Cohen Commission: change the name? Commission into how we just don’t know.

The Cohen Commission is currently subtitled: “Commission of Inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

Is this starting to seem a little silly with the estimates now being “kicked out” by the Pacific Salmon Commission and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?

The other day the Commission put out a in-season estimate on Fraser sockeye of over 19 million. Watershed Talk — a newsletter published by the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS) — has a decent summary of the most recent information coming out of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Watershed Talk August 20 2010

19 million is a far cry from the pre-season estimate (50% probability) of a little over 11 million.

By the time the season is over could we see a total Fraser sockeye run twice the size of pre-season estimates? (remember, total run size.. not what’s reaching the spawning grounds)

_ _ _ _

I can hear the voices now: “commission of inquiry into the decline of Fraser sockeye… what the ^#@*?… there’s no decline… this year is a record return… what a waste of money…let’s get fishing”

(oh wait… I think I have heard a voice or two on that note…)

_ _ _ _

I have a proposal… maybe the Cohen Commission could focus on the fact that we don’t have a frigging clue… DFO doesn’t have a frigging clue… and the Pacific Salmon Commission really doesn’t know either (despite some good folks working hard).

Or as Dr. Carl Walters (University of BC) suggested in a comment on this website recently: “A lot of people have devoted their lives to collecting and analyzing sockeye data.”

The comment might be a bit dramatic… maybe more realistic would be a good chunk of their adult academic lives (with some decent funding attached…DFO?). However, maybe focusing on sockeye for that long could be part of the issue…?

I recently came across a 2006 report on grizzly bears (funded by BC Hydro) in the Lilloet valley area.The report opens with:

There is little known of grizzly bear density, distribution, or population connectivity in British Columbia’s southern Coast Ranges. This knowledge gap is of concern given the wide range of land resource demands, particularly in and around the Sea to Sky Planning Area where there is potential for excessive cumulative impacts resulting from the area’s growing recreational popularity, associated development trends, and its accessibility from the nearby lower mainland.

The basic conclusion? Very little is known about grizzlies in the valley — with the exception that many folks suggest there have been large declines in the population, but no one can really say why.

Gee… maybe declines of major food source…?

sockeye are part of a much, much larger system that we — simply — will never, ever understand.

As we can see this year, the sockeye are suggesting to us all —- We Just Don’t Know.

_ _ _ _

This year folks will be screaming for a public inquiry into the increases of sockeye salmon. Or an inquiry into why an inquiry was called. Or an inquiry into the inquiry…

Or more rightfully named: a Commission into the decline of knowing what the heck is going on with Fraser salmon.

(As I’m guessing Justice Cohen and his multiple legal staff are discovering as they wade through opinions from absolute opposite sides of the “pre-eminent” scientific spectrum… “fish ’em all” to “fish none of ’em”

How did former US defence secretary Rumsfeld phrase it: we know what we don’t know; we don’t know what we know; we don’t know what we don’t know… or however the hell that was phrased.

Basic premise: we don’t know, so let’s stop pretending that we do know, and maybe start being a lot more precautionary.

Because at a fundamental level… all we’re really discussing is: should we be catching fish and how much (plus the difficult equations for allocations) vs. should we leave them to do what they’ve done for millions of years…  you know… like… spawn and die… and feed millions of critters in the process

(no, no some say… that’s a waste…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *