Crabfishing wisdom…and salmon management

There are three ways that this business operates:

Make things happen. Watch things happen. Or, sit there after and wonder what the f*#k happened…

I don’t want to be the latter…

This is the wisdom of Bering Sea crab boat captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie — who was made famous by the impressive show Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. I watched the first episode of season six last night and had to write down that great tidbit of wisdom.

Unfortunately, when it comes to wild salmon and the institutions established to look after them — there’s a whole lot of the latter two.

Case in point:

  • Wild Salmon Policy.

In 1999, I was reviewing early drafts of the proposed Wild Salmon Policy. I still have some of this material sitting in boxes for future reference. There was some decent ideas and language in early iterations — and there was some crap.

Six years later, this Policy was finally legislated in 2005.

Eleven years later, ie., the present day. There is very little of this Policy enacted on the ground (and of course some folks in the Department might take issue with this). Nice language such as “conservation” is plastered all over the document, and “ecosystem-based management” and “conservation units”.

However, Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff complain about lack of resources to implement – and “challenges”, and “challenges”, and rinse and repeat if necessary…

Sure some things are happening – like “Pilot Studies” in Barkley Sound, the Skeena watershed, and the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI). Yet, there is some serious lack of “making things happen” and actually focusing on implementation (not for lack of staff).

“Conservation” remains a nice thought staring down from the top shelf of government offices that gets dusted periodically by cleaning staff every now and again; and ecosystem-based planning… well… it’s gone the direction of NASA’s lunar program: It got filed under: “lost”…

As, really, how does a department of “fish” and “oceans” start dealing with at least 137 different species that depend on salmon returns just in the freshwater environment alone:

Isn't it time you put your carcass to work?

(click on image to see PDF document from Salmon Nation)

Over ten years of Wild Salmon Policy-ing and we still can’t implement simple conservation measures on some salmon populations in death spirals.

Take the graph below for instance… I have clunkily finished off a DFO graph showing exploitation rates of Fraser River Chinook 4-2′s (Early-timed Chinook).

The “conservation” goal (remember this is DFO’s number one priority when it comes to fish) for last year was to cut fishing rates (i.e. exploitation) by 50% on Fraser early-timed Chinook.(this is besides the fact the Wild Salmon Policy clearly defines “conservation” as very separate from allocation and use of populations…)

This means exploitation should have been down around 22% (the avg. of 2006 and 2007).

They had a significant whoops factor in missing the conservation goal by almost 30%. Worse yet, DFO’s own numbers suggest that during low productivity (e.g. look at drop of survival rates from 1999 into 2000s) that 8-11% exploitation is all these stocks can handle.

The unfortunate thing with fish stocks is that they don’t do so well with “whoopsees factors” — look at East Coast cod. Or Early Stuart Sockeye on the Fraser River — they’ve been a conservation concern for at least 30 years and aren’t showing signs of bouncing back.

And thus, here we are… unfortunately… in a “watch things happen” mode when we most certainly need to be in a “make things happen” mode. However, when the dust clears (off that Wild Salmon Policy on the top shelf) I don’t think many of us we’ll be stuck in the: “what the f#*^ happened?” mode. The picture is clear… it’s missing that first step…

(* on a side note, I didn’t realize it until today, checking the spelling of the boat, that Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie passed away earlier this spring. Regards to his family and friends… he’s quite a character on the Discovery Channel documentary that’s been following the crab fleet for several seasons now.)

2 thoughts on “Crabfishing wisdom…and salmon management

  1. salmon guy Post author

    Many, many thanks Morgan for the comment. Neat to see where the electronic network expands to online. And, as mentioned on the post, many regards to friends, family and colleagues for the loss of Captain Phil. Hard not to feel affiliation with folks after watching several seasons of a show like Deadliest Catch – where some pretty damn intimate moments are broadcast.
    take care.

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