Monthly Archives: March 2011

Once upon a salmon: “reducing fishing pressure … to rebuild diminished runs”

Carrying capacity? (circa 1977)

Notice the tag line on this photo: “Carrying Capacity?”

This is from the 1977 publication: “Pacific Salmon Management for People”.

Pacific Salmon Management for People











And yet another image from this book should have the same tag.

Massed gill netters -- Fraser River

As I’ve pointed out in other posts related to this book, the 1977 conclusion states:

To tackle the complex questions of salmon management… highly sophisticated techniques of simulation and decision-making are being evolved… Laymen, and scientists whose experience is in other areas, must take these techniques largely on trust. We are in the hands of technocrats… Certainty is elusive.

One reason for this is the prohibitive cost and difficulty of obtaining precise initial information; another is the yearly variability of freshwater and estuary environments; yet another is the urgency of many managerial choices which dictates that partial evidence must suffice. Misjudgements and errors, then, are likely. Science is to be trusted, but scientists nevertheless make mistakes. The science, as the thalidomide children would remind us, may not be complete.

Ah yes…

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And yet in 1998, a paper emanating out of the University of BC: IMPLEMENTING THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE IN FISHERIES MANAGEMENT THROUGH MARINE RESERVES by Tim Lauck, Colin W. Clark, Marc Mangel, and Gordon R. Munro seems to be pretty clear on a certain issue:

Overexploitation of marine fisheries remains a serious problem worldwide, even for many fisheries that have been intensively managed by coastal nations. Many factors have contributed to these system failures. Here we discuss the implications of persistent, irreducible scientific uncertainty pertaining to marine ecosystems. When combined with typical levels of uncontrollability of catches and incidental mortality, this uncertainty probably implies that traditional approaches to fisheries management will be persistently unsuccessful.

The main gist of this paper is the idea of marine reserves — and idea which is not foreign to the world of wild salmon, with the proposition of wild salmon reserves (at least in their freshwater environment) becoming more common.

The paper continues:

Suggestions for improving the management of marine fisheries have not been in short supply. We will not review here the long history of discussion of the ‘‘problem of overfishing,’’ but will concentrate instead on the implications of uncertainty in fisheries management.

We take as an underlying assumption that fishery declines and collapses result in large part from overfishing, that is to say, from a level of fishing intensity that is excessive in terms of maintaining a sustainable population and fishery. We nevertheless recognize that changes in the marine environment are also often involved in the decline or collapse of any particular fishery.

Levels of catch that may be sustainable under normal or favorable environmental conditions may prove not to be sustainable under abnormal conditions. Many fish populations that have suddenly collapsed under intensive exploitation had presumably persisted for thousands of years in spite of fluctuations in the marine environment. The parsimonious assumption is, therefore, that fishing decreased the resilience of these populations, rendering them more vulnerable to environmental change. From our perspective, this still constitutes overfishing.

Environmental fluctuations are but one of many sources of major uncertainty in fisheries. It is now widely accepted that management must somehow allow for uncertainty and potential inaccuracy in projected sustainable catch levels. It is our contention in this paper, however, that the full implications of uncertainty have not been recognized in the design and implementation of fisheries management strategies. This shortcoming, we believe, has been a major factor in the decline and collapse of many fisheries.

Yes, indeed. And have you looked at the coastwide populations of wild salmon and their changes over… say… the last 30 to 40 years?

Or, have you looked at a shrinking monitoring program of shrinking salmon populations?

One article published in a renowned hallowed-halls, peer-reviewed journal has:

Ghost Runs: management and status assessment of Pacific salmon returning to BC’s central and north coast_Price_2008

I’ll comment on the article in another post, as it certainly relates to recent points in other posts and comments.

One of the more striking lines from the paper — and this isn’t rocket science…

“… reducing fishing pressure as a straightforward management prescription to rebuild diminished runs.

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In this time of great environmental uncertainty… from rapidly expanding ocean dead zones due to acidification that have occurred far faster than any “modeling” by world experts predicted to climate change impacts that are also far beyond what “models” predicted…

shouldn’t we be making drastic changes to how we look after essential ‘resources’ such as wild salmon… and their habitat?

