Monthly Archives: January 2010

don't stop to think, you may forget to start again…

Apparently this can be attributed to Confucious… it’s fitting in this exploration.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and on some of the various pages of this website – my hope is to draw on various ‘categories’ of thinking, or disciplines, in an effort to shift how we talk about and relate to looking after wild salmon. Curiously, the deeper the dig  into various scientific papers, books, and other material on salmon – maybe this ‘cross-discipline’ approach is not such a bad idea.

Commonly available books on salmon (of which there aren’t really that many – one at the local bookstore and it’s locally focussed) and I don’t mean salmon-fishing books, as that’s a rather large category – the less I see of whole-systems approaches to thinking about wild salmon.

As mentioned previously, there are websites available, yet they have their limited focus and bias – narrow it down to exploit ’em or save ’em. Or, in the case of government agencies – don’t worry be happy, we got ’em under control (otherwise known as salmon management).

It’s easy to be certain, one only has to be sufficiently vague.

Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce is an interesting fellow. As Wikipedia points out, Peirce lived from 1839-1914, which seems like a pretty good lifespan for that day in age. Peirce was a thinker – or as categories suggest a philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist. Apparently, “as early as 1886 he saw that logical operations could be carried out by electrical switching circuits, an idea used decades later to produce digital computers.”

Reading information about Peirce I was reminded of something I read recently at the library that scientists, economists, and the like may need to be reminded that their disciplines are all built upon the backs of philosophy. Peirce had many contributions to mathematics and science – however he was also a brilliant philosopher. He is recognized as an early pioneer of statistics. Yet, he also recognized the limitations. As he apparently pointed out:

science achieves statistical probabilities, not certainties, and that chance, a veering from law, is absolutely real.

Let’s keep this in mind: the concept of ‘fisheries management’ is built upon a lot of statistics. It sort of had to be. It is not humanly possible to count every salmon. It’s not possible to count every salmon egg, or how many eggs hatch successfully, or how many young salmon reach the ocean, or how many of those survive to swim back upstream, and how many of those successfully lay eggs in the gravel – rinse and repeat if necessary.

In a matter of a hundred years or so (probably less), fisheries management has utilized more and more complex and sophisticated statistics (many named after the person that created them) – yet this does not necessarily mean that our picture – or understanding – is all that much more accurate.

I think of the example of a ship on the ocean. If for example, I catch a ferry from Vancouver, BC to Nanaimo, BC (45-50 km or so) that ship can make small errors on its navigational direction – say a few degrees on a compass – yet still successfully reach its destination. However, extend that trip across the Pacific Ocean and say the same ship is only 1 degree off in it’s course – that one degree is going to make a huge difference in destination. Say the difference between having Tokyo as a destination and ending up in say, Thailand.

I hear and read a lot about culprits for the precipitous salmon declines – and my take is that they all play a part: habitat loss, overfishing, pollution, ocean conditions, etc – however, one I have yet to see is an acceptance of responsibility that maybe the ‘models’ or concepts of fisheries management are flawed… But, I suppose, I also haven’t seen a lot of us pointing our fingers back at ourselves for also playing a part.

And most of all – I haven’t seen anyone brave enough in these circles to say: “I don’t know” or “we don’t know”.

Instead, we have a lot of tired old raggedy concepts hanging on like one of those boogers you can’t shake off your finger – one of those ones that you think you got rid of but it simply just attached itself to the shoulder of your shirt.

Ok, childish humour; maybe that’s what we need from time to time though.

My suggestion is a tissue – because that crusty booger is too often showing up again as some re-named concept – but still a booger. Let’s use that tissue to wipe a few old crusty things away.

These are vague terms such as conservation, sustainability, diversity, framework, etc. I even recently saw biodiversity reframed as biocomplexity. Maybe these terms give some folks a feeling of comfort that we might actually understand what’s going on out there – I find them veering deep into vague-ness.

The vague-ness monster; old crusty critters swimming around lakes of obscurity. Right when you get some grainy snapshot of the beasts, they disappear into murky depths of ambiguity.

Don’t some of these terms just imply – it’s complicated, and we don’t really know?

Isn’t it possible to look after things even though we don’t fully understand, and never will understand, whole systems of complexities?

Isn’t this called systems-thinking?

Sound familiar?

Norway alert on [sea] lice. Article from the Irish Times about two weeks ago. Came across the article on the Save our Salmon website as I’m slogging through the mass of salmon-related sites.

Nina [Norwegian Institute for Nature Research] estimates that the current level of fish farming in Norway is six to seven times the sustainable limit. There are now 350 million farmed salmon in pens along the Norwegian coast, implying a sea lice burden of 300 to 350 million.

Sea lice are a major threat to migrating juvenile salmon – and therefore to the survival of wild stocks generally.

