Monthly Archives: January 2011

Is this salmon double speak?

The Vancouver Sun reported a few weeks ago in this article (Salmon-farm reactivation reignites environmental debate) that some salmon farming areas directly in the path of migrating Fraser River and other southern BC salmon might be re-opened after two years of sitting fallow (inactive).

…By adding another half million farmed fish to the sensitive migration route, Marine Harvest is sending a signal to British Columbians that they are not concerned about the impact their fish farms are having on wild salmon,” said Michelle Young, of the Georgia Strait Alliance and the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform.

The major concern is that the farm will put the offspring of the collapsed 2009 Fraser River sockeye run at risk, she said.

But Clare Backman, Marine Harvest sustainability director, said the farm will be managed carefully to ensure there is no effect on wild salmon.

The fallowing was part of a normal pattern and the farm is being reopened because of a subletting request, he said. “Using these sites has not been in our plan, but Grieg Seafood asked if they could use the site.” Backman said.

The site is up to date and complies with all the rules, he said.

As in all Marine Harvest farms, disease and sea lice are addressed to ensure there is no threat to wild salmon, Backman said…

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But I don’t really understand…

On March 2, 2010 Gail Shea the federal Minister of Fisheries & Oceans announced in a “Ministerial Statement” entitled Fisheries Negotiations at British Columbia Treaty Tables:

The Government of Canada is deferring the negotiation of fisheries components at treaty tables in British Columbia that involve salmon, pending the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River [Cohen Commission].

The deferral of fisheries related negotiations will allow for treaty negotiations to be staged so that fish chapters in treaties can be informed by the findings and recommendations of the Inquiry. (my emphasis)

Some might say, “hey that’s prudent… defer these vital chapters of an already stalled and slow process until Justice Cohen can report.”

The ministerial release continues:

“The Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks have been in decline and the Commission of Inquiry has been established to investigate the matter. The Commissioner has been mandated with investigating the causes for the decline, assessing the current state of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks and long term projections for those stocks, and making recommendations for improving the sustainability of the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River.

The Commission is expected to provide an interim report in August, 2010 followed by a final report by May 1, 2011. [this has now been extended to June 2012 with an additional $11 million budget injection]

“The findings of the Commission of Inquiry may have implications for management of other Pacific salmon fisheries, and it is therefore prudent to defer negotiations on the fisheries components of treaties in British Columbia.

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“…may have implications for management of other Pacific salmon fisheries…”

That’s an important line here, because if one looks at the main reason why DFO and the Province of BC just got slapped in BC Supreme Court in 2009… it was because:

In February 2009, the British Columbia Supreme Court (BCSC) ruled that the activity of aquaculture is a fishery which falls under exclusive federal jurisdiction pursuant to sub-section 91(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867 – Sea Coast and Inland Fisheries and, in effect, struck down substantial portions of the provincial regulatory regime governing aquaculture.

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So, its “prudent” to shutdown First Nation treaty negotiations surrounding fisheries so as to await the recommendations of the Cohen Commission… however, not so prudent to discuss whether fallowed open-pen salmon farming sites (e.g. another form of “fishing”) should be re-opened along wild salmon migration routes?

Yes, yes, I can hear the salmon farming advocates now… however, the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. and others would not have been granted “standing” in the Cohen Commission if all the science and proof was in that salmon farming does not impact wild salmon.

Or, that salmon farming as currently practiced may need to be scaled back.

Or, that maybe fallowed sites should not be opened just yet.

There’s still some important questions to be answered here (hopefully some by the Cohen Commission, although it’ll not be till 2012 now…) — hence the prudence in Treaty negotiations… but not so much in more “economic” fisheries activities?

Might this be a little double speak? A little double standard?

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And this on the coattails of the 2009 Supreme Court decision that made it clear that the two governments didn’t even know who was supposed to be the umpire at the ball game, let alone who was on first base…

And then everyone should trust the companies when they state: “The site is up to date and complies with all the rules”?

This, when the wrong team was developing and ‘enforcing’ the rules for a good decade or two (the Province of BC)… let alone ensuring the right rules were in place to ensure protection of wild salmon and other marine species…

Sure there might be “compliance” with the rules, but does that mean the “rules” are the right rules?

The rules of the road suggest that in some places the speed limit is 80 km/hr… yet accidents still happen even when complying with the rules of the road and the speed limit…

wow, shocking… Commission extension & DFO fighting court cases rather than protecting salmon

Wow, shocking news. The Cohen Commission gets an extension and a near double of its initial budget of $14 million.

We now have a $25 million budget, and a couple years of quasi-legal wrangling.

Cohen Commission granted extension for final report

Cohen commission given 13 more months, $11 mill to complete Fraser Sockey inquiry

For those of you who were holding your breath… take a deep breath.

And for First Nations attempting to negotiate Treaties with wild salmon as a key component — another year of waiting as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans made the brilliant decision to yank fisheries chapters off Treaty table when the Commission started.

Or, for things like Salmon Think Tanks and other events — don’t expect DFO to participate. They are just toooo busy.

Too busy doing what? (some might ask)

Well…

Too busy appealing Federal court cases that suggest their ministry is failing miserably in protecting endangered Orcas in the Salish Sea (protected under the Species at Risk Act – SARA).

Here’s the press release from Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund) back in mid-December when the initial decision came (there is a backgrounder and the actual court decision document):

Decisive killer whale court win offers hope for at-risk species

In that decision Justice Russell declared that:

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the Resident Killer Whales was already legally protected by existing laws of Canada; … Ministerial discretion does not legally protect critical habitat within the meaning of section 58 of SARA, and it was unlawful for the Minister to have cited discretionary provisions of the Fisheries Act in the Protection Statement.

