Monthly Archives: January 2010

the interventionist solution?

The other day I asked how do we define “wild salmon”? This following on the heels of the announcement by Target the huge US retail chain that it would now only carry “wild-caught” salmon as opposed to farmed salmon.

In the post I highlight the fact that around the Pacific Rim over 5 billion baby salmon are released by salmon ranching – salmon enhancement facilities. Hatcheries in other words.

Alaskan facilities release somewhere around 1.5 billion baby salmon every year – Canada releases approximately 600 million baby salmon every year. Japan releases over 2 billion – 95% of their commercially caught salmon are from salmon ranching facilities.

This is intervention at a grand scale.

There is often a lot of media surrounding Alaskan salmon fisheries. These fisheries have been “eco-certified” by the Marine Stewardship Council and they are often touted as healthy, sustainable, model fisheries.

Of course, some folks point to good ocean survival for Alaskan salmon as opposed to other stocks such as those in California, Oregon, and Washington. Other folks point to the fact that Alaska has legally mandated that fisheries can not catch over 50% of salmon runs – a more “sustainable” level than than the approximately 80% that Fisheries and Oceans Canada allows their fisheries to take from salmon runs (Maximum Sustainable Yield).

These factors may all contribute – however, I might point to a worrisome trend of more hatchery fish contributing to fisheries. This graph is from The Great Salmon Run by Gunnar Knapp, and Cathy Roheim and James Anderson:

Alaska has approximately 40 hatcheries. Canada- British Columbia has almost 200.

One of the concerns with hatcheries is that they reduce the genetic diversity of salmon runs. Genetic diversity in any species suggests a more hearty species able to withstand various threats and changes.

Alaska may be pumping out more baby salmon than BC – which requires immense amount of feed for those baby salmon while they are still in hatcheries – as well as eating natural feed in the North Pacific. However, Canada is pumping out baby salmon from way more facilities which might suggest a wider threat to genetic diversity over a wider geographic area.

In 2005, Xanthippe Augerot and the State of the Salmon Consortium produced an Atlas of Pacific Salmon: The First map based status assessment of Salmon in the North Pacific.

It’s a great book and a very affordable price for it’s coffee table book size and endless color maps.

One of the maps shows all of the hatcheries around the North Pacific (you can view a much larger version here):

That’s Japan leading the pack with 378.

British Columbia is second with 191.

And Washington with 88.

Hatcheries are not a new intervention. In the 1902 Canada Fisheries Report I quoted in an earlier post – Once Upon a Salmon – there is a report on the total amount of fish released from hatcheries across the country. Here is the B.C. summary:

Between 1885 and 1900 BC hatcheries sent out over 100 million baby salmon into the North Pacific.

If you had a chance to read the post – this full 430 page report also reported that Fraser River canneries canned over 30 million sockeye that year and could have canned another 30 million if the hatcheries had had more capacity.

So why the hell were governments spending money on hatcheries?

Maybe these quotes from the report might shed some light:

Trout devour other species, and even make war upon each other. It is no doubt impossible in most salmon rivers to exterminate the trout, or prevent their inroads; but every means should be taken to keep their numbers down and successfully check their super-abundance.

This idea of “super-abundance” is still alive and well in fisheries management plans. There is a term in salmon management called “over-escapement”. Salmon that “escape” fisheries and reach the spawning grounds are called “escapement”  – rather than spawners.

As I have asked before are we managing for the fish – or are we managing for the fisheries?

This idea of over-escapement permeates institutions and has been adopted by many. If too many salmon are allowed to reach spawning grounds they will kill each other, dig each others eggs, rampant diseases will ensue – thus we better intervene and catch as many as possible.

Gee, as far as I know salmon have been around a few million years – they’ve done a pretty decent job of managing themselves. And funny enough, before western science and fisheries management and canneries and open ocean fisheries arrived – salmon and humans were doing pretty well together.

Maybe this quote from the 1902 report also still permeates salmon management:

While, of course, the department is competent to decide, more so, indeed, than any local authorities, such matters as these, on account of the extensive and varied means of information it possesses…

Yes, of course, indeed…. what the heck would local authorities and individuals know about salmon?

And, maybe this paragraph points to an attitude that still permeates institutional salmon management:

A salmon river should, as far as possible, be a river for salmon, and no step should be neglected to make it so. On the other hand a trout stream is not to be despised; but a trout stream should be a stream for trout, a stream that is to say, in which every encouragement for their increase and welfare, and every protection against injury and depletion is afforded them. It is justifiable in a good trout stream to exclude and destroy salmon for, as that most enthusiastic of trout culturists, the late Sir James Gibson Maitland once declared,—” trout are most destructive to salmon spawn”…

“the returning salmon knows of no ‘cure’ for the termination of his life”

The subject line is a quote from one of my all time favorite writers – Canadian Alistair MacLeod. The quote comes from MacLeod’s story “The Road to Rankin’s Point” which is in his book of short stories Island.

The full quote:

I have returned now, I think, almost as the diseased and polluted salmon, to swim for a brief time in the clear waters of my earlier stream. The returning salmon knows of no “cure” for the termination of his life.