The Norwegian Salmon Association has said the situation is “a disaster”. It has also drawn attention to the increased resistance of sea lice to the main chemical treatment being used. They have called for a halt to further growth for the industry.

'1000 true fans'

I came across Kevin Kelly’s 2008 theory about 1000 true fans from Seth Godin’s blog. The gist of the matter is that:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author – in other words, anyone producing works of art – needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

The ‘true fan’ being someone who will buy anything and everything you produce. Kelly has some great stories in the post about authors who have pre-financed the writing of their book through a process some might call micro-celebrity or micro-patronage. Another name is the street performer protocol:

Using the logic of a street performer, the author goes directly to the readers before the book is published; perhaps even before the book is written. The author bypasses the publisher and makes a public statement on the order of: “When I get $100,000 in donations, I will release the next novel in this series.”

Readers can go to the author’s Web site, see how much money has already been donated, and donate money to the cause of getting his novel out. Note that the author doesn’t care who pays to get the next chapter out; nor does he care how many people read the book that didn’t pay for it. He just cares that his $100,000 pot gets filled. When it does, he publishes the next book. In this case “publish” simply means “make available,” not “bind and distribute through bookstores.” The book is made available, free of charge, to everyone: those who paid for it and those who did not.

One author apparently used this approach by asking his ‘true fans’ to collectively donate $100 per month before he posted the next chapter of his book. The fans could check online to see where the total amount stood for each month. As Kelly, points out the book was published for the True Fans entirely online and then released later in normal print for the rest of his fans.

Musicians have also successfully used this strategy to release albums. One musician wanted to raise $75,000 to pay for the recording fees of her new album. Kelly points out she had at the time of his 2008 posting raised $50,000.

Kelly provoked a lot of discussion with his theory, and after some research made a post against his theory. However, some of the comments to the follow-up post provided examples of people successfully implementing the theory.

Overall the neat thing about this line of thought,  is following the long string of online conversation that it instigated – support for the theory, against it, potential examples of individuals seeing success, and so on.

The world of business is changing – there’s little question in my mind. These changes include the non-profit world, the government world, and governance (including implementing policies). For example, take a look at the organization Kiva if you’re not familiar with them. As they suggest:

Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

The organization functions on similar microfinance principles advocated by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus – however, it is almost entirely powered by the Internet.

As I plow through the range of organizations, websites, individuals, government initiatives, and whatever else related to wild salmon – wow! – I am wondering how difficult it might be to coalesce 1000 ‘true fans’ of wild salmon.

I think I suggest this largely to the non-profit world out there focussed on wild salmon and salmon initiatives. My experience has been that the bulk of non-profits are dependent on grants and funds provided by philanthropic foundations – or government programs. Many of these foundations were hammered by the recent financial market meltdowns and had to cut programs – or fold entirely. (Of course there is also the various donations and membership fees that also assist – and some great organizations that do fantastic work with very little $$.)

However, as Godin, Kelly, and many other folks are pointing out – the world of business (and governance) is changing; changing rapidly. Non-profits and charitable organizations are part of these changes too (like it or not). They market to the  masses as much as Coke, Nike or Esso. There is a ‘new marketing’ out there that involves networks (online and physical), involves social media and Web 2.0 technology, and involves mixing these together to search for success.

Estimates suggest there are 80,000 new blogs daily (this one simply adding to the noise), the amount of organizations competing for limited donors grows daily.

(think about how many different color plastic bracelets one can buy now for whatever cost – those bracelets, I think, started with the Lance Armstrong foundation for cancer… and really, for eco-freaks, what’s the environmental impact for all those plastic bracelets…)

Is there a way that wild salmon advocates can secure 1000 true fans? Could the network that stretches up and down western North America – and across the Bering Sea and around the entire Pacific Rim be linked?

Could small community groups throughout the range of Pacific salmon be funded through micro-financing like Kiva’s program? Could these programs assist hard hit coastal fishing communities and fishermen/fishers?

Could we break down the bumpf-language so that more of the discussion is more accessible to everyone?

We Let You Loan to Low Income Entrepreneurs

Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

I'm trying to stay stupid…

In my efforts to synthesize thinking from a variety of disciplines – here’s a little tidbit from a book I’m reading on advertising: Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Advertising by Luke Sullivan.

Reading the book is a bit of overflow from recently finishing a business-related degree – but at the same time I get a kick out of reading books on advertising and marketing as these are folks that have to be really creative and innovative. Of course there’s no shortage of industry examples where this is not the case…

My hope would be that government and government agencies anywhere are reading books, briefs, blogs and whatever else on advertising and marketing. For example, the folks with the tough job of ‘selling’ the Wild Salmon Policy; or the Prime Minister’s attempted sell job on his most recent decision to prorogue parliament….

Sullivan suggests an advertiser/marketer should do their background work prior to putting pen to paper.

Simple=Good. Brand=Adjective.

By adjective, Sullivan suggests “make your brand stand for one thing”:

Everything you do with regard to advertising and design – whether it’s creating the product or designing the web site – adheres to absolutely draconian standards of simplicity…

Good advice, now check some salmon-related sites out there and tell me how that simplicity thing is going… Before putting pen to paper examine current positioning of the product:

What position do the competitors occupy? What niches are undefended? Do they have an adjective? What’s your adjective?

Continuing on, Sullivan suggests: get to know your client’s business as well as you can.

Do the factory tour… Ask a million questions. How is the product made? Read every brochure. Read every memo you can get your hands on… Learn their business.

Sullivan then suggests: On the other hand, there’s value in staying stupid

‘Don’t give into the temptation to take the factory tour. Resist. It makes you think like the client. You’ll start to come up with the same answers the client does…. keep your ‘tabula’ extremely ‘rasa’ making your thinking fresher…

Yes, everyone loves to adopt lingo. Lingo-adopters can then leave a lot of people behind. For example, pick up a teenagers cell phone and see if you can decipher the new language (lol, bff, OMG, etc.). Fine if your purpose is to communicate with a small group of other lingo-adoptees… not so great when trying to communicate with hundreds of thousands if not millions of average folks concerned about wild salmon throughout their historical range.

Chinook and sockeye posts

To show mercy for those that are pressed for time and may not make it half way through some of my longer posts – I have added two categories to assist in the sorting.

The longer posts are like a Chinook and shorter posts are like a little sockeye. Cheesy yes, however, maybe this will assist in those that may have a preference between the essay-like long posts and quick and sweet short posts.

worldwide lessons…

It’s fascinating what you can find online – here’s a neat website out of Norway that looks at fishing history. It’s called a fish blog. The most recent posting looks at the onetime Bluefin Tuna fishery off the coast of Norway. A posting that parallels some of the things I discuss on this website – and paralleling the BC experience – A lesson in overfishing. The Norwegian spring-spawning herring.

From A Fish Blog - Norwegian herring fishery

Magnus concludes the post:

Many fishermen lost their job in the 1970’s, and the government had to pay ship owners to scrap their vessels. The growth of the oil industry in the 1970’s gave work to a lot of the fishermen. There were few alternatives within fishing. Norway had to pay for the collapse of the herring stock – and it was an expensive and hard way of learning for the communities along the coast.

Knowing this history from Norway it is sad to observe other countries (and unions) not taking effort in protecting and rebuilding stocks. Doing nothing, or not taking the difficult decisions, is to wait for a collapse. It will come, and then it is too late; for the stocks, the fishermen, the ship owners, and others involved in the fisheries.

how did Einstein describe insanity?

A recent headline from the Oregonian newspaper a few days ago (Jan. 6) reads: Poor Sacramento River salmon runs a bad sign for Oregon fishing fleet.

What remains of the Oregon coast’s salmon fishing fleet is largely dependent on chinook salmon that are born and spawn in California’s Sacramento River but mature in the ocean.

Poor runs in the Sacramento have led to the repeated shutdown of the salmon fishing here, and the signs are pointing to another nonexistent commercial fishing season this year.

This article largely mirrors a similar Oregonian article from Feb. 2009: Ocean fishing shutdown possible as few chinook returns to Sacramento.

That article states:

Last summer, poor chinook returns in 2007 helped shut down commercial salmon fishing in the ocean below Cape Falcon, south of Seaside, and severely curtailed ocean sport fishing and tourism in some ports.

Before last year’s closure — the largest salmon fishing shutdown ever off the Oregon and California coasts — the state predicted Oregon would suffer a $45 million hit and the loss of 763 jobs. The state requested federal aid then and probably will again this year…

But the fishery, which relies on salmon runs that are in long-term decline across the West, is a fraction of what it once was.

Only 194 vessels fished commercially for salmon off the entire West Coast last year, down four-fifths from more than 1,000 in 2007. And the value of Oregon’s ocean salmon fishery was about 3 percent of the average from 1979 to 1990, according to the council. Those numbers aren’t likely to improve.

Would a review of newspaper headlines along the east coast of North America a few decades back (i.e. cod fishery) – mirror similar stories?

Was it Einstein that suggested “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?

Anyone recognize this graph? Unfortunately, it’s kind of common…

conservation concept conversation…

It’s a bit of a tongue twister, yet it’s a curious thing – switch the ‘v’ and the ‘s’ in the two words and you have two very different meaning words. But are they all that different? Could they be parallel?

Continuing on yesterday’s post how do you define a concept? I asked about the concept of conservation. I quoted Edward de Bono in his definition of concept as a: “convenience package, a grouping, a clustering, an assembly for a purpose…”

This fits well with dictionary definitions of conservation:

1. The act or process of conserving.

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.

3. The maintenance of a physical quantity, such as energy or mass, during a physical or chemical change.

That definition isn’t really narrowing things down is it? We still have a cluster, grouping or assembly of concepts – such as, protection, preservation, management or restoration. I can’t say that my understanding of the concept is becoming more focussed or understood.

The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines it as:

The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of natural environments and the ecological communities that inhabit them. Conservation is generally held to include the management of human use of natural resources for current public benefit and sustainable social and economic utilization.

OK, now maybe this definition highlights an issue I have with how the term conservation is bandied around discussions of how we try to look after wild salmon. The end part of this scientific definition sort of forgets the environmental or ecological components.

To be fair to the folks that drafted and wrote Fisheries and Oceans Wild Salmon Policy, there is a discussion of “important terminology”: conservation and sustainable use. There appears to be some thought put into this aspect of the policy – unfortunately, the definition is full  of bafflegab-bumpf:

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

Hmmm. Remember that quote from my last post: “Jargon is not about using big words to make small points. Sometimes it’s about using big words to make no point at all.” Not to mention toss a little term in there that has been the subject of hot debate for, well…, a hundred years or so – “evolutionary”. And then a few other terms that sit on the fence on opposite sides of the yard, shouting to each other.Could it be that the “convenience package” was taken to heart a bit much?

The differences between protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation could be compared in an analogy of owning old vehicles.

A vehicle generally serves a purpose – transportation. We can equate sustaining our  ‘transportation’ as parallel with: “sustaining biodiversity and evolutionary and natural production processes.” Some of the evolutionary and natural production processes at work in vehicle ownership are the natural break down of vehicles through use, plus ‘evolution’ of moving to a newer vehicle, being influenced by the advertising industry, our neighbour (that Jones guy) and his new SUV, a growing family (another natural production process) dictating need for larger vehicle (of course I know nothing about this having just grown to a five-member family with three kids under the age of 4).

From one aspect of this analogy: what if I have an old vehicle and realize I wanted to ‘protect’ the vehicle for its own sake, as simply an object, then I’d park it in a garage and marvel at its beauty and lines and color – similar to an entire industry in North America of protecting (or preserving) old cars. As these cars become more rare, they increase in value – so one might suggest protecting the car is like protecting the genetic diversity of cars. As the species dwindle (or “evolve” – such as into SUVs) then the value of this car increases. Yet by maintaining and maybe rehabilitating the car – such as making sure it doesn’t rust out in the garage,  run the engine periodically, and maybe even rehabilitate a few tired parts like the upholstery –  I could be said to be sustaining the ‘biodiversity’ of cars on the planet.

It is this sustaining of biodiversity that makes old cars popular. As new cars all start to look the same – the old cars maintain a beauty and appeal that is sought after (except for maybe the first Chrysler mini vans).

Now, from another point of view – if I have an old vehicle on its last legs and  it’s one of my few modes of transportation (not that I know anything about old VW Rabbits or Subaru wagons…). I perform a different level of protection, maintenance, or rehabilitation. Sustaining biodiversity simply means sustaining my mode of transportation and thus the diversity of vehicles on the road. Protection is usually pretty minimal – when I take it to my mechanic, he gives me the run down on what must absolutely be replaced and what I might get away with for awhile (that is I have a good honest mechanic). Maintenance on an old vehicle – what’s that? Well, ok, maybe the odd oil change or brake change.

So, as we can see – we have  a few words running around like chickens with their proverbial heads lopped off. But this is OK; as de Bono suggests concepts are: clusters, groupings, convenience packages, and so on. We don’t need to spend the next twenty years debating definitions – don’t even get me started on another ‘c’ word: “consultation”.

Behind, or alongside, the concepts are intentions or understandings. When I read through the Wild Salmon Policy not only do I see a lot of largely meaningless bumpf words – you know, similar to dealing with mega-corporation 1-800 numbers. You phone in and are told about “how important your phone call and business is”, then are sent through an infuriating range of recorded messages that do not get you where you need to go. Press ‘0’ and you’re on hold for half an hour. Get a person, “oh no, it’s not me you need, you need to talk to our customer service dept”, transfer, on hold again, oops cut-off….

Meaningless bumpf words – they are a scourge.

Filling a government policy with bumpf words is a great way to say a lot without saying much at all. Again, what is it that we are trying to conserve?

Biodiversity? Genetic diversity? Evolutionary and natural production processes? Well, if there were two salmon of either sex in every stream that wild salmon currently inhabit. As long as we keep the majority of those spawning pairs alive year after year – we are successfully maintaining biodiversity, genetic diversity, evolutionary and natural productions processes. Very impressive. Conservation has been met.

The components of the Policy that tend to eat at me – is the notion and tone that conserving salmon is about conserving wild salmon for human use. The stated goal and guiding principles state:

The goal of the Wild Salmon Policy is to restore and maintain healthy and diverse salmon populations and their habitats for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of Canada in perpetuity.

Sure there is mention in the policy that wild salmon are pretty important to a lot of other critters in the rivers, seas, and oceans that they migrate through. And yet, there is no mention of the near 90% decline of salmon in many parts of their natural range. Just as commercial fishermen, canneries, dock workers and others dependent on the salmon fishery are seeing un-paralleled hardships – what about the thousands upon thousands of bears that have seen 90% decline in their food sources.

Gee, could there be a connection between the huge upswing in bears being shot in BC communities by Conservation Officers.

There was research conducted in the late 1900s in the Columbia River (once the greatest salmon river on the planet – now the Fraser River) that found over a thousand kilometres upstream from the mouth that fur from grizzly bears had huge concentrations of carbon and nitrogen that had originated from deep within the North Pacific Ocean. There are certain isotopes of carbon and nitrogen that only come from the ocean – and thus they leave a unique trace that can be tracked in various substances: fur, hair, bones, trees, leaves, etc.

When I was out on Leg 1 of the Wild Salmon Cycle, I stopped riding two days before 9/11. I stopped in Tok, Alaska and settled into Dawson City, Yukon to wait out the winter before setting out on leg 2 of my trip. I did some work for a First Nation in the central Yukon as their ‘salmon habitat steward’. While doing this work, I learned about how the massive Porcupine caribou herd that migrates back and forth from the north slope of Alaska to the Northwest Territories, was seeing increased grizzly bear predation in the northern Yukon.

Is it simply a coincidence that a large chum salmon run on the Fishing Branch River – a tributary to the Porcupine River the namesake for the caribou herd – had basically collapsed? In the late 1990s spawner returns were estimated somewhere around 5000 after seeing runs several times that for generations.

Salmon run deep into our human psyche – however they run deeper into the systems they migrate through. Humans are simply one more cog in the greater systems, we’re simply one more critter in the ecosystem. Sure we’re one of the few critters gifted with thumbs which we use to write (or type), but maybe that power could be used to design things that matter – rather than empty, largely meaningless pieces of paper that collect dust on shelves.

So rather than flipping-out about defining conservation I am certainly more interested in the conversations that we can have that give us stronger guidance on how we can use our thumbs for the betterment of all. As I quoted de Bono in my previous post: “Concepts may be contrasted in terms of function or method of operation. They may also be a contrast of purpose.”

Maybe looking over de Bono’s fast-food ‘operating concept’  from the previous post is a piece that could assist in exploring the concept of conservation. In that comparison of operating concepts, de Bono points out that the fast-food industry had to change. Some of the original fast-food places were built upon the operating concept of “get ’em in, get ’em out” – serve as many customers as possible.  As the industry grew and fewer customers were available for each establishment, the operating concept had to switch to “keep ’em in and get them to spend more on each visit”.

The world of wild salmon has changed dramatically – even in the last ten years, which is when the initial drafts of the Wild Salmon Policy emerged from the bureaucratic behemoth. For many years the operating concept of looking after wild salmon has been maximize number of salmon to be caught by people (First Nation, commercial and sport) – with the commercial sector certainly having a large component of the focus.  This is why the concept from farming “maximum sustainable yield” has been the central concept to the existence of Fisheries and Oceans.   That’s why they have the name “Fisheries”; it’s also called ‘fisheries management’, not ‘fish management’ for a reason. The concept is similar to: “get ’em in, get ’em out”.

Maybe it’s time to shift the operating concept to: “keep ’em there for as long as possible and get them to contribute more”. Meaning, get as many wild salmon to the spawning grounds as possible and keep ’em there as long as possible. For the time being, I don’t think there’s any better strategy for: “protection, maintenance and rehabilitation” and ensuring we have wild salmon “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of Canada.”

I don’t think we really have much of a choice… not that I am one for fear mongering and Chicken Little admonishment. However, as I finish typing this post I am preparing to head outside to build a snowman… snowperson… with my daughter. The key to building a snowperson is the ‘snowballing’ effect.

Snowballing…. good for feats of snow sculpturing and architecture; bad for salmon populations on the downward slide.

how do you define a 'concept'?

In a few earlier posts I have taken shots at bullshit bumpf, or bafflegab (as my sister Sarah suggests), or jargonomics (as my wife Lisa labels it). My intention for calling out bumpf is not to be a jerk; more to offer some provocation for looking at issues from different angles.

As I quoted Fast Company magazine founder, Alan Webber in a previous post:

Jargon is not about using big words to make small points. Sometimes it’s about using big words to make no point at all.

Yet, there is some point to using bumpf-words such as conservation and stewardship and ecosystem integrity and the like. The unfortunate aspect of these words – and what makes them bumpf  in my mind – is that they are verging on, or have already become, empty words; empty concepts tossed around  that no one really understands what they mean – or have lost track.

