Monthly Archives: September 2010

Selective fisheries, protecting endangered stocks… what a concept

The Province is reporting today a 3-day fishery for First Nations in the lower river.

First Nations will fish more sockeye

The First Nations fishery has been given another chance to catch its quota of Fraser River sockeye.

On Wednesday, natives from the mouth of the Fraser at Musqueam as far up the river as Hope were enjoying a three-day fishery, but had to promise to use only gear that won’t harm scarce migrating coho stocks.

“We’re using beach seines which gather up the salmon and make it easy for our fishermen to reach in and release the coho in the catch,” explained Sto: lo fisheries adviser Ernie Crey.

Crey said an anticipated 75,000 sockeye will be caught from Wednesday to Friday, bringing First Nations closer to their already-allocated 915,000 fish.

“Beach seines are regarded as a highly selective way of fishing,” said Crey, “Sockeye will be caught and kept, but both coho and steelhead . . . will be released back to the river.”

Conservative MP John Cummins a commercial fisherman, is of course, up in arms. There are some things I can agree with him on, such as some of the comments about the Cohen Commission and some of the choices of scientific advisers, and the focus on “science”. However, the comments in this article… could be a bit more productive if the media would just ignore them.

What’s the point? Yet the writer of this article gets a good dig in.

But that has Delta MP John Cummins fuming. “The commercial fleet hasn’t fished above Mission for 100 years and DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] knows that. They’re just trying to find a way to let the natives catch fish that they will catch and sell illegally any way.”

The commercial fishing fleets have caught an estimated 11 million of the unexpected bounty of close to 35 million sockeye this year.

“But our guys haven’t fished well for years, I predict they won’t fish next year and may never get another fishery like this one again, and they’re just ordinary working people who depend on fishing for a living,” said Cummins. “There should be one law for all Canadians and instead, the Government of Canada seems determined to put the commercial fisherman out of business.”

I’m not sure if Mr. Cummins remembers this… ummm… you are a member of the Government of Canada…

Plus, come one, let’s compare the numbers. The commercial fleet is over 11 million, the First Nation fisheries are approaching 1 million. Historically, the First Nation fishery in B.C. is far less than 5% of the total catch — so let’s just try and keep those ginch from getting in a knot.

“one law”… well that’s not necessarily how the Constitution works for one — there is this thing called Sec. 35 rights.

Two, it’s a conservation issue (with great irony, the same word that sits at the route of Conservative). If the commercial fleet could utilize more selective gear that didn’t impact coho and steelhead then there would probably be more opportunities.

Simple really.

If we want to carry on about “One Law” then maybe Cummins should take that up with the commercial dragging and trawl fleet that operates off the coast catching anything and everything as well as destroying the sea floor — all under the support of DFO. What about conservation concerns out there?

will the great 2010 Fraser sockeye forecast start to downgrade?

The latest reports coming out of the Pacific Salmon Commission are showing that marine migrations are largely over for this year. Marine test fisheries have either completely stopped, or simply not catching much.

Catch to date suggests that about 12.7  million Fraser sockeye have been caught in a variety of First Nation (1.5 million), Recreational (200,000 — a number pulled from someone’s hat essentially), Commercial (over 9 million – majority to purse seine fleet ~5.5 million) and then just about 1.9 million caught in Washington tribal and commercial fisheries.

Estimates past counting stations on the lower Fraser (hydroacoustic estimates) suggest approximately 11.8 million gone by upriver.

Combine the catch with fish heading upriver and the total run size sits at approximately 24 million. Total run size estimates suggest over 34 million.

10 million are apparently somewhere between the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia) and Mission…

There are some big counts estimated past Mission, lower Fraser, on a daily basis. Some of the biggest of the year the other day 544,000, with averages more into the 200,000 – 300,000 range. Even at those big numbers, it will still take many days of sustained migration to reach the 34 million in-season estimated total run size. (And a far, far, far cry from the pre-season estimate of ~11 million).

Might we reach one of those mysterious disappearances again…  Total in-season estimate minus marine migration minus catch minus escapement estimated past lower Fraser counting stations = hey… missing fish…

Maybe the past missing sockeye moved into some of those new housing developments moving up the side of the Fraser Valley?

We’ll see, what happens this year.  Still about 30% of the in-season predicted run to actually materialize in the River…

“No shit Sherlock”

Salmon, Science, and Reciprocity on the NW Coast - Bruce Johnson



At the Cohen Commission, an “ambitious science research program” was undertaken in late August. Twelve research priorities were named:





Project 1 – Diseases and parasites

Project 2 – Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 3 – Fraser River freshwater ecology and status of sockeye salmon Conservation Units

Project 4 – Marine ecology

Project 5 – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 6 – Data synthesis and cumulative impact analysis

Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon: literature compilation and analysis

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

Project 12 – Sockeye habitat analysis in the Lower Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia

One could probably safely assume that these projects are underway. I’ve heard some rumblings here and there; however, there has been no announcement of whether this is the case or not — nor, who the researchers are that have been hired to undertake the work.

Might one further assume then, that some of the researchers hired were most likely some of the disbanded “pre-eminent Scientific Advisory Panel”?

The Panel was disbanded for whatever reasons (it was only formed in April) — there was no press release to explain why. However Dr. Carl Walters from UBC, one of the folks named to the  Scientific Advisory Panel, suggested on CBC Radio that the many criticisms and suggestions of conflict of interest were a big part of the disbanding. Many of the criticisms were well founded in that several of the Panel members had, or do, receive funding from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or had worked for the ministry in the past — the same government ministry that is being investigated by the Commission (or at least its policy, procedures, and practices).

Conflict of interest is one of those often slippery, but sometimes frippery, squishy, gray areas (…not to be confused with brain matter…). Yet, adding to the slippery – like a fresh caught sockeye – element of the potential for conflict of interest was the fact that some members of the Panel may be called as witnesses during the Commission. One resigned — Dr. Brian Riddell.

