Monthly Archives: March 2010

a whole lot of charts and graphs…

This week I am in Vancouver at the Summit on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future hosted by Simon Fraser University. I had hoped to post some updates from the conference; unfortunately there is no internet access within the conference facilities.

Some interesting information at times; however, I don’t think I have sat through so many charts and graphs and PowerPoint presentations… ever. Probably the most telling aspect of the day was watching the movie “End of the Line” at the end of the day. Obviously many people had reached the end of their line, as less than half the over 100 people attending stuck around for the showing.

And really, a room full of fisheries scientists… who wants to listen to the fact that what they’re doing is pretty pointless. Fisheries decisions are political… not scientific.

In the conference program, quoting from the movie it states:

We are given glimpses of hope and… this shines from the eyes of… eminent marine biologists. Each speaks with an insistent optimism, and as the story unfolds it is obvious why. This is not an insoluble problem. The answers are already known — all that is required is to get them into the minds of those making the decisions. After decades in the wilderness, warning about coming crisis, people are starting to sit up and pay attention. No new knowledge is required — just action.

$2 for one wild salmon… do you see a problem?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a webpage listing the summaries of commercial fishing statistics by year. My post earlier today — lobbying for goats and lawnmowers… — highlighted landed value of wild salmon this past season (2009) at only $20 million. Compare this at almost $60 million in 2006, and over $100 million in 1996.

Generally, between the early 1970s through to the early 1990s the landed value of salmon in B.C. has hovered between $200 million and $400 million (in 2001 dollars). And between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes landed. (A Policy Analysis of the BC Salmon Fishery, 2003).

Open the DFO 2009 page; across the bottom of the page are various breakdowns of the salmon catch such as: where (district) the salmon were caught, by weight, by week, etc. The other key breakdown is the innocuous term “pieces”. Pieces is number of fish caught.

Calling them “pieces” keeps it more friendly sounding… it’s parallel with the term “collateral damage” used to refer to innocent people killed in war zones. Or calling it “harvest” rather than killing salmon. All, curious little shifts of language to avoid calling things what they actually are.

The stunning ‘piece’ of information I found: this past season a little over 10.5 million salmon were caught. This means that salmon this past year were worth less than $2 a fish.

Those 10.5 million salmon translated into 18.2 million kg – or 18,200 tonnes. At $20 million landed valued – this means salmon were worth just over $1 per kilogram or less than 50 cents a pound.

This includes almost 200,000 sockeye from northern B.C. fisheries and 130,000 Chinook – generally the much higher value species. (It’s the 9 million+ Pink salmon that keep the price down).

A quick comparison…?

In 1996, only 4 million more salmon were caught (over 14 million for the year) — however landed value that year was over $100 million. That year the total weight was almost double this past year at 35,200 tonnes — largely because there were over 450,000 Chinook caught that year, as compared to only 130,000 this past year. Chinook are the biggest salmon and can get as big as 100 pounds as compared to the average pink salmon in the 3-5 pound range.

The economics of wild salmon are a disaster — almost worst than actual salmon “management”. Earlier posts have commented on some of the factors; the main factor being that the huge glut of farmed salmon on the market has driven prices down. Add in players such as Wal-Mart chasing down Alaskan sockeye — and we have a recipe for crappy economics.

So this past year is the worst commercial salmon fishery year on record — in other words the last 140 years or so. (Industrial salmon fisheries fired up on the Fraser and other BC rivers around the 1870s.)

This got me to thinking about the investment that taxpayers make in federal fisheries management programs… Especially, as over the last two-three weeks I have sat in multiple-day meetings with numerous staff from the Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

Since St. Patrick’s day, I’ve been wading through the 264-page “Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for 2010” for the South Coast of BC — and a 124-pages for the North Coast — and a 36-page “Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010“.

On the South Coast plan there are over sixty DFO staff contacts listed — there’s some of the same Vancouver-based staff plus another eighteen on the North Coast Plan. Area Directors to Aboriginal Liaisons to Regional Managers to Biologists. A proverbial work mill… churning out plans, doing consultations, attending meetings

Ironically, far more people in DFO and independent consultants have been involved in developing a 2010 Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy — than have actually commercially fished for sockeye on the Fraser River in the last three years.

