Monthly Archives: February 2010

might the Cohen Commission hit sticky territory?

The Cohen Commission, the judicial inquiry investigating the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River is now underway (10 million forecast this past season; less than 1 million actually showed up). In reading over the Terms of Reference for the Commission, one might wonder if anything with teeth will arise out of this multi-million dollar exercise?

The history of wild salmon in Canada is racked with at least one Commission, “Plan”, inquiry, or major audit per decade over the last 40 years. Many interested and involved with wild salmon rattle of names that they can remember: Davis Plan, Mifflin Plan – named after federal Fisheries ministers of the time; Pearse Royal Commission of the early 1980s; various multi-million dollar Fisheries Restructuring plans coming out of Fisheries and Oceans Canada; and and so on and so on.

The “recommendations” for improvement of fisheries management are as common as ants at a summer picnic. The actual follow-through and monitoring of some of those recommendations… about as common as lightning hitting the picnic basket…

The Terms of Reference for the Cohen Commission suggest first off that the Commissioner will “conduct the inquiry without seeking fault on the part of any individual, community, or organization…”

However the third term suggests the Commissioner will “investigate and make independent findings of fact regarding I) the causes for decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon…”

So which one of these two terms of reference win out if the Commissioner, by chance, finds gross negligence – as a matter of “fact” – of an organization in relation to causes of decline of Fraser sockeye?

I recently finished reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. I have some longer posts I’m working on in relation to some ideas from the book and wild salmon. One of the telling quotes:

There has long been recognition that organizational bureaucracy impedes innovation, agility and success. Walk into a typical office less than a century ago and one would expect to see long rows of desks, regimented in army fashion… – all under a managerial ethos that borrowed heavily from the military’s command-and-control structure.

So what is one to think of an organization such as Fisheries and Oceans that has “Regional Director Generals” and “Director Generals” and “Sector Heads” and so on?

Maybe a little too much command-and-control and not enough innovation and agility?

Chile’s salmon farming… no worries.

Don’t think salmon farms might be a little scary – check out 2008 New York Times articles on the issues in Chile over the last couple of years:

Salmon Virus Indicts Chile’s Fishing Methods

Chile lost almost 90% of their farmed salmon last year due to deadly virus breakout. Same company – Marine Harvest – from Norway, that also operates on BC coast. Here’s an article from earlier in 2009:

Chile Takes Steps to Rehabilitate Its Lucrative Salmon Industry

SANTIAGO, Chile — When a devastating virus swept through Chile’s farmed salmon stocks last year, some of the industry’s biggest players laid off thousands of workers, packed up operations and moved to unspoiled waters farther south along the Chilean coast. But the virus went with them.

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Fraser River sockeye Judicial Inquiry off with a flash…

So, finally, some information on the judicial inquiry into the decline of Sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. Let the branding begin… is this another commission/plan/inquiry/investigation/audit that will gather the detritus of spider legs, flaked epidural layers, and meteorite fragments on some shelf? Or, is this a multi-million (estimates suggest $20 million) process that will garner real action and real results?

The inquiry has been named the — “Cohen Commission” — with a website to match www.cohencommission.ca

Unfortunately, there are a few early hiccups. A press release earlier this week suggested that anyone interested in having “standing” with the commission needed to have applications in by March 3, 2010. A period of just over two weeks from the announcement. Oral hearings in relation to whether someone has “standing” or not would begin around March 10th.

Seems the Commission has backed off now and a visit to the site suggests that the deadline is now actually March 10 with oral hearings around March 23rd.

Now, not being one overly familiar with “judicial inquiries” I’m a bit confused by the language. What does it mean to have “standing”? The press release states:

Standing is necessary to participate in the commission’s hearings, and represents one of the various opportunities that will be available for involvement in the commission’s work.

OK, so if “standing” is one of the opportunities — what are the other “various opportunities”? And what is the difference? Does “standing” infer more weight to submissions?

And the sentence sounds like a contradiction — first it is necessary to have “standing” to participate – but then, it’s suggested there will be various opportunities for involvement. Further into the press release it is suggested that this Commission is: “committed to facilitating public discussion and input on the issues…”

Yet, if you read the information on the website — anyone who applies for “standing” and is accepted; then needs to secure a lawyer. There is an application process to secure financial support if one is unable to secure a lawyer.

