Monthly Archives: February 2011

Are your salmon depressed?

Are your salmon depressed?

Here’s the solution… just put them in the nearest city wastewater stream.

There, they will get a good dose of prozac, cialis/viagara, and estrogen from birth control pills.

CBC reported in January:

Antidepressants in Montreal waste water

A significant amount of antidepressant medicine exists in Montreal’s waste water, affecting fish tissue and brain activity, a study by the University of Montreal’s chemistry department has found.

The study says the phenomenon likely occurs in many cities around the world because Montreal has a typical sewage-treatment system.

The controlled study involved brook trout exposed to varying amounts of effluent Montreal water over a three-month period.

“We have data that does show that antidepressant drugs do accumulate in fish tissues — there’s significantly more in the liver than in the muscle, but there’s also more in the brain tissues,” [Dr.] Sauvé [main researcher] told The Canadian Press.

“[The brain] is a bit more of a cause for concern because we have a molecule that’s known and used for brain alteration functions in humans, so if we do have an accumulation in fish brain, it raises a question of what the impact is on the fish.”

And so now at least Montreal has happy, erect, non-reproducing fish swimming around in the St. Lawrence…

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Jest aside… this is no small potato issue. One thing that struck me… the study estimates that one in four folks in Quebec are on Prozac-like medication. Yowsers.

The CBC report turns quickly to the human fear-factor issue… “oh my god, what if I eat the fish?”.

Not a big issue.

But what if you’re a depressed salmon in the Fraser River — like a sockeye?

Well… flush it out of sight, flush it out of mind.

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At last summer’s Fraser Sockeye Summit hosted by SFU, Ken Ashley an instructor at the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) reported on this issue.

Ken Ashley_SFU salmon summit_March 2010

His report is also summarized in the proceedings from the Summit:

Emerging concerns about wastewater
There is an emerging concern about wastewater and the array of chemicals that are being produced by society and usually end up going down the drain. Endocrine disruptors are of particular concern, and there is a large range of these compounds; for example, the compound Bisphenol A which led to a debate over plastic water bottles and the banning by Health Canada for some baby bottles.

Another endocrine disruptor is Triclosan, a thyroid hormone mimicker that acts as an antibacterial agent. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenols), POPs (persistent organic pollutants) and fire retardants such as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are other compounds of concern.

Numerous pharmaceuticals, such as Viagra and Prozac that are also found in wastewater. The latest compounds of concern are nanoparticles, such as nanocarbon, nanotitanium and nanosilver. Nanosilver is now used by some washing machines to disinfect clothing (silver has been known since the Middle Ages to have antimicrobial activity). All of these compounds usually end up in the drain being discharged into either the marine or freshwater environment.

The question is: how effective are wastewater treatment plants at keeping these compounds out of marine and freshwater environments? The answer is that they are not…

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Effects of effluent on salmon migration

Recent research has show that incidents of sex‐reversal in salmonids have been observed in the effluent plume. The presence of EDCs [endocrine disrupting compounds — the things that mess with our most ancient internal systems, like the immune system, etc.] may also interfere with the typical olfactory imprinting process during early life cycle development stages in salmon.

There is a period when the smolts go through the parr‐smolt transformation, where the thyroxin hormone levels become elevated in the blood. It is known that juvenile salmon detect the unique odour of their natal streams; this phenomenon is referred to as olfactory imprinting, and this is how salmon migrate to their natal stream once they return into the freshwater environment (in the open marine migration they are guided by magnetic compass and sun height). Evidence suggests that juvenile salmon ‘imprint’ odours of the streams on the way to the ocean during the parr‐smolt transformation period.

Elevated thyroxin levels stimulate neural development of the olfactory cells, and this facilitates olfactory imprinting. However, this process may be interrupted when the smolts move through effluent plumes containing Trislocan and other EDCs.