And here’s a recent press release (Jan. 17, 2011) describing how DFO is going to fight this decision:

DFO seeks to undo important precedent for at-risk species

The Department of Fisheries and Ocean suggests that the Fisheries Act, its yearly Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs), and its Minister’s discretionary decision-making — are all enough to protect the Orcas, which for a good chunk of the year have close to 90% of their diet comprised of Fraser River bound Chinook salmon. (see post from last year Cull the endangered Orcas…? for scientific article and media stories)

Those Chinook are largely on an extinction tract in many parts of the Fraser watershed, and serious downward spirals in other parts of the watershed.

Who is catching the bulk of those Chinook these days? — the recreational-sport fishery.

The Department’s protection (and rebuilding) of Fraser Chinook populations… is failing at so many levels.

And yet, DFO would rather spend money fighting court cases — as opposed to actually take real measures to protect Fraser Chinook and in turn endangered resident Orcas (now numbering less than 300).

This makes sense…

Sticking up for salmon?

Apparently, I’m not the only person skeptical of ‘bcsalmonfacts’ PR tactics.

Simon Houpt a marketing columnist from the Globe and Mail made these comments in a recent column that looks at “Four bites from the world of marketing, including one about China’s attempt at PR in Times Square”:

Sticking up for salmon

China isn’t the only one fighting perceived misinformation. The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association is rolling out a $1.5-million public education campaign that tries to confront reports over the negative health and environmental effects of farmed salmon. In one humorous TV spot, a pair of office buddies tell each other about an e-mail they received promising a million-dollar payday in exchange for helping a stranger execute a money transfer from abroad. As they quietly celebrate, the on-screen text reads: “Imagine if we believed everything we heard. The way we do about farmed salmon.” It gets our attention, sure.

We’re just not sold on the strategy of telling people to be skeptical of what, um, people tell them.

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Houpt has another interesting column in the “Marketing” section of the Globe’s Business section.

Wind Mobile shows its serious side

Canadian cellphone marketing took a walk in the valley of the shadow of death on Monday morning. At an event in Toronto kicking off a competition sponsored by Wind Mobile, the company’s chairman Anthony Lacavera seemed knocked briefly speechless as he listened to the mountain climber Aron Ralston explain what had led him to cut off his own right forearm to free himself from a boulder in a Utah canyon.

“I was literally in my grave,” recalled Mr. Ralston, of the horrifying five days in April, 2003, that forms the subject of the current feature film 127 Hours. “I was drinking my own urine at that point: This was the real, raw edge of existence.”

If you don’t know what this could possibly have to do with helping consumers choose between cellphone plans, then you haven’t been paying attention to the changing world of marketing.

Companies in the business of fun and frivolous products and services have been lining up to show their serious side, from Labatt’s effort in November to raise money for testicular cancer research to Virgin Mobile Canada throwing its marketing muscle behind the teenage homeless charity Raising the Roof.

Over the last two years, PepsiCo Inc. has given millions of dollars in small grants to community-based projects around North America, while Coca-Cola Co. has formed a partnership with the obesity-fighting fitness organization ParticipAction. Telus Corp. donated $200,000 to the purchase of digital mammography machines after hundreds of thousands of Facebook users responded to a call to temporarily turn their profile picture pink.

The Wind campaign will donate $100,000 to each of five charities, to be chosen by five public figures who make themselves available for a single 10-minute cellphone call with one of the contest winners, as well as another $100,000 to be split by six charities determined by online votes…

In its public-relations materials, the company dangled the names of Justin Bieber, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama, though it has not secured the participation of any of them.

But as an upstart in an industry dominated by rich incumbents – Wind says it has “north of a quarter-million” subscribers, while the three main national carriers each has more than eight million – the company must do what it can to grab people’s attention. “In today’s world, advertising is not having the same impact it used to have,” Mr. Lacavera explained during an interview after the event. “It is about cause marketing, it is about social innovation, and it is a lot more about PR.”

“I think you’re going to see more and more of this happening. The idea of trying to tell people: ‘Buy my product for this price, with product guarantees’ – that’s no longer selling people.”

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Coca-cola is partnering with obesity fighting organizations…? Oil companies ad pipeline companies are partnering with the Nature Conservancy…? Car companies are selling themselves as “green”…? Airline companies selling themselves as “carbon neutral”…?

Seems the “facts” are only going to get stretched like a yoga-yogi meditation pose…Or it will be akin to the odd tactic of speaking with someone who speaks a different language than yourself, and thinking that yelling at them – or at using a louder voice (e.g. “which way to the bathroom!!”) — will assist in reaching understanding and comprehension (and sometimes relief).

…and thus folks may need to be a little more critical thinking in believing what is “shouted” at them by companies competing ever harder to get their attention — and largely have the sole purpose (or at least modus operandi) of making profits for shareholders.

And so if someone suggests that their business practices actually “conserve wild fish stocks”… maybe our B.S. detector might need to start blaring… and seek clarity on that rather broad, loose statement (along with a definition of what “conserve” actually means)…

Somebody call the donation police — salmon advocacy gone wild…?

Is there a misunderstanding out there surrounding the difference between “non-profit” vs. “profit” corporations?

It seems there might be. This relates to some interesting PR sliding around about how a collection of non-profit organizations is largely responsible for some negative publicity and public perception surrounding salmon farming in BC. Comments have been left on this site suggesting as much, and various other comments made in other places.

I came across this article written by Ms. Walling the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association from 2009:

Unaccountable Advocacy: Advocacy groups claim to have the public’s interest at heart, but how do we know which of these self-styled experts are credible?

Wild salmon in British Columbia are facing extinction. Electromagnetic radiation from high voltage power lines is causing childhood cancer. Vaccines cause autism in children.

What are we to make of these statements?

All are taken from news stories; all were made by so-called experts from advocacy groups working on behalf of the public good; all are sensational and emotional.

Ummm… yeah, wild salmon for example are a rather important critter in the psyche of British Columbia — and actually all around the Pacific Rim, so no kidding there might be some sensational and emotional comments.

Extinction of wild salmon runs?

Well… it’s already here. There are numerous wild salmon runs in BC that have disappeared; never to be seen again; extinct.

