Monthly Archives: August 2010

here’s the chorus: we just don’t know; we just don’t know…

A few days away camped on an isolated beach with family… and big surprise… the Fraser sockeye forecast has grown again, by another 5 million or so. We’re now pushing 30 million total returns into the Fraser.

In relation to DFO’s forecasting, this is higher than the 10% probability — 90p as DFO calls it… e.g. 90% probability that the run won’t be this size.

I can hear the post season meetings now:

DFO: “well… we kind of got it, our 10% guess was almost right”.

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One thing is clear: DFO is public enemy #1 right now. From commercial fishers to a particular Conservative MP in Vancouver (I just find it so odd that Mr. Cummins Conservative MP for Delta area is a member of the governing federal party… maybe someone should send him a memo…)

The National Post has a curious article:

Salmon’s bittersweet return

Apparently the commercial industry is up in arms because the capacity to process sockeye is limited. Curious how no fishery in three years might do that. I can follow the ire directed towards DFO to a certain degree from the commercial sector… however, being ready for all possibilities is not the job of DFO. It seems a bit of wanting cake and eating it too when the commercial sector gets angry at DFO because of blown forecasts; however then also blames DFO for not having the capacity.

This seems parallel to me… with blaming the financial melt-down of the last few years on your financial advisor. It’s all their fault that my RRSP was halved in value and retirement just moved from 65 to 85…

No… it’s not the fault of the advisor… the meltdown was far beyond their control (unless of course they had you 100% in stocks — U.S. banking stocks at that…)

I do understand being frustrated about commercial openings and the like… but blaming the capacity — or lack of — of the industry. Well, no, sorry can’t buy that one.

If I ran my own business ventures completely dependent on, for example, weather forecasting (which is more accurate than salmon forecasting)… say, I was in the farming crops business… would it make sense to blame Environment Canada for not having the capacity to harvest a boon of wheat due to much-better-than-forecasted weather?

let the next blown forecast grow… the good news-bad news story

The Globe and Mail ran the article yesterday:

With biggest salmon run in nearly a century, hope returns to the Fraser

Pacific Salmon Commission predicts more than 25 million sockeye, more than double earlier forecast.

Good news is… great to see so many fish predicted to return as a total run size, but not what will hit the spawning grounds.

Bad news is… last year pre-season forecast blown about 9 million on the high side; this year blown about 14 million on the low side (at least the median forecast — 50p… there’s lots of wiggle room on either side)


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Is it science? or is it guess-timate?

From the website

How do we define science? According to Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of science is “knowledge attained through study or practice,” or “knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world.”

What does that really mean? Science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge. This system uses observation and experimentation to describe and explain natural phenomena. The term science also refers to the organized body of knowledge people have gained using that system. Less formally, the word science often describes any systematic field of study or the knowledge gained from it.

What is the purpose of science? Perhaps the most general description is that the purpose of science is to produce useful models of reality.

I suppose it’s certainly a systematic field of study, and there is knowledge gained from it… (even if that might be: the more we know, the more we don’t know…)

“Useful models of reality”? Well…

In-season Fraser sockeye forecasting… making it up as we go

On a post earlier this week I linked to the August 20, 2010 Watershed Talk — a publication of the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS).

Watershed Talk August 20 2010

FRAFS staff (biologists) have written a decent summary of some of the shenanigans of this year’s sockeye forecasting: “Fraser Sockeye In-season Update – A good year for sockeye!

Apparently some of my comments from earlier this year on effectiveness of some of the hydroacoustics and DIDSON-related counting methods may not be that far off. Some folks have tried to suggest that these methods are rather “exact”; others have suggested they are voodoo-science at best. I think my perspective is somewhere in the middle… decent tools for getting a rough idea of fish migration in deep, large, murky rivers.

The article outlines how Pacific Salmon Commission staff have discovered that the hydroacoustic counting methods utilized at Mission (in the lower Fraser Valley — Vancouver suburbs) has count discrepancies when compared to similar counting methods utilized a little ways further upstream at Qualark. The Qualark counts have been much higher than the Mission counts — they should be quite similarly related as it is the same river, with a few tributaries that sockeye may migrate up between the two counting stations.