So, I’m curious, how is this: “facilitating public discussion and input on the issues”?

There is also a concerning phrase that jumped out at me in reading the press release from the Commission. If one wants to apply to get “standing” they need to fill out an application (no more than 10 pages) that demonstrates “they have a substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry”.

I have read through the application guidelines and can not find anymore explanations of how “substantial and direct interest” is defined.

My question is: who in British Columbia does not have a “substantial and direct interest” in healthy salmon runs?”

Apparently, I’m not the only one with questions regarding this matter. As I searched around the internet looking for definitions of “standing” and “substantial and direct interest” — I found a blog post on the Tyee website, which led me to a blog post by West Coast Environmental Law about the “substantial and direct interest” phrase.

West Coast Environmental Law has submitted a nine page letter to the Commission looking for clarification on “substantial and direct interest”:

the Documents [on the Commission website] give little direction as to what is meant by this important term and whether that requirement can be met by an individual or group whose interests focus largely on the conservation or ongoing health of the Salmon run or other primarily public concerns

Similar to my question on who does not have an interest:

According to the common law, all members of the public have a right to fish in ocean waters. The BC Legislature, to the extent it has jurisdiction to do so, has confirmed or extended this common law right… Thus all British Columbians have a legal interest in respect of sockeye salmon and their continued health and protection.

I’ve sent an email to the Executive Director of the Commission to get further clarification. The response is that the Commission’s legal council will get back to me on my questions regarding “standing” and “substantial and direct interest”.

So away we go on salmon commission number….

B.C. “Pacific Salmon Forum” – $5 million air pie?

Last January (2009) a final report was released by the seven-member Pacific Salmon Forum (link is only good until March 2010) and submitted to the British Columbia Provincial Government. The Forum was formed in 2004 with a budget of $5-million. Since the report was submitted — it seems to have gone the way of the 9 million sockeye that were forecast to return to the Fraser River.

Gone, nadda…. air pie.

What’s the story?

About seven years ago in 2003, the federal and BC Provincial governments agreed to implement a Salmon Aquaculture Forum. “The purpose of this forum would be to improve public dialogue and see constructive solutions to controversies associated with salmon aquaculture.

Nothing happened.

In 2004, the Auditor General of Canada, and the Auditor Generals of New Brunswick and British Columbia released three separate reports on salmon-related issues.

These reports basically slapped the wrists of the federal government and Fisheries and Oceans Canada — and the Provincial governments in their role (or lack of) in looking after wild salmon and the impacts of salmon aquaculture.

Key findings in the BC report were: “the management of shared responsibilities for wild salmon needs to be guided by a clear vision; that the province needs to be more active in protecting and restoring fish habitat; and that potential impacts of aquaculture are being addressed, but that more knowledge is required to improve management practices.

In late 2004, Gordon Campbell the Premier of British Columbia made an announcement of a $5-million investment in an independent panel of seven individuals “who would provide the direction required to enable the Province to realize the vision of an inclusive fishery sector that is financially viable“.

This seemed rather odd… the federal government has the mandate to conserve wild salmon, manage salmon fisheries, and look after salmon habitat — not the provincial government. These responsibilities were determined in the early years of Canada’s history. So it didn’t make sense to me that the Province was investing $5-million investigating something that is not their responsibility.

Regardless, the BC Pacific Salmon Forum was established by the Government of British Columbia in 2004 as an independent citizen body “using science and stakeholder dialogue to advance the sustainable governance of BC Pacific salmon.”  The Forum was asked to develop recommendations to:

• Protect and enhance the viability of wild salmon stocks and their economic, social and environmental benefits to British Columbians;
• Enhance the economic, social and environmental sustainability of aquaculture for all coastal communities;
• Increase public confidence in fisheries management generally, and aquaculture in particular, within the marine environment.

These mandates were  translated into three primary strategic areas: sustainable wild salmon; sustainable aquaculture; and building public confidence.

In June 2007, the Panel released a nine-page Interim Report. In January 2009 — over one year ago — the almost 100 page final report was released and submitted to government. Some of the key recommendations from the report include:

  • ecosystem-based approach for managing all resource industries – including salmon farming;
  • shifts to a new governance system that incorporate cumulative impacts to ecosystems and get rid of government silos; and
  • building public trust in government management of wild and farmed salmon.

