Monthly Archives: December 2009

salmon think tank statement

In reviewing the various articles, one of the points I didn’t see highlighted are the startling graphs from the “Statement from Think Tank of Scientist“. Again, not directed as criticism towards the think tank or individuals involved; however, the graphs paint a clear picture for me.

This graph is showing sockeye salmon production in the Fraser. The steep red line running to the right hand bottom corner is worse than the steep red line to the bottom right corner of most of the world’s stock markets this time last year, or returns on most people’s RRSP.

This graph is showing the percentage of the sockeye salmon run caught in the Fraser. Harvested also means killed.

I’ll point out some of the things that stand obvious to me:

1. How and why fish ‘managers’ figured that catching 80% of a run for over 40 years (at least by this graph) is a good idea – or sustainable – blows my mind.

At some point in time, the assumption that leaving 20% of a salmon run to produce the same size runs year after year was going to fall apart. Salmon are not wheat or canola or trees, and the ocean is not some pasture that produces the same results every year.

That’s part of the problem we have now. (However this is not a rant on the concept of maximum sustainable yield.)

2. Compare the falling red line of the production graph with the not-so-falling blue line of the catch graph. If the runs were continuing to fall through the mid-1990s and into the 2000s then why did the salmon killing  jump back up to around 60% in the early 2000s? I’d like to know who was responsible for that set of bonehead decisions.

3. If scientists have known for at least the last decade that ocean conditions were changing (I was coming across research in the late 1990s that suggested ocean conditions were changing/declining)  – and that Fraser sockeye runs were on massive declines – then, again, who made the decisions to kill between 20-40% of the run through the early 2000s?

One has to wonder if the upcoming  judicial inquiry will actually name names?

(highly doubtful).

CBC – salmon 'think tank'

The press coverage of the results of the early Dec/09 think tank are ranging in their identifying potential issue leading to the completely blown DFO forecast for Fraser River sockeye this year (i.e. over 10 million forecast; just over 1 million returning)

The CBC covered the results of the gathering: “Sockeye decline linked to climate change: Change in ocean conditions in 2007 likely behind mass death of stocks.

The article states:

“Using their combined expertise and as much official data they could gather, the scientists concluded the missing sockeye likely vanished when they were still young and migrating toward the sea.

They suggested that in either late spring or early summer of 2007, ocean conditions probably hurt the fish’s chances of survival.

“If you’re looking at warmer temperatures and a lack of food, that could well be a cause of mortality for large numbers of fish,” [Mark] Angelo said.

However, the group didn’t rule out other factors, including pollution and lice from fish farms.”

Pollution is not raised in any of the other articles I’ve seen yet; however, living immediately downstream of a couple of pulp mills in the Upper Fraser and having traveled through much of the rest of the Fraser watershed – maybe there is a larger connection here?

Or, maybe the hundred or so small streams that have been lost around the mouth of the Fraser due to urbanization might also have a significant impact? As far as I understand, salmon fry need to spend some time undergoing significant physiological changes when moving from fresh to salt water and vice-versa.

My point here is not to question or belittle the scientists that made up this think thank  – I just find it a little disappointing that at this point in time, with the level of decreases that we’ve seen throughout the Pacific salmon range, that more brave, decisive steps are not being taken. And that a clear, decisive message is not being communicated about the issues.

The analogy I drew the other day in a discussion with someone is this: at the beginning of the H1N1 ‘pandemic’ if the federal government had stalled along suggesting ‘we need more research’ before we can say or do anything definitive – what would have been the public reaction? Instead the government spent billions on vaccines, clinics, and public outreach.

Sure enough, there are many individuals (and conspiracy theorists) that are avoiding the vaccines – some for the exact reason that there are still lots of questions.

Yet in my relatively short time of salmon experience – starting near the time when I could walk and now moving on 3 decades – I have seen incredible declines across the coast. A few brave steps have been taken here and there; however, not much in terms of long term, decisive, clear action and communication.

Vancouver Sun – salmon 'think tank'…

In digging around to find some more articles and information related to the salmon ‘think tank’ gathering in early Dec. 09; I have found some varying messages from participants (which is to be expected) – and of course various media/journalist interpretations of these messages.

An article from the Vancouver Sun (Dec. 9) by Scott Simpson: “Scientists urge quick action on Fraser Sockeye collapse: Urgency too great to wait for results from federal commission of inquiry” suggests that: “No single cause for the collapse is discernible, and researchers are suggesting a variety of events in the [Georgia] strait may be responsible — including warming ocean temperatures, declining availability of food, greater attention from predators, and interactions with farmed salmon.”