The story is about a 26-year old man returning home to Cape Breton to try and convince his grandmother (on behalf of the rest of his family) to move to a nursing home. It turns out he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but does not tell anyone, until he tells his grandmother near the end of the story (sorry to let that out, if you haven’t read the story) – and most likely part of the reference to diseased and polluted returning home.

The story has a lot to do with death – and yet also life. The cycle.

This ties in with a book I picked up at the library yesterday What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay. The book has a bit of that “Chicken Little” element to it and can start to get a bit dour with too much reading.

However, here is a great tidbit from the first chapter:

The health of the land begins with shit, with dead bodies, with body parts that fall to the ground. It begins with death, decomposition, decay. It begins with eating, metabolizing, excreting. That’s how it has always been, since the beginning of life. You feed me, I feed the soil, the soil feeds everyone, the soil feeds me, I feed you, you feed the soil, and so on.

Here’s another way to look at it: I eat you, the soil eats me, everyone eats the soil, you eat me, the soil eats you.

It’s all the same.

This reminded me of learning about mortuary poles when, as a kid, I visited old Haida villages in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site on the south end of Haida Gwaii of the coast of British Columbia. In essence a mortuary pole is a pole with a ‘box’ on the top. In the box certain individuals were placed when they died. Eventually the wood of the box would decompose and the bones would eventually fall to the ground to return to the earth – just as eventually the pole itself would too.

In Gwaii Haanas, there have been hot debates about the old totem poles. Common practice was to allow totem poles to fall and return to the earth where they came from. With creation of the “reserve park” the poles became great tourist attractions – for example the old village on Skung Gwaii is considered a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Should the poles return to the earth as they used to for thousands of years, or should they be propped up to secure a longer life above earth?

When salmon return to spawn – they die and feed everything – including, and especially, the soil. In years past, while doing stream surveys or other projects, I walked coastal streams in fall months. On Haida Gwaii, for example, fall months are chum salmon time in many streams. Chum can be quite large, say 15 to 20 pounds. When they spawn and then die after their short lives, their bodies line stream banks and gravel bars putrefying and feeding; rotting and nourishing; crawling and breaking-down.

Some times a great rain storm will come through and flood streams. Walking streams afterward, chum carcasses  hang off stream-side branches and brush – flapping in the wind like national flags. Decayed carcasses wrap around logs like old gym socks. The skin, tougher than leather, can lay around on gravel bars for over a month – slipperier than the proverbial banana peel. Many carcasses flush out to estuaries feeding a myriad of critters there – crabs, clams, little fish, anemones, and so on.

Not only do salmon carcasses fertilize the forest like fish-meal in a garden – the shit of bears, eagles, and other critter feeds the soil, the trees, and everything else in the vicinity. Basic plant biology points out that plants need to get nitrogen (one of the building blocks for life) from different sources. There’s quite a bit of nitrogen in salmon carcasses – there’s even more nitrogen in bear pee after it eats salmon. Bear pee for plants is a good thing and a great source of nitrogen.

Salmon carcasses also feed the next generation of salmon. Various studies demonstrate that baby salmon hanging out in streams consume massive amounts of nutrients left by their parents decomposing bodies – either direct feeding on carcass remnants or eating insects that metamorphosized out of carcasses from the year previous. As high as 40-60% of stomach contents of some baby salmon are carcass derived. Continual declines in salmon carcasses in streams, means that baby salmon lose vital food sources.

This part of the story was lost when fisheries “management” over the last century suggested it was fine to take 50%-80% of salmon populations through various forms of fishing dictated by ensuring “Maximum Sustainable Yield”.

This stopped a lot of shitting in the forest. This stopped a lot of shit in the forest that was absorbed by everything in the vicinity.

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Sure does, especially when it’s eating a lot of salmon.

Here’s something to maybe make you smile – this is from Hugh MacLeod he keeps a website of great little pieces of art – he does them on the back of business cards. This is how I feel when I read the latest fisheries management approaches proposed by government ministries, and government Ministers suggest that salmon declines might be from “localized” impacts…

salmon pool – like a hockey pool…

These last few days I’ve been working on the last section of my upcoming book. The book is about the “why?” As in: why did I set out on a 10,000 km bicycle trip between Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada and Los Angeles, California, USA (via Alaska) in 2001?

Inuvik to LA represents the historical range of Pacific salmon in North America. The trip was called The Wild Salmon Cycle.

Some of the “why?” is about my own history – growing up on Haida Gwaii off the British Columbia coast, working for several years on salmon habitat rehabilitation projects and stream surveys, and so on.

Some of the “why?” is about salmon stories that I have learned over the years. Stories of salmon as nutrients. Stories of human migrations; and human creations – as in: a lot of First Nations throughout B.C. have stories of local origin – not stories of running across some land-sea bridge water lapping at their heels… And some of the nice salmon stories that “science” has formulated for us.

The last section of the book is a challenging one. So often, books of this nature start proposing “solutions”. I don’t have any solutions, however, I do have some suggestions – but mostly I have questions.

Here is a ‘map’ that I am using as a guide for the book – and will be included in the book introduction.

