“Duh! Killing more fish isn’t the way to get more fish”

Thank-you Mr. Hume.

The headline above is from a Sept. 1 Vancouver Sun article.

The article starts:

On the weekend, media leaped aboard the “kill more sockeye” bandwagon, citing experts claiming that if too many fish reach the spawning grounds, it’s bad for the fish stocks.

According to one report in the Richmond News, reducing the harvest on salmon runs from 90 per cent to the present 30 per cent has had a negative effect on salmon populations.

Mr. Hume runs through a decent history of why we might be seeing such a huge run this year and then states:

It’s difficult to understand where the idiocy that provoked the research comes from. When only first nations harvested fish using none of today’s technology, runs were putting five, 10, 15 times as many salmon as we do on the spawning grounds. The annual abundance was astounding — returns of up to 160 million fish.

The big 1913 run with which this one is now compared saw 39 million sockeye return. In a similar frenzy of greed, 31 million were harvested. Processing capacity was overwhelmed. Whole boatloads of rotten fish were routinely dumped. Unfortunately, this moronic exercise coincided with the near-damming of the Fraser during railway construction at Hell’s Gate.

Stephen quotes from a paper done for the Pacific Fisheries Resources Conservation Council in 2004: “Does Over-Escapement Cause Salmon Stock Collapse?” The authors: C. Walters, P. LeBlond, and B. Riddell (two of which were original members of Justice Cohen’s pre-eminent scientific advisory committee) suggest at the end of the paper:

The concerns expressed that over-escapement has lead to stock collapse are not supported by available data on Pacific salmon.

And this would seem to be supported by the fact that the paper outlines how in 2002 records were set in places like Shuswap Lake and Quesnel Lake in terms of effective female spawners. Similarly this was copied in 2006, with near record effective spawners as a result of smaller harvest rates (amid cries of foul by the commercial industry)… and gee… here we are 4 years later with a record return of upwards of 35 million.

Might there be a connection?

As mentioned in the paper as well:

While this work is limited to sockeye salmon, it is building strong evidence for a carrying capacity limit to sockeye production in the Fraser lakes. This would add further indications that over-spawning is not likely to lead to collapse of a sockeye salmon stock, but rather the lake system will provide the “natural controls” on production.

Now there’s a thought… nature actually has it’s own controls on population; humans don’t need to enforce it through nets…

_ _ _ _

The part that surprises me about this — and hopefully Dr. Carl Walters may be able to provide some comments on this, as he has on other posts on this website — is that he was one of the authors of that paper (granted that was 6 years ago), yet he’s certainly been one of the advocates this year of harvesting more Fraser sockeye so that there are less effective female spawners on the spawning grounds…

And a rather vociferous advocate of hammering more sockeye in commercial fisheries… CBC interviews on multiple programs and quoted in almost every major newspaper running articles on the issue.

Although it seems that the policy of allowing more spawners to reach the grounds in 2006 is paying huge dividends this year…?

Could we maybe just extend the experiment another 4 years? Hold off again this year and see if we get record returns again in 4 years — following 2002 and 2006?

_ _ _ _

As the 2004 paper does state in the conclusion:

However, we must also note the advocacy for larger spawning escapements (regardless of production efficiency) for ecological values. It is also argued that larger escapements through lower harvest rates may be necessary to conserve salmon biodiversity, and that large escapements may be necessary to promote re-colonization of habitats or dispersal of salmonids.

Hmmm… sounds like some pretty darn good reasons to me. And really, I’m not so sure it’s simply “advocacy” for larger spawning escapement. There is some science to support it as well… such as Dr. Tom Reimchen’s search into the relationship between salmon and forests.

And really, if it’s simply “advocacy” for larger spawning populations… is it not the same in return as reflected in the loud voices asking for more harvest this year?

_ _ _ _

Furthermore, as pointed out in a separate paper (PRELIMINARY REPORT ON SOCKEYE FRY IN QUESNEL AND SHUSWAP LAKES IN 2003 (by Jeremy Hume, Ken Shortreed, and Steve MacLellan) — which comprises Appendix 1 of the above paper:

Recent escapements to Shuswap and Quesnel lakes have been the highest or amongst the highest ever observed. The decomposing carcasses from these escapements have returned significant amounts of marine derived nutrients (MDN) to the South Thompson and Quesnel river watersheds. Carcasses in the Shuswap watershed will have increased nutrient loading to the lake somewhat but nutrients from carcasses in the Adams river (63% of the total in 2002) are mostly diverted downstream by prevailing currents into Little Shuswap Lake and the South Thompson River, where they mostly benefit species other than sockeye.