There is some strong recommendations throughout the report based on all sorts of public consultation, work with leading scientists, consultation with government officials and workers, and consultation with various industry folks — as well as presentations at numerous conferences and workshops.

One of the strongest statements I found early in the final report:

The recommendations made by the Forum in this report are all designed to improve public confidence that wild salmon will survive and thrive in British Columbia; that we’ll be able to buy wild salmon in our supermarkets and restaurants or go fishing for salmon with our families and friends while communities throughout the province benefit from the associated economic activity involved.

…We believe that our recommendations on public confidence will increase public trust that difficult choices ahead will be made sensibly, openly and transparently, and in light of the best possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t think having to buy Russian wild salmon in Vancouver supermarkets, or catching salmon pumped out of hatcheries, and economic activity that is largely a net-loss is really garnering more public trust.

Further into the report there is an entire section dedicated to “Building Public Trust”. And not surprisingly:

The Forum’s work over the past four years has told us that British Columbians are deeply skeptical that wild and farmed salmon are well-managed.

And if you’ve read other posts on this site — you may have noticed I am one of those harboring some skepticism. From the final report:

This skepticism has been fed by long-standing criticism of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s management of wild salmon, concern over wild salmon returns and access to the fishery, the expansion of salmon farming, watershed development, uncertainty over First Nations’ rights, and by public cynicism towards government.

It has been complicated by conflicting science, sensational media reports and the lack of any open process to set priorities. Many people have begun to fear that the fight to save wild salmon is too big, too difficult and too overwhelming – that nothing can be done.

There is some irony in these statements.

This report was released in January 2009. Currently, on the website for the $5-million Pacific Salmon Forum it states:

NOTICE: The BC Pacific Salmon Forum completed its mandate to the Province of British Columbia with the delivery of a FINAL REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS in January, 2009. The Forum is, therefore, closing its operations as of March 27, 2009. This website will remain active until March 2010.

I have searched around and can not find a single mention of the Pacific Salmon Forum in any BC government documents or proceedings following release of the Final Report over a year ago.

So once the website disappears — what will become of the $5 million worth of consultations, research and reports?

One more stack of paper gathering dust in government archives….?

Any one know what is happening to this 100-page report and long list of pretty darn good recommendations?

And how about that public trust?

Nothing like air pie for dessert to build public trust…

how many more unaccountable interventions? at what cost?

In British Columbia almost two hundred hatcheries pump out over 600 million baby salmon every year. The initial idea was to boost commercial fisheries — double the commercial catch was the intention. Hatcheries and “enhancement” are also intended to compensate for habitat destruction from logging, mining, agriculture, and urbanization. Initial goals and current goals are now all befuddled into a financial melee of over $30 million per year.

Some estimates suggest that each hatchery-produced salmon caught in the Strait of Georgia (separates Vancouver Island and the mainland) cost $500 per fish to produce. If that fish is a sockeye it probably averages about 5 pounds, and would fetch less than $1 per pound. That’s a net loss of $495… Any other species would be pennies per pound.

Plus there was Fisheries and Oceans Canada  $80 – $100 million “investment” into salmon habitat restoration (for only five years) in the late 1990s, early 2000s. The Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Program (HRSEP). Has anyone taken a look at that “investment” to see what sort of return or loss on investment was amassed?

In Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California countless hatcheries pump out baby salmon (200 million from Washington State alone) to try and compensate for dams built to produce power, for almost a hundred years of intense logging, and for streams that were obliterated by past mining practices (i.e. California Gold Rush).

On the Columbia River alone — over $6.5 billion have been spent over the last 25 years for fish recovery projects that have been a dismal failure. Historical returns suggest between 10 million and 16 million salmon were the norm — the goal for recovery is approximately 5 million — average returns over the last 30 years are only 2.5 million.

In Alaska, billions of baby salmon are released every year from salmon ranching operations simply to prop up commercial fisheries.The entire Alaskan commercial catch is comprised of anywhere between 35%-45% “ranched” salmon. In areas like Prince William Sound the commercial catch is comprised of 95% ranched salmon.

In Japan, the commercial catch is comprised of 95% ranched salmon.

If you’ve read other posts on this site you have probably seen these numbers a few times. I’m not sure if they can be stated enough.