If one looks a little deeper… The Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy is built entirely around a new “Pilot” initiative on the Fraser River called the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI – commonly referred to as ‘frizzy’). As pointed out in the 2010 Strategy – ‘frizzy‘ has been a “multi-year collaborative planning process”… multi-year is six years.

As outlined in a PPoint presentation online — over a dozen workshops; somewhere between 20-40 outside consultants. It was first used in the 2006 season.

Ironically, 3 out of 4 possible years that this model has been in place to manage sockeye “fisheries” there have been basically no commercial fisheries on Fraser sockeye. So, again, more people involved in developing a computer modeling program for managing salmon fisheries than actually fishing.

Hmmm… seems like money well spent.

Let’s take a look at this story over the last few years. 2009 brought in $20 million in landed salmon value. 2008 was the same. 2007: just over $30 million. 2006 just over $60 million. 2005: just over $34 million.

How much does almost 100 DFO staff solely focussed on salmon cost to produce almost 400 pages of  Integrated Fisheries Management Plans for just this year alone? (let alone implement the Wild Salmon Policy that came out in 2005)

Might it be fair to say that 100 staff members in a federal bureaucracy might be worth, on the low end, an average of $100,000/year (including pension, medical, employer contributions, etc.). That’s a simple $10 million right there. Add in all the travel, multiple consultations with commercial fisherfolks, sportfishers, First Nations, and so on. Are we at $20 million yet?

Cost to develop a computer modeling program to manage commercial fisheries for one species of salmon (sockeye) on one River — 20-40 outside consultants, numerous workshops, countless consultations, ongoing updates… and oh yeah, little prospect for a fishery for years yet.

And let’s not forget the estimated $20 million to $30 million public inquiry (Cohen Commission) into One species on One river.

I’ll put this picture in again, just for thought…

lobbying for goats and lawnmowers…

Yesterday, I was wandering the local library. One of the books I picked up was “End of the Line by Charles Clover. This coming week I am at the two day Summit on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future hosted by Simon Fraser University at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in downtown Vancouver.

Clover’s book has now been turned into a documentary, which will be shown at the SFU session on Tuesday. From flipping through the book, and watching the trailer; maybe having many of the science-types at the conference watching this film will snap them out of the “we need more research” paradigm — and the “government better do something” disease — that seems to dominate the discussion.

This two-day session is the third part of the “Salmon Think Tank” that released a statement in Dec. 09. See one of my earlier posts for comments on the statement.

One of the comments in Clover’s book that got me thinking was something to the effect of comparing values of fisheries in the United Kingdom with lawnmower manufacturing  — Economically, apparently, they are worth similar values. He asks — how different would things be if lawn mower manufacturers have the same lobbying power as commercial fishing sectors?

It’s laughable — I snickered at least…

But, it’s also sad. I have an earlier post on the true ‘economic’ value of world fisheries: one fish, two fish…  in the red debt fish.

I decided to take a look at some numbers — just for comparison sake.

  • In 2000, total value of greenhouse tomato production in BC was $73.6 million.
  • In 2001, the value of potatoes produced in BC was approximately $28.5 million.
  • In 2002, BC produced 36.7 million pounds of blueberries at a value of $44.2 million. By 2008, blueberries were worth over $120 million.
  • In 2001, the value of goats in BC was approximately $5 million. Estimated number of goats in BC: under 20,000.

Last year the total landed value of wild salmon in BC was less than $20 million.

This was just over 18,000 tonnes landed, approximately 10.5 million salmon – mostly pink and chum — basically 0 Fraser sockeye.

