Monthly Archives: August 2010

some big decisions today on Fraser sockeye?

There may be some big decisions today on the morning conference call of the Pacific Salmon Commission. The Fraser River sockeye “Early Summer” group may get a further upgrade in the in-season run size forecast (still an elaborate estimate). If this happens, then more commercial fisheries at the mouth could open to hit these fish.

At this point in time, DFO estimates they have caught 25-30% of the Early Summer run already (approx. 400,000 sockeye). The goal for the year was 25% to protect some stocks within the group.

Fraser River temps are forecast to go above 20 degrees C this coming week and may even peak out at over 21 degrees C. This is deadly for migrating sockeye. But now, of course, lots of folks are “questioning” the models for the river forecasts — however, at the same time weather forecasts are calling for temps peaking at 32 degrees C around Prince George in coming days. I don’t even want to know what this means for places like Kamloops and the Fraser Canyon…

At these temps – the Management Adjustments (MA) – which is a percentage of ‘protection’ given to stock groups (e.g. Early Summers, Summers, etc.)  to protect their migration could reach 100%. On the Early Summers it currently sits at about 84%. If the MA goes to 100% (1.0) then no more fishing for Early Summers as every fish needs to get a chance at swimming upstream.

So if the in-season forecast jumps today, that means the 25% allotted catch on Early Summers will also go up. For example if the run size forecast goes from 1.6 million to 2.0 million this potentially means 25% x 400,000 = 100,000  could be available for catch. But then, if the MA goes up to 1.0 (100%) none of these are available for catch.

100,000 sockeye at say $0.90 to $1.00 per pound (little over $1/lb in Alaska this year) — maybe say an average of 5 lb fish. Let’s say approx. $5 per sockeye then. That’s in the neighborhood of $500,000 of gross revenues to fisherfolks. Add in the value-added processes… etc. etc.

And what we have is a classic debate this morning — between fisheries managers — of economic returns  or environmental returns  — in a literal sense.

($$) vs. (precautionary approach)

Who do you think will win?

getting goals bass ackwards?

This week, listening in on Pacific Salmon Commission – Fraser Panel updates I was struck by an odd tone.

Last week, folks suggested they were trying to “remain optimistic” that the “Summer” run — which was forecast at approx. 2.6 million sockeye pre-season — would peak in the marine area test fisheries over the weekend. Earlier last week it was suggested the “Summers” could be running about 5 days late.

As I alluded to in a post last week  though… sometimes when one assumes something is running “late”… it doesn’t show up at all.

Well… the “Summers” are showing up, it’s just that over this past weekend the “peak” didn’t materialize in the marine areas. In salmon forecasting (esp. on almost 3 million) this can create some dreary folks, as it means that the “peak” has come and gone and the run is actually returning smaller then expected.

This happened on the Skeena River sockeye a little earlier this year. Test fishing was pretty good for a few days, computer models and simulations were pumping out potential run sizes with a decent “surplus” for commercial fisheries. DFO opened commercial fisheries. Test fishing dropped off rather quickly, as some suggested it might, and all of a sudden the run was smaller than predicted and the surplus once thought to be there, went the way of BC government predicted budget “surpluses” over the past few years.

Fishery was closed, no further announcements, and then concerns that maybe spawner numbers in-river might not even be met.

whoops…

_ _ _ _

On Monday’s Pacific Salmon Commission conference call, folks sounded as if family dogs had died over the weekend — and several folks bickered with the reality, as if they were still deep in denial about the passing of le chien. The peak in the “Summer” run that was supposed to materialize over the weekend in test fishing — didn’t happen. There were suggestions that computer models were now pumping out numbers suggesting the run might go from 2.6 million (pre-season forecast) to a 2.0 million in-season forecast.

With warm river temperatures and the like this could mean much less commercial fishing opportunities.

Let the moping begin.

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Now granted, if my livelihood depended on catching sockeye (of which I think there are very few folks in B.C. that could suggest this is the case anymore — on the commercial fishing front, anyways) — I would be disappointed. However, on these conference calls the folks doing the talking are in various fisheries management positions. Their livelihoods (and rather healthy ones — a recent job advertisement for a DFO management position had a salary ranging from $120,000 – $140,000/year) are not dependent on catching fish and selling them.

Their job — if one is to read the Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy, and whatever other Department of Fisheries (DFO), blather printed on millions upon millions of ground up trees — is to:

  • first: conserve wild salmon and their habitats;
  • second: ensure that First Nation food, social, and ceremonial needs are met (legally); and
  • third open commercial and sport fisheries.