The world of salmon researchers and “scientists” in BC, and beyond — is relatively small. Finding folks that haven’t worked for, or conducted research for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at some time is probably quite difficult. If one is not working for the main employer in this line of work, then they’re probably working somewhat in opposition to DFO, or at least regularly criticizing and critiquing — e.g. enviro group, First Nations, commercial fishing unions or outfits. With this, then comes criticisms of bias and agendas.

Oh… what happened to the ideal of objective science…??

No simple solutions…

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One gaping void within the Cohen Commission ambitious science research program — traditional, local, community knowledge in relation to looking after salmon.

For example, the picture at the beginning of this post is from a paper: Salmon, Science, and Reciprocity on the Northwest Coast from the journal Ecology and Society:

Severe depletion of many genetically distinct Pacific salmon populations has spawned a contentious debate over causation and the efficacy of proposed solutions. No doubt the precipitating factor was overharvesting of the commons beginning along the Northwest Coast around 1860. Yet, for millenia before that, a relatively dense population of Indian tribes managed salmon stocks that have since been characterized as “superabundant.”

This study investigates how they avoided a tragedy of the commons, where in recent history, commercial ocean fishers guided by scientifically informed regulators, have repeatedly failed. Unlike commercial fishers, the tribes enjoyed exclusive rights to terminal fisheries enforced through rigorous reciprocity relations. The available evidence is compelling that they actively husbanded their salmon stocks for sustained abundance.

Or, Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California from the University of California eScholarship.

Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California - Swezey and Heizer


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Over the last lit bit I’ve been taking a course out of general interest: Issues in Science and Society.

The most recent unit explored societal influences on science; things such as influences of religion, politics, gender, race, other scientists — and the ability of pseudoscience to throw a thick stick into the bike spokes.

One of the folks quoted in the section on racial bias was former scientist and author Stephen J. Gould. He suggested:

Scientists, are not objective and can never be, because they are human beings rooted in cultural traditions of shared belief.

I’d have to agree with that statement.

_ _ _ _

And so why is there so little research and scholarship provided to looking at the systems of looking after salmon in the thousands of years prior to “fisheries science” arriving on the scene within the last eye blink of time (50-75 years)?

Why are there continued “Summits” and “scientific synthesis” and “salmon think tanks” and “pre-eminent scientific advisory panels” and “ambitious science research programs” that refuse to look further back then the last 50-100 years?

Could one not suggest a significant bias — maybe one related to color, or maybe gender, or maybe political — that continues to ignore systems of management that existed for a long, long, long time prior to Mr. Vancouver, or Mr. Juan de Fuca, or Mr. Valdez or other colonial sailor arrived on the west coast of N. America planting a flag in the name of some distant monarch, under the guise of European national pissing matches and territorial expansion and resource revenues?

Instead we get science research programs that continue to suggest that no one thing is responsible for salmon declines, and that no one “smoking gun” factor can simply be fixed and we’re all good… how does that old saying go…

…oh yeah right…

“no shit Sherlock”.

Some more good questions

Got a great comment and question on a recent August post: In-season Fraser sockeye forecasting… making it up as we go

I concluded that post by suggesting:

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.

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Bob recently responded with this comment on the post:

As someone who made run size estimates for years, got a better idea? Perhaps we should just leave them alone, in the river, and wait until they have all spawned. Then we can concentrate all the effort on a carcass census and get (a much better estimate of) the real number of fish in the run. Of course that would mean no fishing.

Then, after all is said and done, we still wouldn’t have much of an idea as to what resulted in those numbers; spawning escapement of the parents, juvenile river/lake survival, outmigrant survival, ocean survival, poor/good fishing conditions for returning adults, etc.

Right back were we started……
Any good ideas?

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Really appreciate the comment, and here’s my response (with a picture):

I don’t know if i have good ideas, I’ll leave that for others [as some have certainly taken issue with some of the comments and posts]; however, my point on a few posts has been that I see very little – if any – effort in research on traditional salmon-human relationships… I hesitate to call it enumeration.. or counting methods.

In my travels through salmon territory I’ve heard various stories and methods. Most of these combined selectivity and analysis of run-size and health. One of the most common was the use of fish weirs (this being limited to river sizes where this can work), as well as fish traps. There are some fantastic pictures of these in the BC Archives and sketches in Hilary Stewart’s book on salmon, as well as “Cedar”.

For example, in the Yukon near the town of the Dawson City is the “Klondike” River. It, as I have had it explained to me, was once one of the greatest producers of Chinook salmon on the entire 3000 km long Yukon River. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people for eons caught Chinook on the river. And as I understand it Tr’ondek is the proper pronunciation — “Klondike” is the anglicized version of the word. The meaning of Tr’ondëk in the Gwichin language of the area is something to the effect of “the sound of stakes being pounded into the river bed.”

Tr'ondek Hwech'in Cultural Centre

If you have, or do visit Dawson City, just downstream of the junction of the Klondike and Yukon is a cultural centre built in the 1990s. The centre was built in such a way as to represent a salmon trap or weir, with elements of fish drying racks. It’s a beautiful building.

The point of this — and I’ve heard this from many different First Nations folks — is that weirs and fish traps were a method of capturing salmon alive and being able to selectively harvest by species, size, and sex – as well as get a good idea of the size and health of runs. There were also the political aspects to these weirs, in that downstream folks could have a big impact on upstream folks by not allowing fish through.

In a sense… counting fences provide some of this same effect — however, there are the excuses of (wo)man-power to operate the fences.

Dip netting is also a non-lethal method of counting. And then there’s the work of LGL and their fish wheels. Much more use of fish wheels could allow non-lethal methods of enumeration — as well as harvest.

And then there’s just good old stream walks [have sure enjoyed my time in the past doing this].