While the estimates have been correlating fairly well for part of the run, Qualark has been generating slightly higher numbers than has Mission. However, in recent days that difference has grown significantly. Salmon Commission staff have analyzed the differences and are quite confident that the recent Qualark estimates are indeed correctly reflecting a stronger return (higher number of fish) than has Mission. They have adjusted all their in-season run size estimates and are currently assessing the reasons for the discrepancy. The width of the river at Mission, water depth, and fish behaviour are thought to be confounding the Mission hydroacoustic estimates.

“Adjusting in-season run size estimates” due to “confounding” factors (e.g. fish behavior… those darn fish, what are they thinking…) — I call that “making it up”. And, I don’t mean that as a shot at the professionalism or scientific acumen of folks involved… it’s simply that using electronic machinery to count biological critters generally results in estimates at-best.

And really, how can we be so sure that the “higher” returns being seen at Qualark are more accurate?


And what are the numbers informing in-season estimates… well… scale samples from test fisheries.

How many scale samples?

Well… here’s the charts from the Pacific Salmon Commission info sent out prior to conference calls:

PSC scale samples from test fishing

Along the far left “Area/Gear” refers to fishing area — for example first line is Area 20 (just west of Victoria in Juan de Fuca) purse seine. The second column with the date and (n) with “n” referring to the number of scale samples (as far as I understand it… anyways). Then it’s % of Fraser sockeye. Then it’s the stock percentages broke out into the four groups made up of approximately 19 stocks, of which there are actually about 200 distinct Fraser sockeye stocks. Each acronym for those stocks is at the bottom broken down into the four groups.

How accurate is this info?

Well, on the Area 12 purse seine on Aug. 21 — approx. middle line of chart — over 26,000 sockeye were caught in that particular segment of the test fishery that day. And n=99?

Is one to surmise that 99 scale samples out of 26,000 fish caught gives a good representation of the stocks… hmmm??

On Aug. 19th there was an all time record catch in the Area 12 purse seine test fishery: 84,040.

Scale samples: n=99.

99 scale samples from 84,000 fish sounds like a very accurate prediction tool…

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My point here isn’t necessarily to take shots at the methods, as I’m not a pre-eminent fisheries scientists and would not be able to make better suggestions. My point is that the methods of “confirming” all these estimates (e.g. computer models, simulations, test fishing, scale samples, hydroacoustics, etc.) is by confirming Sockeye spawners on the spawning grounds.

Spawner estimates is a wonderful example of more — exactly as it says — “estimates”. There’s mark-recapture, counting fences, stream walks, helicopter overflights, and other wonderful estimating tools.

As much as many folks suggest this whole salmon thing is a very precise practice… it is far from it.

It is simply fancy tools that “kick-out” fancy estimates.

There are lots of good folks working hard at these estimates — however they’re still fancy estimates with absolutely no method to truly “confirm” that the models, scale sampling, test fishing, and so on are “accurate”.

Then throw in terms like “ecosystem-based management” — ever present in the Wild Salmon Policy — and I tend to call ‘bullshit’.

We simply don’t know… we’re trying hard to estimate; but really… we’re making it up as we go along… and that’s OK; it’s the defensiveness and insistence by those involved that we do know what’s going on…

well… i think this year is a fine example that we definitely do not know.

Cohen Commission: change the name? Commission into how we just don’t know.

The Cohen Commission is currently subtitled: “Commission of Inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

Is this starting to seem a little silly with the estimates now being “kicked out” by the Pacific Salmon Commission and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?

The other day the Commission put out a in-season estimate on Fraser sockeye of over 19 million. Watershed Talk — a newsletter published by the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS) — has a decent summary of the most recent information coming out of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Watershed Talk August 20 2010

19 million is a far cry from the pre-season estimate (50% probability) of a little over 11 million.

By the time the season is over could we see a total Fraser sockeye run twice the size of pre-season estimates? (remember, total run size.. not what’s reaching the spawning grounds)

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I can hear the voices now: “commission of inquiry into the decline of Fraser sockeye… what the ^#@*?… there’s no decline… this year is a record return… what a waste of money…let’s get fishing”

(oh wait… I think I have heard a voice or two on that note…)

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I have a proposal… maybe the Cohen Commission could focus on the fact that we don’t have a frigging clue… DFO doesn’t have a frigging clue… and the Pacific Salmon Commission really doesn’t know either (despite some good folks working hard).

Or as Dr. Carl Walters (University of BC) suggested in a comment on this website recently: “A lot of people have devoted their lives to collecting and analyzing sockeye data.”

