Monthly Archives: April 2010

Emphasizing the “F” in DFO.

Pacific salmon range

Many can ponder the “F”… however in this case it’s for the old standard “Fail”. As in the Department of Failing Objectives. Or Disappearing Fish in the Oceans… Or Denial Forever-On…

Jest aside; one of my hopes as I started this website and blog was to try and hilight positives; tell good stories; maybe add some humor to some dismal stories (ghad knows we have enough negative media, lowest common denominator television, and ranting blogs…). I thought maybe I’d run along the fringes of some new ideas, new approaches, maybe laud new bureaucratic systems to looking after natural resources.

And, maybe — just maybe — tell a positive story that could be etched in some annal of my life; that I could tell my (currently) three young kids.

When I was about four — same age as my daughter now I spent a lot of time on the river fishing. A lot…

fishing the Tlell River late 1970s

Right on the very gravel bar, almost in the very spot I’m standing in the picture above — I caught my first coho. A memory imprinted on my brain.

As one older and wiser reading this blog, you could imagine that with three young kids, I’m not that old. And yet, my memory of coho returns is quite vivid. Not the: “walk on their backs across the river”- type memories — however, still substantial runs that presented a kid growing up — with no shortage of thrills.

These days… not quite. The chances of my kids hauling in a 20+ pound coho from a dark, murky, slow-moving, river?


For me… I don’t see it as rocket science. The causes of salmon declines along the Pacific Coast of North America are not difficult to pinpoint.

  • One — look in a mirror.
  • Two — look at and feel our rivers.
  • Three — look upstream.

So when I read a letter released today by DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) titled:

Management Measures for Fraser River Spring Chinook

that suggests we will “protect and conserve Spring 42 Chinook” by going fishing:

The intention of this objective is to substantially reduce fishery exploitation rates to effectively protect and conserve Spring 42 Chinook.

…I can see that the demands of folks today are sacrificing what folks of my kids generation will require. The demands of today will continue to reduce opportunities for the future — especially when it comes to wild salmon.

The sport fishery in Juan de Fuca, and other areas, will remain open with a limit of two Chinook per day (with  size restrictions demonstrated to be ineffective). Some commercial troll fisheries will close; however some along west coast Vancouver Island will be open with restrictions. And at the mouth of the Fraser — catch-and-release sport fisheries (exactly what First Nations have repeatedly asked not to allow).

And if you saw yesterday’s post — the Chinook “whopsee factor” — DFO failed miserably on reducing exploitation last year as outlined in their “management plans”. Exploitation actually grew from years previous.  This “whoopsee” factors is OK when you spill milk (you know, the don’t cry over… part); Not so good when you’re responsible for looking after salmon populations in a death spiral.

And here’s the part that always floor me…:

In addition to the proposed fishery management actions for 2010, the Department recognizes that there are likely significant extenuating factors, including the effects of climate change on salmon ecosystems, which may be affecting the survival of southern BC chinook.

“There are likely”…? Come on Ms. Farlinger (Regional Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture DFO Pacific) and author of the letter.

As my kids say: “oh mannnn….”

I’m guessing that maybe Ms. Farlinger – or here Chief letter writer didn’t check into the actual meaning of “extenuating”… One online dictionary suggests:

“serving or tending to reduce the severity of guilt or blameworthiness; as, extenuating circumstances.”

So, who’s feeling they need to reduce the severity of guilt or blameworthiness?

With the current governing party, I’m not holding my CO2 – laden breath. Not only will salmon need as much diversity as possible in coming years as river temperatures increase. However, as Conservative MP wrote in a Montreal paper last month:

In a letter this month to Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier expressed skepticism that human activity even is the leading cause of warming.

“What is certain,” he wrote, “is that it would be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars and to impose unnecessarily stringent regulations to solve a problem whose gravity we still are not certain about.”

Irresponsible… indeed.

I can hear it right now…wait for it:      “oh mannn….”

I am taking faith though, in one of the most bureaucratic bafflegab (a.k.a. bullshit bumpf) laden paragraphs I’ve read… well… since I was on DFO’s website… yesterday:

The Department is working on a comprehensive, multi-faceted management framework for conserving southern BC chinook conservation units, including Fraser Spring 42 chinook, which addresses harvest, habitat, enhancement and research priorities over the long term.