Here’s the gist of what has come to me over the last few weeks…

Salmon can recolonize streams after volcanoes – the Pacific Rim is also known as the “Rim of Fire”.

Salmon can recolonize streams after a kilometre of ice has receded from the landscape (for example 10,000 to 18,000 years ago).

Salmon have lived with great success in streams and rivers that get over nine metres (approx. 30 ft) of rain per year – west coast Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, and Alaskan panhandle.

Salmon and people have co-existed and co-evolved with landscapes for somewhere around 50,000 years.

So what the hell has happened over the last blink of an eye in time (say 150 years)?

Maybe it’s that dirty climate change thing – as many government ministries and Ministers suggest?

Yeah, sure, but I think there have been a few significant climate change “events” before – sort of like when those ice sheets melted.

I don’t think the clues for answering the question are tough. It’s not like asking someone the square root of 391,423 (without a calculator).

I’m a hockey fan – like a few other Canadians. Sometimes I even enter hockey pools. A group of people get together and pick players for their list or pool. The points that the players amass through a season, or playoff, are the total points for the hockey pool participant. Most points win.

There are a few factors in hockey pool success.  Look at who each player might play with over the season (linemates) – are they top line or maybe third line? How much play time are they going to get? What’s their history of injuries?

Basically, past statistics are one of the biggest tools utilized.

So, if I was in a wild salmon pool – I’d be looking to past statistics to really guide my choices. I quoted some of those statistical components of the past (and present) above – volcanoes, ice ages, rainfall, and so on.

Unfortunately, for wild salmon now – it’s like they’re playing in the National Hockey League with bob skates on (you know the four bladed skates for kids that strap onto boots).

Or, it’s like sending a TimBits (6 or 7 years old) hockey team to the Olympics.

The history of wild salmon in, for example, the Baltic Sea, Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, England, New England, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, and so on where there are mere remnants of past wild salmon runs. And now add in California, Oregon and Washington where declines over the last one hundred years are in the range of 90%-95%. (That’s like going from scoring champ with 100 points to 5 points in the next season – the hockey poolers worst nightmare)

Fervent hockey poolers buy magazines, scour the Web, and listen to hockey pundits on Sports Channels. Some hockey pools are big money – and always big bragging rights. Forecasting for upcoming seasons is crucial – kind of like salmon fisheries.

You could imagine the disappointment – and even economic costs – when some pundits blow their forecasts. For example, forecasting 100 points and a player only gets 10 points. That’s a disaster. You know sort of like forecasting 10 million sockeye in the Fraser River this past season and only getting 1 million – a 90% miss.

Now, of course in B.C. throw in some performance-enhanced salmon into the league (farmed and hatchery salmon) and everything goes to shit. Throw in a few managers demanding “maximum sustainable yield” year after year after year –  and Houston we have a problem….

Another factor in this story. The other day – I searched and searched online for graphs that show historical sizes, or at least estimates, of Fraser River salmon runs over the last 150 years. I have been unable to find any. I searched through Fisheries and Oceans Canada website. No luck.

This is sort of like entering a hockey pool with little chances except luck and fluke.

Although I did find particular references – for example my post from the other day where the Fisheries Minister inn 1902 reported that over 30 million sockeye were canned and put in cases – and, that if cannery capacity could have handled it, they could have canned another 30 million sockeye as the run was massive enough to do so.

finally, someone talking sense…

Here are some quotes from a paper I found online today:

The popular concept of salmon is changing from that of a can on the grocer’s shelf to a source of international contention… Basically the conflict is one between conservation and advancing technique. It is merely another example of a world-wide problem, which is complicated in this case, however, by the factors of national interest and investment.

The general history of fisheries, as of other forms of natural wealth, has been one of more or less rapid depletion due to increasing intensity of exploitation. In this process technical advances has played an obvious and vital part.

If you have much doubt check out my post from earlier today: who are the culprits? Part II – i.e. world fisheries have doubled from 70 million tons a year in 1979 to over 140 million tons in 2005 – despite stern warnings, including the United Nations, for years that the ocean can not sustain this type of pressure.

Demand has increased, and the methods of satisfying the demands have been extended and improved. The result has been a dwindling of the natural reserves of fish. Technical advance with the increased range of fishing operations has, moreover, increased the possibilities of international struggle for the supply of raw fish, a tendency which is again heightened by diminution of world reserves.

With resources thus facing depletion, conservation through regulation of the fishing industry becomes necessary and to a certain extent has been undertaken… conservation measures have been applied with sufficient success to place the supply of fish on the basis of permanent yield.

See, now this statement is stating “conservation” with a direct purpose. There’s no wishy-washy attempts at green-washing this issue. In this situation we are talking “conservation” to ensure a “permanent yield”. This is fisheries management.

If you haven’t seen my riffs on ‘conservation‘ check out some earlier posts in the “Bumpf” category or conservation concept conversation.

In short, with specific reference to Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy for Pacific Salmon – conservation is stated as the number one goal. However, the clarity on conserving why, for what, is like listening to one of my 3-yr old kids explain why they accidentally pooped on the floor before reaching the toilet: “well…um…uh, I was… um… I meant to… umm… ooops…”

Simpler just to say what you mean and mean what you say.