Does this cause a rise of emotions and sensations? You bet it does.

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The article continues:

…And while the use of an emotional argument to pique the public’s attention in important issues need not be a problem, it does raise questions.

Are advocacy groups manipulating the media? Are journalists probing the claims of activist groups with the same scrutiny as is applied to business and industry? If not, should they be?

And, so, what are major corporations doing in mass PR campaigns that involve the media?

This news forecast is brought to you by So-and-so chunky soup, or so-and-so apparel… Oh, and while you’re watching this newscast we will blitz you with these various segments of commercials… (e.g. “do you believe everything you hear…?)

And really… is it up to journalists to do the scrutiny? Sure, to a certain degree; however, most mass media are simply for-profit corporations with shareholders to answer to as well.

The job of scrutiny and critical thinking lies with the consumer of the information, or the consumer of a product.

Nobody has a gun to their head saying they have to buy the Volvo over the Subaru because journalist “x” reports, or some magazine for consumers reports that Volvo’s are safer.

It’s free choice and critical thinking (or not)

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Non-governmental organizations today are a powerful force. They have credibility that businesses lack.

Gee… I wonder why? How do you spell Enron again?

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And it’s become big business. There are more than 3,000 so-called nonprofit environmental groups in the U.S. today, most of which take in over $1 million annually… In one recent year, Greenpeace International took in $35 million, the National Audubon Society $79 million, the National Wildlife Federation $102 million, the Sierra Club $74 million, the Nature Conservancy $972 million, and the World Wildlife Fund $118 million.

Oh no, somebody call the donation police…

And what did the Red Cross, the United Way, and the local food bank take in?

In addition, each of these groups holds assets ranging from $16.3 million to $2.9 billion. Perazzo concludes that “no trade association on earth possesses the financial resources and political influence of the environmental lobby.”

Ummm… how about trade associations that represent U.S. Banks? Or, how about the World Bank?

Or, what sort of donations, influence, and financial resources does the National Rifle Association possess in the U.S.?

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Many advocacy groups are perceptive manipulators of public opinion. They view the media as a conduit for information and often approach news outlets with stories of conflict and controversy, and which appear to be backed by research or expert opinion. Journalists – driven by deadlines, editorial pressure, and the push to entertain rather than inform – sometimes run with the story without applying the same scrutiny to the claims of advocacy groups that they would apply to business, industry, or government.

And what is the current ‘bcsalmonfacts’ campaign, but little more than attempting to manipulate public opinion?

And what is the BC Salmon Farmers Association again? Oh right, an advocacy group… and one of those apparent evil non-governmental ones at that?

Advocacy groups go out with stories of conflict and controversy… maybe… but does the media do a better job of that on its own? Most certainly.

Same scrutiny as business, industry and government?… yeah, maybe not, however, advocacy groups aren’t spending tax dollars or earning social license to utilize public resources with the simple sake of earning profit for shareholders.

Big difference.

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Online resource explaining some differences:

Non-profit corporations are formed pursuant to federal or provincial law. A non-profit corporation can be a church or church association, school, charity, medical provider, activity clubs, volunteer services organization, professional association, research institute, museum, or in some cases a sports association.

Non-profit corporations must apply for charitable status to benefit from tax-exempt status and to issue tax deductible receipts to donors. Non-profit corporations are distinct from business corporations which are formed to make a profit and to distribute the profit to its shareholders.

Business corporations are regulated by either federal or provincial laws.

That is why there are rules around securities and publicly-traded companies; that is why insider trading is bad; that is why ridiculous multi-million dollar lawsuits are launched around simple claims such as: “Canada’s most reliable wireless network”. The stating of which costs millions in law suits between Canada’s big telco companies Rogers, Telus and Bell.

If a business corporation operates by federal and provincial laws, then it can’t go off making false claims and engaging in false advertising. Or…well… it can, until it gets called on it and sued — or otherwise.

Non-profit, non-governmental, advocacy groups are part of doing business in democracies. Nike deals with it. BP deals with it. Exxon deals with it.

They probably even work in the cost of doing so; probably even form their own non-governmental special interest groups to engage in advocacy of their own.

Look at the history of cigarette manufacturers, they had — and most likely still do — have little side PR organizations.

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The job of holding any organization accountable doesn’t lie with journalists — it lies with individuals.

Passionate about something? Go learn more about it and form your own opinion.

Just as the Wikipedia definition suggests:

[Advocacy] may be motivated from moral, ethical or faith principles or simply to protect an asset of interest.

Some is good, some is not. User beware.

new words… no new actions. Winning strategies for Bullshit Bingo.

Love this post from Seth Godin yesterday:

The pleasant reassurance of new words

It’s a lot easier for an organization to adopt new words than it is to actually change anything.

Real change is uncomfortable. If it’s not feeling that way, you’ve probably just adopted new words.

.

Less than 35 words… and yet pretty damn revealing.

Consider about bumpf words like: ecosystem-based management or ecosystem-based planning (or anything that starts with “eco” eco-certification, eco-building, eco-car, etc.); corporate social responsibility; code of ethics; adaptive management (aka, we didn’t know what the ‘beeeep‘ we were doing in the first place); best practices; performance indicators; benchmarks…

…and so on, and so on.

(Want more? Refer to the bullshit bumpf bingo card)

It is much easier to create new language that suggests change has occurred — than actually taking the hard, difficult, steps to truly change.

Does posting “corporate social responsibility” on a company website actually result in a change in day-to-day behavior (e.g. some U.S. banks)?

Does suggesting that things operate under “ecosystem-based management” actually result in ‘eco-action‘? (actual name for federal government initiative).

Search every provincial government website in Canada and you will find that every Province suggests that they engage in: “ecosystem-based management” and “sustainable practices” and, what the heck — throw in some “social responsibility“.

Are you changing… or, are you adopting new words?

Spinning the Spin that spins the spin..?

As suggested in several other posts: everything is marketing and marketing is everything.