If you haven’t read my post from yesterday… the Wild Salmon Policy is now becoming a teenager; it was born in the late 1990s. And if there’s one thing I know from many years of coaching sport and contracts as a youth worker… I don’t tell teenagers about my “comprehensive, multi-faceted management framework” for dealing with their hormonal imbalances, clutziness, and general raging attraction towards members of the opposite sex.

It’s much easier to… just do shit.

I’m already tired of my DFO-absurdity rants… I think I’m going to have to go in search of new salmon topics. Unfortunately, when it comes to folks trying to do what’s best for wild salmon, it’s hard to escape that big giant bureaucratic silo that is supposed to be conserving wild salmon as it’s number one priority… and engaging in ecosystem-based planning.

Next week I am driving to Portland, Oregon for a multi-day international conference: Ecological Interactions between Wild and Hatchery Salmon — hosted by the State of the Salmon Consortium. Maybe there will be some interesting stories there?

Maybe I’ll hear stories of folks making hard choices now, to ensure things like healthy salmon runs for the next generation?

Crabfishing wisdom…and salmon management

There are three ways that this business operates:

Make things happen. Watch things happen. Or, sit there after and wonder what the f*#k happened…

I don’t want to be the latter…

This is the wisdom of Bering Sea crab boat captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie — who was made famous by the impressive show Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. I watched the first episode of season six last night and had to write down that great tidbit of wisdom.

Unfortunately, when it comes to wild salmon and the institutions established to look after them — there’s a whole lot of the latter two.

Case in point:

  • Wild Salmon Policy.

In 1999, I was reviewing early drafts of the proposed Wild Salmon Policy. I still have some of this material sitting in boxes for future reference. There was some decent ideas and language in early iterations — and there was some crap.

Six years later, this Policy was finally legislated in 2005.

Eleven years later, ie., the present day. There is very little of this Policy enacted on the ground (and of course some folks in the Department might take issue with this). Nice language such as “conservation” is plastered all over the document, and “ecosystem-based management” and “conservation units”.

However, Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff complain about lack of resources to implement – and “challenges”, and “challenges”, and rinse and repeat if necessary…

Sure some things are happening – like “Pilot Studies” in Barkley Sound, the Skeena watershed, and the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI). Yet, there is some serious lack of “making things happen” and actually focusing on implementation (not for lack of staff).

“Conservation” remains a nice thought staring down from the top shelf of government offices that gets dusted periodically by cleaning staff every now and again; and ecosystem-based planning… well… it’s gone the direction of NASA’s lunar program: It got filed under: “lost”…

As, really, how does a department of “fish” and “oceans” start dealing with at least 137 different species that depend on salmon returns just in the freshwater environment alone:

Isn't it time you put your carcass to work?

(click on image to see PDF document from Salmon Nation)

Over ten years of Wild Salmon Policy-ing and we still can’t implement simple conservation measures on some salmon populations in death spirals.

Take the graph below for instance… I have clunkily finished off a DFO graph showing exploitation rates of Fraser River Chinook 4-2’s (Early-timed Chinook).

The “conservation” goal (remember this is DFO’s number one priority when it comes to fish) for last year was to cut fishing rates (i.e. exploitation) by 50% on Fraser early-timed Chinook.(this is besides the fact the Wild Salmon Policy clearly defines “conservation” as very separate from allocation and use of populations…)

This means exploitation should have been down around 22% (the avg. of 2006 and 2007).

They had a significant whoops factor in missing the conservation goal by almost 30%. Worse yet, DFO’s own numbers suggest that during low productivity (e.g. look at drop of survival rates from 1999 into 2000s) that 8-11% exploitation is all these stocks can handle.

The unfortunate thing with fish stocks is that they don’t do so well with “whoopsees factors” — look at East Coast cod. Or Early Stuart Sockeye on the Fraser River — they’ve been a conservation concern for at least 30 years and aren’t showing signs of bouncing back.

And thus, here we are… unfortunately… in a “watch things happen” mode when we most certainly need to be in a “make things happen” mode. However, when the dust clears (off that Wild Salmon Policy on the top shelf) I don’t think many of us we’ll be stuck in the: “what the f#*^ happened?” mode. The picture is clear… it’s missing that first step…

(* on a side note, I didn’t realize it until today, checking the spelling of the boat, that Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie passed away earlier this spring. Regards to his family and friends… he’s quite a character on the Discovery Channel documentary that’s been following the crab fleet for several seasons now.)