Conservation” as framed in Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy simply means we are trying to conserve salmon for the aboriginal, commercial and sport fisheries. Why not just frame it like the quote above – conservation is to ensure a permanent yield for the fisheries?

Don’t wrap it up in wet tissue paper concepts of “ecosystem-based planning” and other bumpf and bunk like “conservation units” – and send it out for Christmas. If you were really doing true “ecosystem-based” we’d know exactly how much salmon the bears, eagles, sculpins, weasels, and other several hundred species are eating and how many decomposing salmon trees and other plants need to absorb – then make sure they get their feed first.

Keep the attempts at “managing” fisheries to policies of fisheries management. However, make sure those fisheries are based on solid, adaptable concepts that truly account for complex systems such as animal populations. We will never accurately predict animal population – especially extraordinary critters like salmon that migrate thousands of kilometres through oceans, bays, straits, and rivers and streams.

Too many factors – not enough algebraic equations. It’s like trying to predict earthquakes.

One suggestion: maybe if you have one government ministry managing fisheries (i.e. specific goal to kill – or grow and sell – as many fish as possible) – don’t have the same ministry (and in many cases same people) trying to look after and research the ecosystem components and needs.

That’s like bankers making their own regulations – oh wait… we’ve seen the consequences of that over the last two years…

Now the sad bit about my excerpts above – they are from a paper “Alaska Salmon in World Politics” from Volume 7 Issue number 5 of the Far Eastern Survey published March 2, 1938. The paper discusses the tensions between Alaska and Japan regarding salmon during World War II.

who are the culprits? – Part 2

As I stated in the previous post – who are the culprits? Part 1.

All we need to do is look in the mirror. This is the follow up post – if you’re reading this one first then maybe save Part 1 for after – maybe it’ll make you laugh.

All of the potential culprits for salmon declines have an impact. And where does all of the evidence point to? Well, you and me.

All of my peer reviewed, government sanctioned, empirical, academically rigorous research has conclusively proven that you and I are responsible for wild salmon declines.

These graphs come from The Great Salmon Run by from Gunnar Knapp, and Cathy Roheim and James Anderson of   the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources at the University of Rhode Island (hosted on Social and Economic Research University of Alaska Anchorage website)

These graphs are quite small and look sort of innocuous. However, the numbers are stunning. In the European Union (EU) salmon consumption has tripled in 15 years and so has the U.S. In the “other markets” salmon consumption has more than quadrupled.

At this small size it may be difficult to discern the types of salmon portrayed.

The EU increase? Almost all farmed salmon, that’s why the bars are white.

Similarly with the U.S. The same report states:

About three-fourths of the fresh and frozen salmon consumed in the United States is now farmed.

And, by the way, there is no such thing as a “wild” Japanese salmon (as suggested by the gray bars in the graph). 95% of salmon caught in Japan are products of salmon-ranching (or hatcheries) – there are very few wild salmon left.

Little baby salmon in salmon-ranching operations also need fish feed. There are currently approximately 5 billion baby salmon produced by salmon-ranching – enhancement – activities around the Pacific Rim. (babies or not, that’s a lot of feed…). See my post from the other day how do we define wild? for more on this.

Here’s a clearer indication of types of salmon in the world supply.

This is suggesting the wild catch hasn’t changed all that much over the last 24 years – which is kind of scary considering levels of declines throughout most of the range of Pacific salmon (however that’s a different post).

Farmed salmon growth…. wow.

Farmed salmon production worldwide as the report states, has grown:

from two percent of world supply in 1980 to 65 percent of world supply in 2004.

From 0 tonnes to close to  2 million tonnes in about 20 years. What is the percentage of growth on that? 2,000,000%? Now if I was a pragmatic (conscience-free) investor…?

One of the most fundamental aspects of fish farming that troubles me – the amount of fish feed it takes to raise a farmed salmon. Older estimates suggested that approximately 3 kg of feed was required to produce 1 kg of farmed salmon. This particular report suggests:

The largest cost component of production costs is feed. In the 1980s, feed conversion ratios (FCR) in Norway were around 3 kilograms of feed per kilogram of salmon. In 1999, the average feed conversion ratio was 1.19 kilograms of feed per kilogram of salmon.

Good to see feed conversion rates improving – but why?

The reduction in production costs and FCR was made possible through consolidation and vertical integration of the industry, better broodstock, technology and improvements in nutrition, disease management and farm production systems.

I read that as corporate speak/bumpf for significant multi-national buy-ups throughout the industry. Result? A few huge companies controlling the industry – and why not with that rate of growth in twenty years.

Related tidbit:

In 1987, the United Nations convened the World Commission on Environment and Development which released their report: Our Common Future. The commission was created to address growing concern “about the accelerating deterioration of the human environment and natural resources and the consequences of that deterioration for economic and social development.” In that report is the now oft-used definition of “sustainable” fronted by then Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  1. the concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  2. the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.

In Chapter 10 of the Bruntland report, the picture of the world’s ocean fisheries is bleak.

