Fraser sockeye: Certainty about uncertainty…

If there is one thing we can all be absolutely certain about… it’s all the uncertainty surrounding: “what the heck is going on out there?”

Last year being the classic case — in the neighborhood of 10 – 11 million Fraser sockeye forecast to return and only 1.3 million showing up (and in relation to yesterday’s post… that’s showing up to the river – not successfully spawning).

The panic button was pressed — despite the fact that this trend has been in plain view for quite some time (see productivity graph in yesterday’s post and previous posts) and the fact there hadn’t been any Fraser sockeye focussed commercial fisheries in a couple of years. The calls for a public (or judicial as some folks call it) inquiry went out. The Prime Minister acquiesced and Justice Cohen was hired for the job and a $15 million (or so) budget was earmarked.

(Note: last year’s landed value of all salmon in B.C. was only about $20 million — see #1 most popular post on this site — which was based on about 10 million salmon caught… $2 per salmon… makes sense to me…)

And, thus, over the winter and into the spring fishy folks fussed and fumed and freaked and foamed at the mouth and flew (as in hopped on planes and ran around to meetings and summits and think tanks and forums and forever more).

The most popular message of all this was: “WE JUST DON’T KNOW“.

The Simon Fraser University convened Salmon Think Tank was even titled: Adapting to Change: Managing Fraser sockeye in the face of declining productivity and increasing uncertainty.

But wait… there is a qualifier… lots of fishy folks are clear to suggest: “This trend is not due to fishing.” But everything else? – we just don’t know…

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Then began the marketing campaign to ensure that everyone understands that pre-season salmon forecasting is highly inaccurate… (no, wait)… speculative. There are comparisons of pre-season forecasting to weather forecasting — see earlier post and that weather forecasting is far better, far more tools, far more funding and so on and so on.

washed up squid near Tofino 2009 -- Vancouver Sun

And then there’s the squids… yup, big Humboldt squid off the coast of BC.

Last summer, I saw hundreds of them washed on the beaches of Haida Gwaii. Our kids were fascinated… except the smell…

The rumour is that these pack-hunting squid may be preying upon baby salmon as they set out on their migration. Pecking them with their beaks and preying upon them with vicious pack mentality…

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And thus the fishy folks ask:

Is it changing ocean currents? conditions? competition in the North Pacific from hatchery and salmon ranching efforts around the Pacific Rim? ocean acidification?

It’s not overfishing.

Is it pollution? logging? mining? sewage? urbanization?

It’s definitely not overfishing.

Is it agricultural run-off? water draw down for irrigation? expanding Vancouver suburbs…?

It’s certainly not overfishing.

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And… well… it appears that DFO has also bit onto this bottom-bouncing bait… hook, line, and sinker… (pardon the ridiculous puns).

Or, simply believe — like so many others — that killing about 80% (and more) of a species year in and year out since the 1950s (and probably longer) is simply not a problem…

Salmon Think Tank -- December 2009

(I suppose maybe some of the folks suggesting overfishing is not the problem — haven’t read the popular bestseller “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.)

The point I am getting at here (in my long-winded way) is that in the first year in four that the Fraser River is finally seeing some decent returns of sockeye — DFO starts opening commercial and sport fisheries like U.S. Banks handing out sub-prime mortgages.

Or maybe a better comparison would be — after the collapse; how George W. started handing out TARP relief to failing U.S. Banks or General Motors.

It seems this year, that Fraser sockeye fisheries are being opened like there was never really a problem.

Lower productivity… what lower productivity?

Endangered stocks with the lowest productivity on record? Whatchyoo talkin ’bout?

Cohen Commission what? ahhh… don’t worry about them; we buried them in more documents then Conrad Black’s legal travails…

Constitutional and legal obligations to meet First Nation food, social and ceremonial needs? ahhh, we did that, like, twenty years ago…

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I still find it fascinating that the Fisheries Minister (obviously informed by her senior staff) found it necessary to suspend the fisheries portion of all Treaty negotiations in BC (there are about 150 First Nations — of 200 or so in BC — with some dependence on Fraser sockeye) while the Cohen Commission is underway.

DFO staff were also directed not to attend the Simon Fraser University Fraser Sockeye Summit in late March 2010: “because of Cohen Commission commitments”.

I attended an international salmon summit in Portland, Oregon earlier this year and some DFO staff were unable to attend to make scheduled presentations because of Cohen Commission commitments (at least that was the word at the conference).

I’ve been at various meetings with DFO through the pre-season and there were various rumblings of commitments to the Commission and thus dropping other commitments.

And yet… and… yet… DFO staff has found more than enough time to open commercial and sport fisheries on Fraser sockeye (and apparently analyze all the risks associated… see below).

This despite all the uncertainties. This despite significantly elevated water temperatures in the Fraser River (approaching 20 C, which can be lethal to many Fraser sockeye stocks). This despite the fact that the Cohen Commission has over 100 days of hearings scheduled (five days a week) starting in October through to 2011. This despite productivity levels that are hanging around in the basement.

What, really, would be the “danger” of just leaving Fraser sockeye fisheries closed and allowing as many fish as possible get upstream?

Granted, I do understand that there is an impact on commercial fisherfolks — especially the small family operations — however, with DFO paying out $80 – $90 million per year to First Nation fisheries initiatives, multiple millions to license buy-back schemes, and the feds granting an approximately $15 million budget, or so, to the Cohen Commission — I’m sure some funding could be found to assist hurting fisherfolks.

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Here is DFO’s stated approach to “Conservation” as stated in this years Integrated Fisheries Management Plan (IFMP):

2010 South Coast IFMP

“…Management actions will be precautionary and risks will be specifically evaluated…” Important point, don’t you think?

I still haven’t seen the specific evaluation of risk that suggests the inherent mixed stock fisheries that have been opened on Fraser sockeye this past week are the best for the “social and economic values that are derived from them” or reduce the risks of long-term impacts.

Nice words on paper; uselessly implemented.

Certainty about uncertainty… you bet. Uncertainty about certainty…uh huh.

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