As I stated in a post the other day, ‘more research’ is not really going to lead to any remedy for any of the above factors. Sure, maybe we’ll ‘understand’ better – but then what are we going to do about it? My suggestion is to focus time and resources on the things that we can change – like our own behavior, and how we treat the freshwater environment that is so crucial for all wild salmon. (which is not to suggest that there isn’t any work being done in that area).

The Sun article quotes Mark Angelo, deputy chair of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council : “Our ultimate goal is to be a helpful and constructive force in trying to turn things around for Fraser sockeye stocks — and that’s something we all hope to see…”

That’s a sentiment I can agree with.

The article carries on to point out:  “…DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] salmon experts were told to withhold participation in public events in consideration of the central role they will play in an upcoming federal commission of inquiry into the decline of Fraser sockeye.”

Now that’s effective logic. A gathering of over 20 salmon experts from around BC and lets withhold the participation of the agency responsible for conservation and stewardship of wild salmon. Makes complete sense to me (and I hope you can hear my sarcasm). And, yeah, let’s tell those department staff to sit on their hands until sometime in 2011 when the judicial inquiry comes out with another list of recommendations that get largely ignored.

This again points to my continued assertion that waiting for DFO to institute changes and real action is like expecting an ocean-going freighter to turn like a kayak. This is not to suggest that there aren’t excellent people within the Department capable of instituting changes – just hard for me to believe that a PM from oil country is going to direct the department to take a stand for something that he’ll probably only ever see from some exclusive coastal lodge owned by some of his party funders. Or, a fisheries minister (Gail Shea) from PEI, who has been in parliament for a little over a year following a career working for Revenue Canada. (yeah, call me a cynic).

As a poster in my office states:

“It’s easy to make a difference; make a choice”

Scientists urge quick action on Fraser sockeye collapse

Urgency too great to wait for results from federal commission of inquiry

The Economist Magazine

In November of this year, the Economist Magazine featured an article on salmon declines in the Fraser River: Socked: Another inquiry into vanishing stocks.  On one front, great that the issue is getting this sort of international coverage; on another front, a few curious assertions in the article.

Regarding the recent federal announcement of a judicial inquiry into the sockeye collapse on the Fraser, the article states: “Applause was muted. Four other federal inquiries held over the past three decades have failed to halt the decline.”


Why not take the $20 million or so that it costs to undertake a judicial inquiry and put it back into programs that actually make a difference on the ground? – as opposed to drawing the same conclusions and making the same recommendations as the last few multi-million dollar inquiries.

The article suggests: ” the province’s rich salmon fishery, worth about C$500m ($475m), could disappear…”

Fair enough, the magazine is focussed on economies. And yes, maybe the commercial salmon fishery represents that sort of economic range – however, salmon on a whole (in strictly economic terms) represent so much more.

For example, in 2006, IBM completed a report on the economic value of Skeena wild salmon:

The report concluded that wild salmon of the Skeena River represent about $110 million to our economy and this doesn’t account for ecosystem values and other values.

The Economist article continues: “Scientists and environmentalists agree that the causes of the decline include overfishing and the destruction of spawning habitats. Some also blame unauthorised fishing on the Fraser by First Nations…”

Curious that there is a suggestion of ‘agreement’ about the causes: overfishing and habitat destruction (and I don’t mean this as criticism of the article). I agree that some of the biggest issues are exactly overfishing and habitat destruction – hence why I don’t think ‘more research’ is the answer – as has been suggested by many (see previous posts). There is a place for research – but it is far from the answer, or the first step of action.

Fundamentally, I ask: if there is  such agreement then why not take drastic measures to begin the process of working on the agreed upon problems?

On the issue of First Nation fishing… I have raised this point for years, as have several others – repeatedly – that catch numbers need to be put into perspective. The commercial/sport fishery accounts for over 95% of the salmon caught in BC; the aboriginal fishery less than 5%. Mainstream media in BC has quite the love affair with running articles on First Nation ‘poaching’, or illegal fisheries, or whatever angle feeds the rabid misconception.

The misconception and misrepresentation has, from my observations, been largely successful. A few years ago I was a tour guide for bus tours on Haida Gwaii (formerly referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) where I grew up. One of the groups I guided was largely from the Fraser Valley. When the discussion turned to salmon and some of the salmon issues on Haida Gwaii there were some pretty pointed questions about how much the “Indians” were poaching, and how much of a problem that was on the lower Fraser River…..

I gently passed on the approximate catch numbers – yet, it’s still difficult to break down flawed reasoning based on media pandering.

salmon 'think-tank'…?

