Monthly Archives: September 2013

Remember this…? Enbridge doesn’t want you to.

Remember this from early 2012?

The Costa Concordia cruise ship hits a reef and sinks – 32 people die.

I had a post about it back then (Proposed Northern Exit-gateway Pipeline: Accidents happen because of human error… and are not averted due to elaborate statistical analyses…) because ironically enough the Enbridge ‘northern gateway’ pipeline hearings were on in northwestern BC and one Enbridge official (or consultant) was carrying on about the detailed statistical equations they had undertaken, which suggested that the chances of this happening to a massive oil tanker on BC’s coast were: 1 in 15,000 years.


Here’s the Costa Concordia today – over one and a half years later.

The partially submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Local Waterloo company 2G Robotics is scanning the ship to help in the uprighting process.

This from a CBC article running today:

Waterloo robotics firm helps upright Costa Concordia

Gotta love that media… the ship is still sitting exactly as it is in this picture – e.g., sunk. Yet, the media headline suggests that some Canadian firm actually “helps upright” the ship. Hmmm, maybe the honest headline would be ‘trying to upright’…

So the top picture paints a lovely image. That village has had to put up with a half sunken ship where 32 people died, literally in their front yard for over a year and a half. Probably no oils or fuels leaking… or sewage, or otherwise…


Sure would like to see the ‘statistical analysis’ that predicted the odds of this happening… Probably wasn’t all that different than Enbridge and the Harper gang’s numbers on oil tankers on the BC coast…

Maybe not all that different then the odds that predicted this in Harper’s hometown:

Calgary Saddledome flooded in spring/summer of 2013

Shit happens – no matter what the statisticians suggest.

Fraser sockeye and pinks 2013 – the unknown unknowns…

Looking for sockeye on the Cariboo River - Sept. 2013

Looking for sockeye on the Cariboo River – Sept. 2013 – saw 1.

Many of us may be familiar with the rather famous, former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld-ism, from a From a Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 6, 2002:

Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no “knowns.” There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.

It sounds like a riddle.It isn’t a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter.

There’s another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist. And yet almost always, when we make our threat assessments, when we look at the world, we end up basing it on the first two pieces of that puzzle, rather than all three.

_ _ _ _ _ _

It’s a curious situation – forecasting salmon runs that is… This year on the Fraser River, fisheries scientists in all their wisdom and computer modeling (largely based on similar formats as economic modeling – and we know how ‘accurate’ those are…) – forecast in the pre-season a pink salmon return of just under 9 million humpies. [see below between blue lines and far right “run size forecasted pre-season” below “run size adopted in-season”]

Pacific Salmon Commission Sept. 6th news release

Pacific Salmon Commission Sept. 6th news release

The in-season run-size is now at 26 million.

That’s a huge miss between pre-season and in-season. Might there be a problem in the computer models and the numbers they are ‘kicking out’…?

If the situation was reversed, there would be rabid calls for judicial reviews and inquiries and so on. However, when we miss the mark on the ‘positive’ side of things… “oh, gee, wow, that’s a good thing!”

But is it? Does it still not prove the same thing – e.g., our modeling and equations are f’ed?

[a known known…?]

_ _ _ _ _ _

Similar situation with Fraser sockeye – a story we are all to familiar with.

Pre-season predictions of almost 4.8 million Fraser sockeye.

In-season estimates now suggesting over 1 million less than that – at just over 3.7 million Fraser sockeye.

That’s a big miss. [another known known?…]

However, it gets worse…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The various estimates of run-size are one thing – the actual successful upstream migration, reaching the spawning grounds (some of them over 1000 km upstream), and successfully spawning – is an entirely different story. Let alone… survival of eggs over the winter, then survival of the baby salmon, most of them 2 years in a freshwater lake avoiding trout, sturgeon, sculpin and all sorts of other predators.

Buried much deeper in the “Technical Reports” from the Pacific Salmon Commission is the more dire predictions of how many Fraser sockeye might actually make it upstream. Keep in mind this was one of the hottest years on record for water temperature on the Fraser River (many days around 22 degrees C water temp, and now running close to 18 degrees C, combined with lower flows than normal).

