Some more good questions

Got a great comment and question on a recent August post: In-season Fraser sockeye forecasting… making it up as we go

I concluded that post by suggesting:

Spawner estimates is a wonderful example of more — exactly as it says — “estimates”. There’s mark-recapture, counting fences, stream walks, helicopter overflights, and other wonderful estimating tools.

As much as many folks suggest this whole salmon thing is a very precise practice… it is far from it.

It is simply fancy tools that “kick-out” fancy estimates.

There are lots of good folks working hard at these estimates — however they’re still fancy estimates with absolutely no method to truly “confirm” that the models, scale sampling, test fishing, and so on are “accurate”.

Then throw in terms like “ecosystem-based management” — ever present in the Wild Salmon Policy — and I tend to call ‘bullshit’.

We simply don’t know… we’re trying hard to estimate; but really… we’re making it up as we go along… and that’s OK; it’s the defensiveness and insistence by those involved that we do know what’s going on…

well… i think this year is a fine example that we definitely do not know.

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Bob recently responded with this comment on the post:

As someone who made run size estimates for years, got a better idea? Perhaps we should just leave them alone, in the river, and wait until they have all spawned. Then we can concentrate all the effort on a carcass census and get (a much better estimate of) the real number of fish in the run. Of course that would mean no fishing.

Then, after all is said and done, we still wouldn’t have much of an idea as to what resulted in those numbers; spawning escapement of the parents, juvenile river/lake survival, outmigrant survival, ocean survival, poor/good fishing conditions for returning adults, etc.

Right back were we started……
Any good ideas?

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Really appreciate the comment, and here’s my response (with a picture):

I don’t know if i have good ideas, I’ll leave that for others [as some have certainly taken issue with some of the comments and posts]; however, my point on a few posts has been that I see very little – if any – effort in research on traditional salmon-human relationships… I hesitate to call it enumeration.. or counting methods.

In my travels through salmon territory I’ve heard various stories and methods. Most of these combined selectivity and analysis of run-size and health. One of the most common was the use of fish weirs (this being limited to river sizes where this can work), as well as fish traps. There are some fantastic pictures of these in the BC Archives and sketches in Hilary Stewart’s book on salmon, as well as “Cedar”.

For example, in the Yukon near the town of the Dawson City is the “Klondike” River. It, as I have had it explained to me, was once one of the greatest producers of Chinook salmon on the entire 3000 km long Yukon River. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people for eons caught Chinook on the river. And as I understand it Tr’ondek is the proper pronunciation — “Klondike” is the anglicized version of the word. The meaning of Tr’ondëk in the Gwichin language of the area is something to the effect of “the sound of stakes being pounded into the river bed.”

Tr'ondek Hwech'in Cultural Centre

If you have, or do visit Dawson City, just downstream of the junction of the Klondike and Yukon is a cultural centre built in the 1990s. The centre was built in such a way as to represent a salmon trap or weir, with elements of fish drying racks. It’s a beautiful building.

The point of this — and I’ve heard this from many different First Nations folks — is that weirs and fish traps were a method of capturing salmon alive and being able to selectively harvest by species, size, and sex – as well as get a good idea of the size and health of runs. There were also the political aspects to these weirs, in that downstream folks could have a big impact on upstream folks by not allowing fish through.

In a sense… counting fences provide some of this same effect — however, there are the excuses of (wo)man-power to operate the fences.

Dip netting is also a non-lethal method of counting. And then there’s the work of LGL and their fish wheels. Much more use of fish wheels could allow non-lethal methods of enumeration — as well as harvest.

And then there’s just good old stream walks [have sure enjoyed my time in the past doing this].

My issues isn’t necessarily with some of the enumeration methods — just the lethal ones, like test fishing, it’s not required. My issue is with the way in which enumeration methods are held up as gospel, and their effect on harvest strategies, and the connection back to computer modeling and simulations. For example, this year, DFO set out to harvest only 25% of the Early Summer group of Fraser sockeye. This is in exception to their goals of 60% on other groups (Summer and Late Summer). The reason for the reduced harvest was to try and limit impacts on endangered stocks such as the Bowron and others in the upper Nechako that really are on a death spiral. There were many concerns brought forward during pre-season planning by upper Fraser First Nations. And some credit needs to be given to DFO on setting that goal with conservation concerns in mind.

Looking at in-season info it looks like the harvest rate on Early Summers will be about 23-25% or so… However, this won’t be known for sure until there is confirmation of in-river spawner counts which will be bounced back over test fishing, commercial catch, and the various computer models. All of those methods are generally regarded as akin to gospel. And thus, much frustration when in meetings with fisheries officials and they start tossing around these numbers as if we actually “know”.

We don’t… as is being made very clear by the fish this year.

If anything, I think – and hope – that most scientists looking at these issues are being greatly humbled by how much we don’t know (and some are, from what I hear and have heard). As the saying goes, the more we know, the more we learn we don’t know. I use the analogy of the old Greek (or Roman) monster Hydra — cut off one head and two pop up in it’s place… it’s the same with questions about salmon.

Lastly, one of the more common suggestions I’ve heard from many folks this year (First Nations and non)… leave the Fraser sockeye alone for a life cycle or two (4 to 8 years). Then there wouldn’t need to be all of this tension between folks looking to harvest them. As well as, there wouldn’t be all of this finger pointing and searching for one “smoking gun” (as referenced by folks at the Fraser Sockeye Forum in late March of this year). As well as pretty unproductive comments about black market sales, un-reported catches and so on.

[we’re already spending $12-$15 million on a public inquiry Cohen Commission (it’ll probably cost more), however much $$ on the Pacific Salmon Commission hosting forums to look into the Fraser sockeye issue, and the other 5 or so public inquiries over the last two decades — what did that cost?… why not re-direct those $$ to a bail-out of sorts… the commercial salmon fishery in BC last year was only $20 million landed value anyways. Not a popular prospect… but neither was losing the entire North Atlantic Cod fishery for coming on 2 decades now…what has that cost in Employment Insurance and re-training?]

just a few ideas… for what they are worth.

I appreciate the questions, comments and discussion — that was my whole purpose for setting up and maintaining this weblog… There has to be a different way; the history of methods we use in the present day; and this insistence by scientists that ‘answers’ lie in science — I find somewhat naive. There are hundreds of thousands of people throughout salmon country that have intimate knowledge… call it community knowledge, local knowledge, traditional knowledge, or maybe just… knowledge.Other ways of knowing.

I just don’t think the issue is going to be solved by intricate equations and computer models. That’s the same method that brought us financial derivatives, and we know where that got us… e.g. sub-prime mortgage.

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