Carrying Capacity & Salmon fishing

Sharing the river. Should I be smiling...?

Seth Godin, marketing guru and general ponderer, has a fitting post today on carrying capacity — and many folks might consider pondering the message. Here are a couple key points:

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs…

Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market’s ability to pay.

Yesterday, my website was picked up by a British Columbia Sport Fishing discussion forum that is focusing on the issue of potential sport fishing closures to protect the Fraser River early-timed Chinook (the 4-2’s). If you haven’t seen earlier posts on my site here, or seen the numbers, this particular population of Fraser Chinook is on a death spiral and has been for several years (over four years by Fisheries and Oceans own estimates).

Right now, these Chinook are also migrating from the North Pacific to the Fraser River. At this moment, they are migrating right past the BC capital city of Victoria through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And, yet Fisheries and Oceans Canada has deemed that Chinook stocks around British Columbia are healthy enough to support coast-wide sport fishing openings on the ocean — from Haida Gwaii to the mouth of the Fraser River.

However, First Nations and others are asking for a complete fishing closure  to allow these early-timed Chinook through to the spawning grounds of which basically every last fish of these runs needs to finish their life. Scarier yet, there is even a major hatchery (Spius Creek) that support this early-timed Chinook run — and the run is still in deep trouble.

Reading through the particular Sport Fishing discussion forum — one can see that many individuals are taking serious issue with the fact that sport fishing openings that they rely on for their businesses may have to be closed — and should be closed based on the early-timed Chinook numbers. Angry individuals are lashing out at targets for their blame — and fair enough, many of these folks have probably run thriving businesses for several years based on a finite resource.

One thing is clear… numbers and statistics coming out of Fisheries and Oceans are unreliable, full of holes, and dependent on various computer models and equations. DFO’s own numbers suggest that early-timed Chinook can only sustain an exploitation rate of 8-11% while productivity remains as low as it has been for over four years. Last year (2009), DFO numbers just released suggest that 50% of the run was killed (with 30% of that attributed to two marine sport fishery areas).

(It should be pointed out that the south-east Alaska commercial fishery is allocated a certain percentage of Chinook as part of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Of course, DFO maintains that all of these early-timed Chinook migrate along the continental shelf before coming inland and thus don’t impact Fraser Chinook)

(oh yeah, that’s out where the Pacific Hake trawl fleet is busy, along with other industrial trawl fisheries… just fish for thought).

Varying levels of accuracy or not — 50% of the run killed is absolutely unacceptable. It doesn’t even matter at this point who caught what percentage. The bottom line is that DFO is failing miserably in protecting a vital public resource that countless individuals (and other critters) depend on.

And worse yet, this massive federal bureaucracy with over one hundred people responsible for looking after wild salmon maintains ignorance:

  • “we don’t know what it is…”
  • “ocean productivity is down… it’s not us.”
  • “it’s definitely not salmon farms…”

It is, thus, unfortunate, to read various discussion postings, comments on media stories and so on, that point fingers at First Nation fisheries as the culprit — or carry on about equal access for all, or “one fishery for all” as the federal Conservatives call it.

Quick numbers: historically the commercial fishery is responsible for over 90% of salmon catch in BC, sport fishery 3-5% and First Nation fisheries 3-5%.

As Godin, suggests in his post:

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

I draw an analogy with the U.S. banking sector and what has happened over the last few years. For many years the banking sector was ‘happy, profitable and growing’. Then it got carried away and when that particular business sector reached “twenty” — bankruptcies ensued en-masse.

The difference with wild salmon… there are no “Tarps”.

Troubled Asset Relief Programs (TARP). And even if there was — interventions are incredibly expensive; just ask the Alaskan or Japanese salmon ranching programs…

Over the last decade or two, the sport fishing sector has grown on a scale similar to fish farming — somewhere around 2000%. (Actually, fish farming since the 80s is probably closer to a 2,000,000% growth rate.)

When I was a kid growing up on Haida Gwaii (once referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) sport fishing as a business was a tiny sector. It’s not to say that lots of folks weren’t sport fishing. I was on a river or on the “chuck” (ocean) basically every weekend from the age of 3 to late teens — mainly fishing for coho.

