Monthly Archives: June 2011

the deathly language of wild salmon…


exhausting language?

There has not been a post here in a bit… a slight break… severe exhaustion of the reams of “specialist” salmon language. In discussions of salmon; it is never-ending.

I’ve been reviewing various studies, following salmon stories online, participating in a few meetings, reading the odd book —

Four Fish -- by Paul Greenberg

(this one of which is decent storytelling, but not much different then any other chapter of a book on the issue…)

…and just have not been able to pull a post together on the subject.

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Today I came across material out of the University of Oregon — The Salmon 2100 Project. Inasmuch as I find the spirit of the project a positive one… the language is at times exhausting; and too oft repeated everywhere one turns to read about wild salmon…

One of the ‘chapters’ is titled:

Wild Salmon in Western North America: Forecasting the Most Likely Status in 2100

But how can it be that the recovery prognosis is poor when the direct causes of the decline are reasonably well known, have been studied in great detail, and the public is generally supportive of reversing the long-term downward trend?

The answer is captured in a simple policy statement of fact:

Effecting any change in the long-term downward trend of wild salmon is futile in the absence of shifts in the core policy drivers of this decline.

It is the core policy drivers [pictured above] —the root causes—that have determined the status of wild salmon and will continue to determine that status through this century.

Habitat alteration, dams, water withdrawals, fishing, hatcheries, and many more, are simply the ways in which the core policy drivers have been expressed. Intended or not, by focusing on these highly visible, but secondary factors, government agencies have instituted a patchwork approach to salmon restoration that has distracted attention away from the less obvious, but fundamental core policy drivers.

I certainly agree with the patchwork approach, as documented in a post some time ago.

Is this blanket wet?

However… “core policy drivers”… wow, where do I sign up for this campaign?

Core Policy Driver #1 — Rules of Commerce
The first core driver is an overarching one and, like everything else in salmon science and policy, difficult to rigorously quantify as to its influence on wild salmon. It is:

The rules of commerce, especially trends in international commerce and trade as reflected in increased market globalization, tend to work against increasing the numbers of wild salmon.


Ironically the document points out some of challenges in getting “the public” interested…

…it may not be so much that the public (whomever that is?) is not interested —– it’s that the damn discussion is inaccessible.

Try and frame a wild salmon pep rally around core policy drivers & rules of commerce and see how many average folks show up…

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It isn’t much different at the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser River sockeye. The number of pages accumulating at that process should pretty much keep the BC pulp and paper industry in business for quite some time… or the dam-building business to keep producing the power to fuel the electronic databases of information…

In the end I don’t really see a nice succinct 20-page document coming out of that process, with clear ideas about stemming the downward trend.

Especially if terms such as this dominate the process…

complicated policy prescriptions

It’s not really that complicated… here’s a dictionary definition to assist…



1. the act of catching fish.
2. the technique, occupation, or diversion of catching fish.
3. a place or facility for catching fish.


plural ( especially collectively) fish, (especially referring to two or more kinds or species) fish·es, verb
1. any of various cold-blooded, aquatic vertebrates, having gills, commonly fins, and typically an elongated body covered with scales.

And so if one engages in the verb — to fish — that means, generally, removing and killing those cold-blooded critters, commonly with fins and scales…

One dead fish, means one less spawning fish… less spawning fish means less offspring… less offspring means less returning mature adults… more fishing… more dead fish… less spawners…

And you catch my drift (pardon the pun)…

Fortunately, like many critters on this planet, salmon are pretty darn hearty, tough creatures. They’ve survived ice ages, volcanoes and mass climate changes… but now they fight a heckuva battle… dwindling numbers, increasing pressures.

Little less of the verb “to fish” and we might just see miracles… instead of hiding behind “core policy drivers” otherwise known as “lack of political will”…

. {Hugh MacLeod}



“Why Ocean Acidification Matters to You”

A pretty decent article at the Tyee on ocean acidification

I’m not always a big fan of constantly reporting on the bad news… but then… when talking about wild Pacific salmon it’s pretty tough sometimes to report good news.