My issues isn’t necessarily with some of the enumeration methods — just the lethal ones, like test fishing, it’s not required. My issue is with the way in which enumeration methods are held up as gospel, and their effect on harvest strategies, and the connection back to computer modeling and simulations. For example, this year, DFO set out to harvest only 25% of the Early Summer group of Fraser sockeye. This is in exception to their goals of 60% on other groups (Summer and Late Summer). The reason for the reduced harvest was to try and limit impacts on endangered stocks such as the Bowron and others in the upper Nechako that really are on a death spiral. There were many concerns brought forward during pre-season planning by upper Fraser First Nations. And some credit needs to be given to DFO on setting that goal with conservation concerns in mind.

Looking at in-season info it looks like the harvest rate on Early Summers will be about 23-25% or so… However, this won’t be known for sure until there is confirmation of in-river spawner counts which will be bounced back over test fishing, commercial catch, and the various computer models. All of those methods are generally regarded as akin to gospel. And thus, much frustration when in meetings with fisheries officials and they start tossing around these numbers as if we actually “know”.

We don’t… as is being made very clear by the fish this year.

If anything, I think – and hope – that most scientists looking at these issues are being greatly humbled by how much we don’t know (and some are, from what I hear and have heard). As the saying goes, the more we know, the more we learn we don’t know. I use the analogy of the old Greek (or Roman) monster Hydra — cut off one head and two pop up in it’s place… it’s the same with questions about salmon.

Lastly, one of the more common suggestions I’ve heard from many folks this year (First Nations and non)… leave the Fraser sockeye alone for a life cycle or two (4 to 8 years). Then there wouldn’t need to be all of this tension between folks looking to harvest them. As well as, there wouldn’t be all of this finger pointing and searching for one “smoking gun” (as referenced by folks at the Fraser Sockeye Forum in late March of this year). As well as pretty unproductive comments about black market sales, un-reported catches and so on.

[we’re already spending $12-$15 million on a public inquiry Cohen Commission (it’ll probably cost more), however much $$ on the Pacific Salmon Commission hosting forums to look into the Fraser sockeye issue, and the other 5 or so public inquiries over the last two decades — what did that cost?… why not re-direct those $$ to a bail-out of sorts… the commercial salmon fishery in BC last year was only $20 million landed value anyways. Not a popular prospect… but neither was losing the entire North Atlantic Cod fishery for coming on 2 decades now…what has that cost in Employment Insurance and re-training?]

just a few ideas… for what they are worth.

I appreciate the questions, comments and discussion — that was my whole purpose for setting up and maintaining this weblog… There has to be a different way; the history of methods we use in the present day; and this insistence by scientists that ‘answers’ lie in science — I find somewhat naive. There are hundreds of thousands of people throughout salmon country that have intimate knowledge… call it community knowledge, local knowledge, traditional knowledge, or maybe just… knowledge.Other ways of knowing.

I just don’t think the issue is going to be solved by intricate equations and computer models. That’s the same method that brought us financial derivatives, and we know where that got us… e.g. sub-prime mortgage.

Another workshop… another call by scientists for more science…

In June of this year the Pacific Salmon Commission convened a workshop in Nanaimo:

Synthesis of Evidence from a Workshop on the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye June 15-17, 2010

This workshop was viewed as a first step toward evaluating and synthesizing evidence on alternative explanations for the Fraser sockeye situation.

There are a few things I find a little odd about all of this… as far as I understand, the Pacific Salmon Commission is funded jointly by the Canadian federal government and the U.S. federal government. I’m not generally one to carry on about “taxpayer’s dollars” — yet at the same time shouldn’t one ask questions of redundancy in government spending and research agendas.

If the Pacific Salmon Commission (PSC) funded this workshop where:

An Expert Advisory Panel was created, composed of 11 experienced researchers from Washington and British Columbia who are the authors of this report. As well, about 25 other experts were invited to attend the workshop to make presentations and to critically evaluate data and hypotheses about causes of the decline. Many observers also attended, so that a total of 68 participants were at the meeting.

That sounds like a bit of a bill: pay all the researchers and presenters and host the meeting…?

This in light of the fact that in November of last year a public inquiry — the Cohen Commission — was formed to do pretty much what this PSC workshop apparently intended to do. The Cohen Commission is also on the public tax bill a mere $15 million or so… and at the rate that process is going — scientists on; scientists off; scientists on, 150 days of evidentiary hearings, public hearings (of which I applied for over 2 weeks ago now and have yet to hear a peep from Commission staff, despite the hearings in Prince George less than 2 weeks away — including a recent follow-up email, still no response… efficient process?) and then long multi-page reports.

Not to mention that a bunch of the scientists at this PSC workshop are also involved in the Cohen Commission…

And then there was the Simon Fraser University-hosted: Summit on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future. A Public Dialogue (proceedings available at SFU Coastal Studies website), which was hosted a mere 6 weeks earlier (end of March, 2010) than this PSC-hosted workshop.

And then there’s this little federal government ministry called the Department of Fisheries and Oceans which actually has the responsibility to conserve and protect and “manage” wild salmon:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for managing sockeye, pink, chum, chinook and coho salmon in a manner that balances conservation goals with Aboriginal, recreational and commercial fishing opportunities.

_ _ _ _

Is the old salmon research and investigation agenda maybe getting a little too redundant?

Or is there a little too much of the same people looking for, and at, the same issues?

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The PSC Nanaimo workshop:

The Panel concluded that the available evidence for and against each of the nine hypotheses does not point to a single cause of either the poor adult returns of Fraser River sockeye in 2009 or the long-term decrease in returns per spawner.

Gee… (with respect) do you think…?

The Panel agreed that multiple hypothesized causal mechanisms are very likely to be operating simultaneously and their effects may be additive, multiplicative (i.e., synergistic), or may tend to offset one another’s effects (e.g., mortality earlier in the life history can create less density dependence and higher survival later in the salmon’s life cycle).

In plain english: lots of shit/stuff is affecting Fraser sockeye and it is cumulative — and humans are largely responsible.

Other conclusion:

Given that the workshop considered 12 primary and secondary hypotheses (nine main ones plus sub-hypotheses) and advice provided by over 35 technical experts, the list of possible recommendations for monitoring and research could be extensive.

