Salmon and the military complex…?

Five Salmon by Simon Davies

When it comes to “managing” salmon — “escapement” is the term given to the total amount of salmon that “escape” various fisheries on their journey back to their spawning grounds. In normal language; escapement means an estimate of the number of spawning salmon in a river.

I don’t want to sound like a sappy, tree-hugging, nature freak carrying on about the beauty of the wild salmon cycle — yet… it really truly is an incredible thing. There’s a reason why programs such as “Salmon in the Classroom” have such success. Kids are no dummies — the wild salmon story is cool and fascinating.

It’s the same reason programs like “Stream of Dreams” (see link in blog roll on right) are so successful and appreciated. One reason is the great people involved traveling around to schools and getting kids and teachers interested; another reason is that kids can relate to the impressive salmon journey.

Jiinanga - "Government Creek" - Haida Gwaii

An impressive journey that ends in sure death… yet the death is what feeds the next generation. The carcasses of the parents are the magic elixir for the next generation of baby salmon — as well as everything else that depends on this annual return of nutrients: from trees to tree frogs.

Maybe one could compare the number of popular kids books that involve heroes traveling to far, far away lands returning home wiser, smarter, and maybe carrying the magic elixir. This isn’t just a kids thing — Joseph Campbell dedicated his life to studying this phenomenon in stories from around the world with books like: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces“.

It is an amazing thing — the wild salmon cycle. For hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions, wild salmon have done their thing. For a long, long, long time people and salmon have co-existed. So long is the relationship, that stories abound across western North America of a supernatural relationship between people and salmon. As I’ve quoted in other posts with information from the British Columbia Treaty Commission:

It is said that the Nisga’a, people of the mighty river, are so connected to fish that their bones are made of salmon.

And yet… And yet… here we are in the dawn of the 21st century having a real serious look at our relationships to wild salmon. In a matter of one hundred years, the practice of “fisheries management” has proved its worth. Somebody show me a population of fish that is actively “managed” by fisheries science that is on an upswing — or even maintaining.

Is it the ‘tragedy of the commons’ or simply the tragedy of stupidity?

The ‘tragedy of the commons’ seems to be a convenient term to describe European-based methods of trying to “manage” natural systems. When it comes to wild Pacific salmon, even up to a few hundred years ago the tragedy of the commons never existed in western North America. Salmon supported one of the densest populations of people in North America for many thousands of years.

What the hell happened?

Language happened… that’s what.

A little closer look at the language we use to describe our relationship with wild salmon — illuminates much. As I read through the endless documents relating to the upcoming salmon season — dictionary and bullshit-bumpf translator in hand — it begins to sound like a military exercise.

Start with the term escapement to refer to spawning salmon. Why don’t we label the most essential piece of propagating the species a fugitive?

Or, in commercial fisheries language, we don’t call actual salmon caught: “fish” or even “salmon”. We call them pieces. How many pieces did you catch? (this makes sense…)

These past few weeks I’ve been wading through documents describing a population computer model that Fisheries and Oceans is utilizing to design “Escapement Strategies” for Fraser River Sockeye. It’s called the Fraser River  Sockeye Spawning Initiative (referred to as FRSSI or ‘frizzy’).

So we’re designing strategies for fugitives.

The curious thing with the word “strategy” is that it evolves from military planning. The free online dictionary defines strategy as:

a. The science and art of using all the forces of a nation to execute approved plans as effectively as possible during peace or war.
b. The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations.

The word comes from: “Greek stratēgiā, office of a general, from stratēgos, general”

So I suppose one might suggest, that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is at war with someone or something — or at least looking to exert military-like command over those damn salmon.

How about this language?

From the Guiding Principles of this year’s: “Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010“:

Annual targets for each management group are based on escapement strategies that specify target levels of total mortality across different run sizes. Escapement strategies for each management group are designed to protect component stocks and stabilize total harvest across all sectors.

Now does this not sound like a line straight out of Operation Desert Storm?

Wild salmon are now part of management groups. Those groups are based on escapement strategies. The escapement strategies are based on target levels of total mortality. And.. what’s a component stock?

