where the hell is the 35 million Fraser sockeye? Seems about 6 million might be missing.

Stellaquo River -- Upper Fraser River

How many other places — other than the Adams River — does this sign apply?

As mentioned in posts last week — the Stellaquo River in the upper Fraser — sure as hell isn’t breaking any records this year.

Nor is the Early Stuart group of Fraser sockeye, or many other stocks, groups, or conservation units as some like to call these “groupings”. (the only reason for the grouping is for fisheries management purposes).

Emails are beginning to fly around now from local folks who know these runs: Where the hell are these apparent 35 million Fraser sockeye?

And meanwhile not a peep out of mass media…

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The upper Fraser is experiencing far from any “historic records” — however, this could be seen in the pre-season predictions, and even the daily adjusting in-season forecasts. The in-season compared to pre-season predictions on the Early Summer run was a difference of about 4.7 times or so. On the Summers, about 2.5 times more predicted by in-season forecasts as compared to pre-season forecasts (the 50 percent probability forecasts).

It is these two “Groups” of Fraser sockeye that saw the early commercial fishing bonanza. Then the Late Summer in-season forecasts starting coming in and folks went nuts.

And some went so far as to recommend harvesting 80% of the run — otherwise fish would be “wasted.”

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By the end of the Pacific Salmon Commission teleconference calls in mid-September the total Fraser sockeye run was predicted to be 35.4 million. The media headlines and stories painted the picture of a bonanza “not seen in 100 years.”

(I don’t quite buy that story, but so be it… see earlier posts on estimated historic Fraser sockeye runs)

On the Commission’s last distribution the approximate number of Fraser sockeye past Mission in the lower Fraser (11.5 million) or caught in commercial (approx. 10 million) and First Nation (approx. 1.2 million) fisheries was a little under 24 million — suggesting another 10 million were still due to swim upstream and were most likely holding in the Strait of Georgia.

Well… we’re now approaching one month since that last report. If you go to the Commission website and download the latest Excel spreadsheet showing the latest In-Season Fraser River Escapement Reports — there’s a problem (at least to my eyes).

Total estimates past Mission are now 16.3 million (as of Oct. 4th). This is only a 5 million increase from mid-Sept. Added that the first few days of October saw ZERO sockeye past the hydroacoustic equipment.

The last big day was 100,000 on September 27th, then 67,000 the next day, then 12,000 and then 4,000 and then big fat zero.

Latest cumulative total past Mission = approx. 16.3 million.

Add this to the total estimated catch of 12.7 million and we have a potential total run size of 29 million.

Where are the other predicted 5 – 6 million Fraser sockeye?

Let me guess… the seals ate them.

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Some folks might ponder: “what does it matter, with a run this big… 5-6 million sockeye missing, don’t sweat it dude.”

Well… first, 5 to 6 million is about half the total run size that was originally predicted in pre-season forecasts (at least the 50 percent probability forecast). We know what happens when far less fish then forecast show up: public inquiries, and judicial appointments, and millions of dollars and lengthy reports, and big lawyers bills…

The other problem is when pre-eminent fisheries scientists are in numerous media stories and outlets advocating for a 80% of total run size harvest.

If we take the in-season estimate of 34.5 million and hypothetically take off an 80% harvest — what are we left with?

Well… that suggests a harvest of almost 28 million fish.

Hmmm… at current run size numbers, if we had gone with that scenario this year we’d have about as many sockeye as last year heading towards the spawning grounds: in the neighborhood of 1 million.

Brilliant plan…

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Regardless… could someone please tell me where the other 5 to 6 million fish are?

And remember, this is all just forecasting, estimating, and guesstimating… we still need the on-the-ground actual counts and estimates of spawners on the spawning grounds.

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Dear Justice Cohen,

Is it not time for a fundamental re-structuring of how this game works?

And could you please ask DFO and the Pacific Salmon Commission where the other 5 -6 million sockeye are this year?

4 thoughts on “where the hell is the 35 million Fraser sockeye? Seems about 6 million might be missing.

