What does buying a fridge and looking after wild salmon have in common?

This is not meant to be a joke, but it may end that way.

Or… well…maybe it’s more of a story. Maybe a fable… or parable.

The story begins with a computer simulation model developed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). The modeling program is called the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI — referred to cutely as: “frizzy”).  This computer simulation model, FRSSI, is apparently a pilot study as part of implementing the federal Wild Salmon Policy, which came into legislation in 2005.

The modeling program development began back in 2003 when apparently — and this is a quote straight out of the Executive Summary of a 2008 DFO paper (Pestal, Ryall, & Cass) — “In 2003, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) committed to reviewing the rebuilding plan which had been in place since 1987…”

(Yeah… good thing they decided to commit to a plan that had been in place for 16 years…)

Between 2003 and 2005 the computer simulation model was developed through DFO staff and a variety of workshops with outside experts (30-40 of them). Through 2006 and 2007 “an intensive two-year planning exercise” was undertaken to bring the FRSSI in line with other “integrated planning” exercises (also with many outside experts). Apparently, for the 2007 season: “new escapement strategies were fully implemented… and updated through the 2008 season.” It was also utilized for planning last year — the 2009 season.

If you haven’t heard about those three fishing seasons… there were none. Three bust seasons for commercial fisherfolks targeting Fraser sockeye.

Good thing this multi-million dollar computer simulation model (pilot study) was in place.

It gets worse…

There are very few folks out there that actually understand this computer simulation/modeling/forecasting program. Yet, “extensive consultations” continue. Recently, I sat through a few presentations whereby DFO tried to justify the program — as well as avoid the question of when this FRSSI is no longer considered a Pilot Study within implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy.

I will get to the process that I have undertaken to try and understand this computer simulation program — in the meantime this is where Fraser sockeye management and refrigerators — cross paths.

In one of the Appendices to the 2008 DFO report quoted above there is an attempt to explain “jargon used in performance evaluation”. The evaluation is apparently referring to the “performance” of “escapement strategies” — meaning: did enough Fraser sockeye reach the spawning grounds to successfully spawn and propagate the next generation of salmon.

I was intrigued by the name of this appendix as I perused the table of contents for this over 90-page report that explains the FRSSI. However, it is probably one of the most confusing, pathetic, ridiculous attempts at using analogies to explain “jargon” — and quite truly it fits the overall theme of this modeling program.

Apparently:

The approach for comparing [salmon] escapement strategies is identical to the steps used by testers of consumer products such as refrigerators.

Wow, I didn’t realize it was this simple. I’ll keep my eyes open for the next issue of Consumer Reports that reviews Fraser River sockeye escapement strategies…

Step 1: Management objectives

Objectives describe the desired end-results of the management process, but should be clearly defined upfront.

The first question faced by product testers is: “What matters to people when they choose a refrigerator?” The most fundamental objective is that the fridge needs to keep food reliably at a safe temperature. Assuming that new fridges sold in Canada meet the required safety standards, the attention of testers can shift to secondary objectives such size and affordability.

Ok, we’re on the right path here… Management objectives describe the desired end results  of the management process, but should be clearly defined upfront… in other words, what are we doing here?

Thus, when it comes to Fraser sockeye, or any Pacific wild salmon for that fact — is that similar to the refrigerator keeping food safe, we want to know that DFO is doing all they can to make sure wild salmon are safe and well-looked after; when we got to the fridge we expect to see wild salmon thriving, reproducing, and feeding the ecosystem as it always has, as well of thousands upon thousands of people as they always have.

But no…

Managing Fraser River sockeye is a lot more complex than buying a fridge, and needs to incorporate a wide range of biological, social, and economic considerations…

Oh… so what you’re actually saying is that the buying refrigerator – managing salmon escapement thing, actually has no similarities. Umm… great analogy, folks…

Worse yet… Apparently, the Spawning Initiative focuses on “the balance between two fundamental objectives”:

  1. ensuring escapement and production for individual stocks, and
  2. accessing the catch-related benefits from productive stock groups.

I’m confused… I thought the fundamental objective for DFO and the Wild Salmon Policy is:

Conservation of wild salmon and their habitat is the highest priority for resource management decision-making… The policy places conservation of salmon and their habitats as the first priority for resource management.

The Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative is a “Pilot Study” within the Wild Salmon Policy this means that the first priority is conservation of salmon and their habitats. No balancing objectives, no focusing on bigger runs to harvest… no, no, and no.

Things deteriorate further from here…

An important part of the planning process is to translate these fundamental objectives into performance measures that can be used to compare simulation scenarios.

Step 2: Performance Measures (a.k.a. indicators)

Performance measures are clear numerical descriptions that reflect the general intent of management objectives, can be consistently evaluated, and can be easily compared.

Performance measures likely to be considered by people looking at refrigerators include more specific aspects of general objectives such as size and affordability. Some interesting performance measures that relate to the size of the fridge include width, height, storage capacity, and required floor space…

Performance measures considered in the Spawning Initiative reflect more specific aspects of the general biological, social, and economic objectives.

Oh, here we are again… “what we’re actually trying to say is that buying fridges and looking after salmon don’t actually have anything in common.”

Some interesting biological performance measures are longterm average escapement, long-term average run size, year-to-year variability in escapement, escapement trend over next 12 years, and the lowest projected escapement over 48 years. Each of these performance measures can be calculated for individual stocks (e.g. Chilko), for the four management groups (e.g. Early Summer), or the total Fraser system.

This is where things begin to resemble brown, pie-shaped, piles of wet, steamy stuff that tends to be found near the rear-ends of male bovines. (And the topic of an upcoming post… stay tuned).

To finish off these thoughts regarding this appendix that was supposed to assist with jargon — let’s get some assistance from DFO on “benchmarks”.

Step 3: Benchmarks
Benchmarks are specific levels of a performance measure that establish a meaningful context for a broader audience.

Huh?!

I thought this was supposed to be assisting in translating jargon; not a lesson in using almost 20-words to say nothing of substance.

In the end; trying to get some clarity on jargon associated with the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative, my conclusion, is that buying a fridge and looking after Fraser sockeye actually have nothing in common (other than sometimes both can be silver).

The aimless wandering, pointless analogies, confused priorities, and general malaise related to FRSSI is a fine summary of this “Pilot Study”. The Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative appears to have more in common with the financial policies of Enron and Bre-X than it does with conserving wild salmon and their habitat.

Moral of the story… you tell me?

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