“Benefit species other than sockeye”… a pretty important point.

Could that be like the endangered Interior coho — the baby/fry of which rear in freshwater for up to two years?

Or, maybe the Chinook fry doing the same, or other species trying to eke out a living?

Could we not be highlighting one of the significant issues with single species fisheries management?

Or, how about that “ecosystem-based management” sung and praised and lauded in Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy?

Would it maybe not be such a bad idea to allow the marine nutrients represented by all those returning sockeye to actually return to the spawning grounds?

Because… really… if there were some localized areas that did have a bit of over-spawn what sort of real reduction in “productivity” would we see?

0.00001% or 2 % or 10% or a catastrophic 50%…?

I don’t think anyone can really say with any real accuracy. It’s all theory and conjecture… theory and conjecture… all a great experiment.

So why not allow more chances at successful spawning…? salmon have been around a few million years with nature looking after population control… then boom… in the last 50 years mathematic equations, computer models, and economic egos arrive suggesting that humans have all the answers.

8 thoughts on ““Duh! Killing more fish isn’t the way to get more fish”

  1. kd

    excellent post Salmonid Fellow….

    it is times like these where we see just how quickly ( and seemlessly) DFO reverts back to it’s facilitator of extraction mode….

    and things like biodiversity and ecosystem based management…and all the other feel good verbiage they include in IFMP’s and other policy papers get quickly forgotten in the frenzy of dividing the salmon pie
    kd

  2. John Collier

    Hey salmon guy,
    I am always impressed by the solid research behind your blogs. First rate opinions backed by sound research. Makes people think. Your point that nature controlled the salmon for many years before DFO and did a much better job of it.
    And those Nations Alliance guys down Penticton way, they emulated nature, the fish return in quantity and wouldn’t you know, DFO stepped in and set quotas on a bunch of salmon they had not controlled without even consulting the people that have done what DFO could not.
    My guess is they will quickly take credit for this years big runs and continue to point to A Morton’s work as being unreliable. jc

  3. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for that.
    yes, does seem some of that. and yet to try and grant some fairness it’s a tough spot that DFO finds themselves in when something like this year occurs. the real issue I have is with the religious adherence to iffy science — for example things like the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI). Maybe this year will blow that ridiculous program out of the water…

  4. Brian

    Hello again Salmonguy,

    While the Shuswap Lake sockeye have remained fairly constant as compared to many other stocks this is not true for Quesnel Lake. After 2 successive years of high escapements early last decade, the sockeye returns in the Quesnel Lake system since have been dismal. In addition, the rainbow and kokanee have been suffering as well. I am not sure you would want to use Quesnel Lake as an example; however, there has been some optimism from the province recently in regards to kokanee and rainbow trout in the lake. Perhaps the lake is rebounding now? Let’s hope.

    However, I do agree that the “overescapement is bad” arguement is a little out-dated. I am not completely certain that more escapement will result necessarily result in more fish being produced in this case as lake and ecosystems are not as predictable as we would like to think they are, but I believe there are benefits to be had for other species with this return. Nature has it’s own checks and balances. If this return is too large then Nature will do what it always has done in the past. The problem is that mankind likes his fish at a predictable time every year and in a large quantity which might not coincide with the Nature.

    John, you are a bit misinformed about the salmon fishery and related efforts in the Okanagan. DFO and the province have been partners with local bands to help restore the Okanagan Sockeye. It is true that local First Nations should be commended for their efforts, but there were many individuals from government agencies working behind the scenes to help make this possible. For instance, the Sockeye eggs were taken to the Shuswap River Hatchery (DFO facility) near Lumby, BC, where they were hatched and reared before being released. Secondly, DFO employees (through colaborative initiative programs) have been helping First Nations harvest the latest return of Sockeye. Did you ever wonder where that seine boat on Osoyoos Lake came from? The recreational fishery doesn’t even compare to how many Sockeye are taken from that seine boat. When their own boats break down who do you think is called to pick up their nets? Yeah, that big, bad DFO is so horrible and mean…lol.