So a panel of researchers/scientists gets together and concludes that a whole bunch more research needs to be done (i.e. extensive).


…each recommendation should be seen as a component of a fully integrated, multi-disciplinary research program for Fraser sockeye salmon. Such an integrated approach is strongly recommended because multiple inter-dependent factors influence Fraser sockeye survival, and their cumulative effects ultimately determine the abundance of adult sockeye returning to spawn.

Uh, huh…

Lots of stuff affecting Fraser sockeye (e.g. “cumulative”) and way more research required…

Isn’t this kind of like Goldman Sachs executives advising the U.S. government on U.S. banking regulations?

Or, Provincial MLAs or Federal MPs recommending they need a pay raise and bigger expense accounts?

_ _ _ _

Who”s going to pay for all this research?

And could we maybe see a cost-benefit analysis on that?

Why all this money to find an apparently “smoking gun”… when, really, it doesn’t seem like an all to difficult idea… Look after salmon’s habitat and they will look after us…

And throughout all of this… where’s the research into the community, traditional, local knowledge of people across western North America that have had relationships with salmon for eons? Gee, they might know a thing or two about how to handle this…

just a thought.

The latest episode of “Lost” … lost sockeye that is…

In the spirit of ridiculous media articles (see posts from this weekend) and rants of pre-eminent scientists suggesting we should be hammering the crap out of the large and surprising Fraser sockeye run this year (e.g. harvest 80-90%)– I had to return to the drawing board.

This is the quote from Gary Mason’s Globe and Mail article that has me so inpsired:

B.C. fishermen probably should have harvested about 80 to 90 per cent of the current 30-million-plus salmon run. Yet, because of the DFO’s reluctance to open the fishery until it could verify the run size, 10 million fish are estimated to have been lost.

Rather then send out a search party to find the “lost” sockeye maybe this will assist.

First we need a map… here’s a sketch map of the Fraser watershed:

Fraser watershed sketch map

Hilighted in blue is the community of Williams Lake roughly the half-way point of the Fraser River between source and sea.

And just last week, 1 of Mason’s 10 million lost sockeye was sighted:

"Lost" sockeye finding its way


The whole suggestion is absurd — here’s the new view of “ecosystem-based management” purported by the “over-escapement” pundits…

by the way that's a racoon and a bird of prey...

Apologies… as mentioned in caption… that’s supposed to be a racoon, or martin, or mink, or ermine, or rat, or lynx, or other small critter. And, initially that was supposed to be an eagle… I think you know what the big fella is… (at least I hope).

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Now come on folks, this is utterly ridiculous. About as ridiculous as my ability to draw a small critter or bear or bird for that fact…

Salmon that swim upstream are not “lost”… get a grip.

I can see it now at the next Cohen Commission public session; someone will ask DFO to give this presentation:

in someone's silly dream world...

Other fish in the sea? protect stocks of concern? could it be wise DFO decison-making?

Remember the time you had your heart broken in a tough relationship breakup… and advice-giving folks would carry on about “other fish in the sea”?

Not always welcome advice at the time of an achy-breaky heart — however, as most learn — it’s quite true.

Well… it’s very true when it comes to commercial industrial fisheries as well.

The Vancouver Sun is reporting yesterday:

The coming week will mark the end of salmon fishing in some parts of British Columbia due to coho salmon conservation concerns, according to a Department of Oceans and Fisheries head.

The decision comes after a Fraser River sockeye salmon run of an estimated 34 million fish — the most since 1913. It equates to a total allowable catch of about 13.3 million, said Barry Rosenberger, the DFO’s area director.

“Even though we have a lot of sockeye still, and we may not have caught all that we’re allowed to catch, the coho concerns and conservation objectives will supersede the harvest opportunities,” Rosenberger said.

“There are people saying, ’Why aren’t we continuing to harvest as much as we can of this sockeye?’ and it’s because they’re co-migrating more now with other species like coho and steelhead and some other populations that are not nearly as productive as sockeye were this year. We need to make sure we’re giving them protection.”

Interior Fraser coho has been a stock of concern since 1998…

Sounds like a wise decision… exactly the gist that has been made in posts and comments on this weblog (and a brilliant editorial in the National Post on Friday by Terry Glavin Get your hands off my salmon) — terminal mixed stock marine fisheries can be devastating on “co-migrating stocks”. It’s fine for folks to carry on about how we should be hammering 80-90% of the total Fraser boon sockeye run this year (see yesterday’s post); however that sort of mentality forgets that sockeye are not the only fish in the sea (or river mouth for that fact).

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My question though… is what about specific Fraser sockeye “stocks of concern”?

There is protection granted to the Early Stuarts (a run time grouping of potentially over 20 separate stocks) — yet proposed as only one Conservation Unit in the Wild Salmon Policy.

What about the Bowron River or other upper Fraser sockeye stocks of concern?

Part of the reason is exactly the reasons listed above for protecting Interior coho or steelhead — if some level of protection is given to down-trending populations of upper Fraser sockeye stocks that tend to co-migrate with some of the more healthy mid-river sockeye stocks (e.g. Chilko on the Chilcotin Plateau or Scotch-Seymour lower on the Fraser); it would mean holding off marine and Fraser mouth commercial fisheries.

That is a very, very unpopular thought with various down river lobby powers.

To be fair, some protections has occurred to a certain degree — at least on paper — total exploitation on the Early Summer run-timing (several upper Fraser stocks) group was limited to 25% in DFO pre-season sockeye planning to afford some protection to some dwindling upper Fraser sockeye stocks. Yet, proposed exploitation rates for the Summer run-timing group and the Late Summer run-timing group were 60%. There is much overlap in these run timing Groups as well — i.e. Early Summers often co-migrate with Summers. Thus fisheries focussed on Summers can catch Bowron River sockeye, which are in deep shit and part of the Early Summer group.