Yesterday some proceedings from a salmon-related workshop hosted in Vancouver in Feb. 2009 were released. The discussion surrounded how hatcheries and enhanced salmon fit with Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy which suggests “conservation” of wild salmon is the number one priority for how Canadians look after salmon.

The workshop was hosted by Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia last year and is part of the “Speaking for the Salmon” project as part of SFU’s Centre for Coastal Studies. The report is titled: “Reconciling the conservation of wild salmon and the production of enhanced salmon under Canada’s Wild Pacific Salmon Policy: A discussion” .

It appears the discussion involved presentations from three experts on the issue. From an outsider looking in, it was a bit like getting excited about reading a book with a good title and finding substance lacking.

And again, I have to point out that I mean no disrespect — these are all experts involved in the presentations and in putting the report together. And by no means do I have the answers – simply pointing out my personal disappointment in hearing many of the same things over, and over, and over, and over…

Such as: “we need more dialogue….” and “we need more science…” and “we need government departments to get along…”

One presentation suggests that the 30+ years Salmon Enhancement Program has been nothing more than an “operational” program with little to no research or accountability measures. There has been little scientific investment and more funding for science is required before any conclusions are made.

Another presentation suggests that we may need one giant experiment with cooperation between all nations pumping baby salmon out into the North Pacific (although Japan wasn’t mentioned). Plus a brief suggestion that maybe a seal cull program could assist in the Georgia Strait.

“If the experiment fails, then the seals ate them all. The current harbour seal population could eat all the coho pumped into the Strait in 12 days. Seal populations are like a huge fishery.”

Last time I checked the population of Vancouver could have eaten the entire Fraser River salmon return this past year in one day of breakfast, lunch and dinner… (And that overfishing by humans is what got us into this predicament)

Another presentation spoke of Washington State’s experience with hatcheries and how new scientific models are trying to separate wild from domesticated (hatchery) salmon stocks.

Although the model is well-grounded in theory, application of the approach is so new that model predictions have not yet been experimentally verified.

Hmmm.

The conclusions of the workshop proceedings:

“Ongoing dialogue will be crucial, involving not just the public and stakeholders, but also various government agencies and sectors within DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada].”

“Without meaningful engagement between the federal and provincial governments regarding WSP [Wild Salmon Policy] implementation, the objectives of the WSP will not be met”

“Diminishing government capacity and resources will present a mounting challenge to multi-agency engagement and coordination and this can only be met by creative and forward-thinking solutions with public and political support.”

Having some background in running my own businesses — if we ran businesses with these sort of “experiments” with no accountability, interventions with little follow-up, and black hole funding and subsidy schemes that have plagued salmon management for the last fifty years — there is no way in bloody hell the business would exist for more than a month.

If we then considered taking the company “public” there is not a hope on the planet that we could interest investors.

So, why does the general public put up with this? — it is, after all, a public resource.

Granted, the particular report I reference is not the issue — it just points to some of the symptoms. Maybe there are too many scientists and not enough business-minded folks; maybe too many fish counters and not enough general practitioners; maybe too many “non-profit” experts and not enough provocateurs.

I have in a past post suggested maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on par with the Assembly that approached electoral reform in British Columbia.

more: once upon a salmon…

NATURAL DEATH OF THE PACIFIC SALMON

(An excerpt from the journal of David Salmond Mitchell, 1925).

“Killing sockeye for food on the spawning beds is not a bit worse than killing them in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Some people who believe it is right to kill them in the Straits, are shocked at such an “outrageous crime” as to kill them in the spawning beds.”

“The atmosphere was heavy with the stench, through which flew gulls that had followed up the river over 300 miles from the Fraser’s mouth, to feast upon the dead salmons’ eyes. 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 14th 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.

The parallel furrows in this bar of dead spent salmon, marked the interval between the two separate storms, that had piled on the beach these spawned out fish, swept by the current out of one of the three mouths of the Lower Adams River, while the level of the lake was gradually falling. The difference between the lake’s high water in June, and low water in mid-winter, being from 11 to 14 feet.

We dropped a stern anchor, and crossing the slippery, putrid mound of rotting fish, in hip rubberboots, passed a bowline to a big cottonwood tree ashore.