And, thank ghad we’re stabilizing harvest….

Oh wait… there hasn’t been a commercial fishery on Fraser River sockeye in three years…

Another guiding principle:

The exact shape of the escapement strategy for each management group […] is selected based on simulated performance and reviewed in public consultation.

Hmmm… so the plan for controlling fugitive spawning salmon that apparently signed up for one of the Board of Director sub-committees is chosen based on a print-out from a computer (i.e. simulated – and I’m guessing this is not like simulated bacon bits…). This print-out from a computer is then the subject of a political decision… oh wait, no, I mean: “public consultation”.

Take out the “l” in public… and we’re probably closer to the effectiveness of this process.

The great irony of all this “fisheries management” language straight out of military schools is that the military teaches a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI). I came across this idea in Chip and Dan Heath’s book: Made to Stick – Why some ideas survive and others die.

Every move an Army soldier makes is preceded by a staggering amount of planning, which can be traced to an original order from the president of the United States. The president orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to accomplish an objective, and the Joint Chiefs set the parameters of the operation. Then the orders and plans begin to cascade downward — from generals to colonels to captains.

The plans are quite thorough, specifying the ‘scheme of manuever’ and ‘concept of fires’ — what each unit will do, which equipment it will use, how it will replace its munitions, and so on. The orders snowball until they accumulate enough specificity to guide the actions of individual foot soldiers at particular moments in time.

The Army invests enormous energy in its planning, and its processes have been refined over many years. The system is a marvel of communication. There’s just one drawback: The plans often turn out to be useless.

“The trite expression we always use is No plan survives contact with the enemy,” says Colonel Tom Kolditz, the head of behavioral sciences division at West Point. “You may start off trying to fight your plan, but… unpredictable things happen — the weather changes, a key asset is destroyed, the enemy responds in a way you don’t expect. Many armies fail because they put all their emphasis into creating a plan that becomes useless ten minutes into battle.”

(Sort of like spending 8 years – and countless millions of dollars – developing a computer model to pump out simulated bacon bits — I mean… “options” for fishing sockeye and then not having enough sockeye to fish… three years running.)

Colonel Kolditz says, “plans just don’t work on the battlefield.” Therefore the Army invented a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI).

CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation… The CI never renders so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. “You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent.”

The key to the CI is simplicity – as in finding the core of the idea.

So what is the core of the idea of the 2010 Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy? — a 36-page ‘plan’ that is “simulating the life cycle and harvest of Fraser sockeye”

Should we really be using military ‘strategy’ to guide our relationship with wild salmon?

Should we be basing our salmon relationship decisions on a computer simulation model?

Could we not develop simple, meaningful language to guide our salmon relationship — rather than empty, meaningless bumpf?

3 thoughts on “Salmon and the military complex…?

  1. priscilla judd

    9 million disappeared salmon – you got it right – there’s a war on wild salmon!
    and a war on water and the winner gets to take everything with them when they die.

  2. priscilla judd

    We used to say – you can’t take it with you when you die but now with enough capital investment you can take it with you – right off the planet.

    when the salmon are gone – the salmon are gone
    when the water is gone – the water is gone
    when the planet is gone – the planet is gone
    those waging war can take it all with them

    the one with the most stuff wins the planet then no one else can have it.

    But we are letting them know that we want salmon and clean water and a planet with a future.

    Hey – maybe you could rewrite this if you understand it – because it takes me so long to get my ideas into words that other people can understand

    Thanks salmon Guy.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks for the comments Priscilla,
    yeah, there seems to be some pretty warped priorities in some folks these days. I try to chalk it up to folks that may be a bit lost in priorities, or maybe just really short term views… The last little bit I’ve sat down with colored pens and paper to dry and draw some of this stuff out in a way that maybe I can begin to understand some of it – for example, the computer simulation programs being developed to “assist” us in looking after salmon. Or, do try and write out sentences full of management bumpf, techno-speak mumbo jumbo, and plain distorting language.

    keep up your information campaign. I see your material is starting to surface more online, and it looks like you’ve been busy on the letter front. Nice work.

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