Those proposed rates (e.g. 60%) may not be reached now — however, we really won’t know until there are some comparisons made between test fishing run-size estimate, Mission and Qualark hydroacoustic fish counting, and on-the-spawning-grounds estimates. And even then, it’s still all guess-timates (hiding behind scientific, computer-simulation model results…)

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And this, without even going into the changes occurring within the Late Summer run-timing group. These fish for over the last decade have been holding for shorter periods of time in the Fraser estuary and heading upstream. They are very susceptible to warm river temperatures and in some years have experienced huge die-offs (up to 90% in the early 2000s) prior to spawning.

No one really knows why and large studies are underway.

In the face of such uncertainty it doesn’t seem wise to start hammering these stocks simply because it’s a boon year. Maybe a little more wait-and-see approach might be appropriate.

You know… just like the times of your achy-breaky heart. Just give things a little time before making rash decisions and chasing other fish in the sea… in the science world (and policy, as in Wild Salmon Policy) it’s called the Precautionary Approach.

Another unfortunate, misinformed media article on Fraser sockeye.

Unfortunately, this is probably on the top ten list for worst researched, misinformed Fraser sockeye articles.

Globe and Mail,  Monday Aug. 30th by Gary Mason (who generally writes sports articles and others…)

B.C. should look to Alaska for tips on salmon management

From the opening to the close, this article is wrong on so many fronts, although he’s quite right on DFO’s worst blown forecast ever this year on Fraser sockeye.

I left a comment on the article on the G & M page, but one is limited to 2000 characters in those comments. Several others left some not-so-kind remarks — however there was a common theme of ‘more research required prior to publishing’, please.

Mason’s article:

…Worse, even as the sockeye began returning to the Fraser River in droves in late August, DFO refused to allow a fishery. It had to make sure it wasn’t seeing things. Consequently, millions of sockeye were lost while DFO dithered – money that cash-strapped fishermen desperately need.

Wrong, there were several commercial openings for Fraser sockeye as well as an open sport fishery on the river. I’m curious where the salmon were “lost” to?

Oh no, wait… you don’t mean “lost” Mr. Mason… you mean they swam upstream to spawn… Now that’s a novel thing for salmon to do.

I don’t disagree that fishermen are most likely cash-strapped… however, there is no shortage in history of groups of workers dependent on natural resources having to move on to new careers and livelihoods. It’s not pleasant… however, rather common in B.C. and Canada — often as a result of mis-management of the natural resources in question in the first place.

North Atlantic cod is the first that comes to mind.

Or how about the B.C. endangered logger? The forest industry is still a disaster in BC and many folks have had to move on to new livelihoods. Or how about entire communities: Cassiar (once a great asbestos mining town), or Tasu (once a thriving mining town on the west coast of Haida Gwaii) — or Rose Harbor (once a thriving whaling community now within Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site) — or Kitsault an old mining town (molybdenum) north of Prince Rupert listed for sale in 2004 for $7 million.

These are unfortunate occurrences — however, do happen. All too often with commercial fisheries, and have occurred in commercial salmon fishing fleets across B.C. Maybe the finger can be pointed to mis-management; however, we have all played a part.

_ _ _ _

Mason’s article:

Alaska harvested more than 170 million salmon in 2009, compared to the near-complete disappearance of the species in B.C. in the same year.

No… not all BC salmon species “disappeared” — mainly just Fraser sockeye — one BC salmon species. Other BC salmon are showing long-term declines, but have not “disappeared”. There were still 10 million salmon harvested in BC last year. Plus, didn’t the Marine Stewardship Council just “eco-certify” all BC sockeye salmon fisheries? And close to ‘eco-certifying’ a bunch of the chum and pink fisheries?

That doesn’t sounds like “near-complete disappearance”… the MSC is apparently “world-leading” in “eco-certifying sustainable fisheries”…

What was thought to be evidence of a complete collapse of the West Coast salmon fishery prompted the federal government to set up a commission to investigate. Then, a year later, 30 million turn up at the door of the Fraser. What gives?

Wrong… there was not a complete collapse of the West Coast salmon fishery (see above); nor, did that prompt government to set up a public inquiry (Cohen “commission”).

There was a significantly blown forecast for Fraser sockeye in 2009 (one species comprising the entire West Coast salmon fishery) and this was the third year in a row there was no Fraser sockeye commercial openings. This is clearly laid out in the preamble to the Cohen Commission.

“What gives?”

Well… Fraser sockeye are cyclical. Just because 35 million+ is now the total 2010 forecast run size for Fraser sockeye does not suggest that all is good in the hood. One of the suggested reasons for a big run this year is favorable ocean conditions (La Nina) coupled with reduced harvests in the four year cycle previously (e.g. 2006 and 2002). Those two years also saw decent returns and some very high effective female spawner estimates.

In three years we are still going to see the return from last year’s run which was suggested to be just over 1 million total — which does not equate to 1 million effective spawners.

_ _ _ _

That, to me, sounds like the commission will be examining how the DFO conducts business and sets policies and whether those policies are working.

As a point of reference, Mr. Cohen may want to look at how Alaska baits its hooks.

Yes, I agree with this point. Justice Cohen is mandated to look at how DFO conducts business. Of course, this is the fifth time in the last two decades that this has occurred and changes are slower than mice running in molasses (in the fridge).

Of course the great challenge for Justice Cohen is that policies written on paper are about worth as much as the sheets of paper. Where the mice can run free and clear is in how those policies are actually implemented on the ground. For example, the Wild Salmon Policy, which is full of great words and ideas… but in reality, on the ground, in the real world — poorly implemented, underfunded, bumpf-filled, and near-impossible to actually achieve

For example, true “ecosystem-based management” (EBM)… if we used and implemented EBM, then we wouldn’t be talking about “lost” or “wasted” salmon, when they are simply swimming upstream to do whatever it was that the creator/universe intended for them to do: be food for bears, eagles, racoons, etc. or maybe even spawn… not because “cash-strapped fishers” didn’t catch them and sell them to Wal-Mart at bargain basement prices.