The Indians had all cleared out from the reserve. The water in the connecting channel between Great and Little Shuswap lakes was not fit to use; boiling only aroused the flavour. We kept our fire on, in case of sudden storm, and filled our boiler there.

On leaving we found our anchor rope slippery with slime like a the jelly.

Our journey back with a tow was fifty-two miles, interrupted half way by sheltering in a bay over night. On the following day we could smell the Eagle River when passing five miles away with the wind right.

During this journey since leaving Adams River we had filled the boiler many times, but on our arrival at Kualt, people who came aboard, got right off again, owing to the stench of dead fish coming with the steam from our pipes.

We could not detect it ourselves then, and our engineer told them:
“At Adams River the stench is so strong, that you can lean against it.”

compliments of David Ellis

Big changes – bubbles a burstin’

In a school yard somewhere, a little boy is offered a $1 coin and a smaller $2 coin by some other kids. He is told that he can pick a coin and keep it. He picks the larger $1 coin. The other kids think him silly and gullible for not knowing that the smaller coin is worth double the larger. Thus whenever the kids want to make a fool of the little boy they offer him the usual choice of coins. He always takes the larger $1 coin and never seems to learn.

One day a teacher sees this transaction and takes the little boy aside and points out that the smaller coin is actually worth double the larger coin — even though it may seem otherwise.

The little boy listens politely then says, “Yes, I know that. But how often would they have offered me the choice if I had taken the $2 coin the first time?”

If a computer modeling program or mathematical equation was developed for this scenario it would take the $2 coin the first time. It’s the boy’s perception that allows him to take a broader view and consider possibilities of repeat business and risk such as how many times the schoolyard mates would offer coins and lose the $1 coins.

This is the difference between a computer/equation and a human — the computer program is given its perceptions and processes them; the human mind forms perceptions by choosing to look at the world in a particular way.

For example, let’s look at a map.

We are at point “X” and want to go north. The obvious and logical route seems to be continuing north. All information available to us suggests this is the correct route.

Now, however, if we look at the smaller map as part of the larger map.

We see that the route going north is actually a dead-end. The east and west route connect to a ring road that gets us where we want to go.

Obviously, the first decision was made without the full information and we made a perfectly logical choice with the information at hand.

It is the same with perception. If we have limited perception then we can make a perfectly logical choice consistent with that limited perception.

Edward de Bono calls this a “logic bubble” (in his book Serious Creativity: Using the power of lateral thinking to create new ideas) — a personal bubble of perceptions wherein each person acts in completely logical fashion. The logic is right, but the perceptions are limited or outright faulty — the resulting decisions and action are inappropriate. Different logic bubbles give rise to different behavior and conflicts, yet each party is behaving quite sensibly within that party’s logic bubble.

If we think of “X” on the map as representing Maximum Sustainable Yield — the fisheries and salmon management equation and computer programming that suggests it is a good thing to take 80% of a salmon run for decades and expect 20% to reproduce the same size run in perpetuity.

The equations and computer programs that “manage” with limited perception of a single species.

The equations and computer programs that took the $2 coin right off the top and expected the school kids to offer $2 coins every day in perpetuity.

Edward de Bono:

… Most of the mistakes in thinking are inadequacies in perception rather than mistakes of logic. The astonishing thing is that traditionally we have always put the emphasis on logic rather than perception. We have felt uncomfortable with the fluidities and “possibilities” of perception and have taken refuge in the apparent certainties and “truth” of logic.

This has served us well when the input is as definite as a  measurement or a number but much less well in those areas where excellence of processing cannot make up for the inadequacies of perception.

With perception we do not see the world as it is but as we perceive it. The patterns of perception have been built up by a particular time sequence of experience. We perceive the world in terms of the established patterns that are triggered by what is now in front of us.

What’s in front of us — as I humbly perceive it — is a failure of fisheries “management” over the last several decades. There’s a reason why fish populations around the world are in deep shit. Too many mathematical equations and computer models — too much single species perception; not enough ecosystem perception.

Not to mention the impossibility of accurately estimating the size of a fish population in the first place, to then base “precise” calculations and models on. It’s all estimation – so let’s just call it that.

Processing numbers is not the issue, that’s been done well, to precision actually. It’s faulty logic — a logic bubble on par with the one that thought sub-prime mortgages were a good idea, or handing out “zero down” mortgages to people who should not qualify for a mortgage in the first place.

The same logic bubble that has people saying “gee, we don’t know what happened it must be poor ocean conditions…”

Big changes; bubbles are bursting — especially when Vancouver salmon markets are having to import salmon from Russia, and “ecocertifications” are being handed out to collapsed fisheries (i.e. Fraser River sockeye, Yukon River chinook), and Wal-Mart enters the market to sell salmon as cheap as possible.

problem? part III

I’m not sure if others find this a worrisome headline from CBC in 2008:

Imported Russian sockeye salmon hits B.C. plates

Another article in the Vancouver Sun reports:

Sockeye salmon from Russia is being imported to B.C. and showing up in Metro Vancouver fish markets as an alternative to its once-bountiful B.C. cousin.

One company in Vancouver expected to bring in 30 to 40 tonnes of Russian sockeye this past year.

Is there not great irony in this?

The city on one of the greatest sockeye rivers on earth has to import sockeye from Russia…

this is irony added to the fact that many British Columbia First Nation communities are having sockeye trucked to their communities from hatchery-supported runs — along highways that sit adjacent to the rivers that once supported salmon runs of over 100 million salmon for thousands of years.

A related articles to these suggested this summer in Calgary, Alberta — fresh sockeye was fetching $28/kg; that’s over $60/lb. And yet, fishermen still only received 70 cents a pound in Alaska.

Further concern – a study that came out this past summer “Estimating legal and illegal catches of Russian sockeye salmon from trade and market data” (Oxford Journal International Council for Exploration of the Sea) suggests that the actual catch of Russian sockeye is 60-90% higher than reported – levels 8,000 to 15,000 tonnes representing $40-74 million.

And with Vancouver and other western North American markets opening up (due to sockeye population collapses up and down the coast) why wouldn’t there be more illegal catches?

And with dwindling supply one might expect prices would rise – especially with more effective campaigns against farmed salmon (it’s that sword that cuts on both sides).

Unfortunately, I don’t think Wal-Mart or Target will be selling $60/lb sockeye in their stores any time soon…

We have ourselves in a classic pickle… just shift the burden.

Is an average wealthy consumer really going to care whether their sockeye comes from their neighborhood or from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia?

do you see a problem?… part II

When Wal-Mart makes an investment in anything — people tend to pay attention. Wal-Mart’s tag line these days is: “Save money. Live better” .

(I’m not entirely sure whether that tag line is referring to Wal-Mart shoppers — or if they have been so brash as to simply state the mission of Wal-Mart ownership…)

“Saving” shoppers money generally means that goods sold in Wal-Mart stores need to be acquired at significant discounts. Sometimes Wal-Mart can do that through sheer volume buying — or they utilize pretty shady practices to ensure they are acquiring goods as cheap as possible (i.e. manufacture in other countries), or they simply have their goods made (or stores built) by the absolute lowest bidder.

Here is an illuminating quote from U.S. Congress representative Bernie Sanders from 2004:

Wal-Mart has replaced General Motors as the largest employer in America with over 1 million employees where, instead of earning a middle class wage, workers earn starvation wages of $13, 681 per year a salary that is below the poverty line. Meanwhile four out of the top ten richest people in America are relatives of Sam Walton Wal-Marts’ founder, and are worth over $100 billion.

I can only imagine what the situation is now – over 6 years later.

As mentioned in a post the other day (there is probably no connection… Wal-Mart, Marine Stewardship Council, 2011…) there is a worrisome link between Wal-Mart and MSC.

Wal-Mart is now probably one of the biggest sellers of seafood in the United States. Wal-Mart has suggested all wild seafood sold in stores needs to be “ecocertified” by 2011. The Marine Stewardship Council is “ecocertifying” fisheries faster than a grizzly bear knocks salmon out of a river in Alaska (see earlier posts under tag of “Marine Stewardship Council”).

A curious headline — from 2008 Anchorage Daily News:

Alaskans Welcome Major New Wal-Mart Investment in Wild Bristol Bay Salmon

In their letter to Wal-Mart, representatives of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and Alaska Independent Seafood Marketing Association wrote, “As Bristol Bay fishermen, we are proud of our sustainably managed, Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery and our healthy, wild salmon products. Your choice to buy our sockeye salmon represents an important investment in both the economic and ecological health of the Bristol Bay region.”