  1. Brian

    There is no 5 or 6 million “missing” sockeye. Although the inseason numbers were exciting to watch this season they are just that….”inseason”. It’s not until the fish enter the terminal areas that it becomes clearer what has returned. That’s why I tend to look at the glass being filled rather than the pitcher being poured. Inseason data is used to help manage the fishery, but the public is led to believe they are escapement numbers. Reports such as this are misleading:


    This is the wrong interpretation and ultimately the wrong message gets out. The public reads it and then gets upset when these expectations are not met. It’s hard to blame Joe and Jane Public because they have come to trust (more or less) what television news and newspapers tell them. Basically, the media that reports this and the people that provide this information need to do a better job. This is a classic example of why the communication needs to be improved so that the public is getting the right information.

    The late run sockeye, made up primarily of dominant Late South Thompson, hang out in front of the month of the Fraser for a couple of weeks or so where as the other timing groups pretty much boogy on through without waiting. By the end of August, Adams River Sockeye begin to move into the Fraser. In the late 90s, late run sockeye (which included Adams) were entering the Fraser too early, accumulating too many ATU (Accumulated Thermal Units) in freshwater, getting hit with parasites too early and longer and suffering high prespawn mortality. This season, it appears that entry for the late run was normal. Perhaps the behaviour of late run sockeye hanging out in front of the Fraser may have caused some overestimation. Area 12 (Johnstone Strait) seine sets were huge this season – probably the largest on record. I concede I was a little curious how these large sets were being dealt with regards to inseason run strength predictions. I believe the PSC tries its best, but experience has taught me that it’s the terminal areas which provide a much clearer picture. This is where a considerable amount of effort is put forward; however, the large abundances of sockeye in certain areas of the watershed will present challenges.

    Quote: “It is these two “Groups” of Fraser sockeye that saw the early commercial fishing bonanza. Then the Late Summer in-season forecasts starting coming in and folks went nuts.”

    Actually Early Summers along with Early Stuarts were not targeted for commercial fisheries this season. In hindsight, it is a good thing 80% harvest was not employed. I tend to agree that I am a bit concerned also about anyone advocating a 80% harvest.

    Quote: “The other problem is when pre-eminent fisheries scientists are in numerous media stories and outlets advocating for a 80% of total run size harvest.”

    Remember, that Mr. Cummins and some commercial fishermen where also in numerous media stories and outlets wanting to keep fishing, so I would not rag too much on people like Carl Walters (although the scientist in question poorly communicated what he was trying to say…I don’t agree with “over escapement” either). Cummins had no problem selling out coho and steelhead for more sockeye harvest. He then goes on to criticize the First Nations for their fishing; however, First Nations are actually more progressive in developing sustainable fisheries. Cummins does not like any intrusion to his ancient ways of mixed stock fisheries. Some of the public seem to think he is some kind of hero, but he basically acts more like a lobbyist for the commercial fishing industry than a Member of Parliament.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    thanks again Brian for the comments.

    as per some of your other comments – I agree with some aspects and not others.
    The two “Groups” I was referring to were the Early Summers and Summers. The Early Summers were targeted for about 25% harvest and the Summers 60% in pre-season plans. And yes, the Early Stuarts have been a conservation concern for decades. In recent years the Early Summers have started going down that road as well. Upper Fraser First Nations were advocating this year for an even smaller targeted harvest then 25% — 25% was the ‘compromise’ given by DFO.

    “be happy with that… it’s not 80% like we used to target”

    The Early Summers larger return in-season then pre-season predictions was the kick-off of the commercial bonanza.

    When it comes to salmon, I’m unfortunately a very precautionary glass half full kind-of-guy. The problem with blowing forecasts is that when it comes to ‘managing’ the fisheries,

    and Oceans tries to manage catch numbers pretty much to the percentage – as that’s about the only thing they can manage to that accuracy. And thus, when all the numbers were coming in the Early Summers were pretty much right around 25% harvest.

    However, this is based on in-season forecasts.

    And, thus, if the in-season forecast is blown — by say 5-6 million — and the fisheries are managed to say 60% exploitation. On an in-season forecast of 25 million Late Summers – 60% harvest would mean 15 million are taken. But if the forecast is blown, and 15 million are still taken, this would mean 75% exploitation. Then we’re up around Dr. Walters’ numbers of suggested forecast. Not good.