Sport fishing lodges and the like were just not a huge business — yet.

Now… sport fishing lodges on the west coast of Canada are booming businesses — dotting the BC coast like the salmon canneries and whale stations of old. Or, the logging camps of past decades. (do you sense a pattern?)

Along with this corporate consolidation, tonnes of small mom-and-pop sport fishing businesses; eking out a living on a seasonal sport fishing clientele.

Curiously, it seems to be a similar tract as the commercial fishing industry (or whaling industry before that) — which has largely gone the way of the U.S. banking sector. Only the big and ‘vertically-horizontally integrated/ corporately consolidated‘ have survived. Most of the mom-and-pop operations (i.e. like small regional banks) driven out of existence.

Exactly as Godin suggests:

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs…

Sport fishing and sport fishing businesses relying on wild salmon (or hatchery salmon) also have a natural scale — just as commercial fisheries do. There may be room for several businesses built upon the backs of wild salmon; however there is not room for corporate concentration and consolidation.

There is not room for rough estimates that suggest:

  • a peak day off the west coast of Haida Gwaii with 400-500 sport fishing boats in the water;
  • off the Northwest Coast, West Coast, and southwest coast of Vancouver Island with maybe 1000 (?) sport fishing boats in the water;
  • Johnston Strait and Georgia Strait with 200-400 (?) boats;
  • Central BC Coast with ?? hundred;
  • allocations of Chinook to the Southeast Alaska commercial fishery; and so on.


Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market’s ability to pay.

I would hope then — and as an avid sport fisherman myself — that maybe the sport fishing business sector and associations might enter those tough discussions about “scale”…. about how many ‘businesses’, along with how many ‘food fishers’ (my general focus for sport fishing) can be supported by current salmon runs in B.C.

Maybe go have some discussions with sport fishers and sport fishing business-owners along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California who haven’t seen an opening in a little while… with any openings almost entirely focussed on hatchery runs.

We all need to remember that we’re basically after the same thing: salmon. Sadly, of which, are declining at rapid rates and have been for at least my generation.

And, of which, we’re not the only ones that depend on them — as demonstrated in my picture above.

Recipe for: Fisheries and Oceans Non-confidence cake

I think there might be a cake in the works (I’ve included a mold to bake it in). Some evidence of this can be seen in Alexandra Morton’s current walk to Victoria to protest the impact of salmon farming on BC’s wild salmon, recent court cases that have found Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is failing in their responsibilities, and a variety of other factors.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the current denial stage surrounding B.C. wild salmon, and the post from Saturday: Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans Canada which was a follow-up post to early March: Is Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws? — I am curious whether a non-confidence vote is brewing?

This idea is not a new idea. In early 2001 on Haida Gwaii (formerly referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) close to 20% of the adult population of the islands marched on to the British Columbia Ministry of Forests office and filed a vote of non-confidence. Over 600 ballots were cast that day and marched to the doors of the Ministry. (click the picture to read story).

[If you can’t read the placard it states: “MOF You’ve taken everything but the Kitchen Sink“]

The red stumps are part of the “Red Stump Brigade” which can still be found stuck into the ground near various Haida Gwaii driveways.

As John Vaillant suggests in his good read of a book: “The Golden Spruce: A True story of Myth, Madness, and Greed“:

“Out in Haida Gwaii, the rain keeps most fires at bay and coastal timber is far less susceptible to bug infestations that are devastating the interior. It is humans and things they carry with them that remain the greatest threat to the islands. A terrible irony is that, philosophically, Hadwin was in sync with much of the local population: in December 2000 an interracial group of islanders staged a protest — essentially, a no-confidence vote — against the Ministry of Forest’s handling of logging in the islands. There hadn’t been a demonstration of that kind in a decade, and this one was the biggest ever: 20 percent of the islands’ adult population participated. Since then there have been some striking changes not just in the way logging is practiced but in the status of the islands themselves.”

The irony that Vaillant is referring to is that “Hadwin” — Grant Hadwin — is the individual who cut down the revered Golden Spruce (an incredibly rare tree, the only one of its kind on Haida Gwaii)  in early 1997. He was trying to make a statement against industrial logging. Hadwin disappeared off the coast of BC not long after the incident.