Oh wait… I think I might have read something along these lines in something else recently…

Oh yeah, the 1932 British Columbia Fisheries Department report: Contributions to the Life History of the Sockeye Salmon:

BC Fisheries Department 1932











There was a particular excerpt:

Hope you can read that fine print:

“…lack of control of the fishery is quite well understood… Increased escapements appear to be the logical remedy.”

“…in the meantime a very conservative policy is imperative.”

Indeed. Good 1932 scientific wisdom.

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Reducing fishing pressure to rebuild runs… (might be the best rehabilitation/restoration/adaptation strategy going).


What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?

If you live in British Columbia, you’ve probably seen the somewhat annoying commercial of a former CBC radio personality singing the praises of the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). This is largely an example of evidence-based marketing with testimonials from the tribe.

It’s not all that far off from well-known athletes selling the praises of some sugary sport drink, or milk, or underwear. Somewhere in the brain folks think — “hey, if it’s good for them, just imagine what it’ll do for me…”

To a certain degree, the ongoing (apparent) bcsalmonfacts salmon farming campaign has also engaged some of these tactics on their website… Testimonials from various dr.’s, community folks and the like… ‘evidence-based marketing’… look how great our industry is.

I’ve also noticed recently that the Federal government has begun a new round of “look how great our economic action plan is”. Staged actors looking happy and smiley as government bailouts fattens wallets of party supporters and friends.

Cynicism aside… it is curious to see governments launching into apparent ‘evidence-based marketing’ and ‘testimonials’ from the average jill and joe.

Seth Godin has a pretty good related post over at his site:

The limits of evidence-based marketing

That’s what most of us do. We present facts and proof and expect a rational consumer/voter/follower/peer to make an intelligent decision on what’s better.

That’s how science works. Thesis, test, evidence, conclusion. All testable and rational.

Here’s the conversation that needs to happen before we invest a lot of time in evidence-based marketing in the face of skepticism: “What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?”

If the honest answer is, “well, actually, there’s nothing you could show me that would change my mind,” you’ve just saved everyone a lot of time. Please don’t bother having endless fact-based discussions.

[Apple tried to use evidence to persuade IT execs and big companies to adopt the Mac during the 80s. They tried ads and studies that proved the Mac was easier and cheaper to support. They failed. It was only the gentle persistence of storytelling and the elevation of evangelists that turned the tide.]

What would you have to show someone who believes men never walked on the moon? What evidence would you have to proffer in order to change the mind of someone who is certain the Earth is only 5,000 years old? If they’re being truthful with you, there’s nothing they haven’t been exposed to that would do the trick. I was talking to someone who has a body of artistic work I respect a great deal. He explained to me his notion that the polio vaccine was a net negative, that it didn’t really work and that more people have been hurt by it than helped.

I tried evidence. I showed him detailed reports from the Gates Foundation and from the WHO and from other sources. No, he said, that’s all faked, promoted by the pharma business. There was no evidence that would change his mind.

Of course, evidence isn’t the only marketing tactic that is effective. In fact, it’s often not the best tactic. What would change his mind, what would change the mind of many people resistant to evidence is a series of eager testimonials from other tribe members who have changed their minds.

When people who are respected in a social or professional circle clearly and loudly proclaim that they’ve changed their minds, a ripple effect starts. First, peer pressure tries to repress these flip-flopping outliers. But if they persist in their new mindset, over time others may come along. Soon, the majority flips. It’s not easy or fast, but it happens.

That’s why it’s hard to find people who believe the earth is flat. That’s why political parties change their stripes now and then. It wasn’t that the majority reviewed the facts and made a shift. It’s because people they respected sold them on a new faith, a new opinion.

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What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind about the Department of Fisheries & Oceans?

What evidence would you need to see in order to believe that DFO is meeting its #1 objective: “conservation”?

Would this government department have a hell of a time trying to find some ‘tribe’ members to do positive testimonials? (other than its own staff)

Seems DFO is under attack from many fronts… yet, again (or as always)… largely due to dwindling fish stocks, and our continued fishing down the food chain, and fishing down the size restrictions of various types of fish.

is this the nature of government departments? Or, does this mean it’s time for a fundamental restructuring?