The comment might be a bit dramatic… maybe more realistic would be a good chunk of their adult academic lives (with some decent funding attached…DFO?). However, maybe focusing on sockeye for that long could be part of the issue…?

I recently came across a 2006 report on grizzly bears (funded by BC Hydro) in the Lilloet valley area.The report opens with:

There is little known of grizzly bear density, distribution, or population connectivity in British Columbia’s southern Coast Ranges. This knowledge gap is of concern given the wide range of land resource demands, particularly in and around the Sea to Sky Planning Area where there is potential for excessive cumulative impacts resulting from the area’s growing recreational popularity, associated development trends, and its accessibility from the nearby lower mainland.

The basic conclusion? Very little is known about grizzlies in the valley — with the exception that many folks suggest there have been large declines in the population, but no one can really say why.

Gee… maybe declines of major food source…?

sockeye are part of a much, much larger system that we — simply — will never, ever understand.

As we can see this year, the sockeye are suggesting to us all —- We Just Don’t Know.

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This year folks will be screaming for a public inquiry into the increases of sockeye salmon. Or an inquiry into why an inquiry was called. Or an inquiry into the inquiry…

Or more rightfully named: a Commission into the decline of knowing what the heck is going on with Fraser salmon.

(As I’m guessing Justice Cohen and his multiple legal staff are discovering as they wade through opinions from absolute opposite sides of the “pre-eminent” scientific spectrum… “fish ’em all” to “fish none of ’em”

How did former US defence secretary Rumsfeld phrase it: we know what we don’t know; we don’t know what we know; we don’t know what we don’t know… or however the hell that was phrased.

Basic premise: we don’t know, so let’s stop pretending that we do know, and maybe start being a lot more precautionary.

Because at a fundamental level… all we’re really discussing is: should we be catching fish and how much (plus the difficult equations for allocations) vs. should we leave them to do what they’ve done for millions of years…  you know… like… spawn and die… and feed millions of critters in the process

(no, no some say… that’s a waste…)

fish fence installaton

Our family traveled from Prince George to Haida Gwaii over the last few days for a 10-day visit to the islands. Along the way we stopped at the Stellako River where folks from the Stellat’en First Nation were installing their fish counting fence to count upper Fraser sockeye — just upstream of Fraser Lake.

What an operation.

lots of work

water bomber heading to nearby fire

what a schmozzle!?

In-season forecasts for Fraser sockeye continue to climb, climb, climb… Last year pre-season was high; in-season reality was disastrously low. This year pre-season forecast low (manipulated computer models to make it so); in-season reality substantially higher than pre-season forecast.

Early Summer pre-season forecast = ~760,000… In-season is now 2.9 million.

Summers pre-season forecast = ~2.6 million… In-season is now at 4 million.

Late summers pre-season forecast = ~8 million… In-season is creeping up, now at 8.5 million.

Yup… good thing we know what’s going on out there….

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On another note, former DFO scientist Otto Langer has resigned from a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) committee due to the MSC’s decision to “eco-certify” Fraser sockeye fisheries.

Richmond biologist quits MSC over sockeye certification

There is reference to the work of the Cohen Commission — e.g. the decision by the MSC to certify undermines the Commission. Funnily enough, from what I understand of the MSC they have a policy that suggests they won’t intervene or make decisions on fisheries that are subjects of court proceedings or things like public inquiries….

Ah well… I guess policies are just ‘guidelines’… like the Wild Salmon Policy… or the BC bike helmet law…

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I do feel for Justice Cohen… ridiculous timelines; rushed priorities; disbanded scientific panel; resignations, etc… Maybe we’ll get a federal election call in the middle of this as well…

Should be some interesting public hearings… granted folks only get 10 minutes…

Cohen Commisson: Science Advisory Panel disbanded; member speaks out

Yesterday evening just before dinner, on the CBC Radio program All Points West here in BC, host Joanne Roberts spoke to Dr. Carl Walters regarding the recently “disbanded” Cohen Commission Scientific Advisory Panel. I was  a bit surprised by the use of the word disbanded, as that was most-certainly not the phrase used in the Commission news release the other day.

The news release is worded slickly. Reading it may leave one with the impression that many of the “pre-eminent” scientists involved on the Panel may be taking on the twelve “research” projects related to the Commission’s work; or maybe another function. The word “disbanded” … not used.