Ashley also goes on to point out the issues around PCBs and PCBEs:

PCB and PBDE trends in Strait of Georgia
Research has been conducted under the direction of scientists at the Institute of Ocean Science where sediment cores were obtained from the Strait of Georgia and examined for organochlorines, PCBs and PBDEs among other compounds. The presence of PBDEs is universal; for example, they are in your furniture cushions and in computer cases.

On a side note to the presentation:

The orca found dead on the Olympic Peninsula earlier this year carried a level of contaminants that was among the highest if not the highest ever measured in killer whales, laboratory tests show the 22 foot long female orca was so full of polychlorinated biphenyls that when scientists first attempted to test her fat, the result was too high for the machines to read it.

[the carcass of this whale basically had to be disposed of like toxic waste]

There are ongoing issues and concerns surrounding the health of Fraser Chinook which comprise a significant part of the SARA-listed (Species At Risk Act) resident orcas in the Salish Sea.

After his presentation Ashley answered a question with this info on what needed to be done in the City of Vancouver and Fraser Valley area:

It all comes down to dollars and the issue right now is that the Iona plant is outdated and needs to be rebuilt and it will cost about $1 billion. The Lions Gate plant is out of date, it is a fish killer, and to upgrade it will be about $0.5 billion. Annacis, Lulu and Northwest Langley plants all need significant midlife upgrades. If you add it all together, the cost is about $1.75 billion.

The issue is that Metro is currently following a funding model where they want to pay everything off in a 15‐year amortization period. This has gone to the finance committee twice and the liquid waste management panel has suggested that instead it be spread over 30 or 35 years. These are multigenerational facilities that will be here for a long time.

…in order to enable politicians to do their job this time at the local government level, you need to talk to your city councilor or mayor who is on the Metro Vancouver wastewater management committee and tell them to adopt a 35‐year amortization period and rebuild all of these starting at the same time and with the best available technology. If they get hung up on the 15‐year amortization period, they will drag the upgrade out for 20 or 30 years.

Certainly could leave one wondering where the almighty Department of Fisheries and Oceans is on these issues? As they are supposed to protect salmon, and orcas and marine resources and so on, and so on…

The space matters… salmon matter.

Another gem from Godin:

The space matters

It might be a garage or a sunlit atrium, but the place you choose to do what you do has an impact on you.

More people get engaged in Paris in the springtime than on the 7 train in Queens. They just do. Something in the air, I guess.

Pay attention to where you have your brainstorming meetings. Don’t have them in the same conference room where you chew people out over missed quarterly earnings.

Pay attention to the noise and the smell and the crowd in the place where you’re trying to overcome being stuck. And as Paco Underhill has written, make the aisles of your store wide enough that shoppers can browse without getting their butts brushed by other shoppers.

Most of all, I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes. There’s a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.

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So many salmon-related meetings, commissions, forums, and so on — in urban hotel conference rooms. So disconnected from the rivers that are the salmon arteries.

What would the Cohen Commission feel like if it was held on a gravel bar beside sockeye spawning grounds…?

What would various ‘forums’ on salmon conservation and harvest planning sound like if they were alongside the Fraser Canyon, beside fish drying racks, and footholds in the rocks where people have fished for thousands of years…?

What would a salmon think tank come up with if it was outside the confines of a “tank”…?

What would court cases over salmon and fishing rights look like if they were held in longhouses?

Or, on one of the old trollers built by settler families in the early 1900s out of Sitka spruce and cedar — rolling on a west coast swell?

Or, besides folks smokehouses — First Nation or settlers alike.

Or, in the spring as millions upon millions of baby salmon migrate downstream all across the Pacfic Rim, feeding everything as they go?

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There’s a reason why the Fraser River was one of the most densely populated areas of the Americas pre-contact…

There’s a reason why some folks suggest they are almost more salmon than human.

‘There’s a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.’

Hold Ottawa accountable…? Unreasonable…?

Here’s a curious view from two pretty different places:

Seth Godin, marketing maven has a post on his blog today:


It’s unreasonable to get out of bed on a snow day, when school has been canceled, and turn the downtime into six hours of work on an extra credit physics lab.