Reading a local newspaper (Prince George Citizen) last week I came across a tiny text box of about thirty words talking about a salmon “think tank” blaming ocean conditions for the massive decline of sockeye in the Fraser River this past summer (11 million forecast; 1 million returned – a miss, or decline, of over 90%). Those are declines far greater than the stock market crash of this past year… however I can safely say that I have seen far more headlines about people’s money then I have about salmon over this past while.

I’m not sure how I noticed the little one sentence piece… maybe my eye just tends to pick up the word salmon. I was also rather surprised that this story got such tiny press considering the newspaper is produced and printed a just a few hundred metres from the junction of the Nechako and upper Fraser River.

Nevertheless, I Googled ‘salmon and think tank’ and came across this Globe and Mail article on Dec. 10:

Scientists call for more cautious salmon harvest: Government needs to conduct more research to uncover cause of declining Fraser returns, think tank says

The article suggests a gathering of salmon scientists at Simon Fraser University finishing Dec. 9th concluded that: “ocean conditions in the Strait of Georgia and the possible impact of fish farms as the most likely causes of a collapse of Fraser River sockeye stocks…[however] the government needs to do more research to solve the puzzle.”

Now I want to be somewhat careful here, and respectful of the gathering of expertise – yet, frank and to the point…

1. More research will not solve the problems.

2. Expectations that ‘government’ should do the research – and then expecting action based on that research is ludicrous.

3. Even if there was ‘more research’, and the bureaucratic behemoth of government did that research, and then based on that research, the ‘government’ of the day actually chose to take action – what the hell are they going to do about changing ocean conditions – not to mention how many years would this take?

A couple of thoughts on this line of thinking:

Not that long ago I came across a book written by Jessica Hagy called Indexed – she also maintains a blog with her indexed (and entertaining) graphs on a range of subjects. This graph illustrates my point about ‘more research’:

Not enough information may result in great confusion. Too much information probably has the same result.

Sure it’s a simplified image; however, my point is: more research is not going to reverse the situation of precipitous salmon declines.

Relying on ‘government’ to implement solutions is a complete waste of time… there are other ways, which I hope to explore in coming posts through synthesizing a range of thinkers and disciplines.

Other beginnings…

In my desire to just start this blog – yes, you know the old cliche about starting with a single step… – our family had an early arrival. Our son, Fynn, was born on Dec. 5 a few weeks ahead of his Dec. 17 due date. For my wife Lisa and I this is both our second child, so we now have three little ones in our family – two, 3-year olds and baby Fynn.

We’re now surfacing slowly out of sleep-deprived fogs.

In this slow surfacing, I’ve returned to getting this blog moving and here it goes.

One of the things that I have been doing since completing the Wild Salmon Cycle in 2003 is plugging away at a university degree. For so many years I poo-pooed the idea of a degree and took pleasure out of responding to the question – where’d you get your degree?

With: “I never went back to school after graduating high school.”

Over the years of working in tree planting operations, fisheries inventories, stream restoration and rehabilitation, and a variety of other industries and micro-industries, I have worked with more than enough clueless ‘degree’ holders. Well, I should be fair, not necessarily clueless per se – just book smart and not so street or bush smart. Sure they new statistical equations to graph fish populations based on random sampling technique; however, give them a map and tell them how to get us out to a hospital…

In 2005, in my early 30s, a few synchronicities and events led to my return to school. I figured I’d see what it is that I was apparently ‘missing’. (This is the explanation I was given by a senior manager at the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Whitehorse while I was in between legs of my bike trip – “we would really like to hire you, but we can’t since you’re ‘missing’ your degree…”).

I completed my first year at a community college and thankfully had some great instructors that kept some dreadfully dull courses – interesting. The bulk of my degree – in business admin – I have completed through distance education (i.e. online courses). The ridiculous-ness of this process, is that some of my courses I have completed in less than a week of dedicated effort – which I’m sure many 20-something university students would love the opportunity to do, as opposed to sitting through monotonous three hour lectures a few times a week for a four month stretch.

I suppose this is the changing face of education. As I learn more about the wide range of services online – i.e. elance – hypothetically I could have outsourced all my assignments to someone in India or otherwise, with pay rates a fraction of my tuition. Various statistics suggest the average individual with a degree can make 50% more at their jobs, or in the range of a million dollars more over the span of their career. With these sorts of stats, why not make a small investment in your 20s and simply outsource the work required for your degree – to someone in India or Pakistan? – it might be a pretty good return on investment….

Without too much of a rant about some of the complete wasting of time presented by some university courses – other courses have, in fact, brought value, pondering, and return on investment.