  • In 2008 it was $20.3 million. (5, 100 tonnes — high % of northern sockeye, basically no Fraser sockeye)
  • In 2007 it was $30.7 million.(20,100 tonnes — high % of pink and chum, basically no Fraser sockeye)
  • In 2006 it was $60.9 million. (24,300 tonnes — over 50% of total is sockeye, thus higher value)

Let’s jump a little further back:

  • In 1997 it was $109.4 million (48,600 tonnes)
  • In 1996 it was $99.2 million (34,600 tonnes)
  • In 1995 it was $85.8 million (48,500 tonnes)
  • In 1994 it was $257.3 million (65,800 tonnes)
  • In 1993 it was $201.0 million (85,000 tonnes)

Wait… I think I see a trend…

It’s not tough to see the years when sockeye make up a larger proportion of the catch on the strong sockeye cycle years. For example, 1994 compared to 1993. There were 20,000 less tonnes (somewhere around 10 million salmon)  landed in 1994, yet $56 million more valuable at landing.

The wholesale value — value added manufacturing like canned, smoked, dressed, etc. — in those years has gone from a high of $466.8 million in 1993; dropping to $135.2 million in 2008. Canned salmon generally makes up between 30-45% of this “value-added” wholesale value.

It would seem some folks finally got a little smarter about value-added manufacturing in the 1990s — kind of like the logging and lumber industry (gee, maybe shipping raw logs to Japan is not the most efficient use of resources).  Landed salmon value in 1993 was $201 million on 85,000 tonnes caught with a final wholesale value of $466.8 million.

In 2006, salmon landed value was $60.9 million on 24,300 tonnes and yet wholesale value was almost $226 million. One might suggest that folks are finding almost 4-times the value in salmon now — as opposed to the early 90s.  Granted these are not always simple comparisons because of the stock composition each year. Some years are big pink and chum years (much less value) and other years are big sockeye years (much more value).

A pretty big question still remains — at least in my mind:

When tomatoes add more to the B.C. economy then wild salmon do we have a problem?

If goats surpass wild salmon — is it time for a fundamental house cleaning of government ministries responsible for looking after wild salmon?

Are we going to start giving goat farmers (no offense) the same lobbying power as commercial fisherfolks?

Wild salmon built this province — biologically, geographically, economically, and most importantly culturally (aboriginal and settler culture alike).

Tomatoes, potatoes, blueberries, and goats did not.

where are we going?

Didn’t the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland say something to the effect:

Tim Burton's cat

If you don’t know where you’re going, any way will do — it just won’t get you where you need to be…

The most common approach to try and figure out where we’re going is through analysis, research, trying harder to understand, seeking better programs, or tools, explaining, more analysis, etc.

click to access website

The other day I bought Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging.

One of the quotes in Block’s book: “Questions are fateful. They determine destinations”:

The community does not shift by having any new conversation. Nothing will change if the new conversation is a discussion about better language, or if we work harder on analyzing or explaining the issue at hand. Studying, trying harder to understand, seeking better programs or tools — these have no power…

Questions are more transformative than answers and are essential tools of engagement. They are the means by which we are all confronted with our freedom. In this sense, if you want to change the context, find powerful questions.

Questions create the space for something new to emerge. Answers, especially those that respond to our need for quick results, while satisfying, shut down the discussion, and the future shuts down with them. Most leaders are well schooled in providing answers and remain rather indifferent and naive as far as the use of questions goes. How many PowerPoint presentations have you seen flooded with answers, blueprints, analyses, and proposals? How many have you seen presenting questions?

It’s not even May yet – yet there’s a lot of “may”

The Cohen Commission into the decline of Fraser River sockeye — the “public” inquiry — has some new information on the website. A “Public Submissions” page.

On the public submissions page it suggests that the public is “welcome” to submit material to the Commission. However, remain aware that it “may” be considered. Submissions must be relevant – and… “Submissions that are not relevant, or are otherwise inappropriate, may not be considered.”

Submissions received by the commission are summarized and may be posted to the commission’s website along with the author’s name, city and the date that the submission was made. The information provided may be used by the Commissioner in the inquiry and may be included in the commission’s reports.

I’m sure feeling motivated now to spend more time on preparing material that May be considered. Good thing there is a team of nine lawyers on the file. Nine lawyers with varying levels of salmon knowledge – and yet I still see no First Nations representation. Apparently scientific technical support has been hired – but no word of that on the website.

What a curious “public” inquiry…

when it comes to salmon — or salmon management… which are you?