When this occurs – the fish experts fire up the computer models again to “kick out” some more numbers. This is the “Management Adjustment” (MA). This percentage is then taken off the in-season predicted run-size – all of which is based at the mouth of the Fraser. Essentially, this the percentage of the run that the “managers” figure will die en-route, largely due to high water temps.

Anything over 20 degree C is pretty deadly – how long could you swim upstream in water at 20 degrees C. ? (without eating…)

Pacific Salmon Commission “objectives”

Thus as the numbers in the chart above – in red – show: on each of the four run-timing groups (e.g., Early Stuart, Early Summer, Summer, and Late Summer) over 2 million sockeye are estimated to die or disappear en-route.

Predictions suggest only 1,215,500 Fraser sockeye will actually reach the spawning grounds. This is 700,000 less than what the great computer models suggest should reach the spawning grounds (the second set of red numbers).

More troubling yet… there were almost 370,000 Fraser River sockeye caught in various fisheries (see below – each of the four columns are similar to above, they are the four run-timing groups of Fraser sockeye – the farthest right column is Fraser Pinks).

Pacific Salmon Commission estimates of catch to date - Sept. 5, 2013

Pacific Salmon Commission estimates of catch to date – Sept. 5, 2013

There is no pointing of fingers implied here – as that is a much deeper hundreds year old discussion. And, that without these sockeye in many communities, dire circumstances would be that much more dire. The point here is that this resembles a classic fisheries problem over the last 100 years or so: needs and fights over dwindling and dwindling populations.

[the known knowns…?] or [unknown knowns?] or [known unknowns?]

One of the most concerning set of numbers in all of this being the immensely dwindled “Summer” group of sockeye. Close to 680,000 sockeye short of spawning goals. This is a problem.

The Summer group has historically comprised the largest portion of the Fraser sockeye populations… the numbers that make the overall Fraser sockeye populations still appear healthy. However, that grouping of populations is generally reliant on just a few specific populations returning to specific areas. This year a huge miss in predictions was the Quesnel run, as well as Chilko another historically larger run.

It was also a huge miss on Fraser Pinks, Skeena sockeye, and the list goes on… the known knowns that is.

Maybe time for a serious re-think (e.g., Think Salmon) of how we ‘manage’ these dwindling runs…? Factor in some known unknowns, and unknown unknowns…

Ghost Lake - aptly named? Quesnel River headwaters

Ghost Lake – aptly named? Quesnel River headwaters.

Vancouver Sun article: “Why was iron dumping [in North Pacific] a surprise?”

An interesting series of articles running in the Vancouver Sun on iron dumping in the North Pacific last year and what the Federal government knew or didn’t know. Classic case of the left hand and the right hand… not knowing what each other are doing. (or not caring…)

By Zoe Mcknight, Vancouver Sun September 4, 2013

Federal officials were aware of the Haida Salmon Restoration Co.’s ‘rogue science’ plans to dump iron dust at sea long before last summer’s seeding project went ahead. So why was Ottawa caught by surprise? Officials say they thought they had deterred the group with legal warnings. Yet the company was upfront about its plans in public meetings on Haida Gwaii.

When the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. spread 100 tonnes of iron sulphate and 20 tonnes of iron oxide in the northwest Pacific in the summer of 2012, government officials scrambled to distance themselves from the project.

Yet there is plenty of evidence officials knew what the Haida Gwaii company was considering long before the dumping took place.

In October 2012, Peter Kent, then the environment minister, told the House of Commons that his department never received an application for the project and did not approve “this demonstration of rogue science.”

The government line has since been that Environment Canada staff met with the company in Victoria on May 7, 2012, when the company was warned of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act’s disposal at sea legislation.

On Aug. 29, 2012, officials learned the iron dumping had happened in international waters west of Haida Gwaii. They began an investigation the next day. Kent said he personally was informed in late August as well.