    Like you, i think a few people were concerned about how the big seine test fisheries were affecting in-season forecasts — myself included. With all of the shifts that have been occurring in migration patterns, was it not possible that more fish were pulsing through at the same time, as opposed to more fish overall? Nobody, or at least very few, seemed to be erring on the side of caution – which is supposed to be the number one choice: precautionary principle. Many in “management” circles appear to have succumbed to the heavy lobby power — which, yes, does include the commercial fisheries advocate that is also an MP.

    However, that’s the choice of the voters of Delta-Richmond East who continue to vote in an MP that seems to have one focus, and the choice of the Conservatives as he continually criticizes his own government — e.g. the Minister of Fisheries and her portfolio. (MLA Bob Simpson from Williams Lake area recently got kicked out of the BC NDP opposition caucus recently for a lot less than that…)

    I’m not sure I agree with your assessment that there is a considerable amount of effort in terminal areas. There is some, yes; however there are also very weak choices such as DFO’s choice this year to only helicopter survey the Early and Late Stuart runs. Worse yet, they then purport to suggest that they are getting 60% coverage of these runs in the Stuart River — with maybe 3-4 fly overs of the areas.

    weak, very weak.

    And really, how do we accurately “count” 20-25 million South Thompson sockeye? It’s an estimate, even a guesstimate, as you and I have bantered about before.

    There is a fundamental re-structuring required — of the Ministry, of the methods, of the people. I can appreciate that many folks work very hard within the Pacific Salmon Commission and DFO (I know folks in both and have a lot of respect – personally and professionally – they are still limited by the culture of the organization. It also doesn’t mean there are not fundamental problems. Maybe one can draw an analogy with the federal Liberals sponsorship scandal. I don’t necessarily think that politicians and bureaucrats go into the work to rip off taxpayers… however the culture and structure of the systems allows this to happen.

    It is called, as I repeatedly suggest, “Fisheries” and Oceans. This means at a fundamental level the ministry was established to support and manage “fisheries”. One can only hope (glass half full or half empty) that conservation and the precautionary principle and ecosystem-based management are actually winning out… sadly they only occur piecemeal, with the constant excuses that “it takes time”… “budgets are limited”… etc. etc.

    Add in the Peter Principle, ever prevalent in large government bureaucracies, and ‘houston, we have a problem.’

    When there’s a problem in ‘houston’ we can choose to continue to launch until spacecrafts explode… or we can stop, slow down, and do the proper investigation to find out what might stop the carnage.

    Maybe that’s the Cohen Commission?
    Maybe it’s the next public inquiry — the sixth or so in the last few decades.

  3. Brian

    Quote: “I’m not sure I agree with your assessment that there is a considerable amount of effort in terminal areas. There is some, yes; however there are also very weak choices such as DFO’s choice this year to only helicopter survey the Early and Late Stuart runs. Worse yet, they then purport to suggest that they are getting 60% coverage of these runs in the Stuart River — with maybe 3-4 fly overs of the areas.

    weak, very weak.”

    Your knowledge in this regard is weak…weak…weak. Do you have any idea what is done in terminal areas for enumeration this season other than Stellako? I mean not from secondary sources, but actually know. Sorry, but with all due respect it doesn’t appear like you do. I do this for a living – if you haven’t figured it out already…lol. Take a trip from Prince George and venture out to not just Stellako, but to Chilko, Late Stuart, Quesnel Lake and area, Harrison, Cultus, the Upper Pitt, the North and South Thompson….A large slate of mark-recapture, fence, DIDSON and roving programs are being done. Some projects had increased effort directed towards them inseason because of increased abundances. This demands quite a bit of flexibility and commitment from staff to see these changes through, not to mention the reallocation of limited resources. When you add in all the seasonal staff hired, helicopter time, boat fuel, vehicles leased, accomodations, tags purchased, and field equipment required it is no small operation. Yes, the effort is quite substantial. Instead of just writing about my job – come and experience it. I realize you have done some work that relates somewhat, but until you have been actually involved in it you don’t really have the appreciation of what goes into it.

    For the past month I have been showing Priscilla Judd what is involved. We still have our differences probably, but I chose to accept her olive branch and share my years of knowledge with her. We get along quite well now. I don’t expect her to be a cheerleader for DFO (that is not the point); however, now she has a different appreciation of what is done and why.