These are laid out clearly in policy. We could assume that salmon policy reads like a corporate Strategic Plan. (Granted DFO’s material doesn’t include budgets so that we can measure how they are achieving their goals against what they spent). There are things like Mission and Vision and objectives and so on, and so on.

Thus, as mentioned the other day, if the first goal of a Strategic Plan is being met — e.g. conserving Wild Salmon, meaning getting enough salmon onto the spawning grounds — which is yet to be seen this year, but at least decent-sized returns are suggesting this could be the case.

On the “Summer” runs a potential in-season forecast of 2 million — as opposed to a pre-season estimate of 2.6 million — will probably still get enough sockeye onto the spawning grounds (the escapement goal — e.g. fish swimming upstream is about 1.4 million); it just means a much reduced commercial fishery (potentially), then if there was 2.6 million total run size.

Well… as mentioned, this news made the call sound as if it was a wake, a funeral, or at least a hospital visit to a dieing comrade.

But hold on folks… isn’t the first goal: conservation of wild salmon. Is that goal going to be met this year? Early indications suggest it might be so.

Isn’t the second goal to meet First Nation needs? That’s yet to be seen; however the First Nation catch (in the marine areas, and lower to mid-river at least) looks decent thus far.

Is the third goal to open commercial and sport fisheries? Well… yeah… it is. And some commercial fisheries have been opened on Fraser sockeye, as have sport fisheries.

So, then why so glum? Many goals and objectives are being met…

_ _ _ _

That’s where the goals of the Department seem ass backwards… The disappointment and questioning the models and questioning the methods and questioning the test fishery numbers and methods and so on and so on — might suggest that fisheries managers are lobbying for the in-season forecasts to be higher.

Well, why would they need to be higher? It seems that conservation goals might be met this year — the numero uno goal?

I think you probably know the answer… and is that what we should be “managing” to based on what we know about Fraser sockeye productivity (see earlier posts), and changing ocean conditions, and a general global warming trend?

Fraser sockeye: “Recovering losses” of the last three years?

I heard a report on this issue yesterday on CBC Radio and today The Globe and Mail is reporting:

Dry B.C. summer puts fish stocks in jeopardy, government warns

“It’s the heat that is actually more critical sometimes than the low flows,” Dr. Allen said. Salmon are a greater concern than other species of fish. “I don’ t want to say they’re picky, but it’s a very narrow range they’re comfortable in,” she said.

“We are on the edge of the temperature at which salmon can get into real trouble,” said John Reynolds, a professor of ecology at Simon Fraser. So far this year, salmon have been counted in numbers higher than originally forecasted – a positive sign, Dr. Reynolds said. But the lower, warmer rivers, especially the Fraser, may negatively offset those gains.

“Climate change is happening, and I’m afraid that the future of the Fraser is a much warmer one,” he said.

The upper and middle Fraser River areas are at Drought Level 2, and expected to stay that way for the rest of the summer unless significant rainfall occurs. The ministry website is urging “voluntary conservation, as well as planning at the local level using tools such as drought management plans.”

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Would this not suggest we should be putting as many darn salmon into BC’s rivers as possible and giving them the best odds of spawning as we can? — for example, Fraser River sockeye.

What are things going to look like in four years when this year’s sockeye progeny return to spawn?

I can hear the fisheries bureaucrat: “Well… gee…our models say…”

No, we really don’t know; however, based on the trend of increasing temperatures over the last couple of decades — chances are pretty damn good that salmon will be facing even hotter rivers.

What does this mean?

Good likelihood of lots more salmon, like Fraser sockeye, dieing en route.

What does that mean?

Gee, maybe this year we should probably just be a little more cautious.

_ _ _ _ _

I can fully appreciate that commercial fisheries have not been opened on Fraser sockeye in three years — however, this is not like a copper mine where no matter what issues affect production (e.g. a three year labour strike), a company can still ramp up production and “recover losses”.

Yet, this is how many media outlets and others are talking about the “better than forecast” returns of sockeye this year. Something to the effect of “recovering losses of the last three years…”. (CBC article Sat. Aug. 7th)

No, no and no.

We are not “recovering losses” from the last three years. The fish just weren’t there to support fisheries.

And isn’t the #1 goal of “salmon management”: CONSERVATION?

If the number one goal of a copper mine was to “conserve” copper — then there might be an issue with the mentality of “recovering losses” (this time might come…). But no, a copper mine has the #1 goal of making profits for its shareholders.

It is this sort of “corporate” mentality surrounding fisheries that suggests when East Coast Cod recover (if ever) that commercial fisheries will start up and will hammer the ^*#@ out of them to try and “recover losses” of the last two decades…

Or, when sea otter populations recover to some higher level that we’ll try and “recover losses” of the last couple centuries…

Yeah, that’s brilliant…

filter or no filter?