The past few weeks I have focused on completing the final course required for my degree – a fourth year business course: Integrated Marketing Communication. The bulk of the course has focused on stock, standard marketing campaigns – with the likes of Ford, Coca-Cola, Nike and other big name brands presented as case studies. Assignments for the course have required designing an integrated marketing campaign for a well-known brand.

I chose a charitable non-profit organization: The Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The final project for the course (as opposed to an exam) requires students to synthesize each assignment – sections of the IMC plan – into a complete IMC plan, incorporating all the corrections, suggestions, and comments from the instructor.

What I have discovered working through the course is very little mention of the array of social media marketing available to organizations today – things such as this site (WordPress), YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. Or, some of the often cheaper tactics advocated by Jay Conrad Levinson the author of the ever-growing series of Guerilla Marketing books. For nonprofit organizations, marketing generally has to be innovative and budget-minded – donors and contributors don’t want to see their donations going to simply attracting more donors. They want to see action.

I started doing my research into alternative methods of advertising, as opposed to standard marketing processes. One of the individuals I came across is Seth Godin. He’s written numerous books on marketing (some of which he gives away free on his web sites as ebooks), keeps a very popular blog, and started the company Squidoo which has some parallels with blogs.

In his book Meatball Sundae: Is your marketing out of sync Godin talks about “New Marketing” – this new marketing is the changing face of the marketing world. The old approach of blitzing TV, magazines, and standard media does not bring the same results it used to.

“One of the realities of the New Marketing is that mass is no longer achievable. Even more important: Mass is no longer desirable.”

Godin concludes the book by suggesting:

“If the New Marketing can be characterized by just one idea, it’s this: Ideas that spread through groups of people are far more powerful than ideas delivered at an individual.”

“Social change, education, new product launches, religious movements… it doesn’t matter, the story is the same. Movements are at the heart of change and growth. A movement – an idea that spreads with passion through community and leads to change – is far more powerful than any advertisement ever could be.”

This is a really good synthesis of what I had in mind when I first came up with the idea of the Wild Salmon Cycle over eight years ago. Maybe this blog and getting these books finished will continue the momentum started almost a decade ago….?


After a rather long hiatus from the salmon world, or at least habitat restoration, conservation, stewardship, or advocacy work – I seem to be edging back that way… Maybe affected by the recent federal government announcement to launch a judicial review into disappearing salmon on the Fraser, or maybe it’s just time, or, percolation.

This is the sixth year since completing a 10,000 km bicycle trip through the range of Pacific Salmon between 2001 and 2003. The trip – the Wild Salmon Cycle – was quite the odyssey. During the trip I kept weblog updates as well as a journal that I generally wrote in daily.

Yeah, it is somewhat cliché: walk, run, ride, etc. for some cause – then write a book. For the first few years after the trip I didn’t have much interest in writing about it although the idea was always there. It’s not that I didn’t think about the trip, or the several thick journals of writing that have traveled with me in tupperware boxes these last few years, or people I connected with during and after the trip, or salmon issues in general.

Life just moved on.

Over the years, I spoke at a few schools and occasionally chatted with people that asked me what I was doing since the trip. And then recently, my older sister asked me to speak at a college class in Victoria where she teaches. The course was on leadership in sport and fitness; she asked me to speak about the bike trip, but also my many years of coaching and youth work – and how some of those things tied together.

A few weeks of preparation for the presentation got my mind going again – with a significant interest in salmon related issues again, as well as publishing the story of the bike ride in some form or another. I now have the journals largely transcribed, and halfway through an accompanying book that gives the background for setting out on the trip. I plan to self publish the two books in the coming months and returning to the road in the spring to reconnect with folks and groups I met during the Wild Salmon Cycle as well as market and sell the books – albeit this time probably not by bike. I have two kids now, with a third arriving in the next two weeks.

Over the last six months or so, I have been focusing on school; finishing a degree that I started the year after finishing the ride – largely by distance education. I recently found out I need one more business course to finish the degree; I plan to finish it between January and April. In recent months, as I wrapped up my degree, I started to send out the occasional résumé and make contacts in relation to my consulting business. The response… notta, natta, zilch.

Funnily enough running my own consulting business over the last few years, finishing online courses, and a growing family, has me recognizing more than ever that my years of doing salmon-related work were by the far the most stimulating, satisfying, interesting, and soul-gratifying. And my true desire over the last several years has been to find a way to make a living and provide for my family as a writer, speaker, and potentially a teacher of sorts. So maybe the universe is trying to tell me something…

And thus, I have started this blog to continue the conversation that I started several years ago, and to communicate about the upcoming launches of the books – and whatever happens after that…

The ‘salmon guy’ label comes from a grade 5/6 class in Smithers and in many respects it stuck.