It’s unreasonable to launch a technology product that jumps the development curve by nine months, bringing the next generation out much earlier than more reasonable competitors.

It’s unreasonable for a trucking company to answer the phone on the first ring.

It’s unreasonable to start a new company without the reassurance venture money can bring.

It’s unreasonable to expect a doctor’s office to have a pleasant and helpful front desk staff.

It’s unreasonable to walk away from a good gig in today’s economy, even if you want to do something brave and original.

It’s unreasonable for teachers to expect that we can enable disadvantaged inner city kids to do well in high school.

It’s unreasonable to treat your colleagues and competitors with respect given the pressure you’re under.

It’s unreasonable to expect that anyone but a great woman, someone with both drive and advantages, could do anything important in a world where the deck is stacked against ordinary folks.

It’s unreasonable to devote years of your life making a product that most people will never appreciate.

Fortunately, the world is filled with unreasonable people…

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Is it then unreasonable for the federal government to then, be held accountable for certain decisions?

Such as, for example, this article from Justine Hunter in the Globe and Mail today:

Hold Ottawa accountable for salmon probe delay, B.C. treaty commission head says

The federal government should be on the hook for the hidden cost of its decision to grant the Cohen commission on Fraser River sockeye another year to complete its work, says the head of the BC Treaty Commission.

At least seven first nations communities are in treaty limbo, their debts mounting while they wait for a verdict from the salmon inquiry before they can move ahead with settling their claims.

“The Cohen inquiry should not continue to be used as an excuse not to get on with business at the treaty table,” said Sophie Pierre, chief commissioner for the BC Treaty Commission.

…“We need some accountability here from the federal government,” she said. “They are really big on demanding accountability from first nations, but that shoe goes on both feet. We need accountability from them too.”

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And yet through all of this DFO continues to fund and participate in at least two different processes in BC with First Nations which are discussing co-management and/or joint management of salmon fisheries.

The article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed the Cohen commission to investigate what happened on the Fraser River in 2009, when only about one million sockeye returned in a run that was supposed to number more than 10 million.

Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, later announced the federal government would defer negotiating fisheries issues at treaty tables in B.C. until the Cohen commission reports out. At that time, the Cohen report was due by May 1, 2011. It now has until June, 2012 to complete its investigation into the cause of the decline of the Fraser River sockeye runs.

“Defer” negotiating fisheries issues at BC treaty tables?

Well… what First Nation in BC living in areas that drain to the Pacific, with salmon present — doesn’t have fisheries as central components of their culture and communities?

So by “deferring” these negotiations that have been underway since 1992 for many Nations within the BC Treaty Process — how does this benefit any one, or any process?

But then I suppose, It’s unreasonable to expect a government based in Ottawa, a Minister originally from PEI, and a federal department also based in Ottawa to actually understand fisheries issues and to act with some sort of accountability and sense?

I don’t know if it’s chronic or not — however it seems the bureaucratic behemoth that is DFO is a little lost on the path… some money here, some money there… here some money, there some money… there a bureaucrat, here a bureaucrat, everywhere a bureaucrat… with a bling, bling here, a bling, bling there… here a bling… there a bling… everywhere a bling, bling…

(and I’m not so sure the Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye declines is going to make the map any more clear… or magically create a solution to a 150 year old issue in BC: access to fish and fisheries; access which was there for time immemorial before…)

Who’s accountable for all this?

‘everything I need to know about fisheries management I learned in Kindergarten’

Mark Hume reports today in the Globe and Mail:

Funding for test fisheries to expire

There is no funding agreement in place to continue test fisheries on the West Coast, a key program that allows managers to calculate how many salmon are returning to the Fraser River each year, a federal judicial inquiry has learned.

Jim Cave, head of stock monitoring for the Pacific Salmon Commission, and Paul Ryall, a senior Department of Fisheries and Oceans official, both testified Monday that test fishing is crucial in providing stock estimates, so managers can determine how many fish can be caught.

