when your head is itchy do you scratch your ass?

Last week I sat in three days of meetings that included presentations from Fisheries and Oceans Canada discussing the upcoming salmon fishing season — as well as some of the work the Department is doing in implementing the Wild Salmon Policy, and utilizing gaming theory to design population models for sockeye… among other things.

There was a lot of meaningless bumpf used — like ecosystem-based management, and conservation units, and so on. It’s not to say that those sorts of things couldn’t actually have a lot of meaning; it’s just when one begins to ask: “what ‘ecosystem’ factors are you really working into your salmon management… like maybe bears, and eagles and stuff…”.

One of the rather sad statements was some DFO staff suggesting that the disaster with Fraser River sockeye last year was a “one-off event”. It was “such a surprise”….

That blows my mind when we take a look at one of the graphs coming out of the “Salmon Think Tank” that Simon Fraser University established late last year — Part III of that discussion coming up next week in Vancouver (which I’ll be attending). Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future.

This graph is showing, as Ken Wilson a very experienced biologist about to retire suggested at the same meetings last week:


In about the mid-1990s it appears that sockeye in the Fraser were quickly approaching productivity levels that don’t even replace themselves.

As I’ve referred to it in other posts — a death spiral.

And, yet, Fisheries and Oceans staff can stand at the front of the room of close to fifty First Nations leaders, technical staff and biologists and say: “don’t worry, it was just a one off event last year.”

10,000,000 sockeye forecast to return…. about 1,000,000 actually made it back.

I’d say the graph might be pointing to an ‘event’ that’s going to be lasting for quite some time to come.

Sadder, yet?

Early last week I found a 2001 Fisheries and Oceans report discussing sockeye rearing lakes (I highlighted this in a post last week). The majority of sockeye require lakes with nearby spawning grounds so that when the baby salmon come up out of the gravel they then head to the lakes to hang out for a year or two before heading to the ocean.

The lakes are like a nursery or maybe a daycare…

Factors Limiting Juvenile Sockeye Production and Enhancement Potential for selected BC Nursery Lakes

The introduction to the report states:

Numbers of anadromous salmon returning to spawn in lakes and streams from Alaska to California have declined dramatically since the early 1990s. Causes of the reduced escapements vary, but commercial harvesting, industrial development, and habitat degradation have all had substantial impacts….

In recent years, the effects of these reductions in salmon escapements on freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems have received considerable attention. The importance of marine-derived nutrients to the productivity of lake, stream and terrestrial ecosystems is now well documented… It is generally accepted that a major effect of reduced anadromous salmon spawners is the oligotrophication of many lakes and streams, with a corresponding reduction in productive capacity. (my emphasis)

…The productive capacity of most B.C. sockeye nursery lakes has been, and continues to be, degraded because a substantial proportion of returning adults are harvested in various fisheries and thus prevented from contributing their nutrients to their natal streams and lakes…

At the meeting last week, with the information from this 2001 report I asked Fisheries and Oceans staff if they were studying sockeye rearing lakes around BC to see if maybe some of the problems originate in these lakes. We keep hearing about ocean conditions and various other factors that “require more study…” And, yet, here in BC we’ve had the pine beetle outbreak, record low snowpack, elevated river and lake temperatures and so on.

Answer from DFO?

No, not really.

Two sockeye lakes — of many, many — get looked at. Chilko Lake in the interior and Cultus Lake near Vancouver.

I was shocked. All this finger pointing and money being spent on ocean productivity research — and, yet, the federal ministry responsible for looking after salmon hasn’t even bothered to look in the nursery.

DFO’s own research is suggesting that reduced spawner carcasses may be lowering productivity of nursery lakes — you know like the graph above demonstrates — and yet they aren’t bothering to look.

Like I asked earlier: when your head is itchy do you scratch your ass?

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