Fraser Sockeye: responding to commentary

One individual has left some long though-out comments in recent days on this weblog, and I figured I’d post one of my responses today as a post (sometimes the comments don’t see the same traffic).

The comment trail for this is in the previous post to this one: “Duh! Killing more fish isn’t the way to get more fish”. You can follow some of the discussion there. Here’s my comment from today:

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 sockeye 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, Seymour) 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)

One thought on “Fraser Sockeye: responding to commentary

  1. Brian


    I wonder who this was directed to?

    I will keep this short and sweet because I am a busy camper these days and I need my sleep.

    I don’t like mixed stock fisheries either. Like I said before, the First Nations had it right a long time ago with terminal fisheries.

    What we need is better information from the first month of ocean residency for juvenile sockeye (hell…salmon in general). Too many blanks in between from the time they leave to the time they return. There are people to do the work, but the money and political will is missing. Too busy building artificial lakes for G20 Leaders in Ontario. Hard to forecast when the all the pieces (or most of the pieces) are not available for you to use. That is the hard and fast of it.

    I share your concerns about Bowron. I have been there many times. That is why I am glad the commericial fishery for sockeye has been ended now to help protect Interior Coho. Commericials call it mismanagement. I call it common sense.

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