But the two officials told the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River that a five-year funding program for test fishing is coming to an end this year, and it’s not clear yet how test fishing will be paid for after it expires.

“I’m not aware there’s an agreed-upon solution,” said Mr. Ryall, in response to questions from Wendy Baker, associate counsel for the commission headed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen.

Mr. Ryall, who was head of DFO’s salmon team until becoming co-ordinator of his department’s involvement with the Cohen commission, said funding for test fishing became a problem after the Federal Court ruled, in 2006, that the government could not finance any activities by granting a licence to fish, then selling the catch.

Until that ruling, DFO had financed test fisheries by allowing the contractor to sell the fish or crabs that were taken in the tests. Across Canada, DFO spends about $12-million annually doing test fisheries, with half of that spent on the Pacific Coast.

In the wake of the Federal Court ruling, DFO approved a five-year funding program to cover the cost of test fisheries while a long-term solution was worked out.

Mr. Ryall said one proposal called for the Fisheries Act to be amended, so that paying for test fishing with the proceeds of the catch would be legal. But the legislative changes suggested were never made. Nor did a proposal to have industry pick up the costs come to fruition.

“This will be the last year [of funding]. … I don’t know what options are contemplated at this point,” Mr. Ryall said.

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There’s a rather terse response in one of the few comments to the online article:

geez, DFO only had 5 years to figure something out!?….that’s not nearly enough time for thousands of bureaucrats to come to any decision…

DFO couldn’t manage its way out of a wet paper bag….embarrassing and calls for a complete overhaul of this bankrupt ( morally, fiscally, etc etc) department

I’m not generally one for such a comment… but… really… Is the comment all that far off?

Five years and no one of the 70+ DFO staff listed on annual Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs), and other 100+ in other departments within the Department were unable to see this coming?

The article continues:

The data collected in the test fisheries is compared with the results that have been gathered on similar tests over the past 50 years, the size of the salmon run is estimated, and commercial catch limits are set. As the salmon run approaches the river, more data is gathered and catch limits can be adjusted in-season.

“Without that information we don’t have the information to manage the fisheries,” Mr. Ryall said. “We need those test fisheries to properly manage.”

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Say that again…

“Without that information we don’t have the information to manage the fisheries,” Mr. Ryall said. “We need those test fisheries to properly manage.”

Oh, that’s what I thought you said… “we need those test fisheries to properly manage…” and in five years no one has devised a $6 million solution to the problem?

What is this… “everything I need to know about fisheries management I learned in Kindergarten”?

…”I don’t know what options are contemplated at this point,” Mr. Ryall said.

Five years… no contemplated options… wow.

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Parallel link to this story… consider the post from the other day: wow, shocking… Commission extension & DFO fighting court cases rather than protecting salmon.

In that post I outlined how DFO lost a court challenge with a decision handed down in mid-Dec. 2010.

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 [Species At Risk Act], and it was unlawful for the Minister to have cited discretionary provisions of the Fisheries Act in the Protection Statement.

In essence, DFO is failing in protecting critical food (Fraser Chinook salmon) for endangered orcas in the Salish Sea. The judge was pretty clear — DFO made errors and better clean up their act (sort of like the Aquaculture decision).

But now… DFO is actually going to appeal the orca decision. Rather than actually protect an endangered species, and act now, they would rather mount more legal action — costing what?

There was also in that same post, an explanation of how the Cohen Commission has been granted an approximately one year extension and another $11 million. And DFO actually has dedicated senior managers strictly tasked with managing the Cohen Commission process [Ryall quote above]. What’s this cost?

If someone can’t come up with a funding plan in five years for something (test fisheries) that is apparently central to fisheries management — then what the hell are they doing over there in the hallowed halls of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans?

I recognize unwieldy, ineffective, bureaucratic behemoths are an easy target… but come on… can someone figure this one out?