This is from a fun blog: Indexed by Jessica Hagy.

I try to keep myself nearer the Skeptic – however a few too many meetings involving Fisheries and Oceans pulls me towards Cynic.

Today?

All day meeting, whereby DFO has put over $100 million to move commercial fisheries inland. Yet, on Fraser River sockeye, for example, there hasn’t been a commercial fishery of any kind in three years.

Moving fisheries inland is a good idea to avoid ocean mixed-stock fisheries that can’t discern between healthy and endangered runs. However, is it a little too late?

And where’s the investment in habitat restoration and rehabilitation?

when your head is itchy do you scratch your ass?

Last week I sat in three days of meetings that included presentations from Fisheries and Oceans Canada discussing the upcoming salmon fishing season — as well as some of the work the Department is doing in implementing the Wild Salmon Policy, and utilizing gaming theory to design population models for sockeye… among other things.

There was a lot of meaningless bumpf used — like ecosystem-based management, and conservation units, and so on. It’s not to say that those sorts of things couldn’t actually have a lot of meaning; it’s just when one begins to ask: “what ‘ecosystem’ factors are you really working into your salmon management… like maybe bears, and eagles and stuff…”.

One of the rather sad statements was some DFO staff suggesting that the disaster with Fraser River sockeye last year was a “one-off event”. It was “such a surprise”….

That blows my mind when we take a look at one of the graphs coming out of the “Salmon Think Tank” that Simon Fraser University established late last year — Part III of that discussion coming up next week in Vancouver (which I’ll be attending). Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future.

This graph is showing, as Ken Wilson a very experienced biologist about to retire suggested at the same meetings last week:

“TRAIN WRECK”

In about the mid-1990s it appears that sockeye in the Fraser were quickly approaching productivity levels that don’t even replace themselves.

As I’ve referred to it in other posts — a death spiral.

And, yet, Fisheries and Oceans staff can stand at the front of the room of close to fifty First Nations leaders, technical staff and biologists and say: “don’t worry, it was just a one off event last year.”

10,000,000 sockeye forecast to return…. about 1,000,000 actually made it back.

I’d say the graph might be pointing to an ‘event’ that’s going to be lasting for quite some time to come.

Sadder, yet?

Early last week I found a 2001 Fisheries and Oceans report discussing sockeye rearing lakes (I highlighted this in a post last week). The majority of sockeye require lakes with nearby spawning grounds so that when the baby salmon come up out of the gravel they then head to the lakes to hang out for a year or two before heading to the ocean.

The lakes are like a nursery or maybe a daycare…

Factors Limiting Juvenile Sockeye Production and Enhancement Potential for selected BC Nursery Lakes

The introduction to the report states:

Numbers of anadromous salmon returning to spawn in lakes and streams from Alaska to California have declined dramatically since the early 1990s. Causes of the reduced escapements vary, but commercial harvesting, industrial development, and habitat degradation have all had substantial impacts….

In recent years, the effects of these reductions in salmon escapements on freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems have received considerable attention. The importance of marine-derived nutrients to the productivity of lake, stream and terrestrial ecosystems is now well documented… It is generally accepted that a major effect of reduced anadromous salmon spawners is the oligotrophication of many lakes and streams, with a corresponding reduction in productive capacity. (my emphasis)

…The productive capacity of most B.C. sockeye nursery lakes has been, and continues to be, degraded because a substantial proportion of returning adults are harvested in various fisheries and thus prevented from contributing their nutrients to their natal streams and lakes…

At the meeting last week, with the information from this 2001 report I asked Fisheries and Oceans staff if they were studying sockeye rearing lakes around BC to see if maybe some of the problems originate in these lakes. We keep hearing about ocean conditions and various other factors that “require more study…” And, yet, here in BC we’ve had the pine beetle outbreak, record low snowpack, elevated river and lake temperatures and so on.

Answer from DFO?

No, not really.

Two sockeye lakes — of many, many — get looked at. Chilko Lake in the interior and Cultus Lake near Vancouver.

I was shocked. All this finger pointing and money being spent on ocean productivity research — and, yet, the federal ministry responsible for looking after salmon hasn’t even bothered to look in the nursery.