The ocean acidification discussion is a nasty one. In essence, as we continue to pump carbon into the atmosphere the ocean absorbs it and as more is absorbed, we get acidification… not good for coral reefs, shelled critters, and otherwise. (about the only thing it might be good for… jelly fish)

When baby salmon swim out of their home streams and start migrating up the Pacific coast towards the North Pacific they rely a lot on small shelled critters as one of their main food sources. Slight rises in acidification have drastic consequences on the small shelled critters — and thus a major wild salmon food source at key times of their lives.

There’s another article at the American Fisheries Society: Ocean acidification causes negative effects on fisheries

…highlights how some changes may be coming for some of the starts of one of the only T.V. shows I tend to watch: Deadliest Catch.

…the acidification process in the Arctic, Bering Sea, and Gulf of Alaska is developing faster than expected. Some predictions made for the acid levels said corrosive effects shouldn’t become evident until 2050 or 2100.

As well as the Gulf of Alaska being a pretty key part of most BC wild salmon migrations…

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Search the term online and there is a mass of articles dating back several years on this issue.

One key similarity between all the articles…?

Almost all of them suggest that any ‘computer modelling’ on this issue… has been wrong. Various scientists suggest that ocean acidification is occurring at a rate anywhere between 10 time to 50 times faster than any ‘models’ predicted

Wonder if any of the salmon “scientists” are working these into their computer modelling programs?

Canada’s “Fisheries Act” Section 36 is the primary pollution prevention provision…

Could be a curious couple of days at the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye… Yesterday was:

Effects on the Fraser River Watershed – Pulp and Paper Effluent, Mining Effluent

And today was:  Effects on the Fraser River Watershed – Municipal Wastewater

The list of evidence for yesterday and today includes the: Policy and Practice Report #15: Municipal Wastewater, Pulp and Paper and Mining Effluents.

Policy and Practice Report_municipal wastewater etc

Weighs in at only a light 115 pages… as opposed to the 600+ pages of Technical Report: Project 2: Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon.

Having a flip through the Policy and Practice report I was struck by something I did not realize before… it’s pretty “exciting” stuff, as it relates to Section 36 of Canada’s Fisheries Act.  I know… riveting… but read a little further if you can… especially if you appreciate the alliteration of primary pollution prevention provision…and prohibiting people.

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From the report:

1. This policy and practice report (“Report”) provides an overview of municipal wastewater, pulp and paper mill and mining effluent disposal practices, and of the various regulatory frameworks governing those practices in the Province of British Columbia.

2. This Report is limited to these three effluent sources, which are regulated or proposed to be regulated under section 36 of the Fisheries Act. It does not look at the many other point or non-point sources of effluents discharged to the Fraser River.

4. This Report does not purport to be comprehensive nor authoritative and does not assess the case authorities or statutes to which reference is made. This Report aims to provide a contextual background for the commission’s hearings on the potential impacts of pulp and paper, municipal wastewater and mining on Fraser River sockeye. All issues that may be examined during the commission’s hearings on these three subjects are not necessarily covered in this Report.

lots of sources of pollution

Basically… there is a lot of nasty shit hitting our waterways — especially the Fraser River.

There’s a reason why resident Orcas that hang out in the Salish Sea/Georgia Strait (e.g. off the mouth of the Fraser River) have to be treated as toxic waste when they die…

And here’s a line item that is rather a mouthful (below)… “BOD” refers to:

(Oxygen-consuming organic matter decays and consumes the oxygen dissolved in the surrounding water. Dissolved oxygen (“DO”) is essential to the metabolism of all aerobic aquatic organisms. Biochemical oxygen demand (“BOD”) refers to the level of oxygen consumed by the biological breakdown, or decay, of organic matter over a given period of time.)