Surprisingly as well… was the reason given by Dr. Walters for the disbanding — e.g. the controversy surrounding many of the members potential for conflict of interest (see a few earlier posts on this site).

Dr. Walters didn’t mention the potential for conflict of interest (which includes himself); however he did bring up the controversy surrounding some of the appointments. Maybe that includes the resignation of Dr. Brian Riddell?– a 30+ yr DFO scientist prior to leaving DFO, and taking over at the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

This reasoning is a bit of a slippery slope, and I’m sure there’s potentially more to the story — however, is there not a danger now, that the Cohen Commission could be perceived as flawed and susceptible to public pressure?

Might one not suggest, that as the Cohen Commission works feverishly to produce some 10,000+ pages of paper (with writing on them) by May 2011 that various public interest groups can just start squawking and screeching and thus influence the workings of the Commission?

Furthermore, if the reasons for disbanding the Scientific Panel are because folks were right — in raising the potential for conflict of interest — is the early work of the Commission now tainted? How big are the finger prints of the individuals on the Commission who were potentially in a conflict of interest?

First a resignation, then a full disbanding…?

And now what happens if the public doesn’t like the researchers chosen for the 12 research priorities?


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And then to add more pie in the face, Dr. Walters decided to take some parting shots. He sounded a bit like a kid who was selected last for the school yard game of red rover. He figured that his idea for research priorities should have been chosen — the idea that commercial fisheries have “lost out” on some $100 million of economic opportunities because of DFO mis-management.

He explained that he feels that DFO management of sockeye salmon is a giant experiment (of which I most certainly agree); however, he suggests the current method of allocating commercial catch is messed because commercial fisherfolks should be getting much higher allocations.

His suggestion is that in the 1990s, DFO started to reduce the total percentage of Fraser sockeye caught from the highs of 70-80% of the run  down closer to 50% of the run. He figures that this is the reason for the lower productivity that we are now experiencing because in essence ‘too many salmon are spawning’ and this means that baby salmon have too much competition in their nursery lakes and thus fewer baby salmon heading out to sea, and in turn fewer adults returning.

Apparently, Dr. Walters a long-time fisheries scientist and often outspoken individual, has bought into the idea of Maximum Sustainable Yield, which in my humble observations obviously ain’t too sustainable now is it?

Now, I’m not a “pre-eminent” fisheries scientist — nor is Ms. Roberts who hosts the CBC Radio program — however her tone was indicative of mine… although, I think I might have dropped a few more f-bombs with question marks (not too appropriate for public radio). Ms. Roberts questions and puzzlement were much more politely phrased.

I would most certainly like to see Dr. Walters’ data on this issue — as I’ve pointed out in many other posts, the history of “fisheries science” is not such a good one. Actually… maybe it’s one of the most questionable of “scientific” practices (I can hear the tomatoes hitting my computer now…). There’s a reason why the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has suggested that well over 70% of the world’s fished fisheries populations are either over-exploited, fully exploited, or trying to recover. The history of fisheries science and management over the last century or so, is abysmal.

Of course, many might suggest the problem is more the “management” not the “science”…

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Dr. Walters’ logic suggests that because DFO has allowed “too many” fish into the river — the commercial fishing industry has “missed out” on over $100 million of “economic opportunities”.

Wow… strong statement. Enough to incite rioting in the fishing crews of the coast.

Sadly, and this is my main point on this issue, Dr. Walters has maybe not traveled to enough BC First Nation communities that depend on Fraser sockeye (however, maybe he has and has some better logic on this issue). Under the Constitution of Canada within Section 35 rights (as I understand it, and I stand to be corrected) — the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to provide First Nations with access to fish to meet food, social and ceremonial (FSC) needs.

In the upper Fraser River — this requirement has not been met in most First Nation communities for decades… if not the last century. It’s written clear as day in the Wild Salmon Policy and it’s clear in legislation, and it’s been clear in the courts.When it comes to salmon:

  • Conservation first;
  • then First Nation food, social, and ceremonial needs;
  • then commercial and sport allocations (depending on species for which interest group first)

I know many folks out there love to quibble about this and some like to make right-leaning comments and lack of equality and race-based fisheries and so on and so on… yet the law is pretty clear on this one; as is the Constitution.

Like it or not that’s what we have to go by.