I’m a bit confused by all of this fuss. The 2007 report The Great Salmon Run by G. Knapp, Roheim, and Anderson out of the University of Anchorage point out that the most important markets for frozen and canned sockeye salmon (by far the biggest fishery 182.3 million pounds this past year in Bristol Bay, next closest fishery was chum fishery with 8.6 million pounds) is Japan and the United Kingdom.

I don’t have the numbers – however I am guessing that the Japanese market is paying more for frozen sockeye salmon than Wal-Mart. If so, couldn’t these higher prices benefit local fisherfolks?

The 2007 report states:

The most important market for sockeye salmon is the Japanese frozen salmon market…More than twice as much U.S. fresh and frozen wild salmon is exported than sold in the U.S. domestic market.

So I’m not clear — why are folks excited about Wal-Mart involvement in the Alaskan salmon market?

The Japanese market is huge at over 500,000 metric tonnes a year with approximately 80,000 – 100,000 metric tonnes of wild North American salmon (and 250,000 – 300,000 metric tonnes of Russian and Japanese “wild” salmon 95% of Japanese catch is salmon ranching).

The U.S. market is a little more than half of the Japanese market with over three quarters of the market represented by imported farmed salmon. Wal-Mart also sells an incredible amount of farmed salmon – so how “eco” can they really be in their efforts?

The glut of farmed salmon on the market has also destroyed the prices of wild salmon.

There’s a reason that wild sockeye used to fetch a fisherman over $2 a pound and now, over the last several years, a fisherman gets about $0.70 per pound for wild sockeye.

This is supply and demand gone awry. One would think that the price of wild sockeye would be rising due to far less supply of wild sockeye. There was only a tiny sockeye fishing opening in British Columbia this year and no commercial salmon fishing of any kind along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Sockeye fisheries have been sliding for years – in other words: less supply. Yet, prices have also been sliding. This graph shows the price per pound given to fishermen in Alaska.

Is this all due to a glut of farmed salmon on the market – or maybe because low cost providers such as Wal-Mart have entered the market?

So even if Wal-Mart starts sucking up more of that supply destined for Japanese market – does anyone think a giant such as Wal-Mart is going to accept any salmon prices going up? Say in the $1 to $1.50 per pound range…?

As the article concludes:

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon are in Wal-Mart freezers now, at 233 stores and will be available to consumers as long as supplies last. (my emphasis)

How does the jingle in the various commercials go?: “get ’em before they’re gone”.

And, what happens when supplies are gone?

do you see a problem?

Last night I was at the local Save-On-Foods grocery store. I was curious what a fillet of frozen sockeye costs at this time of the year. An average fillet was about $20 – or $2.99 per 100 grams. That works out to about $13.50 per pound.

Curiously, the sockeye fillet had a “Gold Seal” label on it. The “Gold Seal” name is part of Canfisco (the shortened name for Canadian Fishing Company). Canfisco is owned by the Jimmy Pattison Group of Companies – as is Save-on-Foods.

Canfisco also owns a lot of fishing boats – a substantial part of the British Columbia salmon fishing fleet.

The Pattison Group is Canada’s biggest private company. Jimmy Pattison is one of Canada’s richest people.

Following my curiosity further… I decided to look up what a fishermen was paid to catch that sockeye. Most likely the sockeye probably came from Alaska as British Columbia had a very limited sockeye fishery this year.

Average price for a pound of sockeye this past year in Bristol Bay, Alaska (from Alaska Department of Fish & Game):

$0.70 per pound

This past year almost 31 million sockeye were caught in Bristol Bay representing a landed value of almost $128 million. Coincidentally, Pattison and Canfisco have ownership in some Alaskan salmon processing plants.

I understand the principle of “value-added manufacturing”. Take a raw product – like a log – and turn it into a guitar and one has added significant value to the original log – with the guitar maker probably making much more profit than the logger that cut down the tree.

What I am not so sure about is: how do fisherfolks accept $0.70 per pound for a sockeye and then go to the neighborhood grocery store and see that the item they took the risk to catch is now priced at least 2000% higher as a frozen product?

Sure, there aren’t really too many choices for fisherfolks – they need to sell the fish.

Is there a different way this could be done – ensuring that coastal communities can retain more of that 2000% mark up from fresh caught to frozen in a supermarket?