It was a twisted approach to protest…however… is it all that different than suggesting that farming salmon in open-net pens on wild salmon migration routes is a good way to protect wild salmon?

Here ares some ingredients that might be proposed for a:

DFO Non-confidence Cake:

1. One half cup of not knowing one’s percentages very well.

The 2009 DFO Integrated Salmon Management Plan – last season – listed Fraser River early-timed Chinook as a “stock of concern” with the following conservation objective:  “to implement management actions that will reduce the exploitation rate approximately 50% relative to the 2006 [33.9%] to 2007 [54.4%] period.”  This means the objective was to reduce exploitation to approximately 22% (half of  average [44.2%] of 06 and 07).

  • Estimates just out from DFO suggest exploitation rate last year (2009) on early-timed Chinook were 48.7%. Not only did they not reduce by half — exploitation was actually almost 5% higher than the average.

(Disclaimer: this might actually be one cup, as opposed to 50% of one cup, or it might be two cups – hard to know when percentages are so confusing and which Ministry is measuring)

2. One overflowing cup of very effective lobby efforts in Ottawa

DFO’s own numbers suggest that exploitation rates on early-timed Chinook need to be 8-11% during times of low productivity like we are experiencing right now, and have seen for at least the last four years. Last year, the ocean sport fishery in Juan de Fuca alone — is estimated to have caught almost 12% of the Chinook destined for the Nicola river. This means this particular sport fishery alone is catching what DFO deems sustainable for the entire population.

  • Local estimates suggest that on peak fishing days there are well over 500 (maybe closer to 800) sport fishing boats in Juan de Fuca (from Victoria, B.C. up the Vancouver Island coast to Port Renfrew).
  • The Chinook sport fishery is open coast-wide in BC right now, despite terrible forecasts for this coming year and terrible returns of early-timed Chinook over the last four years.

3. Two cups of not being able to follow your own “recipe”

DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy explicitly defines what is meant by Conservation — the primary goal of salmon management:

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

This definition identifies the primacy of conservation over use, and separates issues associated with constraints on use from allocation and priority amongst users.

Yet, when it comes to Fraser early-timed Chinook there are no conservation goals — only percentages attached to ‘constraints on use‘ as demonstrated in the statement:  “to implement management actions that will reduce the exploitation rate approximately 50% relative to 2006 to 2007.”  This is not a conservation goal, this is a constraint on use – which, coincidentally, was failed upon miserably; placing Nicola River Chinook (i.e. early-timed Chinook) on extinction watch.

4. A good dose of completely flawed computer simulation model based on less than 10% of a population.

See posts regarding Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI). FRSSI simulates Fraser River sockeye populations based on information from only 19 stocks — despite there being over 200 separate Fraser sockeye stocks.

This model is like trying to make a cake and only using 10% of the ingredients and then wondering why the heck the cake didn’t turn out as expected — or collapsed like a rusty lawn chair…

5. Three litres of very flawed economics, budget planning, and misuse of funds.

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

Further evidence? I was at a meeting late last week of approximately 50-60 people discussing DFO’s pre-season planning. When it came time to give DFO feedback they showed up at the meeting with 13 staff. That’s right, 13 staff when 2-3 would have sufficed. Many of these staff had taken at least two flights to get to the meeting, rented cars, and were there for two days staying in some hotel. What’s the estimated cost of that type of frivolous spending?

Directions for Mixing and Baking:

Bake these ingredients in a bureaucratic malaise of about 10,000 employees, an east coast Minister with a distinguished career in Revenue Canada, and decades of Royal Commissions, public inquiries, and Auditor General reports.

Suggested icing?

Lemon-Inaction Glaze (for enhanced tartness)

(Future recipes to come…)

British Columbia wild salmon: denial stage

In the late 1960s psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book: On Death and Dying. In that book Kübler-Ross described the Five Stages of Grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Initially these five stages were applied to people dealing with terminal illnesses; however over the years they’ve been applied to various big events such as divorce, job loss, tragedies, and so on.

When it comes to wild salmon; many folks seem to be exhibiting classic grief stages. It’s hard not to when we look at what’s happened to wild salmon along the Pacific Coast — for example, Fraser River sockeye in British Columbia:

150 years of Fraser River sockeye

Or the current situation with early-timed Chinook on the Fraser River (see yesterday’s post) — which are facing extinction at current numbers and forecasts, with the added threat of Chinook sport fisheries open coast wide in BC right now.