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So, maybe before Dr. Walters starts carrying on about all the “lost economic opportunities” at the mouth of the river, inciting rage in the commercial fishing boat owners, and suggesting the Cohen Commission should be looking into this issue… we could add a research project to the twelve listed by the Cohen Commission that looks into just what are the food, social and ceremonial needs of First Nations for the 150 or so different Nations, Bands and communities that depend on the annual return of salmon. As that has higher priority than commercial fisheries — by law.

How much has the catch for communities dwindled over the last 50-60 years when DFO management kicked in?

The needs are most certainly, more than the arbitrary 1 million that’s thrown their way now in Fraser allocations.

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Or maybe, just maybe, we could investigate what are true needs of the ecosystem — in regards to salmon returns. What do the bears need?

In the 1930s a study conducted in the Columbia River watershed found (through sampling grizzly bear fur) found that grizzly bears over 1000 km from the ocean depended on up to 90% of their diet from salmon. How has that changed? How has it changed in the Fraser?

It’s great that the Commission is looking at marine predation… but how about marine animal needs, the needs of animals upstream, and so on?

Just some thoughts…

DFO forecasting… is it as bad as Tiger Woods’ golf these days?


Another August day… another Pacific Salmon Commission and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Fraser sockeye update.

The press release issued by DFO yesterday states:

Subject: FN0672-Salmon: Fraser River Sockeye Update – August 17 – Areas 11 to 29

The Fraser River Panel met today to review stock assessment data on the Fraser River sockeye runs, plan fisheries, and discuss sockeye migration conditions in the Fraser River watershed.

Test fishing data collected over the past several days indicates continued strong migration of Fraser sockeye through the marine approach routes. DNA analyses indicate that the stock composition of Fraser sockeye in the Areas 12 [near Campbell River – Johnstone Strait on Vancouver Island] and 20 [near Victoria in Juan de Fuca] marine approach routes to the Fraser River are ranging about 12-17% Early Summer-run, 18-32% Summer-run, and 56-64% Late-run sockeye.

The diversion rate of Fraser sockeye through Johnstone Strait is currently estimated to be approximately 74%. The migration of sockeye past Mission and Hells Gate has also been strong over the past several days. The estimated total catch of Fraser sockeye to-date is 1,669,000 fish. Total escapement past Mission is 3,167,000 for a total accounted to date of 4,836,000 fish.

The marine migration of Early Summer-run sockeye is dropping off in the latest samples; the current run size estimate of 2,400,000 Early Summer-run sockeye was increased to 2,600,000 fish [pre-season estimate was 783,000]. The 50% marine migration timing of Early Summer-run sockeye through Area 20 is estimated to be August 4. The estimated escapement of Early Summer-run sockeye past Mission through August 16 is 1,400,000 fish.

The marine migration of Summer-run sockeye has increased in recent days. At the meeting today, the Panel approved a run size increase from 3,000,000 Summer-run sockeye to 3,300,000 [pre-season forecast was 2.6 million]. The 50% marine migration timing of Summer-run sockeye through Area 20 is August 10. The estimated escapement of Summer-run sockeye past Mission through August 16 is 1,139,000 fish.

Late-run sockeye are increasing in proportion of the sockeye migrating through the marine approach areas and there are early indications that a portion of them are delaying in the lower Strait of Georgia prior to entering the Fraser River. The gulf troll test fishery started Monday to conduct assessments of the abundance of Late-run sockeye that are delaying their migration. A total abundance assessment for Late-run sockeye should be available later this coming week.

At the meeting today run size estimate of 700,000 Harrison sockeye was unchanged with 50% marine timing through Area 20 of August 4. The estimated escapement of Late-run sockeye past Mission through August 16 is 931,000 fish.

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Last year, somewhere around 10-11 million in the pre-season forecast… only about 1.3 million show up. A blown forecast by about a factor of 10 — ten times.

This year, we’re approaching a parallel experience…just the opposite way: somewhere around 11 million forecast, and now an in-season estimate approaching 15 million total run size (remember, not what will reach the spawning grounds, but what is estimated as total run size approaching the Fraser River before catches and death).

Sure, some folks might suggest this a “good thing” as at least it’s blowing the forecast the right way. Going low… and getting higher returns.

But is this really a good thing? Or, simply an even stronger sign that “we just don’t know”?