Could somebody show me the testimonials? the evidence-based marketing? the every-supportive ‘tribe’?

Maybe read that part about Mac again:

Apple tried to use evidence to persuade IT execs and big companies to adopt the Mac during the 80s. They tried ads and studies that proved the Mac was easier and cheaper to support. They failed. It was only the gentle persistence of storytelling and the elevation of evangelists that turned the tide.

Once upon a salmon: “Salmon management for people”… that’s the problem isn’t it?

Pacific Salmon Management for People

I came across this book in a Vancouver Island used book store recently as well. It was published by the University of Victoria in 1977.

It’s quite a remarkable read for simply shaking one’s head and mumbling: “…we just never learn… we just never learn…”

There’s also some recognizable names from today’s salmon debates…

Here’s some material from the Preface of the book:





Over the past few years there has been a rapid and widespread expansion of enlightened attitudes towards managing resources and planning their development. Two principle components can be identified. The first is recognition that a resource is part of an ecosystem, and that manipulation of any part of the system will have effects ramifying throughout. The second component is an awareness that people also are a part of the ecosystem, and the ramifying effects will reach them in many different ways and times.

This book emphasizes the salmon resource system — the fish, the environment, the people, and the social organisation and interactions which nowadays link them together and which overlies the natural ecosystem of simpler times. Its examination of this system unfortunately cannot be comprehensive. The system is too complex for that…

… Section III concerns itself with the future, for without such prognostications the book itself would be only an academic exercise of little use to people…


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Here are three quotes from Section I: Emerging Knowledge and Theory.

“One can only look with sadness and with wonder at the record of man’s use of the Pacific salmon resources…”

For myself… this book was published before I was in kindergarten… how sad and with depressed wonder is that view of man’s record with Pacific salmon — now?

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“This (the involvement of biologists in salmon management) is particularly necessary during a management period when a philosophy of systems analysis, in which salmon tend to be regarded as statistically predictable automata, rather than living individually varying animals, is being emphasised.”

Not much has changed on this front… we now have a Department of Fisheries and Oceans “Pilot Study” called the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) which is a computer modeling program that uses a variety of paper maché theories to attempt to predict run sizes and fishing limits.

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“It is ironic that just as the agencies are beginning to achieve maximum sustained yield (on the Skeena sockeye at least), the inadequacies of this theory are becoming widely recognized.”

It is even more ironic that in 2011, thirty-four years later — salmon management is still based on this tired old theory of maximum sustained yield. It’s still a central component of the apparent Wild Salmon Policy.

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And, yet… the conclusion to this book could, no doubt, be written today. It could be the same words used in Justice Cohen’s final report…

The problem of Pacific Salmon management is twofold: the maintenance of a natural resource, and its allocation to people with diverse claims. The setting is the contemporary world of urban and industrial growth, unemployment and inflation. The light which we throw on the problem is the new understanding that issues cannot be interpreted, nor decided upon, in isolation but must be seen in a broad context of ramifying relations which we call a system.

James Crutchfield described how man as a predator of salmon has failed conspicuously to maximize either the salmon populations or his own gains. Stocks have declined, and labour and capital have been grossly wasted. From the failure to put the fishery on a sound economic basis stems the failure to reach the primary goal of salmon management – “some composite measures of human well-being.” The chief reasons for the pursuit of immediate profit and conflicts of interest. Inadequate knowledge of the ecological needs of salmon has not been a prime cause of their decline. Decisions have been made knowingly.

The mood of today, and it may be an ephemeral mood, is tempered with restraint. The tradition of stewardship, traceable to Plato has a voice. Man has responsibilities towards nature (and the mind to the body?). Certainly the Pacific salmon must not attain the status of the Atlantic salmon in Europe…

…The problems of salmon management, then, represent in microcosm some great issues of our time. They call not merely for ecological economics but also from ecological politics. They are one test of whether man can make a civilization distinguished by restraint and a sense of place…

I know the sense of place that I have of British Columbia and the Pacific Rim in general… is one that includes healthy runs of wild Pacific salmon.

When will we learn? When will we learn?

Maybe reading these old reports on salmon ‘management’ should come with a mandatory prescription of Prozac.