Yesterday evening just before dinner, on the CBC Radio program All Points West here in BC, host Joanne Roberts spoke to Dr. Carl Walters regarding the recently “disbanded” Cohen Commission Scientific Advisory Panel. I was a bit surprised by the use of the word disbanded, as that was most-certainly not the phrase used in the Commission news release the other day.
The news release is worded slickly. Reading it may leave one with the impression that many of the “pre-eminent” scientists involved on the Panel may be taking on the twelve “research” projects related to the Commission’s work; or maybe another function. The word “disbanded” … not used.
Surprisingly as well… was the reason given by Dr. Walters for the disbanding — e.g. the controversy surrounding many of the members potential for conflict of interest (see a few earlier posts on this site).
Dr. Walters didn’t mention the potential for conflict of interest (which includes himself); however he did bring up the controversy surrounding some of the appointments. Maybe that includes the resignation of Dr. Brian Riddell?– a 30+ yr DFO scientist prior to leaving DFO, and taking over at the Pacific Salmon Foundation.
This reasoning is a bit of a slippery slope, and I’m sure there’s potentially more to the story — however, is there not a danger now, that the Cohen Commission could be perceived as flawed and susceptible to public pressure?
Might one not suggest, that as the Cohen Commission works feverishly to produce some 10,000+ pages of paper (with writing on them) by May 2011 that various public interest groups can just start squawking and screeching and thus influence the workings of the Commission?
Furthermore, if the reasons for disbanding the Scientific Panel are because folks were right — in raising the potential for conflict of interest — is the early work of the Commission now tainted? How big are the finger prints of the individuals on the Commission who were potentially in a conflict of interest?
First a resignation, then a full disbanding…?
And now what happens if the public doesn’t like the researchers chosen for the 12 research priorities?
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And then to add more pie in the face, Dr. Walters decided to take some parting shots. He sounded a bit like a kid who was selected last for the school yard game of red rover. He figured that his idea for research priorities should have been chosen — the idea that commercial fisheries have “lost out” on some $100 million of economic opportunities because of DFO mis-management.
He explained that he feels that DFO management of sockeye salmon is a giant experiment (of which I most certainly agree); however, he suggests the current method of allocating commercial catch is messed because commercial fisherfolks should be getting much higher allocations.
His suggestion is that in the 1990s, DFO started to reduce the total percentage of Fraser sockeye caught from the highs of 70-80% of the run down closer to 50% of the run. He figures that this is the reason for the lower productivity that we are now experiencing because in essence ‘too many salmon are spawning’ and this means that baby salmon have too much competition in their nursery lakes and thus fewer baby salmon heading out to sea, and in turn fewer adults returning.
Apparently, Dr. Walters a long-time fisheries scientist and often outspoken individual, has bought into the idea of Maximum Sustainable Yield, which in my humble observations obviously ain’t too sustainable now is it?
Now, I’m not a “pre-eminent” fisheries scientist — nor is Ms. Roberts who hosts the CBC Radio program — however her tone was indicative of mine… although, I think I might have dropped a few more f-bombs with question marks (not too appropriate for public radio). Ms. Roberts questions and puzzlement were much more politely phrased.
I would most certainly like to see Dr. Walters’ data on this issue — as I’ve pointed out in many other posts, the history of “fisheries science” is not such a good one. Actually… maybe it’s one of the most questionable of “scientific” practices (I can hear the tomatoes hitting my computer now…). There’s a reason why the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has suggested that well over 70% of the world’s fished fisheries populations are either over-exploited, fully exploited, or trying to recover. The history of fisheries science and management over the last century or so, is abysmal.
Of course, many might suggest the problem is more the “management” not the “science”…
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Dr. Walters’ logic suggests that because DFO has allowed “too many” fish into the river — the commercial fishing industry has “missed out” on over $100 million of “economic opportunities”.
Wow… strong statement. Enough to incite rioting in the fishing crews of the coast.
Sadly, and this is my main point on this issue, Dr. Walters has maybe not traveled to enough BC First Nation communities that depend on Fraser sockeye (however, maybe he has and has some better logic on this issue). Under the Constitution of Canada within Section 35 rights (as I understand it, and I stand to be corrected) — the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility to provide First Nations with access to fish to meet food, social and ceremonial (FSC) needs.
In the upper Fraser River — this requirement has not been met in most First Nation communities for decades… if not the last century. It’s written clear as day in the Wild Salmon Policy and it’s clear in legislation, and it’s been clear in the courts.When it comes to salmon:
- Conservation first;
- then First Nation food, social, and ceremonial needs;
- then commercial and sport allocations (depending on species for which interest group first)
I know many folks out there love to quibble about this and some like to make right-leaning comments and lack of equality and race-based fisheries and so on and so on… yet the law is pretty clear on this one; as is the Constitution.
Like it or not that’s what we have to go by.
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So, maybe before Dr. Walters starts carrying on about all the “lost economic opportunities” at the mouth of the river, inciting rage in the commercial fishing boat owners, and suggesting the Cohen Commission should be looking into this issue… we could add a research project to the twelve listed by the Cohen Commission that looks into just what are the food, social and ceremonial needs of First Nations for the 150 or so different Nations, Bands and communities that depend on the annual return of salmon. As that has higher priority than commercial fisheries — by law.
How much has the catch for communities dwindled over the last 50-60 years when DFO management kicked in?
The needs are most certainly, more than the arbitrary 1 million that’s thrown their way now in Fraser allocations.
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Or maybe, just maybe, we could investigate what are true needs of the ecosystem — in regards to salmon returns. What do the bears need?
In the 1930s a study conducted in the Columbia River watershed found (through sampling grizzly bear fur) found that grizzly bears over 1000 km from the ocean depended on up to 90% of their diet from salmon. How has that changed? How has it changed in the Fraser?
It’s great that the Commission is looking at marine predation… but how about marine animal needs, the needs of animals upstream, and so on?
Just some thoughts…