When it comes to salmon, there are few exceptions. From the organizations that intend to “save the salmon” to the organizations that intend to catch as many as possible; from the small local organization working in local creeks to mega multinationals intending to farm salmon and sell them to well-off, endless-demanding consumers.

Over the past few weeks there have been several posts here commenting on the apparent ‘facts’ of the “bcsalmonfacts.ca” website and PR campaign launched by the BC Salmon Farmers Association and the multinational companies engaged in salmon farming on BC’s coast.

A few more details of that campaign surfaced this past week. Marketing magazine ran an article on the advertising/PR firm DDB Canada: BC Salmon Farmers swimming through ‘misunderstanding’ .

Salmon farming is one of the more contentious issues in British Columbia, and one of the least understood–that’s the message from a $1.5 million campaign just launched by BC Salmon Farmers.

That’s no chum-p change… $1.5 million simply to “get the story straight”?

One thought that crosses my mind… maybe the Salmon Farmers Assoc. should have looked at why opponents to salmon farming have been so successful in communicating their message over the years.

It sure wasn’t through hiring the Canadian subsidiary (DDB Canada: “the most celebrated creative agency in Canada for the past decade”) of a major international Advertising firm (DDB: “Highly ranked, worldwide advertising agency”) and spending a cool $1.5 million.

And the crazy thing about all this, is that it is simply Public Relations (PR) — nothing more, nothing less:

It’s really not about selling more salmon in BC, it’s more about making people aware of the value of the industry,” said Cosmo Campbell, creative director at DDB Vancouver. “It’s an area that is so volatile and I think a lot has to do with the history of the province and our love affair with salmon.”

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“…Making people aware of the value…”

Interesting phrase and choice of words.

This is a component of a point I have suggested several times… “making people aware” implies people don’t have free will, intelligence, and abilities to make up their own mind… they need to be “made” aware by outside forces.

In this case, $1.5 million worth of ‘creative’ material from one of Canada’s leading advertisement firms.

And, really… if this is — exactly as suggested — about the history of BC and our “love affair with salmon”… are average BC’ers going to suddenly change their mind about the potential dangers of farming salmon (mostly Atlantic) in open-net pens along sensitive areas of the BC coast — simply because some slick, well-funded, PR campaign suggests they need to ‘buy the farm’ that BC Salmon Farmers are ‘selling’?

For example, there is ‘negligible impact of salmon farming on wild salmon’… that salmon farming, in fact, “protects wild fish stocks”… and that we — BC’ers — should simply accept the apparent economic benefits of salmon farming in sensitive areas of coastal BC.

Some day, maybe these sorts of claims can be made with some level of un-bias confidence — however, the current reality – or “fact” of the matter — is that the jury is still deliberating on these claims – on both sides.

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Curiously, if one looks at the snazzy DDB Canada website… there are some claims about what this firm represents.

(I suggest this gently and respectively, as there does appear to be some good work on social causes within the firm.)

On their website under “DDB Cares“:

We’ve been called a lot of things. Do-gooders is our favorite.

Whether it’s convincing thousands of Canadians to donate blood, helping the Looking Glass foundation scale new heights in awareness and fundraising for eating disorders, or simply using advertising to stop crime for our client Crime Stoppers, DDB has a long and rich history of supporting social causes. In fact, the values of giving back and being environmentally responsible are a part of our very fabric and culture.

We were the first Agency to “Go Green” conducting waste and carbon audits and setting targets to know where and how we could become better environmental citizens.

Curiously enough though, one of the well-known ad campaigns of this firm is the Subaru car commercials with the sumo wrestlers prancing around with hoses and such.

Someone does have to ask: how “go green” can you be when you do car advertisements?

Current estimates suggest that automobiles emit somewhere around 2.8 billion tonnes of tailpipe emissions worldwide (Macrowikinomics). So, if you are a firm that is simply promoting that more people should buy more cars… are you “green” — or, are you green-washing?

The point here… marketing is everything and everything is marketing.

And thus, if this slick PR campaign has nothing to do with selling more farmed fish… and that it is more about “making” people aware specifically:

[the] target group [of this campaign is] mostly males 40+ likely grew up fishing with their fathers and have watched the decline in fish stock over the years. “They want to point the finger at something and the bad guy is being painted as the salmon farms because they are the only thing that has visibly changed,” he said. “It’s an easy target to bully. The younger generation is a bit more open- minded and understands the value.”

Can’t say I think that sort of focus will change much… not sure how many of those male 40+ers are voting these days… but so be it, I’m not an award winning creative ad agency…

However, here’s something to ponder from the DDB International website:

Respect for the Customer

DDB has long led the way by recognizing that brands are in the hands of consumers, not brand managers. Nothing is more important and relevant today.

Hmmm… might that then suggest that PR is somewhat irrelevant then?

And do we demonstrate respect when we suggest it’s all about “making” people understand or:

Mary Ellen Walling, executive director at BC Salmon Farmers, said British Columbians don’t know a lot about the industry and what they do know is usually wrong.

Silly B.C.’ers… don’t know nuthin, ’bout nuthin.

Good thing there are PR firms out there that will fix the facts…

one fish, two fish, three fish…

Endangered fish, endangered fish! We must do something…

Figure this one out, it’s a curious story (if you’re into fish stories… I know the Cohen Commission into Fraser sockeye is into this sort of stuff):

I’m pretty new to this sturgeon issue; however, it still leaves me shaking me head at where priorities and planning within federal government institutions come from.

White Sturgeon in the Upper Fraser River and Nechako River were listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003 along with some populations in the Columbia River — they were listed as a species of concern as early as 1990. The SARA listing means there are various prohibitions and other fuss over these ancient fish (fossil records suggest these fish — that can live to be over a hundred years old and grow to great lengths — have been around 175 million years or so).

There are things like protecting critical habitat (remember this as we move forward on this post), developing recovery plans, and ensuring that these species are not subject to ‘death, harm, harassment, capture, or possession.’