Unfortunately, far too many individuals are only in the first stage of grief: DENIAL.

A few weeks ago I attended the Simon Fraser University-hosted Summit on Fraser River Sockeye: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future.  I listened to a very senior biologist with an international organization responsible for assisting in managing Fraser sockeye suggest that the declining productivity of sockeye in some rivers “has a silver lining”.

The “silver lining” as he explained is that many of these rivers with declining runs and productivity — for example the Bowron River up near where I live in Prince George — have small runs of sockeye and thus we don’t have to be that concerned with the significantly declining productivity.

During the question period I made it very clear that the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation didn’t see any “silver lining” in the “small” run of the Bowron declining rapidly. So rapidly, that the Bowron run, which spawns in the world famous paddling route of the Bowron Lakes is looking at potential returns this year of less than 1000. This despite maximum runs of 35,000 over the last 50 years. Lheidli folks have voluntarily not fished the Bowron run for somewhere near 30 years. There is absolutely no “silver lining” for them.

Many other scientists at the Summit also exhibited classic denial characteristics, as did the “Fraser Sockeye Think Tank” convened in late 2009. The Think Tank advocated for more research to deal with the issues and suggested that overfishing was not the problem…

In meetings this past week, I listened to Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) deny that there are serious issues with early-timed Fraser Chinook. Their denial is further proven by the fact that DFO figures the run is healthy enough to support having sport fisheries open on the BC coast right now. If sport fisheries are open, DFO is implicitly suggesting that First Nation food, social, and ceremonial fisheries will be fulfilled — as the First Nation fisheries have priority due to Constitutional and legal obligations.

One has to wonder: why the denial? At the scientific and government levels?

Any thoughts?

Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans Canada?

This is a follow-up to a post from March 12 — Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws? — in relation to how Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is managing Fraser River Early Spring Chinook. This population is referred to as the 4 sub2’s — meaning that these Chinook largely return when they are four years old after spending 2 years in freshwater and 2 years in the ocean.

This year’s pre-season forecasts from Fisheries and Oceans (in January 2010) states:

Extremely poor escapements [spawners] in 2009. Record lows at Nicola (440), Coldwater (26) and Louis Creek (10). 2009 was the fourth successive year where recruitment failed to replace parental spawning abundance.

This means the runs are so small, there are so few Chinook spawning that there will not be enough baby salmon produced, sent to the ocean, and return as adults to spawn — to match the size of the parents run.

This means negative growth. This is like a human population only having one child (or less) per couple.  This means “death-spiral” for any population.

As a result, Fisheries and Oceans has listed these Chinook stocks (along with many other Fraser Chinook stocks) as Status Category #1 meaning “stock is (or is forecast to be) less than 25% of target or is declining rapidly. Directed fisheries are unlikely and there may be a requirement to avoid indirect catch of the stock”.

On a DFO’s scale of one to four — 1 is as bad as it gets.

The Nicola Tribal Association, which represents several First Nations in Thompson River watershed (tributary to the Fraser River) states that at least 10,000 of these early-timed Chinook 4-2’s need to return to the Nicola River for any fishing to occur. Last year, the 2009 season, less than 1000 Chinook returned.

Yet… Fisheries and Oceans just released the 2009 catch data for Fraser Chinook. Last year, estimates suggest that over 50% of the early-timed Chinook were caught last year. This means less than 50% of the run reached the spawning grounds — this doesn’t mean those salmon successfully spawned. Last year was a hot summer in the Fraser River; one of the highest average river temperatures ever recorded (almost mid-20s Celsisus water temperature with some reports of 28 degrees Celsius water temps further inland).

And yet… further… in last year’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plan DFO stated:

In response to the continued decline in abundance of Early-timed Fraser chinook stocks in recent years, the Department put in place additional management measures in 2008 to reduce fishery impacts on Early-timed Fraser chinook by 50% overall, compared with impacts observed in recent years.

The Plan for last year concludes: “Based on the information currently available, it appears that the exploitation rate on Early-timed Fraser chinook in 2008 will be less than observed in 2007, thus meeting the 2008 management objective.” That objective was to reduce fishery impacts by 50% of recent years.