In 1979, the stats used for the report, total volume of fish captured (wild fisheries and aquaculture) in the world’s oceans was more than 70 million tons.

The report stated:

With conventional management practices, the growth era of fisheries is over.

Hmmm… I guess the aquaculture industry didn’t get that memo.

I also smell some irony here… Bruntland the Norwegian Prime Minister that fronted this report is from the country – Norway – that currently controls about 90% of the British Columbia fish farming industry (and well, I’m guessing 100% of the Norwegian salmon farming industry – I am curious about how much of salmon farming in other countries?).

Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2009 (first woman to win the prize) explains that unfortunately things haven’t improved much since the Bruntland report.

The world fishery has doubled since 1979 from 70 million to over 141 million tons captured in 2005. And worse yet, only 20% of the 2005 catch is from the waters of developed countries – 80% of the catch is from the waters of developing countries, and the bulk of this was not caught by local fishers.

I can’t say I’m seeing the connection between Bruntland’s: “concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given” and the tripling and quadrupling of salmon consumption (largely farmed salmon) in the U.S, European Union, and “other nations” (which my guess is not developing countries).

Regardless, the salmon farming industry is like the deap-sea going freighter that requires several nautical miles to start slowing down – or the proverbial freight train…

I don’t raise this point just because of the environmental implications of salmon farming – and sure maybe we get close containment, land-based systems – we’ve still got to feed them something and process the waste. Unlike our least favorite desert in our household as kids – “Air Pie” (parental joke for – no desert). I don’t think the technology is going to develop so quickly that we can feed Air Pie to farmed salmon.

There are economic issue with farmed salmon – obviously, as displayed by the graphs above. It’s also getting cheaper and cheaper to produce – especially with that “consolidation and vertical integration” thing.

This graph suggests a cut in costs to almost 1/6th of previous in about 20 years.

Again, who the hell wouldn’t be interested in investing in this (e.g. Provincial or Federal governments). Markets growing ‘exponents of exponentially’ and costs dropping by 15-20% a year.

Well… at least ‘economic’ costs on company balance sheets and shareholder annual reports.

Plus, with a glut of “cheap” farmed fish on the market – what does that do to the price for wild fish?

As pointed out in The Great Salmon Run:

The second trend is a steep decline in the value of North American wild fisheries, as seen in the decline in the value of annual Alaska salmon catches from more than $800 million in the late 1980s to less than $300 million for the period 2000-04 expressed in 2005 dollars… Most of this decline in value was due to a decline in prices (rather than catches), and much of the decline in prices was due to competition from farmed salmon.

Does this suggest then – a more “consolidated and vertically integrated” commercial salmon fishery is looking to catch as many wild salmon as possible to make sure bills get paid – despite declining prices?

Does this mean salmon-ranching and salmon enhancement efforts get stepped up to pump out more baby salmon to ensure salmon fisheries stay afloat (excuse the pun) – and that voracious salmon markets are kept fed with “wild-caught” salmon? (similar to Japan)

One might think so considering Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy is nothing more than a policy directing salmon fisheries – with nice fluffy window dressings suggesting “conservation” and such…

Or, does this mean certain governments might write off commercial fisheries in favor of salmon farming – why not it’s a massively growing market, declining costs, and we can all argue about “potential” localized impacts until the cows come home – or the at least until the genetically-modified, antibiotic filled Atlantic salmon come home…

(Or, until we’re left feeding farmed salmon Air Pie).

It’s complex… but we’re all implicated.

who are the culprits? – Part 1

There is a witch hunt afoot in the range of Pacific salmon – at least in the western North American range south of Alaska. For some folks (fishy folk anyways) this witch hunt should be topping “America’s Most Wanted” or other equivalent TV shows.

This is the witch hunt for salmon killers.

The headlines stream:

  • “where did all the salmon go?”
  • “who, or what, killed all the wild salmon?”

I think the FBI has several suspects on their list. These include: logging, overfishing, mining, pollution, urbanization – and the most recent suspect topping the list…. dirty slimy climate change.

That darn Al Gore has spawned nothing short of copy-catters and terror around the world. Climate change… that great culprit. When in doubt – climate change did it.

Where did my keys go?

climate change!

Where did I leave that darn shopping list?

climate change took it!

Sock lost in the laundry?…. ok, you get the picture.

In Canada, our poor Fisheries Minister Shea was pied in the face the other day at a news conference. And not even with good pie – it was a tofu pie. (Now that should be a crime). I suppose maybe she should consider herself fortunate she didn’t get hit with an old spawned out humpy (pink salmon) when she was here on the BC coast – when she forgot to set meetings with fisherfolks.

At least, we know this wasn’t climate change. It was just bad planning.

Of course this pie throwing act has set off one of the most ridiculous tirades of rhetoric I’ve heard in quite awhile. One Conservative MP from Newfoundland has suggested the perpetrators (PETA demonstrating the Canadian seal hunt) should be charged and tried as “terrorists”.