So essentially, even if sewage treatment facilities are up to snuff… they still pump out quite a bit of damaging material.

how’s your endocrine?


However… don’t worry… Canada’s Fisheries Act is there to protect fish and fish habitat… especially from Pollution.



more legislation...


All pretty strong language…

…kind of like the BC bike helmet law as part of BC’s Motor Vehicle Act.

Bicycle safety helmets

184 (1) A person commits an offence if that person operates or rides as a passenger on a cycle on a highway and is not properly wearing a bicycle safety helmet…

How long has the bike helmet law… been “law”… and how many folks you know have been “prosecuted”…?

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But here’s the kicker…


does not oblige...

So there’s no need for any ‘positive steps’… it’s all up to DFO and Environment Canada to undertake any prosecution at their “discretion”.


“Discretion: “Freedom to act or judge on one’s own.”

So… Section 36 is apparently the alliterative primary pollution prevention provision prohibiting persons from depositing bad stuff in waterways which might impact wild salmon…

however it’s up to ‘discretion for prosecution’… and that’s the discretion of government ministries that are all facing substantial cutbacks and budgetary pressures… (as well as streamlining of industrial approval processes)…

…sounds like a great recipe for stronger: Prohibiting Persons through Primary Pollution Prevention Provisions.

but in fact… it’s discretion for deciding on dealing with dumpers…

or “keep dumping until someone decides on their discretion”…

Many of us figure we operate on a “Polluter Pay” system… maybe not so much…

how do you spell ‘sinking ship’? “D…F…O”?

sinking ship?

In wandering around information on the Cohen Commission website (inquiry into declines of Fraser River sockeye), one can find some pretty interesting stuff… that is… I suppose if one is into this sort of thing…

Along the left hand column of the website is the navigation bar — under the “Hearings” tab is a link to “Exhibits”.

There are now over 1000 exhibits. Some with no shortage of pages. I hope that someone is able to do some “key stats” work for the Commission upon its completion. (you know… like baseball stats, or other sports stats.)

Early in the exhibits is information on the structure, plans, budgets, etc. of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

Quite an organization… over 11,000 full time equivalents (FTEs), and an internal structure that resembles a decent size military… in hierarchy and command structure…

Unfortunately, as with all large bureaucracies, it also resembles an obese threatened puffer fish, ready to explode at the seams.

Worse yet… it also resembles a Canadian tar sands operations… sucking up more resources to keep the operation going then actual production — or achieving objectives.

The giant sucking sound is now the sound of resources being consumed to fix, ‘restructure’ and simply ‘control’ this unwieldy behemoth — granted it is most likely one of the smaller “public service” ministries.

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A read through some of the ‘organizational’ material submitted to the Cohen Commission as “exhibits”/evidence, rather quickly demonstrates a ministry in deep shit.

Looking through the Department’s “Integrated Business and Human Resources Plan for 2010-11“.

Fisheries and Oceans Departmental Plan_integrated business and human resources plan

and the 56-page “Report on Plans and Priorities” raises some curious comparisons and thoughts…

Here is a look at annual expenditures — past and forecast for the next while.


And so the annual budget has been over $2 billion annually. Apparently, this is going to be cut by about $200 million over the next 3 years, along with a slight increase in employees, then a decrease…


Combine this with some stats from the shorter integrated planning document…


globally competitive fisheries?

That, apparently commercial fisheries, aquaculture and processing generate about $5 billion in economic activity.

Now, the definition of “economic activity” is a rather broad definition… and… so, here’s a ministry with annual expenditures that are 40% of generated “economic activity”…

…granted there’s also the $7.5 billion or so apparently generated by sport fisheries, however, there is not a significant amount of DFO time or resources spent monitoring these fisheries — at least not in BC (some, but not much).

And there’s even a big disclaimer in the report outlining how DFO shares monitoring and enforcement of the recreational fishery with provincial and territorial governments.