The population of upper Fraser white sturgeon is apparently distinct from the Nechako River sturgeon. The last population estimates done on these fish was in the late 1990s (as far as I can tell from poking around).

At that time, sturgeon were “managed” by the Province as they are a freshwater species. Once they became listed under SARA, they came under the domain of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (please… you cynics out there, I heard the groan, just hear this piece of the story out).

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By catch of White Sturgeon: Discussion of Potential Mitigation Options” was the name of the recent PowerPoint presentation by Department of Fisheries & Oceans in Prince George.

This sounds serious. When I hear the term “by catch” I have visions of huge trawlers on the open ocean dumping 70% of their catch overboard dead because they’re simply looking for some specific fish. (for example, the Bering Sea pollock fishery that catches impressive amounts of Yukon River salmon and simply dumps them overboard as “useless by-catch”).

However, by-catch can also mean so much less than that.

What is the target of this DFO “by-catch reduction” on endangered upper Fraser and Nechako white sturgeon?

Well… it is the First Nation food, social, and ceremonial fisheries for salmon.

Apparently, during the spring and summer months when First Nations in the upper Fraser and Nechako areas are salmon fishing (something happening less and less frequently due to salmon population declines across the board in the upper Fraser areas), the occasional juvenile sturgeon or older fish might get tangled in nets.

First Nation folks who have had this happen explain that they remove the sturgeon and release them back to the river.

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So let’s take a little sidebar trip here…

In the meeting I attended, an expert from the Province explained the main issue for declining sturgeon populations around the world… and this isn’t a shocker… habitat loss and impacts.

And pretty much any quick search on the Internet will confirm the long list of well-known impacts: dams, pollution, loss of critical habitat, warming waters, disease and pathogens and so on. Dams are known to be a very serious issue — whether it’s in the upper Colombia River or in the Nechako River or other parts of the world where sturgeon live.

This is explained quite clearly on DFO’s webpage and fancy brochure on sturgeon:

Over the past century, white sturgeon populations have been adversely affected by over-fishing, construction of hydroelectric dams, diking and drainage projects, dwindling food resources, and declining water quality as human populations and activities intensify

In the early 1990s harvest of white sturgeon in the upper areas of the Fraser watershed (inc. the Nechako) was stopped to try and protect what was considered a dwindling population. There was also an intensive 5-year study launched to attempt population estimates.

The last known estimates appear to be 1999 with an estimate of just under 600 Nechako sturgeon and just under 300 upper Fraser sturgeon. One thing I haven’t found in my relatively quick searches is how this compares to historic populations. All that folks suggest is that there have been dramatic declines.

However, this is not necessarily the point here. It appears quite clear that sturgeon populations aren’t doing very well. One of the main examples cited is that there simply aren’t enough juveniles growing into reproductive adults.Why?

No one can say with any certainty.

Except with maybe the issues on the Nechako River. See, there’s this rather large dam in the upper reaches that was created in the middle of the 1900s, or so. The dam was built by Alcan so that it could reverse water through the mountains back to Kitimat so that it could produce power for the aluminum smelter there. The company is now known as Rio-Tinto Alcan.

This is the same company, based on the northern BC coast (e.g. near the mouth of the Skeena River) that would like to use more Nechako River water, which should be flowing down the Fraser — so that it can produce more power and sell it back to BC Hydro.

Due to the dam, the Nechako River has been completely altered. Flows of the river are controlled by the massive upstream dam, temperatures have changed significantly within the river since it was dammed and so on, and so on.

And, thus, it’s not really rocket science to figure out what has caused an apparent precipitous decline of white sturgeon.

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Back to the by-catch of sturgeon meeting.

We do know (more or less) that habitat is the issue worldwide for sturgeon populations — and yes, fishing does have an impact.

But… what is the impact that we were discussing in this particular meeting?

How many of these endangered sturgeon are being caught in First Nation salmon fisheries?

Well… survey says:… one, two, three!

Anecdotal information, not scientific or actual, but largely rumor, suggests that there might be about three sturgeon killed as by-catch in First Nation salmon fisheries.

On an apparently declining population of approximately 800 or so — is this an impact? Yes.

What might be the best way to deal with this issue?

Well, how about a focused communications campaign?

And then focus other resources on the real impacts — like the massive dam on the upper Nechako that has not posed much good for Nechako fish populations (including salmon).

Water flow estimates in Nechako pre and post Kenney dam

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No, instead, a meeting is funded (travel costs and hotels and so on) for about 30 individuals from a variety of organizations. About 6 – 8 DFO staff. And meeting agendas that suggest formation of “Working groups” and potentially significant changes to how First Nations fish for salmon, and training funds, and policy development, and, and, and…

Why?

For three fish.

One, two, three…

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There are suggestions on the agenda for the meeting that either the group comes up with changes or DFO will “impose” them.

Well, gee, isn’t that nice ‘relationship-building’ language.

And the response from many folks: ummm… ok… so you’re threatening to impose changes on salmon fisheries (based on aboriginal rights and the Constitution) because there is anecdotal information suggesting an impact on three fish. What sort of threats of imposing changes is RioTinto Alcan facing?

DFO: “oh, well we’re in discussions with them about a ‘conservation agreement’ and potentially helping to fund a hatchery.”

participants: “but no ‘imposed’ changes potentially coming for them?”

Nope.

Yet, we know — worldwide — that the main issue facing sturgeon is habitat.

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Hmmm…

If you’d like more perspective on this issue read one of the most popular posts on this site: Cull the endangered Orcas?

The relationship here?

Well… the resident Orca pods in the Salish Sea (Georgian Strait) are also listed under SARA. And their main food source during the spring and summer months?

Chinook salmon.

These orcas will actually knock other salmon out of the way to get to the Chinook.