Come on. Bombs up your pant legs on a plane – ok, maybe “terrorist”.  Tofu pie throwers…. let’s get a grip. (even if the minister is allergic to soy products…)

Now, in regards to the great perpetrator climate change – our freshly pied Fisheries Minister in a recent letter states:

The coastwide scope of the decline that has occurred across all Pacific salmon species suggests that this decline is associated with much larger ecological events than localized salmon farming.  These events include climate change and changes in ocean productivity along our West Coast.

In addition to recognizing the impact of global changes, DFO also understands potential impacts of local conditions.

There it is that dirty climate change – killing all those innocent salmon.

And, well…. Ms. Fisheries Minister I’m glad you have also adopted the stance of “potential” impacts of local conditions. One of those “potential” local impacts, I might suggest, could be the local office of the ministry you manage…. (but that would be mean of me).

Jesting aside – I think I have found the culprit of the great wild Pacific salmon demise.

Go look in a mirror. It’s you and me.

Once upon a salmon…

Thirty-fifth Annual Report: Department of Marine and Fisheries 1902

To His Excellency the Right Honourable SIR GILBERT JOHN ELLIOT, EARL OF MINTO,
Governor General of Canada.

I have the honour to submit herewith, for the information of Your Excellency and the Legislature of Canada, the Thirty-Fifth Annual Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, Fisheries Branch.

I have the honour to be,

Your Excellency’s most obedient servant,

Minister of Marine and Fisheries.
OTTAWA, February, 1903.

Excerpts from the report:

This year’s pack has been the largest known in the province amounting to 1,247,215 cases against 1,026,545 in 1897. 1,154,717 cases were sockeye salmon (O. nerka), exceeding the total pack of 1897 of all kinds of salmon. On Fraser River the pack of sockeye in 1901 was 974,911 cases as against 897,115 cases of all kinds in 1897.

If you are curious a case was 48 pounds.

Large as this amount is, representing 30,000,000 fish it could have been largely increased, possibly doubled had the canneries had capacity enough to have handled all the fish available during the run.  On Fraser river, the canneries placed 200 as the maximum number of fish they could guarantee to take from each boat and for 12 days, from 6th to 17th August this limit was enforced. The fishermen could consequently during this period fish only for a short time each day. During the height of the run they dare not put more than a small length of their net in the water. In some cases nets were sunk and lost from the weight of the fish.

how do we define “wild”?

Yesterday, the huge retail U.S. giant Target announced that it was dropping all farmed salmon from its fresh, frozen, and smoked seafood sections nationwide. See the Vancouver Sun article here. Target has almost 1750 stores in 49 states in the U.S.

Target suggests they are moving to “wild-caught” Alaskan salmon.

This story suggests market pressures by many salmon farm opponents – at least open pen fish farming – is working. This is highlighted in the Sun article with quotes from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, which suggests they worked with:

the retailer on changing its salmon offerings, stocking seafood from “ocean-friendly sources” [will] help improve fishing and fish-farming practices around the world.

One of the first things that peaked my curiosity – why does Target say “wild-caught” Alaskan salmon instead of just “wild salmon”?

Alaska has a ban on “fin fish farming” – so no fish farms…  Yet, Alaska has a practice that is not fish “farming” but fish “ranching”.

Salmon ranching is a very common practice around the Pacific Rim – especially Japan and Korea. What’s the difference between salmon ranching and salmon farming?

It’s like the difference between feed lots for cattle and range-raised cattle.

Feed lots raise cattle in enclosed pens before being slaughtered. Range raised cattle feed in pastures before being slaughtered.

The pasture for salmon ranching?

The North Pacific ocean.

If you aren’t familiar with salmon ranching – Google it – or here’s the premise: raise salmon fry in a hatchery environment. This means catching adult salmon, put the female eggs in a bucket, put the male milt in the bucket with the eggs. Stir. Then incubate eggs in hatchery.

When eggs hatch, raise baby salmon in metal troughs. When big enough place them in net pens near the mouths of streams or in bays. Feed them pellets (like salmon farming) made from other fish. Release the baby salmon when they’re ready to “compete” with wild salmon. Instinct then kicks in; they migrate out to the ocean – or pasture.

Theory being that these baby salmon will be imprinted with the freshwater streams in the bay and return after their migration through the North Pacific (the pasture). When they return a few years later, catch them like any other salmon in commercial or sport fisheries – or indigenous fisheries.

This is the best ranching program going – no fixing broken fences, no wrangling, no shooting wolves… And no bad movies like City Slickers

Image of an actual salmon ranching focussed seine fishery in Alaska:

Here’s a graph of Alaskan salmon catches from 1878-2003 (compliments of Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game):

Apologies for the small print – the peak numbers are in the range of 200-215 million salmon caught in commercial fisheries at the peak in the 1990s.

Numbers for 2008 suggest a total commercial catch of just over 146 million salmon.

Estimates of hatchery- or salmon ranched fish – or enhanced salmon as Alaska calls them – caught in commercial fisheries suggest ranges between 25% – 35%  every year. There are almost 40 hatcheries – or salmon ranching – facilities in Alaska. In Prince William Sound (remember Exxon Valdez?) over 90% of the commercial catch of approximately 50 million salmon are from salmon ranching facilities (compliments of Alaska Fishery Mngmt report 09-08).