But according to documents released under an Access to Information request, “Environment Canada first became aware the proponent was considering ocean fertilization in 2011” and contacted the corporation’s representatives on several occasions to advise them of the national and international provisions surrounding disposal at sea.

An information flyer was provided to the company, “due to the contact already made on the issue.”

Then the 120 tonnes of iron were released into the Pacific between July 14 and Aug. 3 last year, causing international uproar.

The Vancouver Sun has learned that another federal department was earlier willing to spend government money on the project.

According to documents filed in Federal Court in Vancouver, Industry Canada approved two funding proposals submitted by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. under the Industrial Research Assistance Program and the National Research Council.

Approvals were given in March and July 2012, before the dump, but were revoked in November 2012, after the project incited a media storm. Haida Salmon company representatives applied for a judicial review of the decision to terminate the funding, arguing they were “undertaking research that was fostered by the existing government of Canada program, and in particular the IRAP funding process for ocean science.”

The application asks for the reinstatement of an undisclosed amount of money as well as a statement of reasons for revoking the government funds. None were given, according to the court documents, which were filed in December 2012.

According to Haida Salmon director and operations manager Jason McNamee, the funding was in the $75,000 range and was to be applied to a summer student and the development of low-cost marine instruments that could be used in future projects.

Haida elder and vocal opponent Gloria Tauber was horrified by the iron dumping proposal from the beginning, calling local politicians, writing letters to the editor of the Queen Charlotte Observer and phoning representatives from various government agencies. Tauber, who has lived on the island all her life and only rarely uses Internet, faxed pleas and background information to government representatives at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as Environment Canada as late as May 2012, three months before the dump.

Nobody was listening, she said.

“I felt like what I was doing wasn’t making a difference,” she said.

Once the news broke, she became one of the most outspoken critics of ocean fertilization, which has been banned since the 2008 London Convention of the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations body.

The plans for iron dumping were made very clear on the islands of Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlottes.

The Council of the Haida Nation distanced itself from the project, but a series of public meetings was held in the community of Old Massett back in March 2011. That spring, less than 200 people cast a ballot in a public vote on spending the band’s money on the $2.5-million project, with 57 voting against it. About 700 people live in Old Massett.

An update appeared in the Old Massett Village Council newsletter in late February 2012, saying “we are on track to head offshore in about three months.”

“(The Haida Salmon Restoration Corp.) is always telling the world the ‘Haida people’ support them,” Tauber said. “It’s the Old Massett Village Council that goes along with it … it isn’t the ‘Haida people’ they’re representing.”

Officials with the provincial Crown corporation Pacific Carbon Trust also met with Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. representatives before the iron dump, even visiting their chartered fishing boat when it was still docked in Victoria on July 12.

While the primary Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. goal was to cause a surge in plankton, and indirectly boost salmon stocks, the company has argued the process leads to plankton pulling carbon dioxide from the air. The company argued the process should be eligible for those seeking to buy carbon credits.

“We advised them on July 30 that we didn’t think the project was eligible,” said Hope Hickli, Pacific Carbon Trust’s spokeswoman.

She was unable to divulge the details of the application, but said it was rejected for carbon credits because the iron bloom would be in international water.

“Pacific Carbon Trust conducted a review of the project, and with government, determined the project would not meet the requirements of the B.C. emission offsets regulation,” she said. The technical description of the project was received by the Trust, and said it would “replenish ocean mineral micronutrients … using natural, iron ore mineral compounds.”

The Canadian Centre for Ocean Gliders in Sidney, which lent two robotic underwater measuring devices to the project, has a collaboration agreement with the federal government and access to equipment at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans marine science facility, also in Sidney.

Staff at the institute were aware of the company, if informally, said Paul Lacroix, director of the ocean glider centre. Well-known scientific maverick Russ George and other Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. representatives visited the institute on several occasions, sometimes after hours, to learn how to calibrate the gliders.

“There’s no conspiracy. The Haida (company) approached me, they wanted to use a glider for a scientific project. It’s in our mandate,” Lacroix said.