Some of these Chinook populations, bound for the Fraser, are also in trouble — yet, not listed under SARA. But the orcas are listed — and yet sport fisheries remain open on one of their main food sources. And, it is certainly more than three Chinook being caught in those sport fisheries. (and population estimates on the Orcas is in the low hundreds… highlighting even more the importance of the Chinook as a food source).

Any “imposed” changes being talked about there…?

How about, working groups, and training and funding and all-expenses paid meetings, and so on…?

well…

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This isn’t to question lots of the hard work that many folks are doing on these issues… more simply to ask, what are the priorities here?

And where is the cost-benefit analysis on these sorts of DFO initiatives?

And, more so, why don’t we direct funds and professional staff to the really tough issues, the issues that might mean making changes that have potential significant economic impacts and impacts on rather powerful stakeholders?

Spending $50,000 – $100,000 or more (total estimates on my part) to fund meetings to discuss big changes based on anecdotal evidence of, one, two, three fish mortalities…

When DFO staff repeat time and time again at meetings, that they can’t get the resources — for example — to properly implement the Wild Salmon Policy.

good use of dwindling resources?

Maybe we could recreate those three dead sturgeon out of Alcan’s aluminum foil?

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(Hopefully the Cohen Commission is considering funding priority setting within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?)

Bullshit Bingo

Appreciative of the link to the “Bullshit Bingo” card from grass!struggle blog (here’s a link to the original card, maybe a little less blatantly worded). Apparently the card is in use as the Cohen Commission hearings have restarted. With folks from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on ‘the stand’… I can’t say I’m too surprised that the bullshit bumpf is flowing like the snow is falling around parts of the north today.

Maybe the Cohen Commission needs “heavy bullshit-bumpf” warnings… like: Heavy Snowfall weather warnings.

Here’s an apparent quote from the Commission hearings involving a DFO technocrat:

Q: Do you think the stakeholder groups have the capacity to understand the issues that are presented to them for decision and feedback, including some of the technical work that we just touched on today?

A: The level of technical capacity for some of the groups varies for sure. Some of the groups definitely want and expect the Department to have that capacity, to bring them that information and them to be able to give input based on that. Other groups are trying to have people that understand all the models at the same level that we do.

Well, thank goodness we have the all-knowing Department looking after the interests of wild salmon-dependent communities and trying to make it so complex that the whole discussion becomes inaccessible to 98% of the public.

Cynicism aside, there’s a larger issue here. There are multiple senior decision-makers in DFO that don’t understand their own information because it has become so bumpf-laden and ‘complex’ (by their own making).  And that includes the most senior decision-maker: the Minister of Fisheries, who has immense discretionary decision-making power.

And an interesting point from Ivan at his blog:

When one, instead, overburdens the listener with tedious jargon and unimportant minutiae, as Mr. Grout did for a whole day at the Cohen Commission, one is performing (unknowingly, I’ll grant him that) a political act which consists of locking knowledge away from people by using an encrypted code.

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Also, an interesting link this morning:

India Claims Asia’s First Tidal Power Plant

Atlantis Resources Corporation

Seems this type of facility might produce enough energy to potentially run something like a closed-containment fish farm?

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And headline from Victoria Times Colonist today:

Fish farms likely contributed to sockeye decline

Among nine hypotheses, they crunched the available science from the early 1980s up to 2010 and each participant opined which he/she thought were likely causes. They found that where the fry were hatched and resided for two years and then swam all the way down the Fraser River were unlikely to have produced the massive kill.

In 2007, for instance, the Georgia Strait sockeye seine found only 157 fry from the huge Chilko River area cohort of 139 million fry that started out. And, surprisingly, millions of fry, particularly the Harrison, take up residence in the Fraser plume, and so its entire Lower Mainland contaminants don’t kill sockeye.

In the ocean, it turns out that it is unlikely that marine mammals ate them all, even though they snack on chum at the Puntledge River estuary. Nor did unauthorized fishing outside our 320-kilometre territorial waters account for losses. Later, up-river migration of adults — as much as 600 kilometres — seems not to have killed many returning adults either, nor affected the health of the next year’s fry they spawned.

So what did they find? The most likely causes are: marine and freshwater pathogens like viruses, bacteria and sea lice; ocean conditions and a huge negative algal bloom inside Georgia Strait; outside waters were ruled out for 2007-2009.

Georgia Strait conditions of algae, oxygen, salinity, acidity or other physical and biological conditions are seen to have long-term negative effects on survivability, though these conditions are not prevalent every year. And this may help explain the 2010 bumper crop that no one expected; and why Harrison River sockeye that transit Juan de Fuca have been growing in numbers steadily for the past 20 years, contrary to the trend.

Though the scientists thought pathogens were a big negative factor, more science is needed to absolutely nail these down. But it seems to be — wait for it — fish farm issues, say, sea lice, and viruses…

Haven’t had a chance to look at much more in-depth; hope to soon.

Seems maybe the question of salmon farms on wild salmon is still an unanswered one in many ways; despite the claims of some.

Things to ponder…

Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

When it comes to salmon farming on the BC coast, is it any wonder that the average citizen in BC (that takes any interest) might be suffering from post traumatic information overload as the battlefield of naysayers and yaysayers lags on…

How to choose? How to choose?

Who has the facts? Who has the half-facts? Who has the zombie-facts?

Yesterday, CBC.ca ran an article:

www.cbc.ca

Closed-pen salmon farm launches in B.C.

B.C.’s first closed, floating salmon-farming tank — touted as a greener alternative to traditional open-net pens — has been installed off Vancouver Island…

…Traditional net pens used for salmon farming in B.C. are open to the ocean and have been criticized for damaging the marine environment. Fisheries scientists have found evidence that salmon farms transmit parasites and pathogens such as sea lice to wild salmon, leading researchers and environmental groups to call for closed-pen farming.

In addition, waste from open-net pens is released directly into local waters and is not always carried away by tides and currents as was anticipated…

Yet, if you go to the new bcsalmonfacts.ca website put out by BC salmon farmers they quote from another study that suggests:

Overall, the results of this study reveal that while a shift to closed-containment technologies may reduce the set of proximate ecological impacts typically associated with conventional salmonid farming, their increased use may also result in substantially increased contributions to several other environmental impacts of global concern, including global warming, acidification, and abiotic resource use.