    Personally, I have no problem with consulting First Nations with this fishery, but I do object to DFO employees being bashed after trying to help them out in the first place. I think the First Nation leadership should have shown a little class in this circumstance, especially when DFO was on the lake at the same time helping them out.

  5. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comments Brian… careful with the labeling of folks “misinformed” — there are many realities out there.

    For example your comments on the Quesnel Lake system don’t really fit with the report mentioned in my post. Appendix 1 of the report explains that in 2002-2003:

    “Recent escapements to Shuswap and Quesnel lakes have been the highest or amongst the highest ever observed.”

    Furthermore:

    “The estimated escapement of 1.3 million EFS to Quesnel Lake was the largest subdominant escapement ever recorded to that lake and it followed the highest dominant escapement ever recorded to Quesnel Lake.”

    But maybe your reference to the previous decade meant the early 2000s?

    Added to all of this, I have a hard time buying the fact that a few trawl surveys in a lake the size of Quesnel Lake gives an accurate picture of the overall fry density and fry health in the entire lake. It’s guess-timate at best.

    Furthermore, my experience with sockeye is that there can be river-rearing fry, which is something that appears to be rarely discussed. For example, there are reports of sockeye in some Haida Gwaii streams where there aren’t really any lakes. Of course, there’s little appetite to “study” these populations because they are small and not “economically viable” for exploitation.

    This type of thinking dictates how sockeye are looked after (i.e. managed) in the Fraser. The four “groups” (Early Stuart, Early Summer, etc.) are comprised of only 19 stocks, many of which have spotty data at best — those 19 stocks represent less than 10% of the total estimated sockeye stocks that inhabit the Fraser. Basically, small populations don’t matter.

    In a watershed the size of the entire Fraser, I can’t buy any suggestions that “we know”. We can surmise, and theorize — but we don’t really know. And thus some folks are able to dedicate large portions of their adult lives studying these sorts of things and yet realize that the more we think we know, the more we realize we don’t know…

    appreciate the engagement and continued reading on the site

  6. Brian

    Yes, I meant the early 2000’s (i.e. last decade).

    “And this would seem to be supported by the fact that the paper outlines how in 2002 records were set in places like Shuswap Lake and Quesnel Lake in terms of effective female spawners. Similarly this was copied in 2006, with near record effective spawners as a result of smaller harvest rates (amid cries of foul by the commercial industry)… and gee… here we are 4 years later with a record return of upwards of 35 million.

    Might there be a connection?’

    As I was trying to say this was NOT copied for the Quesnel system in 2006. If you check escapements for the Quesnel system from 2003 to the present you will see.

    “Added to all of this, I have a hard time buying the fact that a few trawl surveys in a lake the size of Quesnel Lake gives an accurate picture of the overall fry density and fry health in the entire lake. It’s guess-timate at best.”

    You seem hell-bent on saying “it’s a guess-timate at best”…lol. They are estimates…Do you really think Hume can physically count every outmigrating smolt? If you have doubts about Hume’s work then maybe you should call him at the Cultus Lab sometime. There is no disputing the health of the fish stocks in Quesnel Lake as the province is seeing similar issues with rainbow trout and kokanee. It hasn’t been just isolated to sockeye. There just isn’t….go talk to resort owners on the lake and ask them yourself. Many of my friends and I have spent quite a bit of time on Quesnel Lake last season and had discussions with many guide outfitters, resort owners, the general public and provincial agencies. Even outmigrating sockeye were decribed as “pinheads”. Smaller size is often associated with poorer ocean survival. The poor returns speak for themselves. Compare Quesnel escapements with other summer runs like Chilko, Stellako and Tachie. These systems have not dropped like the Quesnel area.

    “Furthermore, my experience with sockeye is that there can be river-rearing fry, which is something that appears to be rarely discussed. For example, there are reports of sockeye in some Haida Gwaii streams where there aren’t really any lakes. Of course, there’s little appetite to “study” these populations because they are small and not “economically viable” for exploitation.”

    From my experience this has been sort of looked at here in the interior of BC. It is thought that North Thompson River, Raft River, and Clearwater River Sockeye juveniles rear in back channels and braids along the North Thompson River between Little Fort and Barriere, BC for the first few months then go downstream to rear in Kamloops Lake. I know for a fact (from private consulting work) that Sockeye juveniles rear in these channels for a least a couple months following emergence. Whether they rear in Quesnel Lake is another question, but in my experience with that area is that would not be a great place to rear.