“They weren’t hiding (their intentions). I wasn’t hiding anything. Nobody was hiding anything,” he said, adding no government resources went to the project.

George (who is no longer with the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp.), along with the summer student hired on the promise of Industry Canada funding, chemist Craig Mewis, attended a conference at the Pacific Biological Station, a DFO research station in Nanaimo in March 2012.

They attended under the company name and were referred to as “a First Nations ocean research group” in the conference report, which also said the workshop was “timely for the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation (financed by the First Nation government) to help develop plans for their upcoming cruise to evaluate the health of Haida Gwaii marine ecosystem.”

The conference was hosted by government scientist Andrew Edwards.

The company was upfront about its plans, McNamee said.

“Anybody who Googles Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. – and everyone was well aware Russ George was one of the directors – and then Googles Russ George, and knew we were working at sea, you can’t tell me you don’t know what we’re doing. It was well known,” he said.

The Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. has filed an application in B.C. Supreme Court to set aside the search warrant that was executed on March 27 by Environmental Protection Act enforcement officers, arguing the basis of the search warrant, the 2008 London Protocol against ocean dumping, is not legally binding in Canada.

The next hearing in the case is expected in December.

According to a blog post written by Haida Salmon Restoration CEO John Disney, who is also the economic development officer of Old Massett, the officers “stormed” the company’s Vancouver offices, seizing lab notes, samples, hard drives, cellphones and documents during a raid that lasted overnight and into the next morning.

Disney also claimed in the blog post the officers were “fully armed and equipped with bulletproof vests and multiple support gear.” (The federal department says officers do not carry arms, but may wear body armour and carry other protective equipment such as batons.) Other sites were searched as well, including the Victoria offices of the charter fishing boat company that leased the vessel to the company last summer.

Under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, disposal at sea is prohibited without a permit, and no permit application process exists for ocean fertilization. Those projects or proposals that “do not qualify as legitimate scientific research would be regarded as disposal at sea, which is prohibited under CEPA 1999,” and any projects that will yield direct financial gain are disqualified.

“You don’t need a permit for ‘legitimate science,’ but we don’t have a process in place to consider whether your science is legitimate or not. What kind of nonsense is that?” said Haida Salmon Restoration lawyer Jay Straith.

And the Haida goal was primarily about science, he said, not carbon sequestration. Sequestration by a plankton bloom is not only unproven, but too small in this case to yield any financial gain at all. “No one’s going to get rich off 100 tonnes of iron … at best it will subsidize what (the company) is doing.”

But representatives also pointed out the contradiction between the prohibition against financial gain during scientific research and the recent public shift in focus at the National Research Council to fund only projects with a commercial application, announced this May.

Peter Kent, federal environment minister when the iron dumping took place, said in an interview last week that he thought the search warrant would stand up in court, and he continues to follow the story, even though he’s no longer in cabinet.

“Some research in this area may well be justified under very controlled circumstances by approved scientific bodies. But I think their plan had a getrich-quick aspect to it, which was selling carbon credits. That was a really irresponsible pitch on behalf of the promoter.”

“An awful lot of members of the band themselves recognized it was a pipe dream and wasn’t particularly responsible in terms of environmental precautions.”

It was possible a meeting had been held with his department’s officials as early as 2011, but he was unaware of the project until summer 2012, Kent said, calling it “very alarming and very concerning.”

In May 2012, it was “all hypothetical … the department folks didn’t think anything of it. There was nothing suspicious and nothing to be pursued because they advised the proponents what the law was and what the regulations were.”

“The enforcement folks at Environment Canada on the West Coast had a visit and basically thought they had shut down the proposal in the spring. They never heard anything else until the reports came out the dump had taken place.”

Environment Canada would not comment last week on when exactly the department knew about the ocean fertilization.

“Our government takes seriously its commitment to protect the environment. When Environment Canada became aware of an alleged violation of federal environmental laws it began an investigation,” spokesman Mark Johnson wrote in an email.