it is said the first stage of addiction is denial… can you say East Coast Cod-itis?

Yesterday, I sat in a windowless meeting room and listened to Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) present information on the Wild Salmon Policy and on an apparent “Pilot Study” on the Fraser River called the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI) — acronym pronounced like Frizzy… just to make it cute.

The FRSSI is a very complex computer modeling program that is supposed to assist fisheries managers, fisherfolks, First Nations, and so on. It appears to be based on “gaming” theory and other computer modeling and simulations. If you’d like to read more about it you can visit DFO’s “consultation” website to read more about it.

The report is called Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010: Model Overview & Summary of 2010 Planning Simulations. And if you want more background there is another paper (only about 100 pages…): Collaborative Development of Escapement Strategies for Fraser River sockeye: Summary Report 2003-2008. Read through that report and there’s a couple more reports referenced and so on down through the rabbit hole of DFO. I tried to connect to the links provided for the reports and the link is broken, so good luck.

There is one key question in my mind that I asked senior DFO staff yesterday.

If this is a “pilot study” – at what point is there a “go… no-go” decision?

My understanding of the term “pilot study” is it’s kind of like a feasibility study, or a smaller scale effort that could potentially become major scale.

I didn’t get a direct answer. There was no yes or no. However, the speed at which the DFO representative started to run around the issue answered the question quite clearly. This is not a pilot study. This is the direction that DFO is taking.

As you read through the reports (you know, coffee table reading…) you will see that there is a massive investment in this project. The “collaborative” study is strictly scientific collaboration. Over a period of 3-5 years, DFO has been leading a scientific review of this modeling tool with anywhere between 30-50 different individuals.

On one hand, maybe this means that the tool is decent — it’s had a lot of review. On the other hand, maybe this means that viewpoints have been very narrow — i.e. strictly scientific in nature. The huge gaping hole in this is First Nations review and public review.

The general message I picked up from the meeting is: “we have so much invested in this computer simulator that we are not turning back… we are scientists; we are DFO; trust us.”

Here is scary picture from the “Salmon Think Tank” statement released in December. This is a graph showing the productivity of Fraser sockeye (if you’ve read earlier posts you may recognize this graph from a post in December):

In essence, the worrisome picture here is that when the “adult returns per spawner” drop below 1 — this means there is not enough baby salmon produced and returning as adults to keep the population steady, or maybe even growing. When it drops below 1 to 1 — we are seeing a death spiral. If every couple only has 1 child live to reproduce — a population shrinks (think Chinese one-child policy).

Looking at the graph, the precipitous spiral down the drain began in the early 1990s.

Yet, yesterday in a meeting, DFO scientists stated that last year’s sockeye failure (10 million forecast and only 1 million returned) was a “one-off event”.

A One-Off Event!

Are you kidding me?

If there are folks in the federal ministry responsible for conserving and protecting one of our most precious national resources that can not look at the graph above and say: “Houston we have a problem…” and can truly suggest in a meeting with First Nations from around the province that last year was a “one-off” event.

We have a serious case of denial. We have a serious case of East Coast cod-itis.

When the Cod collapse fully kicked in — coincidentally in the early 1990s when Fraser sockeye productivity began falling — DFO tried to reassure everyone that things were fine. “Just go fishing, it’ll all be fine”.

Well, we know how fine it is now. It’s been almost two decades and East Coast cod haven’t recovered to any levels where folks can go fishing.

As I stated unequivocally yesterday — fish, especially salmon, cannot be “managed” from a computer. They cannot be managed from a windowless office in an urban centre.

We cannot develop a iPhone app that will tell us how many salmon we can catch. I am not holding my breath for Windows Salmon 4.0.

Is it maybe time to request a third-party independent management system — where DFO simply provides scientific input?

Like any addiction, intervention is sometimes required — and often a good sign of serious issues is: denial. Denial that there’s a serious, serious problem. There is a spot where some heads have gone and they need to be pulled out.

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