And the “economic activities” generated certainly are not generating revenue to keep the DFO Ministry operational…

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The integrated and human resource business planning document outlines some other curious issues in this Ministry.

...numbers that matter...??

As outlined in the document, this Ministry has a serious problem upcoming. The “Age Distribution” box (top right) showing 40% of their workforce at 50 years or older and that 40% of their workforce is retiring by 2014 (bottom left pie chart).

There’s also this other curious little anecdote that the Ministry wants to cut down hiring time:

“reducing the average time it takes to staff a position to 133 days by implementing components of the national approach to resourcing…”

Wow… if they want to cut down to 133 days — what is it at right now?

So there are over 11,000 full time equivalents in the Ministry — 40% of the workforce is due to retire in less than 5 years (so somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 people) and the time for hiring new people is going to be cut down to just over 4.5 months…

And yet, the first chart above shows $300 million in budget cuts coming — just as guidance, not as reality — it could be much worse. The Pacific region alone is talking about $50 to $60 million in cuts this year alone.

So how is the Ministry going to do succession planning?

In any business, you don’t just send one person off to retirement and seamlessly ‘integrate’ a new person into the role left and so on… all the way back down the chain.

And so if the Ministry is even successful in cutting hiring times to 4.5 months — that’s still a rough average of say 200 new hires every quarter (4 months) of every year for the next 4 years (and that’s just 4,000 new people to replace the 4,000 to 5,000 lost to retirement).

And don’t forget the classic Peter Principle at work here…that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his [or her] level of incompetence”, meaning that employees tend to be promoted until they reach a position at which they cannot work competently.

And all of this in a budget slashing environment… gee, sounds like a real secure career choice, and smooth functioning Ministry that’s only responsible for all of Canada’s coastlines (and more).

What else is in the “numbers that matter” above?

In the top centre pie graph is the “FTE’s [full time equivalents] by strategic outcome”. The violet box is “IS” or Internal Services at 18%.

So 18% of the folks working within DFO are simply concerned with the internal workings of the bureaucracy. (Granted, if one did a much more in-depth analysis of people’s time spent working on, stressing about, and dealing with internal staffing, internal politics, and just general internal crap… it would equate to a lot more than 18%).

What is the costs of this I.S. (internal shit)?

Well… that’s outlined in a “financial information” chart.

financial information...?

First thing to point out is that whomever did this chart, maybe didn’t do a very good job of editing.

If you look at the pie charts and accompanying tabular chart below, we’d be led to believe that “Internal Services” (in the purplish color) is responsible for 18% of Capital by SO (strategic outcome)? — the lower left pie chart… but in the table below IS Capital expenditures are more like less than 1% of Capital (e.g. $0.4 million – or $400,000).

…and that Safe and Accesible waterways — the dark blue — is responsible for 81% of capital costs in pie chart, but only 7% in the table.


Seems there’s some confusion as to which pie chart should be “G & C” (Grants and Contribution) and which chart should be “Capital”. I’m guessing the pie charts are about right… and the table is wrong.

And sooo…the conclusion is that Internal Services are costing the ministry about 20% of its resources — capital including human — in just a financial perspective. Would be curious to determine what all these internal services truly cost in terms of lost productivity, etc. etc.?

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This 80-20 split in expenditures, costs, etc. between internal vs. external… starts to make me think of the Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Business-management consultant Joseph M. Juran suggested the principle and named it after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population; he developed the principle by observing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

It is a common rule of thumb in business; e.g., “80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients”.

Hmmm… so might we conclude that 20% of this Ministry is costing it 80% of its budget?

Or… 80% of the costs are coming from 20% of the Ministry?

Or… that this 20% of “Internal Services” is getting 80% of the work done?

Doesn’t really matter.

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Bottom line is — on so many levels — this Ministry is a “sinking ship” and in need of serious restructuring.

