Fisheries management is not about “managing” the fish… it’s about managing us.

Vancouver Sun image

Yesterday, Dr. Brian Riddell had an article printed in the Vancouver Sun.

A ‘sea change’ for wild Pacific salmon

As Dr. Riddell suggests:

This historic sockeye run is providing a wonderful “teachable moment” that should restore hope in the face of what has been a growing sense of disillusion about the future for wild salmon in British Columbia.

It could also usher in a much-needed “sea change” in our appreciation of wild salmon and our willingness to invest in a better understanding of this resource.

He continues:

…If nothing else, these past two years should be cause for humility about our understanding and management of wild salmon…

…Our immediate response must be to investigate the causes of this extreme change. If we don’t respond and simply monitor next year’s return, then we are only watching salmon and not managing them.

It is this phraseology, this paradigm, this giant assumption — that causes things to go off the rail for me.

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To “manage” means: “To direct or control the use of; handle.”

“Management” means: “The act, manner, or practice of managing; handling, supervision, or control.”

Now if we look at the roots of this word it comes from Italian maneggiare “to control, train (especially horses)”. This evolved from Latin manus: hand.

See…now, my wife is a horse trainer by profession. She has spent a good part of her life with horses; her adult life ‘training’ horses. And thus she has a good understanding of the Italian roots of the word “management” — in relation to training horses.

And I think I can safely say that she would be one of the first people to say that ‘training’ of a horse does not in turn give one outright “control” or “management” of a horse. As the old rhyme goes: a horse is still a horse of course… (or something to that effect).

I can tell you quite honestly that horses scare the crap out of me. They are damn big animals, they could squash me like nothing, and the whole idea of getting on their back, many feet off the ground, and thus at the whim of their instincts and temperament… it’s not my first choice for adrenaline kicks. My “management” of horses sucks.

My wife’s “management” is much, much better. Yet… yet, these are still beasts of the animal kingdom with wild instincts and she’d probably be the first to suggest this.

The whole reason for “managing” them  — e.g. ‘handle’; ‘control’; ‘supervise’; (in my humble, non horse trainer opinion) is simply for the simple reason that we (humans) would like horses to operate to our (human) benefit. Be it work, kids pets, transportation, racing, entertainment, and so on.

And thus, I can see where the roots of the word “management” make sense in this case — and that the ultimate Latin roots of “hand” also make sense. We have a “hand” in dictating the relationship between humans and horses…

Wild salmon, though…?

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Returning to one of Dr. Riddell’s comments: “If we don’t respond and simply monitor next year’s return, then we are only watching salmon and not managing them.”

It’s an odd statement really… truthful on one side; in that, yes, if we mean ‘manage’ as in the definition of the word, then watching is not: “controlling”, “supervising”, or “handling”… it’s simply watching — or observing, pondering, seeing patterns, and so on.

Well, gee, that kind of sounds like how salmon were cared for well before “fisheries management” and its good buddy “fisheries science” came around. Traditional and community knowledge all around the Pacific Rim — throughout the historic range of Pacific salmon — had an amazing amount to do with watching and observing.

Actually, that’s the fundamental base of all biology, or even science isn’t it?

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“1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws…”
But, what is “study”?
1. a. The act or process of studying.
b. The pursuit of knowledge, as by reading, observation, or research.
2. Attentive scrutiny.

Curious… that sounds like “watching” or “observing”…

And oddly enough, a second definition of “science” suggests:

“2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation

However, this doesn’t seem to fit with fisheries scientist Dr. Riddell’s view:

Watching and waiting isn’t management, ignoring issues won’t resolve them, and not investing in science simply generates new costs down the road.

But ‘watching and waiting’ are an integral part of salmon science — aren’t they? And isn’t investing in ‘salmon science’, simply mean, investing $$ to watch and observe?

And isn’t watching and waiting an essential component of salmon management?

We watch, and/or count, salmon through a wide variety of means. Eggs go into the gravel, we watch and wait… baby salmon come out of the gravel… we watch, and count… they go to sea… we wait… we watch… we count as they come back… We wait… we count… we watch…

It seems that maybe “fisheries science” and its practitioners is making this a heck of a lot more complicated then it needs to be.

As — in between all the watching and waiting… there’s computer modeling, and conferences, and Commissions, and lawyers, and managers, and meetings, and Ministers, and more meetings, and lobbying, and forecasting, and modeling, and a whole heck of a lot of paper pushing, paper filing, paper copying, papering in general, and jet flights, and per diems, day rates, and hotels, and conference centres, and pre-season forecasting, and jet flights, and waiting, and managing, and spending, and in-season modeling and forecasting, and, and, and, and…

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And… SO… after all this.

What is “fisheries management”? What is “salmon management”?

Couldn’t say it any better than a definition on Wikipedia:

Managing fisheries is about managing people and businesses, and not about managing fish.

Fish populations are managed by regulating the actions of people.

herring seiners

If fisheries management is to be successful, then associated human factors, such as the reactions of fishermen, bureaucrats, scientists, and government officials are of key importance, and need to be better understood.

Well phrased.

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And as such, I could not agree with Dr. Riddell’s comment more:

…more time and energy must be invested in the volunteer organizations that do the hands-on work of wild salmon conservation and habitat restoration in British Columbia.
Exactly right!

Included in there is the thousands of people around the Pacific Rim that have intimate traditional, local and community knowledge about salmon — brought about by generations of watching.

We can not, and never will, “manage” salmon. We can simply observe, study, and watch… and marvel at how much we just don’t know.

It’s the managing people that is the toughest piece of this puzzle. Investing more and more money into science is not the solution. And curiously enough… the culprits out there for the dire situation in the Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia) are pretty darn well known.

It’ us… again.

6.5 billion cubic metres of waste water every year out of Vancouver alone might have something to do with it. Over 100 small streams lost due to urbanization. Over half the population of BC flushing their toilets into outdated, underfunded waste water treatment plants, in turn dumped into the Salish Sea.

Fisheries management is not about “managing” the fish… it’s about managing us.

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