Kind of reminds me of hearing 40-something year old guys on a ski lift tossing around the lingo of a teenage snowboarder: “wow, man did you see me stick that backside 920 in that big spliff of pow? – whoa dude it was sick” —- or something to that effect…

When really what he’s trying to say is: “did you see me spin around lots in the air and land in soft snow? I’m pretty happy with myself.”

So why use the lingo? Well, it’s often about fitting in, sounding cool, or sometimes it’s simply because we may not know what we’re actually talking about. Sometimes, what we are talking about is complex… complicated… confusing… (and who wants to admit that to their friends – especially those of us of the male persuasion).

Sometimes a word is more of a conceptual idea that we might partially understand. So, we become like a new kid at school; we adopt the language that’s around us and try to fit in – you know, use our new words as often and in as many sentences as possible. Or, we become lost in the tunnel of lingo and bumpf.

Fair enough – but what then – when we are actually asked: “what do you mean by that?”

This reminds me of painful, stab-yourself-in-the-eye-with-a-mechanical-pencil-conversations about ‘strategic planning’ while sitting on the board of a large environmental organization several years ago. “No, that’s a strategy not an objective. No, that’s a tactic not a strategy. Is that strategy measurable.. .? No, bonehead, you measure objectives, not strategies.” and so on, and so on, and so on.

Meetings would be called off, or at least timeouts called because colleagues would be ready to start a boardroom table clearing brawl because objective 3.1.4 did not match up with tactic 6.1.a.4…. and the ‘measurable’ criteria of objective 4.1 has set off a litany of arguments and debates.

The whole point and concept of ‘planning’ was largely lost – and is still lost in the corporate process and concept of ‘strategic planning.

Ok, so what’s my point? (apologies ahead of time for the space this takes to lay out…)

For this, I return to my friend Edward de Bono (the originator of the concept ‘lateral thinking’ and the fellow that devised and wrote “Six thinking hats” – and, ok, he’s not my friend as in we have weekly coffee, I just really enjoy his books on thinking and creativity).

de Bono asks: how would you define a concept? (think about this for a second before reading on).

Not that easy, hey?

In these situations, I sometimes turn to a dictionary. An online dictionary describes concept as:

1. A general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurrences.

2. Something formed in the mind; a thought or notion.

3. A scheme; a plan.

The word comes from the late Latin term conceptus, from Latin past participle of concipere to  conceive. Curiously enough, conceive means: to form or develop in the mind; devise. To be of the opinion that; think. To form or hold an idea.

So, as de Bono points out we can probably all recognize a ‘concept’, or conceive of concepts when we see them. A concept is a: “convenience package, a grouping, a clustering, an assembly for a purpose, all have some of the flavor of a concept.” In essence, a concept is built upon other concepts, until we get right down to raw experience.

To illustrate his point, de Bono suggests envisioning a “concept” as a town/city with various roads leading in and out. Let’s say, for example, Prince George in B.C. The city is a node, or connection point, for various roads. The city (ie. “concept”) is dependent on the roads for its existence and yet it also exists separately from the roads. It also exists in relation to the other towns connected through those roads. There is convenience in talking in terms of towns or junctions – and it also provides a ‘conceptual map’ per se.

As de Bono suggests: “The simplest way to describe or to contrast one concept is to contrast it with another concept in the same area.” Sticking with the ‘map’, one might contrast Prince George and Quesnel – for example, they both stink equally bad in the right weather conditions, they both have Wal-Marts and Superstore, yet they are affected differently by outlying communities.

Let me paraphrase de Bono’s great examples of contrasting one concept with another. One example he uses is the fast-food industry. Early on, the industry functioned on the ‘operating concept of speed. Get ’em in; get ’em out. Faster the service, the faster an establishment could serve the next customer. Any delays meant lost business.

Then, at least in the U.S. and Canada, the fast-food business grew quickly and there were not enough customers to go around. The ‘operating concept’ of the business changed virtually overnight.

The new operating concept didn’t mean the opposite as before – for example, keep customers as long as possible. It was based more on keep customers long enough that they spent more, as there was not necessarily another customer waiting to replace them. And, offer more convenience, such as kids toys, kids play areas, more desserts, super-size drinks, etc. The new concept was ‘keep them there and get them to spend as much as possible’. As de Bono suggests: “the contrast between the two concepts is obvious.”

In health care, de Bono suggests: contrast the concept of ‘treatment’  with the concept of ‘prevention’. Contrast, the concept of matching patient care to patient needs within the ‘hospital’ concept. In a hospital sick people are generally taken care of until sufficiently recovered. Beds in a hospital are expensive to maintain and beds for very sick patients are the most expensive because of the standard of care, level of support staff, and equipment required to ensure care. The concept of ‘matched care’ means that as soon as a patient is well enough he or she may be moved to a different part of the hospital where the costs of a bed may not be as high.  Thus the level of care is matched with the cost (in theory). This frees the expensive hospital bed for another patient.

