DFO forecasting… is it as bad as Tiger Woods’ golf these days?

"Operation"

Another August day… another Pacific Salmon Commission and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Fraser sockeye update.

The press release issued by DFO yesterday states:

Subject: FN0672-Salmon: Fraser River Sockeye Update – August 17 – Areas 11 to 29

The Fraser River Panel met today to review stock assessment data on the Fraser River sockeye runs, plan fisheries, and discuss sockeye migration conditions in the Fraser River watershed.

Test fishing data collected over the past several days indicates continued strong migration of Fraser sockeye through the marine approach routes. DNA analyses indicate that the stock composition of Fraser sockeye in the Areas 12 [near Campbell River – Johnstone Strait on Vancouver Island] and 20 [near Victoria in Juan de Fuca] marine approach routes to the Fraser River are ranging about 12-17% Early Summer-run, 18-32% Summer-run, and 56-64% Late-run sockeye.

The diversion rate of Fraser sockeye through Johnstone Strait is currently estimated to be approximately 74%. The migration of sockeye past Mission and Hells Gate has also been strong over the past several days. The estimated total catch of Fraser sockeye to-date is 1,669,000 fish. Total escapement past Mission is 3,167,000 for a total accounted to date of 4,836,000 fish.

The marine migration of Early Summer-run sockeye is dropping off in the latest samples; the current run size estimate of 2,400,000 Early Summer-run sockeye was increased to 2,600,000 fish [pre-season estimate was 783,000]. The 50% marine migration timing of Early Summer-run sockeye through Area 20 is estimated to be August 4. The estimated escapement of Early Summer-run sockeye past Mission through August 16 is 1,400,000 fish.

The marine migration of Summer-run sockeye has increased in recent days. At the meeting today, the Panel approved a run size increase from 3,000,000 Summer-run sockeye to 3,300,000 [pre-season forecast was 2.6 million]. The 50% marine migration timing of Summer-run sockeye through Area 20 is August 10. The estimated escapement of Summer-run sockeye past Mission through August 16 is 1,139,000 fish.

Late-run sockeye are increasing in proportion of the sockeye migrating through the marine approach areas and there are early indications that a portion of them are delaying in the lower Strait of Georgia prior to entering the Fraser River. The gulf troll test fishery started Monday to conduct assessments of the abundance of Late-run sockeye that are delaying their migration. A total abundance assessment for Late-run sockeye should be available later this coming week.

At the meeting today run size estimate of 700,000 Harrison sockeye was unchanged with 50% marine timing through Area 20 of August 4. The estimated escapement of Late-run sockeye past Mission through August 16 is 931,000 fish.

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Last year, somewhere around 10-11 million in the pre-season forecast… only about 1.3 million show up. A blown forecast by about a factor of 10 — ten times.

This year, we’re approaching a parallel experience…just the opposite way: somewhere around 11 million forecast, and now an in-season estimate approaching 15 million total run size (remember, not what will reach the spawning grounds, but what is estimated as total run size approaching the Fraser River before catches and death).

Sure, some folks might suggest this a “good thing” as at least it’s blowing the forecast the right way. Going low… and getting higher returns.

But is this really a good thing? Or, simply an even stronger sign that “we just don’t know”?

Or did folks actually utilize the precautionary approach in the forecasting tools? hmmm…

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The Early Stuart pre-season forecast was blown by almost 2.5 times: 41,000 forecast; now over 105,000 in-season estimate of total run size.

Similar story on the Early Summers: 783,000 pre-season forecast now with an in-season estimate now 2.6 million. That’s what… blown by almost 3.5 times.

The Summers: pre-season total run size predictions of 2.6 million now approaching in-season estimates of 3.3 million, blown by 700,000 fish, approximately 0.3 times.

What’s next?

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If this was the accuracy of weather forecasts… would you ever try and schedule a family picnic by the forecast?

What if this sort of lack of accuracy or certainty was displayed by your financial planner?

(Oh wait, for First Nations and commercial fisherfolks… salmon forecasting has relations to financial planning and more…)

What if this sort of rampant inaccuracy was displayed by Tiger Woods on the golf course… oh wait, it sort of was last week (if you follow that sort of thing).

What happens when Tiger starts sucking on the golf course…?

Well… sponsors start threatening to pull $$. (we’ll leave that little infidelity issue alone…)

What happens when DFO starts sucking on their forecasting…? Well… not much… except maybe a paper-producing and shuffling public inquiry… (the fifth in 20 years or so).

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My point here is that this whole exercise of pre-season and in-season forecasting is a wildly inaccurate exercise. It’s guess-timates at best. It’s like the old kids game of guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar posing as “exact science”.

For example, in reading the press release I pasted above: “The estimated total catch of Fraser sockeye to-date is 1,669,000 fish. Total escapement past Mission is 3,167,000 for a total accounted to date of 4,836,000 fish.”

Those numbers pose as: exact.

The estimated catch is 1.669 million. The ‘estimate‘ (they forgot this important word in the press release) past Mission (remember these are numbers “kicked out” by looking at various sonar and other contraptions — exact science to some; voodoo science to others) is 3.167 million. Add those two together and we get exactly 4.836 million fish total run size estimate for all Fraser sockeye right now.

But what about the seals, and orcas, and shit flowing out of the over 2 million strong urban Centre of Vancouver, and natural mortality, and the big physiological changes that adult sockeye undergo while moving from ocean salt water to fresh Fraser River water, and unaccounted catch (e.g. sport fishers and others) and so on…?

Nope, this is precise stuff salmonguy.

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And as we get to the end of the season, what do we have to confirm that all of these test fishing models, and scale sampling, and commercial fish catch estimates, and sport catch and First Nation catch estimates, and “Management Adjustments” and natural mortality and sonar counts and DIDSON counts and so on, and so on —- are in fact accurate?

Well… we have spawner counts: like more sonar and DIDSON devices, and folks walking streams counting fish, and fish wheels, and mark-recapture studies and helicopter flights (wildly accurate… right?), and computer models and simulations, and a whole lot of paper shuffling that makes lots of noise like a herd of wildebeest…

And what are we left with… well…. ESTIMATES.

Good ol’ fashion estimates. Just like grandma makin bread… “whaddaya need measuring cups for… I know it by sight and feel…”

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It’s not that I have a solution to this “estimating” game it’s just that it gets a bit frustrating and disappointing when fisheries decisions areĀ  made on some lame statement such as: “we know what’s going on out there”.

We don’t; it’s an experiment.

As such, a much more precautionary approach is required. Because really… what’s wrong with getting lots of fish onto the spawning grounds?

(0ver-escapement… phooey… not on the returns these days).

Running around suggesting that salmon science is exact — is akin to having a doctor trained on the old game “Operation” doing heart surgery…

hey, now there’s an idea… every time a Fisheries bureaucrat starts carrying on about how exact the science is, they get a loud buzz and shock — similar to the old board game…

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