Right now it’s tag line could be: “come work for us… we’re slashing budgets, increasing workloads, and operate in a massive military-like bureaucracy… and we blow 20% of our budgets on fiddling internally…”

“… oh yeah, we also protect fish… sometimes… as we did ‘manage’ the North Atlantic Cod into oblivion…”

“… but come work for us anyways..we need YOU…”

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… don’t matter how many ‘career fairs’, ‘recruitment rallies’, and ‘university schmooze fests’ you attend with fancy displays (part of “integrated business and human resource strategy”), and beer bongs, and free t-shirts… it’s still a broken ministry.

(all of this said of course with respect to those individuals trying hard to actually keep this ‘ship’ from settling in Davy Jones’ locker… keep up the fight, cuz the basic numbers sure aren’t pretty… or, worse… not always quite right… if a Ministry that is supposed to keep very careful track of fish caught can’t get basic numbers on expenditures correct… where else are ‘numbers’ being fumbled?)

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Fair enough to those that say: “gee, big bureaucratic behemoth… easy target… stop the DFO bashing…”

It’s not a personal thing, it’s simply that so much more efficiency and effectiveness could be realized with a much different operation. Yet, we’re always limited to the two to four year timelines of elections and changes in politicians for any political will to be built to exact change.

And, even when changes are proposed or mandated by Royal Commissions, public inquiries and so on… change comes at the speed of an advancing glacier in Greenland. (oh wait, there aren’t any…they’re retreating…).

For wild salmon — Pacific or Atlantic — change is a must; and rapid change.

The changes they currently face are certainly faster than evolutionary time scales…

If it’s broke; it probably needs a fixin’… wild salmon “management” in Canada is broke.

form Flickr_alinnigan

Two fitting articles this week by Mark Hume in the Globe and Mail — reporting from the Cohen Commission:

Ottawa left endangered sockeye unprotected

Salmon recovery team left out of loop

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The first article published on May 31 suggests:

A unique population of sockeye salmon identified in 2004 as facing “a high probability of extinctionwasn’t given protection under the Species At Risk Act because the federal government was worried about the cost of shutting down fisheries

… Documents filed with the Cohen Commission of inquiry this week show DFO officials knew in 2004 that the Cultus population, which has declined 92 per cent over the past 15 years, could go extinct if commercial, native and recreational fisheries weren’t curtailed.

The sockeye spawn in Cultus Lake, near Chilliwack, about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. When adult fish return to spawn, they co-migrate in the ocean and Lower Fraser River with larger runs of sockeye that are headed to other watersheds. [sound familiar — read posts most recent posts on this site]. Cultus fish, which look identical to other sockeye, are often killed in nets set for other runs of salmon.

A government assessment in 2004 concluded the Cultus population, which has unique genetic and biological characteristics, collapsed largely due to overfishing.

Despite such efforts, the Cultus sockeye population, which historically averaged about 20,000 a year, has fallen to a four-year average of just 1,000 spawners.

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This is called mixed-stock fisheries — and it has to stop.

Not only have largely gill-net fisheries, and also seine-net fisheries, focusing on the larger, appearing healthy runs of sockeye captured other endangered stocks like steelhead or coho — they also captured and continue to (when open) capture sockeye from endangered smaller sockeye stocks from other rivers within the Fraser.

I can’t say this enough times… DFO (along with the Pacific Salmon Commission) only have enough information for NINETEEN Fraser sockeye stocks. Rough estimates suggest there was once over TWO HUNDRED distinct and unique Fraser sockeye stocks.

That is in other words… DFO and Pacific Salmon Commission are “MANAGING” Fraser sockeye with information on less than 10% of all the stocks.

How would you feel if you’re pension fund was MANAGED by fund managers that only had enough information to track 10% of the stocks held within their mutual funds or pension plans?

How would you feel getting on a plane and flying to a destination that the pilot only had 10% of the information required to land?