Although closed-containment systems are currently being described and promoted as environmentally-friendly alternatives to net-pen farming, results of this study suggest that there is an environmental cost associated with employing this technology which should be considered in any further evaluation of their environmental performance

And then the apparent Fish farming Xpert site: “Canada’s biggest bath tub hits the water”:

Canada: a project dubbed as “closed containment” and “environmentally friendly”, aimed at producing salmon at high densities gets it start outside Campbell River.”

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Back to CBC.ca (for example) and the list of related articles looks like this:

B.C. salmon deaths may be linked to virus
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Pacific salmon not affected by lice: study
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Fish-farm sea lice more widespread than thought
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Fish farming projects in B.C. get funding boost
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B.C. fish farming expansion frozen until December

There’s more back and forth then at the Australian Open tennis grand slam. Average citizens sitting there watching flaming cocktails thrown back and forth, back and forth.

The media?… well they simply report the headlines of what the multitude of studies are saying and absolutely love this conflict of studies, scientists, advocates, and so on. It’s great news; great press.

How is anyone sitting somewhere in the middle on this issue — which is a big middle, as the gap between the two sides is about as big as the great open ocean trenches — supposed to be able to read some information here, read some information there, do some reflection, ask some questions, and make up their own mind?

It’s certainly possible, however for average folks busy with their families and work lives… the bickering and lobbing of cocktails back and forth probably gets a little tiring. It certainly does for myself, I just happen to have an almost lifelong interest in salmon and therefore read what I can, ponder, ask some questions, and so on.

And, thus my disappointment at the stretching of apparent facts, cherry-picking ideas, and Spin-cycle currently being engaged in by the bcsalmonfacts.ca campaign. (This isn’t to say that I haven’t had my disappointment at the other side for certain tactics or propensity for Spin either… this is just the topic of today)

At the same time anyone is welcome to opinions anytime… One might simply hope that there is some backing to the opinion, or at least an openness to listen to the opposite perspective on that opinion (and there is to some degree in that ‘facts’ campaign thus far — however it is a risk, and the worm can is open).

When some folks start claiming to have the “truth” — the “facts” — well, then I immediately get a sense there may not be much difference then apparent religious prophets, turned TV evangelists, trying to sell folks on the purple Kool-Aid (and donations to their 30,000 sq ft church, and highest in the county jesus statue outside).

Certain ‘scripture’ and phrases from apparent sacred texts, are twisted and turned — words and ideas are shaped to fit what it is that they are selling. Scientific reports are cherry-picked to get an idea across — meanwhile another scientific report that directly refutes the first is conveniently not mentioned, or forgotten, or has the methodology questioned, or personal credibility attacks mounted against authors, and so on.

For example, follow some of the responses from the bcsalmonfacts.ca folks on their website and one can start to see a curious mix of ideas starting to surface. There are comparisons between hatchery practices and salmon farming, used in conjunction with concerns of the ‘carrying capacity of the ocean’ (as if this was something anyone or group could actually measure with any accuracy whatsoever — we can’t even get the weather right after a few days with any level of accuracy).

There is the odd justification for open-pen salmon farming because farmed salmon have better feed conversion rates than cows, pigs and chickens. This is then stretched to suggest that since wild salmon can consume 10x their weight in fish that this then makes farming salmon more responsible and efficient than the wild.

Not to forget the fact that the graphs on yesterday’s post showed that one of the growing components of feed for farmed salmon is poultry… chickens.

One of the studies linked to by one of the bcsalmonfacts.ca responses (Not All Salmon Are Created Equal: Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Global Salmon Farming Systems) to one of my comments suggests that in Canada, the composition of “animal derived meals and oils” (as separate from fish meal and oils) is approximately 20%. That suggests farmed salmon are being fed about 20% or so of ground up chicken — doesn’t it?

Oh, is that wild chickens then?

Or, are those the same inefficient chickens that farmed salmon ‘feed to meat conversion rates’ are compared to?

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These blending of ideas and theories and hypotheses are all fine and dandy as opinion, and stretching and turning things like silly putty to fit your ideas…

But “facts”?

When you take the plunge to say you have the “facts”, then you should probably  tread carefully and responsibly and make sure you “stick to the facts, mam”.

You don’t have the “facts” when you simply quote from one scientific study and not another that refutes the same idea. These are selective facts, because the ‘fact’ is that there are disputed ‘facts’. (in a sense that’s what the legal system is — isn’t it… advocating positions to determine the “facts”? and many are familiar with how that system can be manipulated from time to time.)

You don’t have the “facts” when you start conveniently twisting some information and not others to fit what many might label a bias perspective. (I expect to get called on the same tactics)

It also seems a bit slippery when one fact might very well be a ‘fact’: like ‘salmon swim in the water’ and then right beside that state a little more slippery fact that is actually the subject of much debate.

Is that ‘transparency’ or simply baking a ‘fact’-cake from a variety of half-fact ingredients?

And I mean this for all sides.

How slippery should we allow the facts slide to be?

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Here is a thought from Mr. Orwell from his 1946 essay: Politics and the English Language that I included in a post this summer following the announcement of the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement (Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement: Orwell’s sections of a “prefabricated henhouse”).

It seems fitting in a few ways:

This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

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Pre-fabricated henhouses; fact-cake made from chicken scratch and half-facts; bumpf-filled pie… all sort of the same thing…

Who really has the facts?

“Separating Fact from Fiction”?

Fish Feed Circa 1990

www.bcsalmonfacts.ca

Fish Feed Today

bcsalmonfacts.ca

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Making an evidence presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity. To maintain standards of quality, relevance, and integrity for evidence, consumers of presentations should insist that presenters be held intellectually and ethically responsible for what they show and tell. Thus consuming a presentation is also an intellectual and moral activity.