DFO’s own research is suggesting that reduced spawner carcasses may be lowering productivity of nursery lakes — you know like the graph above demonstrates — and yet they aren’t bothering to look.

Like I asked earlier: when your head is itchy do you scratch your ass?

“Remember that time when Chinook used to fill this river…”

I hope there comes a time when we start to hear good news about salmon in British Columbia… unfortunately, there are a lot of not so good stories — and worse yet, stories of runs sinking towards being just that… stories:

“Remember that time when Chinook used to fill this river…”

The week before last I had a post asking whether Fisheries and Oceans was breaking their own laws. Pre-season salmon run forecasts for this coming season are out — and the story is disheartening.

Not just disheartening but incredibly frustrating. The frustration stems from the fact that government ministries with the legislated mandate to ensure things like this don’t happen appear to sit on their collective hands (or are too busy fingering their Blackberries). The endings of some of these stories are written in plain view– even in some of the most obscure — and most simple — charts and graphs.

Like this one from the Fisheries and Oceans “Chinook Salmon Conservation and Proposed Management Approach for 2010” . This is a graph of survival rates and fishing (exploitation) rates of one particular Chinook stock in the Fraser River watershed that generally return to spawn as four year olds. This stock returns largely to the Nicola River (in the Thompson River watershed). It is referred to as the Spring 42 run. The small “2″ referring to the identifier for this unique sub-population. The baby fish from these runs spend about a year in the freshwater before heading out to the ocean. 

Along the left hand side is the approximate survival rate of this population. This is also demonstrated by the vertical bars.

Along the right side is the exploitation (or fishing) rate. This is represented by the black dots and horizontal black line.

Clearly survival rates fell apart between 1999 and 2000 from somewhere near 9% to about 1%. This is an incredible drop in survival meaning less and less adult salmon returning in comparison to how many of their parents successfully spawned. Yet, fishing pressures on these stocks continued to take over 30% of the returning adults — going as high as 50% in 2003 (one of the lowest years of productivity).

This graph tells an ugly story. The ugliest part of the story is that, according to Fisheries and Oceans this “data” was not available until 2009.

Why? Is all I can really ask. Is this not the ministry responsible for ensuring these things don’t happen?

In terms of actual run size, in recent years such as the late 1990s and early 2000s this run has been close to 20,000 spawners. However, since 2005 this run has only been a few thousand. Last year it was less than 1000 — and yet fishing rates on this Chinook stock remain in the 20-30% range.

Productivity of this stock suggests that over the last few years there isn’t even a one-to-one survival rate — meaning the run is not even replacing itself. As I’ve said in other posts — this is a death spiral. And yet fisheries remain open.

Various genetic tests done in test fisheries suggest this stock starts migrating into the Fraser River now – March – through April, May with a peak in June and July; tapering off by August.

Fisheries and Oceans estimates for this stock, in the coming year, are dismal — Status category #1 meaning red light, red light, red light. Even by DFOs own numbers this suggests the run is less than 25% of their own targets — the run is “declining rapidly”.

AND YET — the ocean sport fishery on Chinook coastwide is open.

First Nations from all over the Fraser River watershed and approach areas — i.e. Johnstone Strait, Georgia Strait, and West Coast Vancouver Island — are all taking significant steps to stay away from these Chinook stocks.

There is a legal right to these fish for food, social, and ceremonial purposes. The Canadian courts have been quite clear on this issue, as is Fisheries legislation in Canada. Conservation is supposed to come first, then aboriginal fisheries, then commercial and sport fisheries.

Various media stories sometimes try to tell a different story — as do various constituencies that try to point to aboriginal fisheries as the main culprit of salmon declines. The numbers are clear though — historically the commercial fishery has taken close to 90% of the salmon; aboriginal fisheries less than 5% and sport fisheries around 5%.

The sport fishery numbers are growing though — a result of corporate concentration in this sector on the BC coast. This corporate concentration brings significant lobby power with the federal government and various public relations (PR) campaigns.

