British Columbia wild salmon: denial stage

In the late 1960s psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book: On Death and Dying. In that book Kübler-Ross described the Five Stages of Grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Initially these five stages were applied to people dealing with terminal illnesses; however over the years they’ve been applied to various big events such as divorce, job loss, tragedies, and so on.

When it comes to wild salmon; many folks seem to be exhibiting classic grief stages. It’s hard not to when we look at what’s happened to wild salmon along the Pacific Coast — for example, Fraser River sockeye in British Columbia:

150 years of Fraser River sockeye

Or the current situation with early-timed Chinook on the Fraser River (see yesterday’s post) — which are facing extinction at current numbers and forecasts, with the added threat of Chinook sport fisheries open coast wide in BC right now.

Unfortunately, far too many individuals are only in the first stage of grief: DENIAL.

A few weeks ago I attended the Simon Fraser University-hosted Summit on Fraser River Sockeye: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future.  I listened to a very senior biologist with an international organization responsible for assisting in managing Fraser sockeye suggest that the declining productivity of sockeye in some rivers “has a silver lining”.

The “silver lining” as he explained is that many of these rivers with declining runs and productivity — for example the Bowron River up near where I live in Prince George — have small runs of sockeye and thus we don’t have to be that concerned with the significantly declining productivity.

During the question period I made it very clear that the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation didn’t see any “silver lining” in the “small” run of the Bowron declining rapidly. So rapidly, that the Bowron run, which spawns in the world famous paddling route of the Bowron Lakes is looking at potential returns this year of less than 1000. This despite maximum runs of 35,000 over the last 50 years. Lheidli folks have voluntarily not fished the Bowron run for somewhere near 30 years. There is absolutely no “silver lining” for them.

Many other scientists at the Summit also exhibited classic denial characteristics, as did the “Fraser Sockeye Think Tank” convened in late 2009. The Think Tank advocated for more research to deal with the issues and suggested that overfishing was not the problem…

In meetings this past week, I listened to Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) deny that there are serious issues with early-timed Fraser Chinook. Their denial is further proven by the fact that DFO figures the run is healthy enough to support having sport fisheries open on the BC coast right now. If sport fisheries are open, DFO is implicitly suggesting that First Nation food, social, and ceremonial fisheries will be fulfilled — as the First Nation fisheries have priority due to Constitutional and legal obligations.

One has to wonder: why the denial? At the scientific and government levels?

Any thoughts?

4 thoughts on “British Columbia wild salmon: denial stage

  1. streamrambler

    What is the source for your estimates? I don’t right now have any other reliable sources for historic Fraser River salmon runs and I don’t really have the time to find the data, so if yours will suffice I may use them…we are making some signs as part of the Get-Out-Migration rally at the legislature….e-mail me or post on here please…

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment. Couple of sources for the estimates:

    The 160 million for Fraser sockeye comes from Northcote and Atagi (1997) and it’s in “Pacific Salmon and their ecosystems: Status and Future Options” (Stouder, Bisson, and Naiman – editors). You can view most of the book on Google Books – Northcote and Atagi’s chapter starts on page 199: “Pacific Salmon Abundance Trends in the Fraser River Watershed Compared with other British Columbia Systems”. The actual reference is on page 200 and is further referenced to W.E. Ricker articles on Fraser sockeye.

    “The historical abundance of pink and sockeye salmon spawners bound for the Fraser River was enormous with runs up to nearly 50 million pink and <160 million sockeye on a big cycle year (Ricker 1950, 1987, 1989)."

    One of the tables in the chapter suggests the average “historical” abundance of Fraser sockeye is over 34 million.

    “From Ricker (1987) for 1901-1913, using 100 million for the 1901 ‘line’ and 5 million for the 1902, 1903, and 1904 ‘lines’; see also Ricker (1950)”

    The 100 million sockeye estimate for 1901 comes specifically from DFO’s website. The “35th Annual Report of Department of Marine and Fisheries”( Appendix 4 is the B.C. report and on page 102 and 103 of the document it states:

    “… the Provincial pack of these fish on Fraser river, and that the total pack of Fraser river sockeye for this year reaches a total of 2,081,554 cases.

    Large as this amount is, representing a total of 30,000,000 fish, it could have been largely increased, possibly doubled, had the canneries had capacity enough to have handled all the fish available during the run. On Fraser river, the canners placed 200 as the maximum number of fish they would guarantee to take from each boat for 12 days; from 6th to 17th August this limit was enforced. The fishermen could consequently during this period fish only for a short time each day. During the height of the run they dare not put more than a small length of their net in the water. In some cases nets were sunk and lost from the weight of fish.”

    There is so much variety when it comes to these sockeye estimates. I sat in the SFU Summit on Fraser Sockeye a few weeks ago and listened to senior biologist from the Pacific Salmon Commission suggest that in the early 1900s Fraser sockeye only numbered about 40 million. I’ve seen this number pop up quite often; however, Bill (W.E.) Ricker is considered like a godfather to current day fisheries science. Much of his work is still used in current salmon management — and thus it seems odd that we rarely hear DFO quoting from his estimates that suggest closer to 160 million Fraser sockeye in peak years prior to canneries opening on the lower Fraser (approx. 1870s).

    Hope that helps — and good luck with the Get-out-Migration. It’s a great initiative.

  3. John Collier

    Hey Salmonguy, I am really impressed with your blogs. I belong to a local BC Naturalist group and tried to get them interested in the salmon decline but they thought it was too political for them. I was some upset. I used to live up in the Skeena River country and salmon was always on our minds. I cleaned nets for the people of Kitsegukla one season while the rest were at the coast and came close to being prosecuted to the full extent of the law! Thanks to Mary Sampare, her intervention saved the day and I continued fishing for them for another two weeks. I hope it’s ok for me to show your link in my blogs. I am new to blogging as you can tell and it’s really nice to find people who do care, about the salmon, about the people dependent on them for food, about our environment and about the way big business and the gov’t follow their own agendas without a single thought to those outside their circle who may be affected. Good on you man!

  4. salmon guy Post author

    Many thanks John,
    love the links between blogs. I’ve actually noticed a few folks linking to my blog from yours every day. It’s a great way to keep the ‘network’ alive. Many thanks for the link and the encouraging words. Great to see more and more folks connecting on this issue through social media and other channels. And keep the blog going — great to see the stories hitting the web from someone with your life experience and knowledge.

    My intention is to keep the information flowing. Unfortunately, standard media often focuses in on one or two issues; and sometimes they are not the most important issues. And one thing I definitely found in my online research is that there are not very many sites out there that are passing along information on wild salmon. With so many BC’ers and beyond concerned about this issue, it seems a bit crazy that there aren’t more websites and blogs. Maybe we’ll start a trend… : )

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