Or did folks actually utilize the precautionary approach in the forecasting tools? hmmm…

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The Early Stuart pre-season forecast was blown by almost 2.5 times: 41,000 forecast; now over 105,000 in-season estimate of total run size.

Similar story on the Early Summers: 783,000 pre-season forecast now with an in-season estimate now 2.6 million. That’s what… blown by almost 3.5 times.

The Summers: pre-season total run size predictions of 2.6 million now approaching in-season estimates of 3.3 million, blown by 700,000 fish, approximately 0.3 times.

What’s next?

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If this was the accuracy of weather forecasts… would you ever try and schedule a family picnic by the forecast?

What if this sort of lack of accuracy or certainty was displayed by your financial planner?

(Oh wait, for First Nations and commercial fisherfolks… salmon forecasting has relations to financial planning and more…)

What if this sort of rampant inaccuracy was displayed by Tiger Woods on the golf course… oh wait, it sort of was last week (if you follow that sort of thing).

What happens when Tiger starts sucking on the golf course…?

Well… sponsors start threatening to pull $$. (we’ll leave that little infidelity issue alone…)

What happens when DFO starts sucking on their forecasting…? Well… not much… except maybe a paper-producing and shuffling public inquiry… (the fifth in 20 years or so).

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My point here is that this whole exercise of pre-season and in-season forecasting is a wildly inaccurate exercise. It’s guess-timates at best. It’s like the old kids game of guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar posing as “exact science”.

For example, in reading the press release I pasted above: “The estimated total catch of Fraser sockeye to-date is 1,669,000 fish. Total escapement past Mission is 3,167,000 for a total accounted to date of 4,836,000 fish.”

Those numbers pose as: exact.

The estimated catch is 1.669 million. The ‘estimate‘ (they forgot this important word in the press release) past Mission (remember these are numbers “kicked out” by looking at various sonar and other contraptions — exact science to some; voodoo science to others) is 3.167 million. Add those two together and we get exactly 4.836 million fish total run size estimate for all Fraser sockeye right now.

But what about the seals, and orcas, and shit flowing out of the over 2 million strong urban Centre of Vancouver, and natural mortality, and the big physiological changes that adult sockeye undergo while moving from ocean salt water to fresh Fraser River water, and unaccounted catch (e.g. sport fishers and others) and so on…?

Nope, this is precise stuff salmonguy.

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And as we get to the end of the season, what do we have to confirm that all of these test fishing models, and scale sampling, and commercial fish catch estimates, and sport catch and First Nation catch estimates, and “Management Adjustments” and natural mortality and sonar counts and DIDSON counts and so on, and so on —- are in fact accurate?

Well… we have spawner counts: like more sonar and DIDSON devices, and folks walking streams counting fish, and fish wheels, and mark-recapture studies and helicopter flights (wildly accurate… right?), and computer models and simulations, and a whole lot of paper shuffling that makes lots of noise like a herd of wildebeest…

And what are we left with… well…. ESTIMATES.

Good ol’ fashion estimates. Just like grandma makin bread… “whaddaya need measuring cups for… I know it by sight and feel…”

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It’s not that I have a solution to this “estimating” game it’s just that it gets a bit frustrating and disappointing when fisheries decisions are  made on some lame statement such as: “we know what’s going on out there”.

We don’t; it’s an experiment.

As such, a much more precautionary approach is required. Because really… what’s wrong with getting lots of fish onto the spawning grounds?

(0ver-escapement… phooey… not on the returns these days).

Running around suggesting that salmon science is exact — is akin to having a doctor trained on the old game “Operation” doing heart surgery…

hey, now there’s an idea… every time a Fisheries bureaucrat starts carrying on about how exact the science is, they get a loud buzz and shock — similar to the old board game…

Cohen Commission: making it up as we go along…

Yesterday the Cohen Commission issued a news release:  Cohen Commission Aug 17 news release.

As suggested:

At the beginning of the commission’s scientific research program a Scientific Advisory Panel composed of six pre-eminent fisheries scientists was created to assist with the development of the commission’s scientific research program. The commission has determined it is appropriate to transition from the model of the Scientific Advisory Panel to a new model that will focus on the peer review of the researchers’ reports.

Might we surmise that there is no connection between this and the many potential conflict of interest implications of several of the scientific advisors and the resignation of former DFO scientist Dr. Brian Riddell?