The concept of an auction is different from the concept of a sealed tender bid. A tender bid is a one-shot guess and bid; an auction has continuous interaction. Both are different than buying a fixed price item at a store.

de Bono’s book is from the late 80s and he uses a comparison between the concept of debit-based credit cards (i.e. standard credit card) and travel and entertainment cards such as, the old American Express card where the card holder had to pay monthly balances. With the credit card concept, companies want maximum amounts of loan-credit outstanding since this accrues interest for the company. With the travel and entertainment card, outstanding balances must be paid monthly –  this is based on the concept of convenience (and status). The concept of a traveler’s cheque is different again.

As de Bono explains: “Concepts may be contrasted in terms of function or method of operation. They may also be a contrast of purpose.” Here are some of de Bono’s examples:

What is the real purpose of gambling? Is it to win or lose money? Or is it to have an exciting time? Or is it to have a long drawn-out anticipation of winning?

What is the concept of a holiday? Is it a change of surroundings (both physical and psychological)? Is it a set of new experiences? Is it a rest? Is it something to look forward to in anticipation and talk about in retrospect? What is the concept of lying in the sun? The physical aspects of the concept are easy enough to define: sun, beach and time. The functional aspects are more difficult. Is it a nice lazy feeling? Is it just something that is expected of people who go for a seaside holiday? Is it that tanned skin looks good?

Narrowing in on the purpose of all this blather… It is here that I return to the concept conservation – What is it? What is the concept of conservation in relation to looking after wild salmon? What is to be conserved? And why is it being conserved? For whom, or for what?

de Bono: “whenever we look at a concept or seek to define a concept it can be very helpful to contrast it with parallel concepts.”

The concept of ‘news’ is changing. There is a traditional newspaper – contrast it with the amount of ‘news’ available through t.v., online papers, and the incredibly fast growing blog-osphere (i.e. somewhere around 80,000 new blogs per day).What is the concept of news? What is the purpose of ‘news’? Is the concept to inform? To influence?

de Bono asks:

Why should we bother to spell out a concept if we are using it successfully without ever having had it spelled out? There is something to be said for operating on a sort of intuitive basis while things are going well. But when they start to go bad then it becomes very difficult to escape from the old concept. It is also difficult to assess a proposed new direction if we cannot really tell how new it is.

So, again, I ask what is the concept of conservation in relation to wild salmon? (or stewardship, or ecosystem integrity, or…)

Is conservation of wild salmon so that people can catch them? Is it conservation so that bears can eat them? Is it conservation so that trees can aborb the nutrients?

Things haven’t been going all that well on the conservation front for wild salmon. Things have been, and are continuing to, go rather badly if we look over the last fifty years or so. So how are we proposing a “new direction” (as suggested in Fisheries and Oceans Wild Salmon Policy)? And how ‘new’ is this approach? New to who?

Is the concept of conservation, as the definition of concept suggests, a general idea derived or inferred from specific instances or occurrences? Is the concept of conservation, something formed in the mind; a thought or notion’? Is it a ‘scheme; a plan?

It is definitely complex, confusing at times, and complicated. However, I do see a general bias in the concept that is apparently guiding how one institution proposes the concept of conservation of wild salmon.

See next post, for further discussion – this one has become pretty long….

Judicial inquiry? "Here we go again…" (Version 10.0)

Is it me, or is the announcement of another judicial inquiry like a bad Microsoft Windows release? Just as we think we couldn’t possibly download another Windows update or patch – the next version comes out. I have found a federal parliamentary report from 2004 titled: Here we go again, or the 2005 Fraser river salmon fishery.

Twelve recommendations and yet, here we go again….

A quick review of online searches shows an impressive list of reports and investigations into Pacific salmon over the last three decades.  From what I have seen personally in declines in my favorite rivers and streams, and looking through records of numbers of salmon spawning in streams – there’s little doubt as to why so many investigations have been launched.

Unfortunately, this isn’t like some t.v. episode of CSI (crime scene investigation) or other cop show where the investigators  always get their bad guy. It’s kind of more like episodes of X-Factor where the mystery continues… although in X-Factor I don’t think they finish the program with some longgg list of recommendations. (and its not that I’m much of a t.v.-fan – it just makes a decent analogy here).

I’m trying to compile an accurate and sequential list of the number of inquiries, parliamentary standing committees, Pearse et al. reports, Mifflin Plans, special investigations, independent analyses, and whatever other investigations that have occurred regarding Pacific salmon in my lifetime. At first review – it’s not that easy so I’m sure someone out there has a good list.

The next question I have is how much have these ‘investigations’ cost?

Secondly, how much has all the follow-up cost – or lack of?

I can’t say I’ve found all that many reports titled “Mifflin Plan: – five years later how we successfully implemented the recommendations”. (Doesn’t mean those aren’t out there – let me know if they are).