Sorry folks — the management objective was not met. Not even close!

Somewhat close if we compare 2008 to 2007.

  • 2008: total of 35.4% (Canadian &  U.S. exploitation rate)
  • 2007: total of 54.4%

My math isn’t very good however 35.4% is not half of 54.4%.

The exploitation rate in 2007 was the highest in “recent years” — so what if we take an average of say… the last ten years (seems like a fair representation of ‘recent’):

Total exploitation over last ten years on Nicola River Chinook (comprising the bulk of the early-timed Chinook 4-2s):

  • 1999: 28.3%          2004: 32.6%
  • 2000: 40.5%         2005:  49.2%
  • 2001: 17.2%         2006: 33.9%
  • 2002: 11.2%         2007: 54.4%
  • 2003: 31.8%         2008: 35.1%

What is the average of the last ten years? 33.4%

Oh wait, maybe five years is more ‘recent’… so what’s the average over the last five years: 41%

Thus, if DFO’s “Conservation/Sustainability Objectives” the section of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan which the above quotes come from is to: “to reduce fishery impacts on Early-timed Fraser chinook by 50% overall, compared with impacts observed in recent years.

They have failed miserably. They have also told half the truth by suggesting that they have been successful in reducing exploitation by 50%.

Half of the last ten years is about a 16-20% exploitation rate. Better yet, DFO’s own information — a PowerPoint presentation titled “Chinook Salmon Conservation and Proposed Management Approach” — states that for Fraser Spring 4 sub2’s “sustainable exploitation rates currently estimated in 8-11% range for low survival period; populations declining at current exploitation rates.”

So what was the exploitation rate in 2009?  DFO just released this information… wait for it…

50.2 %!!

Utter and complete failure.

This means that DFO allowed over 40% more Fraser early-timed Chinook to be killed than they themselves have deemed is sustainable. Furthermore, DFO’s own plans state: “2009 was the fourth successive year where recruitment failed to replace parental spawning abundance.”

So why the hell did they allow over 50% of the run to be caught by various fisheries?

One disturbing aspect of the 2009 information: the Juan de Fuca (divides southern Vancouver Island from Olympic Peninsula in Washington state) sport fishery jumped from an average of about 1% over the last 10-12 years to almost 12% in 2009.

Not only is DFO efficiently managing these Fraser early-timed Chinook into extinction — they are empowering the sport fishing industry to exact the finishing swipe.

Further Evidence:  at this very moment Chinook sport fisheries remain open coast-wide in B.C.

This despite the fact that First Nations from up and down the Fraser River have called for a moratorium on all fisheries to allow these early-timed Chinook to migrate to their spawning grounds. First Nations gave DFO a March 31 deadline — nothing has been done. Hooks are in the water, fishing derbies are planned, and tension builds.

Fisheries and Oceans have failed miserably in meeting their own conservation/sustainability objectives in reducing exploitation rates by 50% on Fraser River early-timed Chinook.  Last year, exploitation rates jumped by over 15% from the 35% of 2008 to a rate that saw over half of the early-timed Chinook killed in fisheries.

This is unacceptable (and embarrassing).

Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans?

Or, should we just strike another $20 million public inquiry – The [enter name here] Commission into Fraser River Chinook declines?

Or, maybe it’s just time for a fundamental independent review of the entire fisheries management regime responsible for looking after Canada’s Pacific salmon?

cognitive compromise… huh?

In the 1950s, social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted some experiments into the ‘relativizing effect of conversation’.

A small group of individuals was put in a room. All except one of them — the ‘victim’  — in each experimental group were told beforehand about the nature of the experiment. When the group gathered, the ‘victim’ was first shown an object — say a stick — and asked to estimate its length. Let’s say this stick is 24 inches  (two feet), and the ‘victim’ estimates close to the correct length.

Each of the other individuals (in the know) in the group were then asked the same question and as previously instructed, would come up with a ridiculous estimate — like 48 inches or four feet.

The experimenter then returns to the ‘victim’ and says something like: “It seems that you have a very different opinion from everyone else here. Why don’t you have another look at the stick and see if you might want to change your mind about your first estimate.”