Here’s a special chart from the Pacific Salmon Commission that is included in the Proceedings completed by Simon Fraser University staff of the Summit on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future. A Public Dialogue held in late March 2010.

The bigger the orange dot the worse the productivity of those particular stocks… growing small to big orange means productivity heading to the basement. Green means good. One stock (Harrison River in the lower Fraser River near Vancouver).

Page 60 of SFU Proceedings for better visibility

Salmon Think Tank graph produced by Pacific Salmon Commission Chief Biologist

Combine this information with the graph from the post on Saturday of overall Fraser River productivity suggesting that Fraser sockeye are having a difficult time simply replacing themselves.

In relation to the chart above (Kalmann filters):

The first line/group is the Early Stuart of which the only fish harvested this year were for test fisheries to estimate run sizes and some incidental catch in First Nation Chinook fisheries.

The second group of eight stocks is the “Early Summers” (lots of orange – declining productivity) — DFO proposes to harvest 25% of the total returns of that group, even though there are some specific stocks within that “group” that are destined for extinction (e.g. Bowron River).

The “Summers” are the next group of four stocks. You know, the ones with orange dots so big and bright that you stop on a light this color even if you’re driving in Vancouver. This “group” includes some of the mid-Fraser big runs: Chilko (west of Williams Lake), and the famed Quesnel River runs (Horsefly and Quesnel Lakes) and two far upper river stocks on the Nechako drainage.

DFO is proposing to harvest 60% of the total run on this “group”. This includes the Nechako stocks of the Nadina River and Stuart River (the far, far upper watershed) — the same Nechako where Alcan is permitted to draw off about 5% of total flows of Fraser so they can produce power and what not — even in times of lower flows and higher temperatures.

The last group is the “Late Summers” which includes the famed Adams River run (L. Shuswap on chart). Note that this year, that run is forecast to return at huge numbers, as high as 7 million — which is about 60% of the total Fraser sockeye run predicted this year.

Yet, this run is highly, highly susceptible to hot water temps in the rivers. Temperatures approaching 20 degrees C are absolutely lethal for these fish. Forecasts for the time being on the Fraser suggest we could be approaching 20+ degrees next week — and that’s on the lower Fraser — what’s the forecast on the Thompson River where these sockeye need to migrate?

Similar to what I asked the other day — how do you spell precautionary?

If you have a total reproductive population of anything forecast to return at between 7 – 11 million (this year’s pre-season forecasts of Fraser sockeye) and one stock (Adams – Lake Shuswap) is forecast to be anywhere between 60% – 80% of that total run, and you know that high river temperatures are lethal for this particular stock, and that high river temps means increased disease outbreak, and that the other significant component of this “total population” (the “Summer” group – only four stocks) is going to comprise another 15-25% of the total reproductive population size — and that these fish have to migrate and spawn in the major forest fire zones of the Province right now.

fire retardant = biological retardant

(you know all that red stuff that they drop on forest fires… ummm yeah… oxygen inhibitor, uhhh fire retardant… it’s not very friendly to biological critters… plus last time I checked those little slits near the head of a fish.. oh right… gills; they process oxygen…)

Ahhh, don’t worry about that stuff.

Hot water, agricultural draw down, fire retardant, water draw down to fight fires, more hot weather in the forecast, and a decent wall of nets and hooks stretching from north-central Vancouver Island (east and west coast) to the mouth of the Fraser, and now a curtain of hooks “flossing” sockeye as they enter the river (open sport fishery)… more nets and ‘test fisheries’ upstream.

Would you maybe adopt a “precautionary approach” that is pretty damn precautionary?

_ _ _ _

It’s not that I subscribe to some 2012 world is ending, cynical, salmon are on their way to extinction program… It’s more that… why can’t we give them a small chance of actually recovering to historical levels? And not even that… as historical levels doesn’t recognize that the human population is significantly higher now than it was say 50 years ago when DFO considers their data “accurate”.

Plus historical levels didn’t need to compete against the exponentially-more challenges that salmon face in the Fraser River watershed now. For example, how much more shit (in a literal sense) do both baby sockeye and adult sockeye need to migrate through in the lower Fraser and Salish Sea (Georgia Strait)? And what about all that lovely stuff in shit these days: prozac, cialis, viagara, and every other designer prescription. (at least they will be happy sockeye with healthy erections…right?)

If productivity is so low, shouldn’t we be letting every fish possible get on to the spawning grounds and getting as bloody creative as possible on how we deal with the social and economic implications of tough choices?

