial fisherfolks from California to Washington State who haven’t had a season in a few years.

Or just ask fisherfolks on the Fraser River where sockeye fisheries have been largely non-existent the past three years — after close to 150 years of commercial fisheries

Or just ask First Nation individuals and communities on the Fraser River who have been harvesting salmon for thousands and thousands and thousands of years and who now largely have to look to trucks and other communities for food fish…