The inability of Fisheries and Oceans to make brave decisions seems to be severely hampered by this lobby — or maybe the perceived backlash. Hopefully, this ability to make the right decision comes very quickly before all we have is stories of Chinook once filling rivers…

Many BC First Nation communities have made some very brave decisions — stop food fisheries to let runs in danger of extinction reach the spawning grounds.

It’s simple to make a difference. Make a choice.

the public inquiry blind date.

Yesterday I received a letter from the Cohen Commission (public inquiry into declines of Fraser River sockeye salmon) that my application for “standing” with the Commission was denied. I’m not surprised; however, the mystery continues on how the Commissioner is defining the: “substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry” required to be granted standing.

About a month ago I sent an email to the Commission asking for clarification of the “substantial and direct interest”.  The Department of Fisheries and Oceans was automatically granted standing so, I figured, there must be some sort of definition or bar to be met.

The response I got (and posted on the Commission website):

In advance of an application for standing, the Commissioner will not issue rulings on what constitutes a “substantial and direct interest”.

I wasn’t looking for a “ruling” just a definition.

In the letter that I received yesterday from the Commission lawyers it states:

On the basis of the material you have provided, it appears to Commission Counsel that you may not have a “substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry” as required by the Commission’s Terms and Conditions for the Commissioner to grant you standing.

Carefully worded… “may not”; however, if I want to take issue with this ruling I need to make an appointment to go before the Commissioner in Vancouver next week and let them know by Monday — even though I just got the letter last night. (I live in Prince George, 800 km north of Vancouver).

The mystery here is that folks have been asked to demonstrate “substantial and direct interest” with no definition for what that means. Sure, there are guidelines for making the application — but still no definition. Sure, I can go argue my case next week in Vancouver on my own cost; however, what the hell would I be arguing?

Nobody knows this mysterious definition, or at least what factors must be met to prove “substantial and direct interest”. If I was to go argue my case next week it would be like a blind date. I don’t mean, in the traditional sense of going on a date with someone you’ve never met. I mean a blind date as going with a blindfold on.

Or worse, like an exam or test of sorts where I have no idea what the questions are.

One generally hopes that when a bar is set — that you actually have an idea of what that bar looks like so you don’t run smack dab into it… especially in the dark. I don’t generally like to drive with my eyes closed — yet this process of demonstrating a “substantial and direct interest” was a bit like driving in the dark.

Prime Minister Harper in his press release announcing the Commission stated:

“It is in the public interest to investigate this matter and determine the longer-term prospects for sockeye salmon stocks.”

In the public interest, yes. But, open to public input… that’s yet to be seen. Granted the offer is open to send letters into the Commission — yet no explanation of what or how that may be weighted in the review.

I’m trying to remain optimistic that the Cohen Commission will not be another “here we go again” (the actual name of a salmon inquiry in the 1990s) — A $20 to $30 million process with recommendations that gather dust until 2020 like the recommendations of the Royal Commission conducted in the 1980s.

I get the fact that the “substantial and direct interest” is there to try and limit testimony from every busybody with an opinion on the matter — however I’m still not clear on why the bar to be met has not been explained. The “public” part of this inquiry appears to be that apparently the public is welcome to sit and watch the hearings…(and flip the bill).

If you’re curious about what the potential bill might be — there are guidelines on the Commission website on what lawyers for individuals (or organizations) granted standing might charge. The maximum is $350/hr for a lawyer with 20 years experience. The maximum is a 10 hour day — except for hearings days. These costs will be covered by the Commission if assistance for funding was applied for.

Currently, there are nine lawyers hired by the Commission plus the Commissioner. Apparently there has also been scientific advisers hired by the Commission — yet this has not been posted on the website.

Start doing rough tallies… nine lawyers and a Justice and lead scientists, that’s somewhere in the range of $8,000 – $15,000 per day on the low end just for wages on the Commission. Factor in Fisheries and Oceans staff and lawyers, lawyers for those granted “standing”, all of the administrative assistance the Commission will require. Facilities, offices, hearings…

Interim report by August of this year — final report by May of next year. Let’s say 15-20 days a month times 15 months (if there are no delays)…. As the contestants on the Wheel of Fortune say: “big money… come on big money”.  I think there are many folks hoping it’s worth it — and fundamental changes come as a result.

it is said the first stage of addiction is denial… can you say East Coast Cod-itis?