    “The four “groups” (Early Stuart, Early Summer, etc.) are comprised of only 19 stocks, many of which have spotty data at best — those 19 stocks represent less than 10% of the total estimated sockeye stocks that inhabit the Fraser. Basically, small populations don’t matter.”

    You lost me somewhere. You need to explain your point here again as there are more than 19 individual stocks in the Early Stuart alone. Nowadays we lump them in and say “Conservation Units” and not stocks. In the Fraser, there are around 44 of them. Unfortunately, the long term data sets for these systems and CUs are not in great abundance (as I have eluded to in previous posts here). It is not that small populations do not matter. It is more that the information is either incomplete or not there. With only so many resources and so much manpower it is not possible to do everything unfortunately; however, I do agree that juvenile work is totally unrated. More used to be done in the past but it was discontinued. Personally, I would like to see more juvenile enumeration work done because basing our knowledge on a few indicators doesn’t seem to be working.

    “In a watershed the size of the entire Fraser, I can’t buy any suggestions that “we know”. We can surmise, and theorize — but we don’t really know. And thus some folks are able to dedicate large portions of their adult lives studying these sorts of things and yet realize that the more we think we know, the more we realize we don’t know…”

    I agree….especially after this season there is still more we need to learn.

    “careful with the labeling of folks “misinformed” — there are many realities out there.”

    I am usually careful about things I know about. I do know a little about this particular issue. This is why I commented. In this case, what John was saying (i.e. “what DFO could not” ) was not a true representation of what has been happening. First Nations in Osoyoos should be commended for their efforts and their determination in getting larger returns of sockeye to the Okanagan, but this was only part of the equation which I eluded to in my previous post. Despite whatever feelings John or anyone has towards DFO or the minister in charge, I would hate to have them have believe that DFO (or even the province) had no part in this.

  7. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks again Brian appreciate this commentary,
    Some thoughts on your shared thoughts and questions:

    Interesting to hear that the record spawners of 2002 was not necessarily the case in 06 in Quesnel Lakes. The estimated run sizes for this year reflect that. The Adams/Weaver has now ballooned to an estimated 25,000,000 total return this year. From an initial pre-season forecast of about 8,000,000 we can see where the huge missed forecast largely stems from. The increase of 17,000,000 on the Adams/Weaver alone is a big piece of the total Fraser pre-season growing from about 11 million to now close to 35 million.

    From a biodiversity perspective, this is quite worrisome. Many, many folks are ‘celebrating’ the huge return this year, yet it is only one stock (Adams/Weaver) that is comprising over 70% of the total Fraser run this year. Great that there’s more numbers… however the stock complexes that really need to see better returns may very well not see increased run sizes. For example, the Early Stuart group is still in dismal shape. Bowron is still looking dismal. Nadina fish (far upper Fraser) are apparently experiencing heavy pre-spawn mortality.

    It’s the small runs, the diverse runs, that really need to see some recovery. One of the huge worries of mine about the Adams/Weaver comprising so much of the run — is that they are so susceptible to high pre-spawn mortality due to high water temps. We may have dodged a bit of a bullet this year with a cooler last half of Aug. and early Sept. but four years from now, or eight?

    Added to this concern, is that one run comprising 70% of the total run, and at the huge numbers of this year, precipitates huge pressures to get fishing — see MP John Cummins most recent press release… Yet, chasing one run through terminal marine fisheries always means mixed stock impacts (less healthy sockeye runs, steelhead, in-big-trouble interior coho and so on — as you probably well know).

    The comparison can be drawn to the Skeena River where the enhanced, spawning channel Babine sockey run comprises about 90% of the total Skeena sockeye population. When it returns in good numbers — commercial marine fisheries are opened and this means all sorts of impacts on other less healthy stocks — e.g. Sustut and Bear Lake sockeye, Morice Lake sockeye, Skeena steelhead and so on. It’s a dangerous game.

    This leads me to the comments on the Fraser “groups”, “stocks”, Conservation Units, etc.
    That is a disaster from a management perspective.

    You’re exactly right; the Early Stuart ‘group’ is comprised of well over 19 separate stocks — however DFO ‘manages’ it to only the ‘Group’ level — i.e. Early Stuarts. And as far as I know Early Stuarts are only one conservation unit (CU). This is evident in the fine piece of junk: the Fraser River spawning sockeye initiative (FRSSI). Early Stuarts are only looked at as one entity — not the multiple stocks, that you rightly point out, it is comprised of.