Because the oft-admired Alaskan sockeye fishery occurs well before the BC sockeye fishery… BC fisherfolks are pumping sockeye into an already flooded market. This means lower prices; this means un-economic returns; this means little relief of the “cash-strapped”.

Like anything, selling more doesn’t necessarily mean making more… it’s those wonderfully dry terms of economics called “supply and demand”. Throw in some capacity of the marketplace to deal with an influx of fish, and “houston, we have a problem”. Right now in Vancouver and suburbs, fisherfolks may be catching lots of fish but are being forced to sell them dockside off their boats, as there just isn’t the capacity (or demand) at canneries and fish markets (they’re already aflood with sockeye from other places).

So… if we want to talk “wasted” or “lost” fish — what happens when BC fisherfolks on the Fraser are left with a surplus of sockeye that they can’t sell? I might have some proposed recipes.

(by the way Mr. Mason, I don’t think Alaska does much baiting of hooks, most of their fisheries are net-based)

_ _ _ _

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Salmon Management Model is one of the most successful in the world when it comes to sustaining a sometimes temperamental species of fish…

Not so fast; as I recommend in my comments to the article Mr. Mason may want to do a web search on the Yukon River Chinook fishery disaster declared on last year’s fishery. See earlier posts on this site: Fishery disasters and brave, brave decisions… and Alaskan fishery disasters and Marine Stewardship Council – don’t worry… it’s sustainable.

Or the fact that Alaska has one of the world’s biggest salmon ocean ranching programs. See earlier post: how do we define “wild”? or search it online. 2.5 billion salmon fry pumped out into the North Pacific every year from Alaska, all of which will never know a river. 95% of Prince William Sound commercial salmon fishery is ocean-ranched salmon.

So, really, how do we measure or define “most successful in the world”?

Enbridge purports to have “world-leading” safety standards — yet, as their pipeline rupture and resultant spill in Michigan is proving… maybe those “world-leading standards” are simply self-defined on paper…

Plus, it’s not that difficult to be “sustainable” when you have a sparsely populated state, fish that migrate in northern sections of the North Pacific, and wonderful intact habitat… (bit of an apples and oranges comparison… both fruits; but rather different)

_ _ _ _

B.C. fishermen probably should have harvested about 80 to 90 per cent of the current 30-million-plus salmon run. Yet, because of the DFO’s reluctance to open the fishery until it could verify the run size, 10 million fish are estimated to have been lost.

That wouldn’t have happened in Alaska. We should find out why.

As I ask in my comment to the article — show me where Alaska has successfully harvested 80-90% of their sockeye runs for many cycle years and been succesful. Their harvest yields are closer to 50% of total run and have been for decades. DFO’s have been in the 80% range since the 1950s; and we can see what that got us.

I think maybe Mr. Mason has bought a little too much into the fishery suggestions of Dr. Carl Walters who has been quoted in numerous articles and has stated in several radio interviews that we should be harvesting closer to 80% of this year’s Fraser sockeye run.

As I also point out in my comments to the article and in other posts on this site. Over 70% of the Fraser sockeye run this year is comprised of one stock — the Adams/Weaver run is predicted to be over 24 million of a total run size of about 35 million.

There are estimated to be over 200 separate stocks of sockeye in the Fraser River. Many of which are teetering on extirpation or extinction and several smaller stocks that no one even knows their status. And thus, if we run out and harvest 80-90% of the total run… (at the time of Mason’s article the total run size was hovering around 30 million; it’s now upwards of 35 million.)

Therefore, we harvest 80-90% of the run (as suggested by Mason in the article and Dr. Walters in other forums) which leaves 3.5 million (90% harvested) to 7 million (80% harvested) total run size. Subtract off the “management adjustments”, a percentage attached to total predicted marine run size to account for in-river mortality due to water levels and temperatures — that number has hovered around 15% for the Summer Group and 35% for the Late Summer Group (which incl. the Adams run).

Oh… well if we took 80-90% in commercial fisheries and then had to subtract 35% to account for in-river mortality. Well… we’d be at a negative run size: -15% if we harvested 80% and -25% if we harvested 90% (negative run sizes might have BC implementing ocean-ranching tout de suite…)

So let’s say we’re not that stupid. Let’s say we take the total run size, then subtract off the management adjustment (MA), then suggest a 80-90% exploitation rate. Or let’s just pretend there is no in-river mortality (i.e. MA).

Well… with the estimates of overall Fraser productivity over the last decade (remember this graph):

Salmon Think Tank graph produced by Pacific Salmon Commission Chief Biologist

Let’s give it a healthier than shown productivity rate of 2 adult returns per spawner.

Total run size forecast in marine areas at 35 million: 35 million – 80% exploitation = 7 million fish with potential to reach spawning grounds.


35 million – 90% exploitation = 4.5 million potentially reaching spawning grounds.

Ok, 4.5 million to 7 million spawners multiplied by an overly optimistic productivity of 2 adults returning per spawner leaves us with a potential total run size in 4 years of 9 to 14 million. That’s about 2.5 to 4 times less than the total run size this year.

If we repeat the same practice in 4 years (2014) we’d have an even smaller run four years after that (2018) —  if productivity levels remain low, as many predict them to do so.

This sounds brilliant.

Maybe Mr. Mason should stick to sports and real estate articles.

Fraser Sockeye: responding to commentary

One individual has left some long though-out comments in recent days on this weblog, and I figured I’d post one of my responses today as a post (sometimes the comments don’t see the same traffic).

The comment trail for this is in the previous post to this one: “Duh! Killing more fish isn’t the way to get more fish”. You can follow some of the discussion there. Here’s my comment from today:

Some thoughts on your shared thoughts and questions:

Interesting to hear that the record spawners of 2002 was not necessarily the case in 06 in Quesnel Lakes. The estimated run sizes for this year reflect that. The Adams/Weaver has now ballooned to an estimated 25,000,000 total return this year. From an initial pre-season forecast of about 8,000,000 we can see where the huge missed forecast largely stems from. The increase of 17,000,000 on the Adams/Weaver alone is a big piece of the total Fraser pre-season growing from about 11 million to now close to 35 million.

