Something fishy: The salmon are back

The National Post ran this story on Friday:

Something fishy: The salmon are back

…confounding expectations and mocking the experts, some 34,546,000 wild sockeye returned to the Fraser River this summer.

It was the largest such return in at least 97 years.

Some 13 million of the sockeye were caught as they swam into and up the Fraser, most of them taken by commercial fishermen. Another 15 million likely perished in the turbulent river runs, either in the fast-flowing Fraser, or later in the Thompson. A lot of fish died after reaching Shuswap Lake, so close to home.

Firstly, it’s unfortunate that the media continues to use this: “35 million sockeye returned”… No, it’s 35 million sockeye were estimated to have been heading to the mouth of the Fraser River. This was an in-season run size estimate based on test fisheries, scale samples, hydroacoustic counts, and whatever other science and quasi-science goes into run size estimates.

We won’t really have a better idea until all of the escapement and spawner counts are in somewhere around the time snow if flying and rivers are freezing (and the Cohen Commission hearings are in full swing).

Secondly, no “the salmon” are not back. One species, of a couple stocks of Fraser sockeye – “are back.” Sure there were some decent returns of other salmon in other areas; however, interior coho, early run Chinook, steelhead, and a myriad of other salmon stocks and species are still in deep trouble.

Thirdly, don’t get me wrong — it’s fantastic that the sockeye returned in numbers this year. However, I really hope folks remember the ‘power in diversity’ maxim.

The Adams River is but one run on the Fraser River. It’s comprised of a few stocks; however there was once over 200 separate and distinct sockeye stocks on the Fraser River.

don't count; it's just to get the idea across - from my Cohen Commission presentation

As pointed out in several previous posts, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans can only manage to 19 stocks, as that’s all there is enough information on.

I certainly don’t want to rain on the parade of this year’s “historic” return of Fraser sockeye; however, anywhere between 70-90% of the total run will be comprised of just the Adams run. That percentage could keep getting higher as the actual stream counts start coming in and the in-season forecast of 35.4 million is scaled back.

If you started celebrating the great return on the mutual fund within your RRSP and then realized that the fund was comprised of 70-90% of one company – one stock (Say Research in Motion, or other company) — would you be feeling very safe? Would you be celebrating?

Or, would you think maybe diversity is a better strategy? Maybe that mutual fund would be a little more balanced and safe if it was comprised of 200 separate stocks, or maybe 100…

Here’s a map of the historic stocks of sockeye (including kokanee) all across BC.

from "Freshwater Fishes of British Columbia" J.D. McPhail

And as far as I know, the picture ain’t all that rosy for all those black dots that represent sockeye stocks on Vancouver Island. Plus there were no record breaker runs on the Skeena this year; decent return but not “historic”.

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