Opening day thoughts…

Today is the opening day of the conference: Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, OR. There’s approximately 300 or so attendees including an international contingent from Russia and Japan.

The opening and first two keynote speakers have just finished. The first keynote speaker — Ray Hilborn — is a professor at the University of Washington. The second keynote speaker — Rob Walton — is a policy analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Professor Hilborn highlighted some of the older science on this issue such as a paper from the late 1970s that suggested that the long-term consequence of heavy fisheries is that small stocks are sacrificed.

Uh-huh… Guess we haven’t learned that yet — can you say Fraser River sockeye?

One of the other key points I picked up from Professor Hilborn was the idea of “goal displacement” — which occurs when an activity becomes the objective. One of the examples he used was the  practice of using Coded Wire Tags (CWTs) — which are put in the noses of hatchery salmon — and then relying on the recovery of salmon heads with CWTs to actually manage a fishery.

On Fraser Chinook, for example, the recovery of CWTs and utilizing the data is mandated by the Pacific Salmon Commission. Thus, if hatcheries aren’t pumping out baby salmon with CWTs up their noses; it makes it much more difficult to ‘manage’ the fishery. In theory anyways… (my editorializing might suggest there are some serious shortfalls in this system)

And thus keeping the hatchery going has become the objective — and therefore goal displacement.

(It should be noted that the original goal of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Salmon Enhancement Program in British Columbia was to double commercial catches… Another dismal failure).

If we failed on that goal, and continue to fail on that, and continue to sink millions of dollars into hatcheries… why?

The second keynote speaker, Mr. Walton, unfortunately depressed me to great end. He started his presentation by suggesting (and I’m paraphrasing):

Here in the United States, we draft legislation, Congress passes it,  and then we get sued.

He ran through the history of creating policies around the Endangered Species legislation here in the U.S.  and how wild salmon and hatchery salmon have played a key role. Initially, the NMFS developed policy surrounding Endangered Species protection for salmon with various pieces of legislation that explained the role of hatchery salmon in the Evolutionary Significant Units (ESUs) of the western states– sound similar to the Conservation Units of Canada?

In March of last year, NMFS was sued regarding their policy. Not only were they sued from one side – a coalition of environmental groups; they were sued from the opposite side — a coalition of businesses including water user groups, construction companies, developers, etc.

This case is built on several other court cases involving salmon and protection. What started in a District Court decision overturning earlier legislation, then went up the U.S. court systems. At each juncture NMFS would return to the office draft new policies, present them, pass them, then get sued again. Another set of lawsuits over ridiculous language, then a decision by judges, then more policy drafting, then more lawsuits, then more judges decisions, then more policy drafting, and so on, and so on….

So in the U.S. — salmon are managed by lawyers, judges and the legal system (in essence) — with a bunch of policy wonks sandwiched in between.

During the question period a representative from the Squamish Nation told a story about how  elders in his community scratch their heads: “science and technology screwed this all up in the first place — and now science and technology is going to fix it?”

Another question was telling: a rep from Washington State who “works in the trenches” asked (paraphrasing again):

when’s the talking about action going to stop… and actual action begin?

A tough question, especially to start a conference… and this was evident in the lack of meaningful answers given by panel members and keynote speakers.

Onwards with the day…

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