“No shit Sherlock”

Salmon, Science, and Reciprocity on the NW Coast - Bruce Johnson



At the Cohen Commission, an “ambitious science research program” was undertaken in late August. Twelve research priorities were named:





Project 1 – Diseases and parasites

Project 2 – Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 3 – Fraser River freshwater ecology and status of sockeye salmon Conservation Units

Project 4 – Marine ecology

Project 5 – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 6 – Data synthesis and cumulative impact analysis

Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon: literature compilation and analysis

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

Project 12 – Sockeye habitat analysis in the Lower Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia

One could probably safely assume that these projects are underway. I’ve heard some rumblings here and there; however, there has been no announcement of whether this is the case or not — nor, who the researchers are that have been hired to undertake the work.

Might one further assume then, that some of the researchers hired were most likely some of the disbanded “pre-eminent Scientific Advisory Panel”?

The Panel was disbanded for whatever reasons (it was only formed in April) — there was no press release to explain why. However Dr. Carl Walters from UBC, one of the folks named to the  Scientific Advisory Panel, suggested on CBC Radio that the many criticisms and suggestions of conflict of interest were a big part of the disbanding. Many of the criticisms were well founded in that several of the Panel members had, or do, receive funding from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or had worked for the ministry in the past — the same government ministry that is being investigated by the Commission (or at least its policy, procedures, and practices).

Conflict of interest is one of those often slippery, but sometimes frippery, squishy, gray areas (…not to be confused with brain matter…). Yet, adding to the slippery – like a fresh caught sockeye – element of the potential for conflict of interest was the fact that some members of the Panel may be called as witnesses during the Commission. One resigned — Dr. Brian Riddell.

The world of salmon researchers and “scientists” in BC, and beyond — is relatively small. Finding folks that haven’t worked for, or conducted research for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at some time is probably quite difficult. If one is not working for the main employer in this line of work, then they’re probably working somewhat in opposition to DFO, or at least regularly criticizing and critiquing — e.g. enviro group, First Nations, commercial fishing unions or outfits. With this, then comes criticisms of bias and agendas.

Oh… what happened to the ideal of objective science…??

No simple solutions…

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One gaping void within the Cohen Commission ambitious science research program — traditional, local, community knowledge in relation to looking after salmon.

For example, the picture at the beginning of this post is from a paper: Salmon, Science, and Reciprocity on the Northwest Coast from the journal Ecology and Society:

Severe depletion of many genetically distinct Pacific salmon populations has spawned a contentious debate over causation and the efficacy of proposed solutions. No doubt the precipitating factor was overharvesting of the commons beginning along the Northwest Coast around 1860. Yet, for millenia before that, a relatively dense population of Indian tribes managed salmon stocks that have since been characterized as “superabundant.”

This study investigates how they avoided a tragedy of the commons, where in recent history, commercial ocean fishers guided by scientifically informed regulators, have repeatedly failed. Unlike commercial fishers, the tribes enjoyed exclusive rights to terminal fisheries enforced through rigorous reciprocity relations. The available evidence is compelling that they actively husbanded their salmon stocks for sustained abundance.

Or, Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California from the University of California eScholarship.

Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California - Swezey and Heizer


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Over the last lit bit I’ve been taking a course out of general interest: Issues in Science and Society.

The most recent unit explored societal influences on science; things such as influences of religion, politics, gender, race, other scientists — and the ability of pseudoscience to throw a thick stick into the bike spokes.

One of the folks quoted in the section on racial bias was former scientist and author Stephen J. Gould. He suggested:

Scientists, are not objective and can never be, because they are human beings rooted in cultural traditions of shared belief.

I’d have to agree with that statement.

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And so why is there so little research and scholarship provided to looking at the systems of looking after salmon in the thousands of years prior to “fisheries science” arriving on the scene within the last eye blink of time (50-75 years)?

Why are there continued “Summits” and “scientific synthesis” and “salmon think tanks” and “pre-eminent scientific advisory panels” and “ambitious science research programs” that refuse to look further back then the last 50-100 years?

Could one not suggest a significant bias — maybe one related to color, or maybe gender, or maybe political — that continues to ignore systems of management that existed for a long, long, long time prior to Mr. Vancouver, or Mr. Juan de Fuca, or Mr. Valdez or other colonial sailor arrived on the west coast of N. America planting a flag in the name of some distant monarch, under the guise of European national pissing matches and territorial expansion and resource revenues?

Instead we get science research programs that continue to suggest that no one thing is responsible for salmon declines, and that no one “smoking gun” factor can simply be fixed and we’re all good… how does that old saying go…

…oh yeah right…

“no shit Sherlock”.

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