From a biodiversity perspective, this is quite worrisome. Many, many folks are ‘celebrating’ the huge return this year, yet it is only one stock (Adams/Weaver) that is comprising over 70% of the total Fraser run this year. Great that there’s more numbers… however the stock complexes that really need to see better returns may very well not see increased run sizes. For example, the Early Stuart group is still in dismal shape. Bowron is still looking dismal. Nadina fish (far upper Fraser) are apparently experiencing heavy pre-spawn mortality.

It’s the small runs, the diverse runs, that really need to see some recovery. One of the huge worries of mine about the Adams/Weaver comprising so much of the run — is that they are so susceptible to high pre-spawn mortality due to high water temps. We may have dodged a bit of a bullet this year with a cooler last half of Aug. and early Sept. but four years from now, or eight?

Added to this concern, is that one run comprising 70% of the total run, and at the huge numbers of this year, precipitates huge pressures to get fishing — see MP John Cummins most recent press release… Yet, chasing one run through terminal marine fisheries always means mixed stock impacts (less healthy sockeye runs, steelhead, in-big-trouble interior coho and so on — as you probably well know).

The comparison can be drawn to the Skeena River where the enhanced, spawning channel Babine sockeye run comprises about 90% of the total Skeena sockeye population. When it returns in good numbers — commercial marine fisheries are opened and this means all sorts of impacts on other less healthy stocks — e.g. Sustut and Bear Lake sockeye, Morice Lake sockeye, Skeena steelhead and so on. It’s a dangerous game.

This leads me to the comments on the Fraser “groups”, “stocks”, Conservation Units, etc.
That is a disaster from a management perspective.

You’re exactly right; the Early Stuart ‘group’ is comprised of well over 19 separate stocks — however DFO ‘manages’ it to only the ‘Group’ level — i.e. Early Stuarts. And as far as I know Early Stuarts are only one conservation unit (CU). This is evident in the fine piece of junk: the Fraser River spawning sockeye initiative (FRSSI). Early Stuarts are only looked at as one entity — not the multiple stocks, that you rightly point out, it is comprised of.

And in fact, the Fraser sockeye CUs change as fast as the Pacific Salmon Commission’s in-season run estimates. Last I heard, Fraser sockeye CUs are now down to about 38 from the 44 you mention. At a pre-season meeting this spring, absolutely no one from DFO could definitively say how many Fraser sockeye CUs there are – and what they are… and these were some of the most senior DFO staff members going on the salmon front — including the lead Wild Salmon Policy ‘implementer’.

(you know the old: “who’s on first? where’s second?” jingle… or as I’ve heard other much-more-experienced-than-me individuals suggest: who the hell is in charge around there?)

And so here’s my point in a nutshell… see earlier post Free Money-Part II as well…

200 distinct Fraser sockeye stocks — yes, it may be difficult to manage to every distinct stock. However, there’s only enough information on about 19 distinct stocks to inform management models and fishing decisions (see any DFO publications on the FRSSI model; it’s only working with 19 stocks within the four run timing “Groups”). And worse yet, there is no connection between the 19 stocks used in modeling and the proposed Fraser sockeye conservation units (CUs). It’s a complete shemozzle.

And thus, when various harvest models and “integrated fisheries management plans” start “kicking out” percentages of proposed harvest based on only four run-timing “Groups” — I think there is huge cause for concern. For example, this year DFO proposed to limit harvest on the Early Summer run-timing group to 25% of the total run (as opposed to the 60% proposed harvest on Summers and Late Summers) — apparently to protect some of the particular stocks that are becoming conservation concerns. But, how can anyone distinguish — with the 25% harvested — if the fish are from healthy stocks within the Early Summer group (e.g. Scotch, Seymour) from endangered stocks within that group (Bowron, Nadina)?

Again, this is the problem with mixed stock terminal marine fisheries.

If one sits in on meetings with DFO and listen to them spout about the accuracy of their “science” and the excuses they make to anyone concerned about specific Fraser sockeye stocks — it generally circulates around how ‘exact’ their science is and that they know best. The ongoing defence of the FRSSI computer simulation model is a scary, scary thing.

These sorts of tools start to make someone such as yourself out there in the field — rather obsolete. Why have field workers, when we can just computer model the whole thing based on past records…? The FRSSI model takes data from the last 48-50 years (spotty at best) on 19 stocks and pushes that data out 50 years and then designs harvesting strategies from the numbers “kicked out” by the models.

You’re exactly right on the cut-backs to things like juvenile enumeration work. If we start to look outside of the major watersheds (e.g. Skeena, Fraser, Nass) the level of DFO cutbacks to people actually in the field with their feet and hands in the water actually interacting with the salmon and the critters that depend on them — is atrocious.

Salmon management — from the government view — is becoming, largely, an exercise of academics, scientists and computer modelers — not folks with waders and gumboots on.

With my final questions being — with so much uncertainty in fisheries management (esp. Fraser sockeye and other salmon) should we be “managing” the fish populations — according to the dominant big runs, or according to only the 19 stocks of over 200 that we have information on…?

Or… should we maybe act much more precautionary and manage Fraser sockeye and other salmon to the small, endangered, extinct stocks that are most likely only growing in number?

This is the great conundrum… if endangered species legislation was enacted on some upper Fraser sockeye stocks; then management would have to manage fishing pressure according to what the endangered runs could support — NOT what the 17 million+ Adams/Weaver run can apparently support. Or what Fraser steelhead populations, or interior Fraser coho, or early-timed Chinook can handle.

What the heck are management institutions and commercial fishing proponents going to do when the big runs are in just as much trouble as the small, going extinct runs are…?
oh wait, we’ve seen that over the last three years… no fishing.