If Fraser River sockeye productivity was averaging around 6 adult returns per spawner over the last fifty years or so (as graph above suggests) and is now about 1 adult returning per spawner (e.g. a shrinking population, as any population requires two adults reaching maturity per reproductive adult – e.g. one male and one female in an ideal world) — shouldn’t we be letting every fish possible reach the spawning grounds?

Maybe the issue is the filters that fish managers are looking through these days… it’s the same filters as say… 15 years ago, or 20 years ago. Why change, we’ve always done it this way?

“And look at the changes we’ve made, we now target harvesting 60% of runs instead of 80%” (quote from sr. DFO fisheries manager at pre-season meetings this year).

Time for a new filter to gaze through?

Fraser sockeye: Certainty about uncertainty…

If there is one thing we can all be absolutely certain about… it’s all the uncertainty surrounding: “what the heck is going on out there?”

Last year being the classic case — in the neighborhood of 10 – 11 million Fraser sockeye forecast to return and only 1.3 million showing up (and in relation to yesterday’s post… that’s showing up to the river – not successfully spawning).

The panic button was pressed — despite the fact that this trend has been in plain view for quite some time (see productivity graph in yesterday’s post and previous posts) and the fact there hadn’t been any Fraser sockeye focussed commercial fisheries in a couple of years. The calls for a public (or judicial as some folks call it) inquiry went out. The Prime Minister acquiesced and Justice Cohen was hired for the job and a $15 million (or so) budget was earmarked.

(Note: last year’s landed value of all salmon in B.C. was only about $20 million — see #1 most popular post on this site — which was based on about 10 million salmon caught… $2 per salmon… makes sense to me…)

And, thus, over the winter and into the spring fishy folks fussed and fumed and freaked and foamed at the mouth and flew (as in hopped on planes and ran around to meetings and summits and think tanks and forums and forever more).

The most popular message of all this was: “WE JUST DON’T KNOW“.

The Simon Fraser University convened Salmon Think Tank was even titled: Adapting to Change: Managing Fraser sockeye in the face of declining productivity and increasing uncertainty.

But wait… there is a qualifier… lots of fishy folks are clear to suggest: “This trend is not due to fishing.” But everything else? – we just don’t know…

_ _ _ _ _

Then began the marketing campaign to ensure that everyone understands that pre-season salmon forecasting is highly inaccurate… (no, wait)… speculative. There are comparisons of pre-season forecasting to weather forecasting — see earlier post and that weather forecasting is far better, far more tools, far more funding and so on and so on.

washed up squid near Tofino 2009 -- Vancouver Sun

And then there’s the squids… yup, big Humboldt squid off the coast of BC.

Last summer, I saw hundreds of them washed on the beaches of Haida Gwaii. Our kids were fascinated… except the smell…

The rumour is that these pack-hunting squid may be preying upon baby salmon as they set out on their migration. Pecking them with their beaks and preying upon them with vicious pack mentality…

_ _ _ _

And thus the fishy folks ask:

Is it changing ocean currents? conditions? competition in the North Pacific from hatchery and salmon ranching efforts around the Pacific Rim? ocean acidification?

It’s not overfishing.

Is it pollution? logging? mining? sewage? urbanization?

It’s definitely not overfishing.

Is it agricultural run-off? water draw down for irrigation? expanding Vancouver suburbs…?

It’s certainly not overfishing.

_ _ _ _

And… well… it appears that DFO has also bit onto this bottom-bouncing bait… hook, line, and sinker… (pardon the ridiculous puns).

Or, simply believe — like so many others — that killing about 80% (and more) of a species year in and year out since the 1950s (and probably longer) is simply not a problem…

Salmon Think Tank -- December 2009

(I suppose maybe some of the folks suggesting overfishing is not the problem — haven’t read the popular bestseller “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.)

The point I am getting at here (in my long-winded way) is that in the first year in four that the Fraser River is finally seeing some decent returns of sockeye — DFO starts opening commercial and sport fisheries like U.S. Banks handing out sub-prime mortgages.

Or maybe a better comparison would be — after the collapse; how George W. started handing out TARP relief to failing U.S. Banks or General Motors.

It seems this year, that Fraser sockeye fisheries are being opened like there was never really a problem.

Lower productivity… what lower productivity?

Endangered stocks with the lowest productivity on record? Whatchyoo talkin ’bout?