Almost every ‘victim’ did revise, typically saying something like: “Well, maybe I did underestimate, maybe it isn’t 24 inches. Maybe it’s closer to 35-40 inches?” In other words, the ‘victim’ was pulled towards the ‘group norm’ or majority.

Curiously, if there were two ‘victims’ instead of one: the two would then huddle together and defend their (of course, perfectly reasonable) original estimate. If ‘victims’ and ‘non-victims’ were evenly divided, a vigorous bargaining process  typically ensued, leading to a cognitive compromise — that is a new “group norm.”

In Asch’s experiment, the dispute was about a matter that could easily be resolved by using a tape measure — although the experimenter denied this — and yet the cognitive power of conversation still led to compromise. In other words, conversation had a relativizing effect even on the perception of a physical object, the length of which could, in principle, be decided by using a measuring device.

When it comes to an individual’s views about certain realities that can’t be subjected to scrutiny by way of sense perception — such as religious or political views — there are no commonly agreed upon measuring devices. It follows that the power of conversation will be that much greater in those cases. What’s plausible, and what’s not plausible, will be largely determined by the nature of the conversation about it (i.e. shifting the “group norm”).

Sociology of knowledge suggests this phenomenon is a “plausibility structure.” This is the social context within which any particular definition of reality is suggested to be ‘plausible’ or ‘realistic’.

If you’re not familiar with the current fraud charges against U.S. banking and financial institution Goldman Sachs — which flows from flawed financial derivatives such as the sub-prime mortgage fiasco — check into it and you can see the power of ‘group norms’ and flawed ‘plausibility structures’ at work. Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton was quoted in media today apologizing for deregulating financial markets that largely led to the disaster of the last few years. (Curiously, one of Clinton’s main financial advisers at the time was a former Goldman Sachs executive.)

Thus… one might suggest that when Fisheries and Oceans convened (in 2003 and 2004) a group of “fisheries experts” to begin designing a computer simulation model to attempt to better look after sockeye salmon in the Fraser River — that ‘group norms’; ‘plausibility structure’ determined by conversation, and plain common sense might all be impacted.

The Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) has evolved from frequent gatherings of fisheries scientists (within and outside of Fisheries and Oceans) over the last eight years (see earlier posts Free Money – Part I and Free Money – Part II). It’s a computer simulation model that’s supposed to give the Canadian public confidence that Fisheries and Oceans is best managing wild sockeye according to:

  1. Conservation  (i.e. not causing sockeye runs and stocks to go extinct and ensuring salmon support ecosystems)
  2. First Nation food, social, and ceremonial purposes (enshrined in Canadian Constitution and Supreme Court decisions)
  3. Well-managed commercial and sport fisheries

Unfortunately, maybe too many fisheries focussed scientists (and DFO bureaucrats) are now trying to suggest that maybe regular folks should simply shift to their 48-inch stick view — even though it’s quite clear the 48-inch estimates are significantly flawed.

Unfortunately, we can’t even have a discussion about it, because apparently the calculations that went into reaching the 48-inch stick estimate are so complex that us mere 24-inch stick seers will never understand. And thus, there is no ‘nature of conversation that might shift plausibility.’

“Just accept that we are right… we do not need any cognitive compromise.”

Sadly, the only measuring device we have to determine whether an 8-year, significantly flawed, computer simulation model for determining fishing options (even though there has been no Fraser sockeye fishery for 3 years) is the actual long-term health of the Fraser sockeye runs themselves over the coming sockeye generations.

Simple as that.

Therefore, for something as crucial as avoiding Fraser sockeye stock extinctions, do we want to be measuring by guesstimate built upon guesstimate, built upon silicon microprocessors to determine when “we’re going fishing”?

Or, do we want to base our measurements upon the health of rebuilding Fraser sockeye runs to somewhere between the 165 million sockeye of the peak cycle years of the 1800s — and the 15 million or so average of the late 1900s?

(Last year saw about 1 million return)

Rather than determining ‘fishing options’ should we maybe focus more on rebuilding and precaution?

Rather than 8 years and countless millions of dollars on staff/consultant time and computer hardware; maybe put countless million of dollars into habitat restoration and conservation?

Rather than spending more money trying to convince everyone a computer simulation model is the answer and to accept this as the group norm — why not demonstrate some actual measures of what a rebuilt Fraser sockeye run might look like, should look like, once looked like, could look like…?