“No fishing” starts to make a department of “Fisheries” somewhat obsolete… Added to the mix, prices of less than $1 per pound for sockeye starts to make commercial fishing somewhat obsolete; and a commercial salmon fishing fleet with a landed value of only $20 million last year starts to make justification for a 10,000 full-time equivalent employees federal Ministry start looking akin to a stuffed pig at Christmas… (with the apple in the mouth and all…)

(and we know what happens to that pig)

“Duh! Killing more fish isn’t the way to get more fish”

Thank-you Mr. Hume.

The headline above is from a Sept. 1 Vancouver Sun article.

The article starts:

On the weekend, media leaped aboard the “kill more sockeye” bandwagon, citing experts claiming that if too many fish reach the spawning grounds, it’s bad for the fish stocks.

According to one report in the Richmond News, reducing the harvest on salmon runs from 90 per cent to the present 30 per cent has had a negative effect on salmon populations.

Mr. Hume runs through a decent history of why we might be seeing such a huge run this year and then states:

It’s difficult to understand where the idiocy that provoked the research comes from. When only first nations harvested fish using none of today’s technology, runs were putting five, 10, 15 times as many salmon as we do on the spawning grounds. The annual abundance was astounding — returns of up to 160 million fish.

The big 1913 run with which this one is now compared saw 39 million sockeye return. In a similar frenzy of greed, 31 million were harvested. Processing capacity was overwhelmed. Whole boatloads of rotten fish were routinely dumped. Unfortunately, this moronic exercise coincided with the near-damming of the Fraser during railway construction at Hell’s Gate.

Stephen quotes from a paper done for the Pacific Fisheries Resources Conservation Council in 2004: “Does Over-Escapement Cause Salmon Stock Collapse?” The authors: C. Walters, P. LeBlond, and B. Riddell (two of which were original members of Justice Cohen’s pre-eminent scientific advisory committee) suggest at the end of the paper:

The concerns expressed that over-escapement has lead to stock collapse are not supported by available data on Pacific salmon.

And this would seem to be supported by the fact that the paper outlines how in 2002 records were set in places like Shuswap Lake and Quesnel Lake in terms of effective female spawners. Similarly this was copied in 2006, with near record effective spawners as a result of smaller harvest rates (amid cries of foul by the commercial industry)… and gee… here we are 4 years later with a record return of upwards of 35 million.

Might there be a connection?

As mentioned in the paper as well:

While this work is limited to sockeye salmon, it is building strong evidence for a carrying capacity limit to sockeye production in the Fraser lakes. This would add further indications that over-spawning is not likely to lead to collapse of a sockeye salmon stock, but rather the lake system will provide the “natural controls” on production.

Now there’s a thought… nature actually has it’s own controls on population; humans don’t need to enforce it through nets…

_ _ _ _

The part that surprises me about this — and hopefully Dr. Carl Walters may be able to provide some comments on this, as he has on other posts on this website — is that he was one of the authors of that paper (granted that was 6 years ago), yet he’s certainly been one of the advocates this year of harvesting more Fraser sockeye so that there are less effective female spawners on the spawning grounds…

And a rather vociferous advocate of hammering more sockeye in commercial fisheries… CBC interviews on multiple programs and quoted in almost every major newspaper running articles on the issue.

Although it seems that the policy of allowing more spawners to reach the grounds in 2006 is paying huge dividends this year…?

Could we maybe just extend the experiment another 4 years? Hold off again this year and see if we get record returns again in 4 years — following 2002 and 2006?

_ _ _ _

As the 2004 paper does state in the conclusion:

However, we must also note the advocacy for larger spawning escapements (regardless of production efficiency) for ecological values. It is also argued that larger escapements through lower harvest rates may be necessary to conserve salmon biodiversity, and that large escapements may be necessary to promote re-colonization of habitats or dispersal of salmonids.

Hmmm… sounds like some pretty darn good reasons to me. And really, I’m not so sure it’s simply “advocacy” for larger spawning escapement. There is some science to support it as well… such as Dr. Tom Reimchen’s search into the relationship between salmon and forests.

And really, if it’s simply “advocacy” for larger spawning populations… is it not the same in return as reflected in the loud voices asking for more harvest this year?

_ _ _ _

Furthermore, as pointed out in a separate paper (PRELIMINARY REPORT ON SOCKEYE FRY IN QUESNEL AND SHUSWAP LAKES IN 2003 (by Jeremy Hume, Ken Shortreed, and Steve MacLellan) — which comprises Appendix 1 of the above paper:

Recent escapements to Shuswap and Quesnel lakes have been the highest or amongst the highest ever observed. The decomposing carcasses from these escapements have returned significant amounts of marine derived nutrients (MDN) to the South Thompson and Quesnel river watersheds. Carcasses in the Shuswap watershed will have increased nutrient loading to the lake somewhat but nutrients from carcasses in the Adams river (63% of the total in 2002) are mostly diverted downstream by prevailing currents into Little Shuswap Lake and the South Thompson River, where they mostly benefit species other than sockeye.

“Benefit species other than sockeye”… a pretty important point.

Could that be like the endangered Interior coho — the baby/fry of which rear in freshwater for up to two years?

Or, maybe the Chinook fry doing the same, or other species trying to eke out a living?

Could we not be highlighting one of the significant issues with single species fisheries management?

Or, how about that “ecosystem-based management” sung and praised and lauded in Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy?

Would it maybe not be such a bad idea to allow the marine nutrients represented by all those returning sockeye to actually return to the spawning grounds?

Because… really… if there were some localized areas that did have a bit of over-spawn what sort of real reduction in “productivity” would we see?

0.00001% or 2 % or 10% or a catastrophic 50%…?

I don’t think anyone can really say with any real accuracy. It’s all theory and conjecture… theory and conjecture… all a great experiment.

So why not allow more chances at successful spawning…? salmon have been around a few million years with nature looking after population control… then boom… in the last 50 years mathematic equations, computer models, and economic egos arrive suggesting that humans have all the answers.