Cohen Commission what? ahhh… don’t worry about them; we buried them in more documents then Conrad Black’s legal travails…

Constitutional and legal obligations to meet First Nation food, social and ceremonial needs? ahhh, we did that, like, twenty years ago…

_ _ _ _

I still find it fascinating that the Fisheries Minister (obviously informed by her senior staff) found it necessary to suspend the fisheries portion of all Treaty negotiations in BC (there are about 150 First Nations — of 200 or so in BC — with some dependence on Fraser sockeye) while the Cohen Commission is underway.

DFO staff were also directed not to attend the Simon Fraser University Fraser Sockeye Summit in late March 2010: “because of Cohen Commission commitments”.

I attended an international salmon summit in Portland, Oregon earlier this year and some DFO staff were unable to attend to make scheduled presentations because of Cohen Commission commitments (at least that was the word at the conference).

I’ve been at various meetings with DFO through the pre-season and there were various rumblings of commitments to the Commission and thus dropping other commitments.

And yet… and… yet… DFO staff has found more than enough time to open commercial and sport fisheries on Fraser sockeye (and apparently analyze all the risks associated… see below).

This despite all the uncertainties. This despite significantly elevated water temperatures in the Fraser River (approaching 20 C, which can be lethal to many Fraser sockeye stocks). This despite the fact that the Cohen Commission has over 100 days of hearings scheduled (five days a week) starting in October through to 2011. This despite productivity levels that are hanging around in the basement.

What, really, would be the “danger” of just leaving Fraser sockeye fisheries closed and allowing as many fish as possible get upstream?

Granted, I do understand that there is an impact on commercial fisherfolks — especially the small family operations — however, with DFO paying out $80 – $90 million per year to First Nation fisheries initiatives, multiple millions to license buy-back schemes, and the feds granting an approximately $15 million budget, or so, to the Cohen Commission — I’m sure some funding could be found to assist hurting fisherfolks.

_ _ _ _

Here is DFO’s stated approach to “Conservation” as stated in this years Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP):

2010 South Coast IFMP

“…Management actions will be precautionary and risks will be specifically evaluated…” Important point, don’t you think?

I still haven’t seen the specific evaluation of risk that suggests the inherent mixed stock fisheries that have been opened on Fraser sockeye this past week are the best for the “social and economic values that are derived from them” or reduce the risks of long-term impacts.

Nice words on paper; uselessly implemented.

Certainty about uncertainty… you bet. Uncertainty about certainty…uh huh.

It’s unfortunate when the media gets it wrong…

There’s a story running on the CBC  website today:

Salmon prices high despite strong sockeye run

I had to leave a comment on the story as the article suggests:

After a series of lean seasons in which sockeye runs were paltry on B.C.’s southwest coast, at least seven million and as many as 11 million of the highly prized salmon are expected to return to spawning grounds this year.

As I mentioned in my comment on the story: No, there will not be 7 – 11 million sockeye reaching the “spawning grounds” this year. Those numbers are pre-season forecasts of total run size. Before reaching their spawning grounds those sockeye need to run the gauntlet of killers including: sticky trigger fingers at DFO to open commercial and sport fisheries, predators such as seals and orcas and bears, First Nation fisheries, and the deadliest killer of all HOT water.

The Fraser is running temperatures well above avg and now approaching 20 degrees C. It is also running between 20-25% below average water levels. Less water generally means easier to heat. I wouldn’t want to know the temperatures in the Thompson River right now after weeks of stinking hot weather.

When B.C. is burning and there are air quality warnings up around the Province due to smoke from fires… that probably means the rivers are running a little warm…

As I mention in my comment to the article, we’ll be lucky to see even 3 million sockeye actually reach their “spawning grounds”, some of which are over a thousand kilometres from the Fraser estuary and Salish Sea (Georgia Strait) where commercial fisheries are hammering  on Fraser sockeye right now.

Remember this graph?

From the Simon Fraser University convened  “Salmon Think Tank” in late 2009:

Salmon Think Tank graph produced by Pacific Salmon Commission Chief Biologist

See that average productivity of less than 2 adults returning per spawner. By my rough math… if we’ll be lucky to see 3 million Fraser sockeye spawners this year, and average productivity is 2 returning adults (of which you can see that the big red dot of 2009 is significantly less than 2). That equals about 6 million returning adults in four years.

My rough math suggests 7 to 11 million pre-season forecast this year, lucky to get 3 million to the spawning grounds – that’s an average of about 43% to 27% of total run actually reaching the grounds (which is prob. pretty optimistic). In four years, a total run of 6 million, and we’d be looking at 6 million x 43% = 2.6 million on the grounds OR 6 million x 27% = 1.62 million.

So then we could be looking at between 1.62 million to 2.6 million spawners, giving a total run size in four years of…

Death Spiral?