So yes, these fish are “wild-caught”. But “ocean friendly” Monterrey Aquarium?

Is there a big difference here than say…. opening up the Atlantic salmon net pens in the Georgia Strait, catching them in a seine fishery, and then calling them “wild-caught” salmon?

Or what if we released the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s captive bluefin tuna into Monterrey Bay for a “wild caught” tuna fishing derby?

Or, how about that hippo that escaped a zoo in Montenegro the other day (due to flooding) – when they captured that hippo was it “wild” or “wild caught”?

Hatcheries are very capital intensive projects – meaning lots of $$ to operate – especially when the State of Alaska is pumping out in the neighborhood of 1.5 billion salmon smolts from salmon ranching (or enhancement) facilities.

Japan releases almost 2 billion salmon smolts. Number aren’t known for Korea (as far as I can tell).

Current estimates suggest in the range of 5 billion salmon smolts from “enhancement” facilities head out to pasture (the North Pacific) every year. (British Columbia provides almost 600 million of those through the BC Salmon Enhancement Program). These “enhanced” fish compete with “wild” fish for what scientists suggest are dwindling resources in areas of the North Pacific. Plus these “enhanced” fish also need to be fed fish in pens. That feed comes from other fish, caught somewhere and ground into pellets.

Language is important. There is another type of “enhancement” options out there – and I suppose one could call this the difference between the “wild caught” breasts – prevalent in Hollywood – and “wild” breasts.

Or “natural” and “enhanced”.

Great to drop the farmed fish, I don’t touch it – but green washing the real story… “Ocean-friendly”… come on.

once upon a salmon…


“A population living on salmon, and drying in sun, and smoke,
great quantities for winter food, and for barter with the Indians
to the south.

In the autumn the trails were busy with mounted Indians, singing
as they jogged along, or whopping as they galloped from one troop
to another, while trains or processions of pack horses, toddling
under tremendous loads of baled, dried, salmon, bit on herbage
along the way.

Behind them came squaws, papooses, colts and cayuses, gay with
colour, buckskin, beads and dyed horsehair.

Every little while came the pounding of more hoofs, along the
ridges and benches, with more yelling, laughter, and song.

It was the great southerly movement of great quantities of dried
salmon, some of it for Indians on the American side, whose
forbearers had traded in it, long before there was a boundary
line, or white men in the country.

It was only a twelve mile pack by Eagle Pass from sockeye salmon
fisheries at Three Valley Lake to the Columbia River, opposite
where Revelstoke now stands. From there it required little effort
to take baled dry salmon by canoe, away through the region lying
on both sides of the International border. They drifted much of
the way only using the paddle occasionally.

After big runs the mouths of streams were hardly approachable for
the stench; for miles beyond the deep bars of dead salmon, the
shores were strewn. On the l4th of December, 1905, we steamed
through the awful stench into the wide bay at the mouth of the
Lower Adams River. With mouths tightly closed we communicated
only by signals. The shore was banked with a wide deep double
bar of putrid salmon, extending around the bay until it faded out
of view in the distance.

1911-31. VICTORIA, B.C.:

“The run of sockeye to Adams Lake in August and September of
1901, 1905, and 1909 was so great that every tributary of the
lake extending to Tumtum Lake, at the head of the watershed, was
crowded with spawning sockeye. I visited the headwaters in 1905
and 1909, and saw countless thousands of dead and spawning fish

compliments of David Ellis.

no more blueprints…

A little while back I had a post exploring the concept of “conservation” . I quoted Edward de Bono (innovator of Lateral Thinking and Six Thinking Hats)  in his definition of concept as a: “convenience package, a grouping, a clustering, an assembly for a purpose…”

As well as providing a dictionary definition of “conservation“:

2. a. Preservation or restoration from loss, damage, or neglect.

b. The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and of natural resources such as forests, soil, and water.

I also quoted the definition of “conservation” provided in Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Wild Salmon Policy:

Conservation is the protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of genetic diversity, species and ecosystems to sustain biodiversity and continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes.

In as much as the DFO definition is full of a lot of bumpf – I can sympathize somewhat. The concept of conservation is a complex one. As I mentioned in some comments to posts, I don’t think the answer to this complex issue is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition – or blueprint solution.

Conservation, as suggested in the Wild Salmon Policy, applies to natural systems, or ecosystems. Natural systems are complex systems; which means uncertainty, unpredictability, and unforeseens – look at natural disasters such as Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, tsunamis, etc.  And hence, my riff yesterday on suggestions from DFO scientists that more scientific models and equations are required. I suggest maybe a little more actual standing stream side – rather than office exercises that can never account for all variables.

Now, here’s the most important variable that is left out of DFO’s definition and concept – the social-human variables. And this is where there’s a gaping void.

The first principle of the Wild Salmon Policy, and DFO’s overall fisheries management approach, is “Conservation” . The second principle is Aboriginal Fisheries (food, ceremonial, etc.), then Commercial and Sport Fisheries.

OK, so if the second two principles are clearly social principles – then why isn’t the first principle laid out as a social principle or concept?