As mentioned in a previous post or two – one of the better programs I have seen come out of the Fisheries and Oceans behemoth bureaucracy is the Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Program (HRSEP). Yes, I have some bias as I was fortunate to get two years of really interesting and satisfying work with a small community group on Haida Gwaii (off the coast of British Columbia) where I grew up and almost a year of work with a First Nation in the central Yukon – all under funding from the HRSEP initiative.

The program was roughly $50 million over 4-5 years in the late 1990s with a focus on rehabilitating salmon habitat throughout B.C. and the Yukon. (Good idea, maybe just consider doing it for more than one life cycle).

What if we took all the funding allocated to political investigations, parliamentary hearings (done in Ottawa a few thousand k.m. away from the nearest salmon), and sandbox bickering and actually put it into more programs on-the-ground?

What if we took all the funding and instead of pumping it into multi-million dollar ‘science’ programs that tell us squid are eating baby salmon off western Vancouver Island – and put it into compiling the incredible depth of knowledge in every community connected to wild salmon?

(not that I am one to suggest that all of the scientific investigations are bad – or that compiling “more data” is going to solve the problems – just some thoughts).

Or, continuing with the Microsoft analogy, if anyone has seen the latest commercials (oh damn, I’m using t.v. references again – truly, not much of a watcher, just a hockey fan). The commercials surrounding the Windows 7 release have average folks talking about how features of Windows 7: “were my idea”.

What if in programs guiding how we care for wild salmon – everyday folks could say: “Coho Creek habitat rehabilitation… my idea”?

Or, “designing effective community salmon forums… my idea”?

In 2004, the BC government formed the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform. One hundred and sixty citizens from all the constituencies of BC  met for ten months through 2004: “studying electoral systems in use around the world, holding public hearings, accepting public submissions, and finally reaching a decision.” The Assembly was designed to be “an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens who examined the province’s electoral system.”

The budget for the Assembly was under $5 million. And sure the referendum in 2009 didn’t institute the recommendations of the Assembly – but then not instituting the recommendations of multi-million dollar reports is kind of the theme here.

The work of the Assembly will not go away – plus there are now 160 BC citizens that are probably a lot more engaged in the political process. Plus a search online shows that the Assembly’s work is discussed around the world as many other areas look at electoral reform.

What if something like the Citizen’s Assembly was done to investigate how we look after wild salmon?

What if a Citizen’s assembly could study wild salmon systems in use around the world, holding public hearings, accepting public submissions, and finally reaching a decision.

The Assembly could be an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens (with significant representation of First Nations) who examine how we care for the wild salmon systems in Western Canada – and Western North America for that fact.

The upcoming judicial inquiry into Fraser River sockeye is suggested to cost in the range of $20 million. Could we not undertake a citizen’s assembly for less – and be more effective?

No disrespect intended for those who have called for the judicial inquiry, nor Justice Cohen who will oversee the inquiry. It’s simply that after years of getting the same things out of these processes (albeit expensive $$) – and then turning to Fisheries and Oceans to actually change and better manage salmon – is completely irresponsible, pointless, and sad.

On my bookshelf is a book called Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons. On one hand, that is exactly the problems that I see – a judicial inquiry is built upon the premise of the adversarial legal system that we pride ourselves upon. Evidence is weighed and the best advocate for their argument wins based on a balance of probabilities, or, beyond a reasonable doubt. (yes, I understand the inquiry is a little more administrative than a court of law…)

However, on the other hand, as Simmons explains on the cover jacket of her book:

People float in an ocean of data and disconnected facts that can overwhelm them with choices. In this ocean of choice, a meaningful story can feel like a life preserver that tethers us to something safe and important – at the very least, to a trace of humanity that proves there is a “you” communicating with them, whether the “you” is yourself or an organization you represent. This book helps you lay the groundwork for using story as a credible tool to connect with your audience, and create a meaning more powerful than mere facts could ever do.

If there’s one thing I learned on The Wild Salmon Cycle – there are no shortage of meaningful stories when it comes to wild salmon, throughout their natural range stretching from Inuvik, NWT to Los Angeles, CA. Whether it was an elder of the Gwich’in people of Tetlit Zheh (Fort MacPherson, NWT) on Nagwichoo tshik (Peel River) – see post “No one ever asked…” – or, oil riggers from Texas that I met in a roadside rest area near Denali National Park in Alaska (they were off to fish salmon on the Kenai Peninsula and each handed me $100 to support the ride), or a homeless fellow in a wheel chair in San Francisco – there are fantastic salmon stories out there.

I’ve sub-titled this blog “what’s your salmon story?” for a reason. There is some scientific research – data, charts and graphs, and the like – that comes out and I think: “hmmm that’s interesting”. For example, bears and salmon in the trees (carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis). However, it’s people’s connection to salmon – their stories – that are important and essential, and, that may very well blaze a path to get out of this quagmire.

What if we had a citizen’s assembly on wild salmon?