I think you get the picture, it’s a downward death spiral.

It’s not that I want to be a pessimist about productivity returning to Fraser River sockeye… it’s simply that if the decline is as dramatic as the graph above suggests, then shouldn’t we be WAYYY more precautionary in opening up fisheries?

Shouldn’t as many Fraser sockeye as possible reach the spawning grounds?

Don’t buy the good old “over-escapement” story, you know, the too many sockeye on the spawning grounds spoils the broth…

Estimates suggest in the 1800s almost 160 million sockeye alone returned to the Fraser River. Yeah, that’s 160 million… and this year we’re talking 7 – 11 million total run size forecast.

What happened?

apparently not the only one questioning the “precautionary approach” of DFO in opening commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye

This is a note from “Watershed Talk” a weekly update from the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS).

Watershed Talk august 6 2010

It is prepared by technical staff to provide updates to folks throughout the watershed. Here’s the note on the recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to open commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye — specifically on one of the four “groups” of sockeye.

EARLY SUMMER RUN SOCKEYE
The Fraser River Panel has confirmed that the Early Summer Run stock group is returning in numbers much greater than the preseason forecast (783,000). At the time of writing this (Friday August 6) the Pacific Salmon Commission has recommended to the Fraser Panel to set an in-season run size estimate of 1,600,000 fish for this group.

This season the Department has heard the serious concerns about population levels for the “Early Miscellaneous” stocks of Early Summer Run sockeye. These stocks include the Bowron [east of Prince George], Nadina [far upper reaches of Fraser River soueast of Houston, BC], and Taseko [west of Williams Lake] sockeye. The Department is trying to actively manage these stocks to avoid exceeding an Exploitation Rate (ER) limit of 25%. [set in pre-season planning to protect vulnerable stocks within this group]

It remains to be seen if they will be successful; current estimates put the ER at or very close to the 25% ER limit now. The rather aggressive fishery openings that have been and will be occurring may end up exceeding the 25% ER level as some fi sh from these stocks are still showing in marine areas as commercial fi sheries get underway.

Also, predictions continue to be made that in-river temperatures may exceed 20 degrees C over the next little while. If this occurs, the Management Adjustment (MA) for the entire Early Summer Run aggregate would be significantly increased, meaning that available harvestable surplus (Total Allowable Catch, or TAC) may be reduced significantly to allow for high en route and pre-spawning mortality as well as sufficient fish for the spawning grounds.

Because of multiple uncertainties (temperature/flow conditions, and run timing) managers are being warned that the MA may be as high as 0.9, meaning that almost half of the numbers entering the Fraser could die before spawning. If this does indeed happen it is conceivable that spawning escapement targets for Early Summer Run stocks might not be met despite the increased abundance of these fish – given that fisheries have been opened in an optimistic manner despite the weather and water temperature outlooks.

And better yet, DFO decided to open even more fisheries on Fraser Sockeye in the last few days. Some improved run size forecasts and all of a sudden it’s “go time”…

This despite the fact that the Fraser River is running temperatures over 19 degrees C and even the Pacific Salmon Commission press release from yesterday (Aug. 6) states:

Pacific Salmon Commission Aug. 6 Press Release

Fraser sockeye commercial fishery opening; first time in over 3 years… but, how do you spell precautionary approach?

The other day I listened in to the Pacific Salmon Commission and Fraser Panel (component of Commission) conference call updates on the status of Fraser River sockeye. On the decent news front… it appears that one of the “groups” of sockeye is returning higher than pre-season forecasts.

The “Early Summer” sockeye run comprised of various upper river stocks had pre-season forecasts of just over 780,000 and now in-season estimates are suggesting about 950,000 sockeye. Some conservation measures were proposed on the “Early Summers” to protect some of the more endangered stocks within that group, for example the sockeye that return to the Bowron River east of Prince George, BC.

You know, the same Bowron River that sports what was once referred to as one of the biggest contiguous clearcuts on the planet… In my younger days, I spent the better part of several treeplanting seasons in the Bowron Valley Area trying to kick start the reforestation process so that another of the great human monuments that can be seen from space might begin to regenerate.

The Upper Bowron Spruce Beetle Outbreak: A Case History

Check out the The Upper Bowron Spruce Beetle Outbreak: A Case History. At the peak of the madness in the early 80s it is estimated that 700 loaded logging trucks a day were leaving the Bowron.

Coordinated harvesting operations removed 15 million m3 [a m3 — cubic metre — of wood is approximately one telephone pole] green attacked timber between 1981 and 1987. This amount of raw material could produce enough lumber to build 900,000 average 1,200 square foot homes! Logging trucks, with radiator caps touching the red flag of the truck in front, carrying 15 million m 3 of logs would stretch for 5,300 miles.

But, alas, there’s probably no connection between the dwindling Bowron sockeye and the intense deforestation in that area in the 70s and 80s… (however, I digress…)

_ _ _ _

On the conference call, I am quite sure that I heard the Chief Biologist from the Pacific Salmon Commission suggest he had no recommendations on opening a fishery just yet because the “Summer” group of Fraser sockeye appeared to be running late. The “Summers” had a pre-season forecast of just over 2.6 million. This ‘group’ is comprised of the famous runs to the Quesnel River (e.g. Horsefly and Quesnel Lakes, east of Williams Lake) and the Chilko run, west of Williams Lake, plus two up-river stocks in the Nechako River, northwest of Prince George.

If the “Summers” return at pre-season forecasts then there will most likely be some commercial fishing opportunities — the first in over three years. However, with the “Summers” running late.

At least that’s the hope…right. You know how it is when you get stood up for a date. For the first little while you think… “oh, she’ll be here soon, she’s just running late…” And then you move to: “oh gee, I hope she’s OK and nothing happened…”. Then reality begins to set in: “shit, she’s not coming…” Then disappointment and anger… rejection.. and so on.

Ok, I’m not speaking from experience, just hypothesizing that that’s what it feels like…

The point being, that I seem to remember last year this thought of: “gee… they must just be running late…” Soon to be followed by some slight concern… then panic… then denial… then a judicial inquiry… then burying the judicial inquiry in hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of documents…

You probably get my point.

So, what I heard suggested was, maybe we shouldn’t go fishing on the “Early Summers” yet because that would mean we might start hitting “Summers” and we don’t have enough information for an in-season estimate on the “Summers” yet. So we better hold off for now.

I’m positive that something to that effect was said by the fisheries scientists in the group. (and please correct me if I’m wrong, however, I’ve also had that confirmed by one individual within Fisheries and Oceans)

See, and something like that must have been said because when you look at the Pacific Salmon Commission news release for Tues, Aug. 3 it states:

Pacific Salmon Commission news release

So no in -season “Summer” forecasts for a few weeks yet. And as a result:

Pacific Salmon Commission

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Ok, that seems pretty definitive. “Remain closed to fishing”

But then on Wens, Aug. 4th I receive a press release from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) dated Aug. 3rd:

Fishery Notice – Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Subject: FN0587-Salmon: Fraser River Sockeye Update – August 3 – Areas 11 to 29

Based on the observed migration of Summer-run sockeye through the marine  approach routes to-date, assessments of abundance are less than expected if  their arrival timing is similar to pre-season expectations. Based on later run  timing for Early Stuart and Early Summer runs, Summer-run stocks may be  migrating later than expected but it is too early to confirm run size.

Proportions of Summer run stocks are approximately 30-40% of marine test  fisheries catches. The estimated escapement of Summer-run sockeye past Mission  through August 2 is 218,000 fish.

The following fisheries are planned:

Licence Area B seine will open daily from 6 AM to 9PM on Thursday, August 5,  and Friday, August 6, in portions of Management Area 12 and 13.

Licence Area D gill net will open 6 AM to 3PM in portions of Management Areas  11, 12 and 13.

And so… the “theory” is that these openings are targeting “Early Summers” not “Summers”.

This is the justification passed along to me anyways… yet if one looks at the test fishing scale sample information it appears that there could be as high as 30%-40%  “Summers” in the areas (e.g. Area 12 and 13 — near Campbell River on Vancouver Is.) — as pointed out in DFO’s own press release.

So, even though DFO’s own press release suggests there is no in-season estimate of “Summers” (and that they are just “late”) and the Pacific Salmon Commission says they don’t have enough information to predict “Summer” sockeye run size, and that the PSC suggests that Canadian waters “remain closed to fishing”.

…There are commercial nets in the water right now as I type, catching Fraser sockeye.

Makes sense to me… does it make sense to you?

_ _ _ _

Maybe everyone is just so eager to prove how “sustainable” the Fraser sockeye fishery is after the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) “eco-certified” it officially the other day.

Curiously, the MSC defines the precautionary approach as (and it’s a mouthful):

Precautionary approach – A set of measures and actions, including future courses of action, which ensures prudent foresight, reduces or avoids risk to the resources, the environment, and the people, to the extent possible, taking explicitly into account existing uncertainties and the potential consequences of being wrong.

Oh yea…

how do you define precautionary approach?

Does it include opening purse seine fishing opportunities on limited information and unavailable in-season population estimates?