Yesterday, I sat in a windowless meeting room and listened to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) present information on the Wild Salmon Policy and on an apparent “Pilot Study” on the Fraser River called the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI) — acronym pronounced like Frizzy… just to make it cute.

The FRSSI is a very complex computer modeling program that is supposed to assist fisheries managers, fisherfolks, First Nations, and so on. It appears to be based on “gaming” theory and other computer modeling and simulations. If you’d like to read more about it you can visit DFO’s “consultation” website to read more about it.

The report is called Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010: Model Overview & Summary of 2010 Planning Simulations. And if you want more background there is another paper (only about 100 pages…): Collaborative Development of Escapement Strategies for Fraser River sockeye: Summary Report 2003-2008. Read through that report and there’s a couple more reports referenced and so on down through the rabbit hole of DFO. I tried to connect to the links provided for the reports and the link is broken, so good luck.

There is one key question in my mind that I asked senior DFO staff yesterday.

If this is a “pilot study” – at what point is there a “go… no-go” decision?

My understanding of the term “pilot study” is it’s kind of like a feasibility study, or a smaller scale effort that could potentially become major scale.

I didn’t get a direct answer. There was no yes or no. However, the speed at which the DFO representative started to run around the issue answered the question quite clearly. This is not a pilot study. This is the direction that DFO is taking.

As you read through the reports (you know, coffee table reading…) you will see that there is a massive investment in this project. The “collaborative” study is strictly scientific collaboration. Over a period of 3-5 years, DFO has been leading a scientific review of this modeling tool with anywhere between 30-50 different individuals.

On one hand, maybe this means that the tool is decent — it’s had a lot of review. On the other hand, maybe this means that viewpoints have been very narrow — i.e. strictly scientific in nature. The huge gaping hole in this is First Nations review and public review.

The general message I picked up from the meeting is: “we have so much invested in this computer simulator that we are not turning back… we are scientists; we are DFO; trust us.”

Here is scary picture from the “Salmon Think Tank” statement released in December. This is a graph showing the productivity of Fraser sockeye (if you’ve read earlier posts you may recognize this graph from a post in December):

In essence, the worrisome picture here is that when the “adult returns per spawner” drop below 1 — this means there is not enough baby salmon produced and returning as adults to keep the population steady, or maybe even growing. When it drops below 1 to 1 — we are seeing a death spiral. If every couple only has 1 child live to reproduce — a population shrinks (think Chinese one-child policy).

Looking at the graph, the precipitous spiral down the drain began in the early 1990s.

Yet, yesterday in a meeting, DFO scientists stated that last year’s sockeye failure (10 million forecast and only 1 million returned) was a “one-off event”.

A One-Off Event!

Are you kidding me?

If there are folks in the federal ministry responsible for conserving and protecting one of our most precious national resources that can not look at the graph above and say: “Houston we have a problem…” and can truly suggest in a meeting with First Nations from around the province that last year was a “one-off” event.

We have a serious case of denial. We have a serious case of East Coast cod-itis.

When the Cod collapse fully kicked in — coincidentally in the early 1990s when Fraser sockeye productivity began falling — DFO tried to reassure everyone that things were fine. “Just go fishing, it’ll all be fine”.

Well, we know how fine it is now. It’s been almost two decades and East Coast cod haven’t recovered to any levels where folks can go fishing.

As I stated unequivocally yesterday — fish, especially salmon, cannot be “managed” from a computer. They cannot be managed from a windowless office in an urban centre.

We cannot develop a iPhone app that will tell us how many salmon we can catch. I am not holding my breath for Windows Salmon 4.0.

Is it maybe time to request a third-party independent management system — where DFO simply provides scientific input?

Like any addiction, intervention is sometimes required — and often a good sign of serious issues is: denial. Denial that there’s a serious, serious problem. There is a spot where some heads have gone and they need to be pulled out.