    And in fact, the Fraser sockeye CUs change as fast as the Pacific Salmon Commission’s in-season run estimates. Last I heard, Fraser sockeye CUs are now down to about 38 from the 44 you mention. At a pre-season meeting this spring, absolutely no one from DFO could definitively say how many Fraser sockeye CUs there are – and what they are… and these were some of the most senior DFO staff members going on the salmon front — including the lead Wild Salmon Policy ‘implementer’.

    (you know the old: “who’s on first? where’s second?” jingle… or as I’ve heard other much-more-experienced-than-me individuals suggest: who the hell is in charge around there?)

    And so here’s my point in a nutshell… see earlier post Free Money-Part II as well…

    200 distinct Fraser sockeye stocks — yes, it may be difficult to manage to every distinct stock. However, there’s only enough information on about 19 distinct stocks to inform management models and fishing decisions (see any DFO publications on the FRSSI model; it’s only working with 19 stocks within the four run timing “Groups”). And worse yet, there is no connection between the 19 stocks used in modeling and the proposed Fraser sockeye conservation units (CUs). It’s a complete shemozzle.

    And thus, when various harvest models and “integrated fisheries management plans” start “kicking out” percentages of proposed harvest based on only four run-timing “Groups” — I think there is huge cause for concern. For example, this year DFO proposed to limit harvest on the Early Summer run-timing group to 25% of the total run (as opposed to the 60% proposed harvest on Summers and Late Summers) — apparently to protect some of the particular stocks that are becoming conservation concerns. But, how can anyone distinguish — with the 25% harvested — if the fish are from healthy stocks within the Early Summer group (e.g. Scotch, Seymouror) from endangered stocks within that group (Bowron, Nadina)?

    Again, this is the problem with mixed stock terminal marine fisheries.

    If one sits in on meetings with DFO and listen to them spout about the accuracy of their “science” and the excuses they make to anyone concerned about specific Fraser sockeye stocks — it generally circulates around how ‘exact’ their science is and that they know best. The ongoing defence of the FRSSI computer simulation model is a scary, scary thing.

    These sorts of tools start to make someone such as yourself out there in the field — rather obsolete. Why have field workers, when we can just computer model the whole thing based on past records…? The FRSSI model takes data from the last 48-50 years (spotty at best) on 19 stocks and pushes that data out 50 years and then designs harvesting strategies from the numbers “kicked out” by the models.

    You’re exactly right on the cut-backs to things like juvenile enumeration work. If we start to look outside of the major watersheds (e.g. Skeena, Fraser, Nass) the level of DFO cutbacks to people actually in the field with their feet and hands in the water actually interacting with the salmon and the critters that depend on them — is atrocious.

    Salmon management — from the government view — is becoming, largely, an exercise of academics, scientists and computer modelers — not folks with waders and gumboots on.

    With my final questions being — with so much uncertainty in fisheries management (esp. Fraser sockeye and other salmon) should we be “managing” the fish populations — according to the dominant big runs, or according to only the 19 stocks of over 200 that we have information on…?

    Or… should we maybe act much more precautionary and manage Fraser sockeye and other salmon to the small, endangered, extinct stocks that are most likely only growing in number?

    This is the great conundrum… if endangered species legislation was enacted on some upper Fraser sockeye stocks; then management would have to manage fishing pressure according to what the endangered runs could support — NOT what the 17 million+ Adams/Weaver run can apparently support. Or what Fraser steelhead populations, or interior Fraser coho, or early-timed Chinook can handle.

    What the heck are management institutions and commercial fishing proponents going to do when the big runs are in just as much trouble as the small, going extinct runs are…?
    oh wait, we’ve seen that over the last three years… no fishing.

    “No fishing” starts to make a department of “Fisheries” somewhat obsolete… Added to the mix, prices of less than $1 per pound for sockeye starts to make commercial fishing somewhat obsolete; and a commercial salmon fishing fleet with a landed value of only $20 million last year starts to make justification for a 10,000 full-time equivalent employees federal Ministry start looking akin to a stuffed pig at Christmas… (with the apple in the mouth and all…)

    (and we know what happens to that pig)

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