Does it include opening fishing opportunities while there is a judicial inquiry (Cohen Commission) into declines on Fraser Sockeye?

I do find it remarkable that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans suspended all fisheries aspects of First Nation Treaty negotiations in B.C. with the justification that we must wait until Justice Cohen releases his findings…

Yet, DFO still thinks that their ability to “manage” Fraser sockeye is acceptable… hmmmm.

Who’s in charge here?

DFO: should it be spelled OFD…?

Here is an interview with the Honourable John Fraser from the The St’at’imc Runner — a local newspaper of the  the Interior Salish, or Lillooet people. Honourable John Fraser on DFO August 2010 (1)

(thanks for the forward)

As the interview points out Mr. Fraser was a federal government Member of Parliament (MP) for many years and has been deeply involved in salmon and fisheries issues for about as long.

I take some comfort in the fact that someone with an immense amount of knowledge, experience, and wisdom confirms what I have experienced in my much shorter lifetime — and over a decade of dealing with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in various capacities.

the latest in leather muzzles

It is one of the most backward operating government ministries of any kind that I have had the pleasure of working with. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good people within the Ministry with great intentions and dreams of doing good — however, the culture of any organization reigns supreme…

And, sadly, the culture of DFO has been hooped for many, many years — pretty much a generation (oh wait… it’s only been around a generation…). The train of critical thinking individuals that have walked out the doors of that Ministry is an impressive list. Many good folks remain; however, are muzzled by a baffling, stifling, backwards moving, enigma of a beast.

should probally be one bailing with a thimble and a heavy list on the boat

Others plod towards a healthy retirement with little desire to ‘rock the boat’ (funny cliche when one considers the ministry…)

Pipelines and wild salmon?

The other day I had a post on Enbridge’s slick-up in Michigan with some reflection on the propaganda that Enbridge has been pumping out (pardon the pun) in northern and central B.C. Today there is a blog post on the Tyee website regarding Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway project and concerns mounted from the Morice River, near Smithers and Houston, B.C.

… According to the project plan, the double pipeline will follow the Morice river west of Houston, B.C. for about 32 kilometres before crossing at Kilometre 60, a stretch which… is prime habitat for juvenile fish.

Enbridge spokesman Alan Roth told The Tyee that the pipeline company has made “hundreds of adjustments” to the route, “based on that very kind of concern.”

When asked if the Michigan spill that happened this past Monday will affect the way the Gateway pipeline is constructed, Roth responded that, “[the] engineering and technology people have nowadays for designing pipelines has advanced considerably over the decades.”

The Michigan pipeline was constructed in the late 1960s, Energy Resources Conservation Board spokesman Bob Curran told the CBC, and weakness from aging caused that particular rupture.

Two points I pondered after reading this:

1. who the heck is the Energy Resources Conservation Board?

A web search suggests: “The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) serves Albertans as an agency that regulates the province’s energy resources.”

Mission
To ensure that the discovery, development and delivery of Alberta’s energy resources take place in a manner that is fair, responsible and in the public interest.

Uh, huh…

2. Has the “engineering and technology people have nowadays for designing pipelines” advanced so considerably over the decades that somehow we have eliminated “weakness from aging” in metal pipelines?

Come on… I’m sure that metal engineering has advanced since the 1960s, but how much? Maybe a pipeline will last twice as long — tops?

We still scrap space shuttles and fighter jets after some time — granted they are subjected to greater forces… however these are some of the most advanced metals and materials on the planet.

And, gee… look how well our engineering technology has advanced to deal with the Gulf of Mexico?

Is there a parallel here, maybe?

The 1979 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was in about 200 feet of water and took months upon months to cap. The spill this year in the Gulf was in a more isolated area of the sea bottom (several thousand feet of water) and technology was not all that “advanced” to deal with the issue — and now the consequences will ensue for a generation or so.

The Michigan spill from the Enbridge pipeline occurred in a populated area and thus was noticed quite quickly.

Michigan River (Gazette / Jonathon Gruenke)

Notice the paved road, cars parked, people wandering…

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The Morice River is just a little more isolated…

Morice River (from Back 40 Canoe)

And as is the case with so many “spills” the issue is not always aging pipe and infrastructure… but human error. Is 32 km of oil pipeline proximity and a river crossing worth the risk on the Morice?

I suppose that will be for northwestern and north-central BC communities to answer to…

If you’re interested the Pembina Institute completed a report in the fall of 2009: Pipelines and Salmon in Northern British Columbia.

(Curiously, the author Dr. David Levy is now the Chief Scientific Advisor for the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser River Sockeye)