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Let’s follow this logic further…

The article states:

…John Davis, who retired in 2008 as DFO’s associate deputy minister of science, said in testimony at the Cohen Commission, Monday and Tuesday, that the socio-economic impact of shutting down fisheries, just to protect the small Cultus run, was considered too great.

He said listing under SARA would have led to widespread fishery closings costing $126-million in lost revenue over four years.

hmmmm… yes…let’s follow the logic…

The “socio-economic impact of shutting down fisheries, just to protect the small Cultus run was considered too great…”

One might assume that “socio” suggests ‘social’ — well, in fact it does. A dictionary definition suggests: “socio: denoting social or society.”

So what we’re talking about here is the social and economic impacts of closing the fishery would be too great? (because when you say “socio-economic”… you’re just lazily saying “social and economic” in a nice bumpfy, academic way).

The article continues:

At the inquiry, Mr. Davis said the government tried to balance the potential environmental losses against the financial gains associated with keeping fisheries open.

“Clearly the department wanted to do the right thing,” he said.

But under cross-examination by Brenda Gaertner, a lawyer representing the First Nations Coalition, Mr. Davis acknowledged that at the time the government did not assess the “social value” of the Cultus fish to aboriginal communities. The coalition represents 12 bands that have standing at the Cohen Commission.

“I don’t think there’s a way of putting value [on the social importance of salmon] … I wouldn’t know how to value that,” he said.

Ohhh, ok… so DFO didn’t really look at all the “socio”-economic considerations… or any for that fact…

It took a cursory look, and just as this department always has… and should have learned already in the North Atlantic Cod collapse of the 1990s… that not listening to scientists that shout: “stop industrial-scale fishing damn it!”

… and…

… not considering the long-term economic costs of collapsed fish stocks… is actually far more expensive in the long-run.

And not just in economic terms — in those pesky, un-measurable “social” terms as well.

And who bears the burden… well… the young folks of today in every community — along with all of the potentially devastating ecological consequences of losing what ecologists like to call a “keystone”… a key part of the puzzle… a key food source for all sorts of organisms… including the next generations of wild salmon.


As stated in great DFO wisdom…

…listing under SARA would have led to widespread fishery closings costing $126-million in lost revenue over four years.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Potential lost revenues of $126 million… Based on what?

Some computer model in Ottawa that utilizes tiddlywinks and Yahtzee scorecards for economic equations?

Looking at DFO’s own information on their Catch Statistics page the landed value of the Fraser sockeye commercial fishery in 2004 — combining Fraser River commercial catches with all of the South Coast (not all Fraser sockeye) was approximately $14 million.

In 2005: $1.7 million

In 2006: $24 million

In 2007: $135,000 (yes that’s “one hundred thirty five thousand”)

In 2008: $158,000

My math ain’t great… but that’s what… less than $30 million landed value for Fraser sockeye… over 4 years… after the 2004 decision to not list Cultus sockeye…

Where the hell did the potential losses of $126 million come from

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

See that’s the problem with this broken federal ministry…



…many numbers seem to come from some la-la never-never land equation dreamed up in the creative suites in the depths of some Ottawa hallway, where the only salmon people see is on their bureaucratic convention lunch menu hosted across the street from Rideau Hall…

“wild Pacific Salmon flambe in sundried tomato cream sauce”

(i don’t actually know what’s across the street from Rideau Hall, it just popped out)

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And the absolute sad, pathetic irony of all this is that DFO did have to end out curtailing sockeye fisheries to protect smaller, weaker stocks — in 2009 with a near full shut down of every sockeye fishery and even in 2010 the “miracle” year… the apparent “record-breaking” year… commercial fisheries still had to be shut down to protect weak stocks.

When will this ministry learn?

When will the culture change?

When will the name change from “Fisheries” and Oceans to “Fish & Oceans”?

Or… The Department of Fish in Oceans… has a nice ring to it.