$2 for one wild salmon… do you see a problem?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a webpage listing the summaries of commercial fishing statistics by year. My post earlier today — lobbying for goats and lawnmowers… — highlighted landed value of wild salmon this past season (2009) at only $20 million. Compare this at almost $60 million in 2006, and over $100 million in 1996.

Generally, between the early 1970s through to the early 1990s the landed value of salmon in B.C. has hovered between $200 million and $400 million (in 2001 dollars). And between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes landed. (A Policy Analysis of the BC Salmon Fishery, 2003).

Open the DFO 2009 page; across the bottom of the page are various breakdowns of the salmon catch such as: where (district) the salmon were caught, by weight, by week, etc. The other key breakdown is the innocuous term “pieces”. Pieces is number of fish caught.

Calling them “pieces” keeps it more friendly sounding… it’s parallel with the term “collateral damage” used to refer to innocent people killed in war zones. Or calling it “harvest” rather than killing salmon. All, curious little shifts of language to avoid calling things what they actually are.

The stunning ‘piece’ of information I found: this past season a little over 10.5 million salmon were caught. This means that salmon this past year were worth less than $2 a fish.

Those 10.5 million salmon translated into 18.2 million kg – or 18,200 tonnes. At $20 million landed valued – this means salmon were worth just over $1 per kilogram or less than 50 cents a pound.

This includes almost 200,000 sockeye from northern B.C. fisheries and 130,000 Chinook – generally the much higher value species. (It’s the 9 million+ Pink salmon that keep the price down).

A quick comparison…?

In 1996, only 4 million more salmon were caught (over 14 million for the year) — however landed value that year was over $100 million. That year the total weight was almost double this past year at 35,200 tonnes — largely because there were over 450,000 Chinook caught that year, as compared to only 130,000 this past year. Chinook are the biggest salmon and can get as big as 100 pounds as compared to the average pink salmon in the 3-5 pound range.

The economics of wild salmon are a disaster — almost worst than actual salmon “management”. Earlier posts have commented on some of the factors; the main factor being that the huge glut of farmed salmon on the market has driven prices down. Add in players such as Wal-Mart chasing down Alaskan sockeye — and we have a recipe for crappy economics.

So this past year is the worst commercial salmon fishery year on record — in other words the last 140 years or so. (Industrial salmon fisheries fired up on the Fraser and other BC rivers around the 1870s.)

This got me to thinking about the investment that taxpayers make in federal fisheries management programs… Especially, as over the last two-three weeks I have sat in multiple-day meetings with numerous staff from the Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

Since St. Patrick’s day, I’ve been wading through the 264-page “Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for 2010” for the South Coast of BC — and a 124-pages for the North Coast — and a 36-page “Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010“.

On the South Coast plan there are over sixty DFO staff contacts listed — there’s some of the same Vancouver-based staff plus another eighteen on the North Coast Plan. Area Directors to Aboriginal Liaisons to Regional Managers to Biologists. A proverbial work mill… churning out plans, doing consultations, attending meetings

Ironically, far more people in DFO and independent consultants have been involved in developing a 2010 Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy — than have actually commercially fished for sockeye on the Fraser River in the last three years.

If one looks a little deeper… The Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy is built entirely around a new “Pilot” initiative on the Fraser River called the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI – commonly referred to as ‘frizzy’). As pointed out in the 2010 Strategy – ‘frizzy‘ has been a “multi-year collaborative planning process”… multi-year is six years.

As outlined in a PPoint presentation online — over a dozen workshops; somewhere between 20-40 outside consultants. It was first used in the 2006 season.

Ironically, 3 out of 4 possible years that this model has been in place to manage sockeye “fisheries” there have been basically no commercial fisheries on Fraser sockeye. So, again, more people involved in developing a computer modeling program for managing salmon fisheries than actually fishing.

Hmmm… seems like money well spent.

Let’s take a look at this story over the last few years. 2009 brought in $20 million in landed salmon value. 2008 was the same. 2007: just over $30 million. 2006 just over $60 million. 2005: just over $34 million.

How much does almost 100 DFO staff solely focussed on salmon cost to produce almost 400 pages of  Integrated Fisheries Management Plans for just this year alone? (let alone implement the Wild Salmon Policy that came out in 2005)

Might it be fair to say that 100 staff members in a federal bureaucracy might be worth, on the low end, an average of $100,000/year (including pension, medical, employer contributions, etc.). That’s a simple $10 million right there. Add in all the travel, multiple consultations with commercial fisherfolks, sportfishers, First Nations, and so on. Are we at $20 million yet?

Cost to develop a computer modeling program to manage commercial fisheries for one species of salmon (sockeye) on one River — 20-40 outside consultants, numerous workshops, countless consultations, ongoing updates… and oh yeah, little prospect for a fishery for years yet.

And let’s not forget the estimated $20 million to $30 million public inquiry (Cohen Commission) into One species on One river.

I’ll put this picture in again, just for thought…

6 thoughts on “$2 for one wild salmon… do you see a problem?

  1. Al Huger


    Thanks for such an informative and well written blog on a subject every Canadian should be passionate about. My home waters include the Adam’s river and each time I read your blog I shudder to think what might become of this year dominant run for the sockeye into the river. If last years run pre-sages anything it could be an utter disaster.

    Please keep it up. I suggest your blog to everyone I know who also cares about this topic.


  2. kd

    Yes, good work salmon guy….this is the type of basic info that needs to be brought home to the general public. DFO is spending more on the fishery than they are worth…a totally negative balance.

    Another aspect of this you mention but could deserve its own dollar tally is ‘consultation’ with various user groups. I’d bet many more millions are spent on mostly useless wheel spinning processes….complete waste of time and resources for DFO and the taxpayer.
    DFO even admits to being ‘over-processed’ and is looking at ways to pare some of it down.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    many thanks Al. I’m always happy to hear about other folks fired-up about salmon. It comes down to political will to change – and political will to change comes from every-day folks speaking up. The forecasts for this year don’t look great, and productivity for Fraser sockeye has been down for years. It could be another tough year out there for bears and other critters…

  4. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks Priscilla. It’s a bit frustrating dealing with just the straight economics on this… haven’t even got into yet, the impact on First Nation communities with loss of food, social and ceremonial fish, and the ecological consequences – such as hungry bears going into winter hibernation and hitting more dumpsters and so on.

  5. salmon guy Post author

    I hear you Keith and thanks for the comment.
    DFO has a “consultation calendar” on their website: http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/consultation/cal/2010/index-eng.htm

    January through April, there are virtually meetings in every week listed (granted some are not salmon) – and a large proportion of meetings are not even listed. For example, meetings that I am attending, providing technical support for an upper Fraser River First Nation. Plus there’s probably meetings that you attend that aren’t listed. There are meetings with First Nation tribal organizations and some meeting with individual nations. And now, with such brutal mis-management such as currently having an open sport fishery coastwide on Chinook – even though many of the pre-season forecasts have several Chinook stocks (e.g. Nicola River – early Spring 4-2) on an extinction death spiral.

    There are now a whole new round of consultations due to these brilliant decisions.

    Something has got to give — but then many folks have been saying that for years (i.e. flathead from banging it on the wall). Maybe, just maybe, as many stocks teeter on death spirals in the Fraser River and other areas (e.g. Skeena sockeye that don’t return to the Babine) — mass changes will occur. Maybe some bureaucrats will recognize that with extinction of salmon stocks comes extinction of salmon “management” jobs.

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