Would appear that Ms. Shore (the PR specialist hired to do communications) did a marvelous job of wording this press release. A good public relations consultant can be worth the significant invoices. There’s certainly a reference in the news release to the folks out there that have suggested: maybe having folks that have done significant amounts of work on the Department of Fisheries and Oceans dime may not be the most “independent” advisors for looking into the broken piggy bank that is DFO…

“The Panel members, all pre-eminent scientists with a high degree of expertise in the areas to be investigated by the commission, have performed their advisory role in a completely independent, professional manner in the best interests of the commission,” said Wallace [senior commission counsel].

I’d be curious to know what the “best interests of the commission” means…? Does that mean the “public”? Or does that mean in the best interests of the folks that created and funded the Commission… (e.g. Mr. Steve-O Harper)? Or does that mean in the best interests of the advisors, as they are part of “the commission”?

Curious statement…

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In essence, what the news release might really be suggesting is that the batter for Cohen cookies is being made from scratch — not from the recipe book…(unfortunately, I just hope that the first ingredient isn’t a whole lot of cups of chaff and not a lot of flour…and lacking significantly in chocolate chips):

The commission is also considering other processes for exploring the various technical and scientific issues, such as panel discussions and forums in which experts retained by the commission and those nominated by participants could exchange views and challenge each other’s findings and conclusions in an open but non-adversarial setting.

Here we are approaching nine months left in the Commission’s ridiculous time line (deadline of May 2011 for final report) and the “model” for the scientific panel has changed and we are “considering other processes for exploring”…. Yikes…

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Accompanying the finely crafted new release basically stating: ‘we are really making this up as we go’ — is a BackgrounderCohen Commission Aug 17 backgrounder outlining all the “technical and scientific research projects” that the Commission is undertaking (twelve of them). Here they are with some commentary and thoughts:

Project 1 of Cohen Commission

Excellent… however, in the 10,000 full time equivalents (FTEs) currently hired by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) — which by the way has the legislated mandate to “CONSERVE WILD SALMON” — has not been able in the last fifty years to hire or contract out a “veterinary scientist” to take a broad view…?

Project 2

Did you read my commentary on Project 1?

Ummm, wouldn’t “contaminants” in relation to “distribution of sockeye Conservation Units” (CUs) be a pretty key component of a Wild Salmon Policy that apparently contains somewhere between 35-45 Sockeye CUs in the Fraser River (it’s constantly changing)…?

Oh no… well… hold on a second… we do have a Wild Salmon Policy in Canada… we have for five years as legislation and well over ten as draft legislation…

Project 3

Now there’s a thought… great plan. I’ll be looking forward to reading the report on this project… but wait a second… wouldn’t this also be a pretty damn important part of a DFO staffer job description? Wouldn’t this be a crucial part of implementing an effective Wild Salmon Policy?

Project 4

Last time I checked it was called the: Department of Fisheries and OCEANS… 10,000 FTEs and there isn’t a specific research arm looking at this…?

Project five

Well… HELLO Province of British Columbia… wasn’t this your mandate? Oh yeah, the courts just determined that the federal government screwed up ‘royally’ when they handed the management of salmon farms to the Province… And how does that new proposed salmon farm legislation look?

(ever heard the expression “dilution is the solution to pollution”?  Yeah, it’s also the solution to drafting legislation…)

Projects Seven and Eight

uh huh… please refer to previous comments. Last time I checked it was called the Department of FISHERIES and OCEANS

Project nine

Looking forward to reading this one as well… however, there is also this brilliant concept out there… it’s been around awhile… PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE… (I use it from time to time when I drive through a traffic light intersection…).

By the way have you seen Environment Canada’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Climate Change… it’s only about 52 pages… nice light read. What do you think this report will get to? (triple that… quad… quint…)

Project 10

Could be an interesting read… However, please refer to job description of DFO researchers tasked with this… oh wait… there isn’t one.

“Over-escapement”? Please read Joseph Campbell’s many fascinating books on myths and storytelling.

This is a concept crafted about the same time as Kraft Dinner. How can there be such a thing when the same Fraser River once supported sockeye populations of over 160 million fish on peak years?

Project eleven

Another good read, I’m sure. I’m very curious about the economic analysis (see numbers from last year on #1 most popular post on this site $2 for one wild salmon) and DFO’s abilities…  Just wondering if this will be like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace… rather longgggg…

Project twelve

Great idea… DFO where you been on this one. Isn’t there a “no net loss” to habitat policy? And really… how does one replace over 100 streams lost in the lower Fraser Valley over the last few decades due to urbanization?