~Edward Tufte, introduction to his book Beautiful Evidence

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Separating Fact from Fiction” is the headline of the recent Vancouver Sun’s ‘exclusive online and commentary opinion’ by Ms. Walling Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmer’s Association:

BCsalmonfacts.ca is a website that raises some of the common myths that we hear questions about, and provides answers through video, written explanations, animations and links to supporting documents. BC Salmon Facts also includes a discussion forum, where people can ask questions and debate the facts and answers…

As you may have read in on this blog this past week, I have some posts asking questions about some apparent BC salmon facts on the same named website — as well as pondering some of the strategies and tactics of the PR campaign.

As Ms. Walling suggests in her opinion piece:

We’ve learned that … those asking ‘tough’ questions appreciate having someone who can explain the answer and give some straight forward information. It makes the discussion rational and reasoned.

I agree… rational and reasoned would certainly prove beneficial in this searing, glowing red amber hot button issue. As mentioned, I take issue at times with PR-spin conducted on all sides of the equation.

Good discussion, requires decent information.

As such, I have questioned some of the “facts” posted on the bcsalmonfacts.ca website, and posted a few ‘tough’ questions (although maybe the jury is out on how tough those are…). Looking to thoughts from Ms. Walling’s editorial piece last year on the same Vancouver Sun weblog titled “Fishing for Proof” might assist here:

Scientists working for environmental organizations have a legitimate right to be involved in the decision-making process on issues such as salmon farming. However, their use of sensational claims has created an ethical battlefield where business interests are portrayed as being in opposition to environmental interests…

…To be successful in addressing the factors that are adversely affecting wild salmon populations in B.C., business, industry, government and non governmental organizations will need to work together. We need to have rational discussions about the cause and possible effects and we need to work together to move beyond rhetoric towards solutions. [my emphasis]

(which I’m guessing means the definition of rhetoric as: “Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous.”… vacuous basically suggesting empty, devoid of substance…)

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On yesterday’s post, I quoted from one of my favorite information design experts Edward Tufte, professor emeritus at Yale University. In his most recent book Beautiful Evidence. One reviewer suggests: “Tufte will get you thinking about the meaning of words and images, not to mention your ability to tell the truth”.

Beautiful Evidence -- Edward Tufte

In this fine book, Tufte states in his Introduction:

Evidence that bears on questions of any complexity typically involves multiple forms of discourse. Evidence is evidence, whether words, numbers, images, diagrams, still or moving. The intellectual task remains constant regardless of the mode of evidence: to understand and to reason about the materials at hand, and to appraise their quality, relevance and integrity.

And, this appears to be the case with the bcsalmonfacts.ca PR campaign. The “facts” posted on the website are accompanied by ‘evidence’ — as opposed to “rhetoric”…?

As in: “moving beyond rhetoric.”

Moving beyond empty, meaningless language that does not improve discussions…

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I refer to some rhetoric as bumpf (search the term and category on this blog site) — empty meaningless phrases that don’t really mean much; overused and empty… like eating chocolate bars as part of a healthy weightloss diet.

Air Pie; things said that don’t really mean anything; words used in ways that forget actual definitions.

I’ve hit on some of these terms on various posts on this site, for example: sustainability, ecosystem-based management, conservation, etc… They are used by all sides of many debates, and yet few seem to stop and ask: “hey, wait a second, what definition of ‘sustainability’ are you working from?”…

Or: “what do you mean when you say: conservation?”

Here are groups of folks throwing burning cocktails at each other and we don’t even know whether they share the same definitions of some words in the debate… it’s thus, a bit of an empty, meaningless argument — like the words.

It’s akin to parents arguing about “disciplining” their children when one parent believes discipline means: throttling a child and getting the wooden spoon, and the other parent thinks ‘discipline’ is: sending a misbehaving child to a corner for a little timeout.

It’s becomes a pointless discussion if neither understands where the other is coming from or what the other person means when they say “[enter word here]“…

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So let’s look at an apparent “fact” or ‘BC salmon fact’:

Salmon feed is designed specifically to conserve wild fish stocks.

Today’s feed minimizes the use of wild fish protein and oils. Review these charts to see the ingredients in salmon feed today, compared to what they were in the 1990s.
Fish Feed Circa 1990
Fish Feed Today
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We can see by the chart that there is a reduction in the use of “fish meal protein” and “fish oil” with a significant increase in “poultry and plant protein meal”.  Yes, that’s a good for lots of little fish in the sea (e.g. anchovies, sardines, and such) that get caught in other parts of the world and ground up into fish meal and fish oil.

(One of the first question that pops to my mind is: what’s the percentage of “poultry” to “plant protein meal”, those are two very different things; however, that’s besides the point of critically exploring the evidence at hand.)

The logic here suggests that because there is less fish meal and fish oil used in the feed that this: ‘conserves wild fish stocks’.

How?

I’ve raised this point before in the use of this word: “conservation”.

Conservation means: “To protect from loss or harm; preserve”

Preserve means a few things:

1. To maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect.
2. To keep in perfect or unaltered condition; maintain unchanged.

Those are pretty clear definitions, thus, how can we say we are “conserving” something; or “preserving” something; or even “protecting” something… if what we actually mean is that we have “reduced” use?

So is not the fact that is beings stated here more like this: “salmon feed research and development is working to reduce our pressures on wild fish stocks”?

And,  “we can demonstrate evidence of this by this by a certain graph and text”?

Because if we say we are “conserving” when we’re simply “reducing”, then aren’t we just engaged in rhetoric? And using “sensational claims” on these “ethical battlefields”?

Words are important, so are images, and shouldn’t they be used to develop better understanding, not further muddy the waters?

How do everyday folks separate “fact from fiction” when so many of us forget the real meanings of some words?

Evidence has various definitions, one being: “indicate clearly; exemplify or prove.”

Furthermore, fiction, is suggested to mean: “An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.”