This goes back to my questions:

  • What are we conserving?
  • Why are we conserving?
  • And, maybe even most importantly, by who’s definitions are we conserving?

There is a difference between denotation (the stated part) of a document, word, or principle; and the connotation (the various understandings) of a document, word, or principle. Connotations are virtually impossible to control. (See my post on the front yard-back yard analogy)

In the Wild Salmon Policy, unfortunately, the stated definition (denotation) of conservation is flawed, which will continue to create serious issues with public connotations. The definition sticks strictly to the natural systems view of “conserving” things – unless DFO sees the human elements that are implicit in “continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes” when it comes to wild salmon.

Wild salmon and humans have co-evolved and co-existed around the Pacific Rim for eons. Humans have been intimately connected to wild salmon “evolutionary and natural production processes”. Even more-so now as humans have developed the ability to largely wipe out a creek’s entire salmon run, with little more than a few seine nets at the mouth over a period of a decade or two, logging out a watershed, or building a new suburban neighborhood of bread box, chip-board homes.

So, if the second and third principles are about human consumption – then why not state clearly in the first principle that “conservation” means: conservation so that humans can continue to harvest them – instead of a bunch of bumpfy, bafflegab language that doesn’t really denote anything specific at all about very complex, unpredictable things.

Or, better yet, why not clearly state that conservation and things like biodiversity are distinctly social systems, as much as natural systems?

For example, one of the most common methods of “conserving biodiversity” practiced worldwide is to create “protected areas” or national parks – which are in turn controlled and ‘managed’ by national governments. Creating national parks is a distinctly social practice, social issue, with levels of natural and social complexity.

Creating parks are often heated, controversial, and complex social arrangements that create tensions for years – and as many folks suggest, in turn, may not really do much for the natural systems they purport to “protect”. As some have suggested, creating national parks or protected areas is a ‘blueprint solution’ with a top-down enforcement model.

And then of course there are questions and concerns that highlight the gaps between blueprint policies and actually enforcing them. (speed limits or bike helmet laws mean anything to anyone? If someone is speeding on a highway and there’s no cop there to measure it – is she still technically speeding?).

So what if we looked at, and worked with, the concept of conservation as a distinctly social principle, as well as a principle for guiding our activities as part of natural systems?

Certainly, many indigenous societies have. When it comes to wild salmon, indigenous societies had to have conservation principles – it’s simple really: kill too many fish, and die (or move to a new territory, someone else’s).

And, again, really, the Wild Salmon Policy and DFO policies are about ‘fisheries management‘ – not just the actual fish. Fisheries are implicitly social institutions with multiple levels of interests and hence, complex social systems as well as complex natural systems.

Thus, blueprints like the Wild Salmon Policy, will never work without acknowledging the complexity and interrelated natural and social systems. And if those of you working in this field remember, the Wild Salmon Policy evolved directly out of a document titled: “Blueprint” for Pacific salmon. Plus the Minister for DFO in 2005 discussed:

The blueprint to reform Pacific fisheries focuses on four main themes…

Let’s leave the “blueprints” to constructing buildings – stable, static things – not for dealing with complex social and natural systems.

And why is it that government policy often operates on assumptions that human well-being and ecosystems are separate distinct things?

They are intimately connected – humans are not separate from ecosystems, as climate change is clearly showing us. Or, as someone such as myself who grew up on islands six hours by ferry from the mainland has learned intimately (on several occasions – 6 metre waves mean anything?). Humans are part of natural systems, with all our muti-layers of social, community, and institutional interactions.

And to be fair, there is language in the Wild Salmon Policy that talks about linking local and traditional knowledge, linking to stewardship groups, and the principle of “open and transparent” processes (go to DFO’s website and search around for documents and such related to the Wild Salmon Policy and tell me how “open” and “transparent” you find it…).

Another gaping void: between words on paper and action on the ground.

The world is getting a little flatter (in a figurative sense) as suggested by author Thomas Friedman. Globalization is hard at work, and things like wikinomics, open-source software, and growing access to the Internet are shifting how we relate and interact with each other. I have incorporated some of these things in other posts and will continue to do so.

Corporations now have interns that search through social media looking for comments – positive or negative – and try to utilize those, or fend them off. Obama utilized social media and networking quite successfully in his presidential campaign. Open-source mapping programs like Ushahidi are working wonders in disaster relief in Haiti – or in violence related to the elections in Africa (where the program originated). I worked in an isolated B.C. First Nation community six hours by backroads away from the nearest highway – and yet they have high speed internet and laptop purchase and use is growing exponentially (along with Facebook use in the community).

As such, complex issues like wild salmon ‘conservation’ (which includes harvesting) that cross natural and social systems will require networks of people, networks of knowledge, networks of learning, networks of joint problem-solving, and networks that span from federal government offices in Ottawa to community homes on the coast of British Columbia. (and many networks of conflict resolution)

These networks must be international, global, and yet still local. Biodiversity is a global, international, and local issue.

This mean activities that are multi-varied and multi-leveled. It will also require better distribution of power and resources – and much better processes that: “look first to understand, then be heard” .

No more blueprints for complex natural and social systems.