_ _ _ _ _

Now I recognize my posts can sometimes can get a little long and windy… but how many pages do you think these twelve research reports will entail…. 2500 pages…? 5000 pages…? 10,000 pages?

I seem to remember a press release from the Cohen Commission not that long ago explaining delays in the hearing process due to the hundreds of thousands of DFO documents flowing into their offices like the landslide near Pemberton.

So now, there are close to 100 days of hearings scheduled from October through the New Year (five days a week for 20 weeks) for individuals and organizations granted “standing”… there are days and days of hearings for public presentations throughout the Province… and now the Commission is “considering other processes for exploring the various technical and scientific issues”…

PLUS, these twelve projects:

In most cases, the researchers will provide the commission with a progress report by November 15, 2010 and a final report by January 31, 2011. These reports will be peer-reviewed with researchers and external reviewers providing critical analysis. The researchers will summarize their findings and conclusions during the commission’s public evidentiary hearings in the winter, at which counsel for participants will have an opportunity to question the researchers and test their theories.

AND THEN… Justice Cohen is going to analyze all of that and come up with a FINAL REPORT by May 2011 (nine months from now).

Give me a break folks.

One, if Justice Cohen and his crew does achieve this by May 2011 – award them the Nobel Prize or something equivalent.

Two, if the Commission achieves that deadline… how good will their analysis and recommendations be?

Three, if the analysis and recommendations are watered down due to tight timelines.. has the whole exercise really been worth it?

Four, where the ^@#! has DFO been the last five decades on all of the “Projects” announced above?

Lastly… how is someone from the general public, a First Nation, a youth, or otherwise (with much knowledge that may not be “pre-eminent” scientific) be able to review these twelve projects and every other piece of paper pumped out by the Commission and then provide feedback and input?

This “Commission” is simply turning into the realm of lawyers, scientists, and “pre-eminent experts” with very little opportunity for truly informing the public, truly informing youth that will inherit this issue, or providing a true opportunity for public participation. Oh wait, if you’d like to make a public presentation you have to keep it to 10 minutes… thanks for that…

Public input = presentations capped at 10 minutes (sadly, this may be labeled as: tokenism)

Folks and organizations granted “standing” = well over 100 days of hearings

pre-eminent scientists = At least 12 projects, peer review, potential panel discussions, and review by folks granted “standing”, and thousands upon thousands of pre-eminent academic pages that should gather a good solid dose of pre-eminent dust in coming decades…

_ _ _ _

What about the possibility that leaving the “management” of sockeye to pre-eminent scientists and politicians and experts (e.g. Ministers with incredible discretionary decision-making power) could very well be the main issue at hand?

I do remain hopeful that Justice Cohen and his staff can come up with something that can truly make a difference… however, sadly, as the process is being made up along the way and the paper production starts to resemble ten year’s production from a Prince George pulp mill… I get a bit sad.

Is this simply a $15-$20 million paper production exercise…? will it come up with anything better than the last five public inquiries into the issue in the last 20 years?

Good luck…truly.

I hope that this is the pre-eminent public inquiry that truly creates the change in how we look after Fraser sockeye — once the pre-eminent sockeye run of the world.

Visiting salmon and mountains and beautiful places

Food fish smokehouse: Moose Valley Gathering -- Skeena - Sustut

Thankfully been away from the computer for several days.  Several days camped in a very powerful part of B.C.

Ingenika Lakes — Continental divide between Arctic-Mackenzie drainage and Skeena-Sustut drainage (click on image to get a little higher resolution)

Standing in the divide that separates Arctic Canada from Pacific Canada. To reach Moose Valley, the headwaters of the Sustut River and the Skeena and the Peace River (Finlay River) and nearby to the Stikine River headwaters — one must drive through some of the headwaters areas of the Fraser River.

Was fortunate enough to visit the salmon counting fence on the Sustut River in the far upper reaches of the Skeena River and be around folks getting a few salmon for their winter supplies. A few early Skeena steelhead were also spotted.

Sustut River counting fence

enjoying the sight of wild salmon on the spawning grounds



Upper Sustut: quite a few sockeye, Chinook, and Steelhead in the subalpine & heavy smoke haze (what a place!)