Inspector Clouseau is on the case…

I am tiring somewhat of the constant: “Eureaka… I’ve got it…” theories of the great salmon disappearance and reappearance.

I don’t intend disrespect to the researchers involved; it simply seems that maybe many folks have a bit of a bias perspective that their research is the research. Not to mention that implicit in any research these days is a certain marketing factor — especially when research is being done within the confines of a for-profit organization.

Another Globe and Mail headline from yesterday:

Tagging solves part of sockeye mystery

When researchers fitted 200 young salmon with acoustic tags in the spring of 2007, they had no idea those fish would later help pinpoint the “crime scene” for one of the biggest environmental disasters ever to strike the West Coast.

Nothing like a propensity for the dramatic. Gotta love media article openers. Let’s just stop for a second and consider ‘environmental disaster’…

A ‘disaster’ is:

1. an occurrence that causes great distress or destruction
2. a thing, project, etc., that fails or has been ruined

Calling it ‘environmental’ does a nice job of shifting the blame away from the real culprits here. It’s along the same lines as the insurance industry use of: “Act of God”. If folks would start first with looking in a mirror, we could identify the culprits in the salmon situation:

Us.

The article continues explaining the research of the Kintama Research Corporation and Dr. Welch:

“It’s a world first,” David Welch, president and CEO of Kintama Research Corporation, said of the study, which he described briefly on Monday in giving expert testimony on the opening day of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry.

“Our contribution has been to narrow down the likely location for the mortality, but not demonstrate the cause,” he said.

Again, I’m not intending disrespect… however, I’m not so sure that tagging 200 baby sockeye from basically one sub-population (Cultus Lake, which is near the mouth of the Fraser) and tracking those baby salmon (200 out of absolutely millions of baby salmon from throughout the Fraser watershed) through incredibly expensive radio receiver installations installed on the ocean floor is necessarily “narrowing down the likely location for the mortality” of all Fraser sockeye.

To be fair though, I haven’t read the entire study — I’ve just seen the presentation and animation of the 200 baby sockeye and 2 returning adults at the SFU Sockeye Summit this past March. I had also seen presentation on some of this research in it’s early days — my initial conclusion was: sounded very, very expensive: e.g. not a lot of bang for the buck.

For example, Kintama is involved in the $160 million+ Ocean Tracking Network, which is involved in climate change related work. From their website at Dalhousie University:

Our climate is changing — of this we are sure. Marine life survival is becoming uncertain due to overfishing and changing migration patterns. Animals such as polar bears are becoming visibly anxious as their habitats begin to melt. Oceans are becoming warmer; the polar ice caps are melting.

The alarming thing is that we don’t really know why. Information from beneath the sea’s surface is very limited, despite the fact that continued human survival is directly linked to stable oceanic life.

The Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), a $168-million conservation project, will put an end to this knowledge void. With it, thousands of marine animals around the world — from fish to birds to polar bears — will be tracked using acoustic telemetry technology. At the same time, we will be building a record of climate change — data that can be analyzed and then applied.

Again, no disrespect intended… I’m just not so sure that the 95% unexplored ocean is going to have the unknown void filled in by a multi-million dollar human technological tool — especially one that is largely limited to coastlines.

Could the data and information be useful?

For sure.

Is “building a record of climate change data” and analyzing that data going to shift Stephen Harper and the Conservatives’ approach on global climate change?

Doubtful.

If some of the predictions on climate change are correct, or even under-predicting the changes we will be experiencing in coming decades — for example, even if we stopped all greenhouse gas emissions right now, that drastic changes will continue to occur over coming decades.

_ _ _ _ _

Back to the Globe article:

He [Dr. Welch] said researchers were delighted when two inbound signals were detected in July, 2009. The fish, returning from a migration circuit that covered thousands of kilometers of ocean, arrived back at the southern end of Vancouver Island on the same day.

Dr. Welch said none of the other 200 fish survived, reflecting the collapse of the broader Fraser run.

This is one heck of a conclusion to make — again — based on 200 tagged baby sockeye of the hundreds of millions that leave. The rough calculation is generally that of all the baby salmon that migrate out, 2-3% return as adults — At least, this is what the nice little 9 minute video on the Cohen Commission website suggests.

Thus, 2 returning of 200 tagged… that’s what? 1% survival.

hmmm… does this draw big conclusions.

Or what about my theory of where the fish went:

Solving salmon mysteries

This seems to fit with the quote from the article:

But the tagged fish moved rapidly past the north end of Vancouver Island before their signals were lost. The fish never reached the next monitoring post, in Alaska.

2 thoughts on “Inspector Clouseau is on the case…

  1. Brian

    It is one heck of a conclusion. I like Dr. Welch’s work and believe it has it’s place in trying to find out more, but the results it produces have to be put into perspective and not used to make big generalizations. Finding “location” doesn’t necessarily mean “I found the cause” (and to his credit, Dr. Welch admits this). Like you, I am skeptical that 200 smolts from a hatchery are that representative of the whole out-migration. These are not just any old smolts either. Due to the size of these tags, the smolts to be used have to be above average in size. I haven’t seen what sizes Dr. Welch has used, but the smolts I saw with these acoustic tags were at least 120mm in length. This is a very big smolt – not very representative of the vast majority of out-migrants.. I think that over time tag size will be made smaller so that average sized smolts can be used, but I haven’t seen this yet. This is new technology which will likely improve over time, but it won’t replace other investigative work (i.e. people getting their hands smelling like fish and wearing rain gear) which is needed in the “locations”.

  2. Eric

    “But the tagged fish moved rapidly past the north end of Vancouver Island before their signals were lost. The fish never reached the next monitoring post, in Alaska.”

    As no fish reached the monitoring post in Alaska, but
    “… two inbound signals were detected in July, 2009. …arrived back at the southern end of Vancouver Island on the same day.”
    seems to me that the “crime scene” could be anywhere from the north end of the island to the south end over a period of two years. They may have disappeared the day before the last 2 signals were detected, however a 1% return for hatchery fish is actually pretty good, so all things being equal… very interesting study which I would like to see greatly expanded, but totally useless in pinpointing the area of greatest mortality.

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