    Weak choices for Early Stuart? There is more to it than what you may think. Some of it I cannot really blame you because you are not privy to certain information and the decision making that goes into a project plan, especially this particular one. What I can tell you is that DFO stock assessment is committed to getting the best data possible, but they are also committed to the safety and well-being of their employees. This is where being an arm-chair critic has it’s disadvantages. I read your post on cbc.ca about this Stuart area and you are totally off the mark…but again I don’t blame you for the reasons I mentioned already. Buy me a beer sometime and I may enlighten you more about this…lol. We don’t all live in white castles although we try to keep our houses tidy and look sort of expensive.

    You are also wrong about Late Stuart. Because this is a NON DOMINANT year this project is done with a combination of helicopter and ground surveys. On DOMINANT years a mark-recapture project is employed. It doesn’t make sense or improve your ability to enumerate by applying tags to smaller numbers of fish (this is where our friend “sample size” comes in). Again, you have no idea what goes into planning these projects or any idea on how these methods are implemented, the data collected and analysed post-season. I don’t mean to sound harsh (sort of comes across that way I know in print), but I have to admit I am a bit frustrated…lol.

    To be completely honest, you haven’t said one thing on stock assessment that would make me take notice and say, “Yeah, Dave knows what he is taking about”. I am not saying you should not have opinion on the subject. Not at all. Although I find your blog kind of anti-DFO from time to time I appreciate the fact that someone is taking the time to write on this topic. Dialogue is better than no dialogue. I find it very useful because it gives me a better appreciation on what the public is feeling. You don’t do a job and say that there is never no room for improvement. I actually welcome this inquiry. The only thing I don’t like about it is the people attempting to discredit it before the findings are even released.

    You also do your best to research the topic as best you can. I actually enjoy reading some of your posts and there are things I can completely agree with you on (even some of the “limitations” you elude about”), but when it comes to stock assessment their isn’t much common ground I do admit. Oh well…I will get over it…lol. It is easy to critisize anything really if someone takes the time. I can find disadvantages with all the methods used – that’s not hard at all. But actually be faced with the task, the budget and the logistics – that’s a whole different matter.

    Quote: “And really, how do we accurately “count” 20-25 million South Thompson sockeye? It’s an estimate, even a guesstimate, as you and I have bantered about before.”

    As I eluded to before, enumerating this huge amount of sockeye to the South Thompson will present many challenges. If you know anything about mark-recapture projects of this nature you will quickly see why. Again, take a trip out to the Adams or Lower Shuswap and see for yourself. You don’t accurately count 20-25 million sockeye. It is estimation! Instead of demonizing the word you should strive to understand it.

    There is only so much human effort you can put in and only so much you can get out of your crews (that work 7 days a week). You try to be as accurate and precise as possible by realizing the assumptions and limitations of your proposed methods and doing your best to satisfy those assumptions. This is why there are very well trained crews members, supervisors and field biologists carrying out these projects. What I can tell you is that the people doing this job will do as good a job enumerating these fish as anyone can and put out a product as good as anyone can produce. That’s where professionalism and pride come into play. That assessment is indeed “accurate”.

    Peace out….

  4. salmon guy Post author

    thanks again Brian,
    you make some assumptions yourself about my knowledge, or lack of… fair enough.
    The issue up the Stuart this year… quite familiar. DFO’s approach and going to the media with it — even weaker.

    my issue is not with the time, effort, planning, and thought that goes into the numerous enumeration programs or the hard working individuals involved (such as yourself); my issue is with exactly what your last paragraph states. These are estimates. Estimates based on what some might say is: the best science of the day.

    ‘Managers’ within DFO have a real difficult time at meetings admitting the fact that enumeration programs are estimates . If all of this is an exercise in getting the best estimates; then all the more reason to be even more precautionary in fisheries decisions.

    I am curious though, if anyone has done a cost-benefit analysis, and maybe a look at the carbon footprint of enumeration programs if as you mention: “helicopter time, boat fuel, vehicles leased”, etc. Are they worth it? And why?

    And as I’ve asked, would DFO be willing to hand all of those programs over to the third-party management?

    thanks again, and appreciate the invite and continued comments.

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