This is a slide from the recent “Salmon Think Tank” gathering a few weeks ago in Vancouver at SFU’s downtown campus.
As mentioned in previous posts, I wasn’t all that struck by a group of scientists getting together and coming up with the tag line on this particular PPoint slide:
“where to direct future science efforts and how to conduct it?”
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There is quite a debate out there these days over “science” and “traditional knowledge” (whether that traditional knowledge is First Nations or non-First Nations — or maybe simply ‘community knowledge’).
Canada’s courts have had to grapple with this issue. For example, how does aboriginal oral history get treated within the confines of the colonial law system?
Court cases over the last few decades (in many colonized nations) have started to give this question, many varying answers…
And now, scientists are even paying more attention to traditional and community-based knowledge.
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Oddly enough, scientists must have paid some attention to this knowledge over the last century or so when it comes to “fisheries science”… the image above is the present-day salmon smolt (baby salmon) counting fence on the Chilko River out on the Chilcotin Plateau, west of Williams Lake in the territory of the Tsilqot’in people.
The flow of the river in this picture is from right to left. As baby sockeye begin migrating downstream to the ocean, they meet this weir and are directed into the central opening where the small buildings are located.
As the baby fish pool up in their instinctual downstream push, they are ‘counted’ through a system of various electronics and cameras. Data sets for portions of an hour are then used to predict how many fish are moving each hour, this is extrapolated to 24 hrs, etc.
The end result is an estimate of how many baby sockeye leave this particular river and head out to ocean each spring. This number can then be compared against returning adults 3-5 years later — most returning after 4 years.
This is not an “exact” science… and sadly, often many smolts can die in this counting process as fish gather in holding tanks and get squashed, etc.
But, it’s for the good of science…
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With some irony, all of these fish weirs pictured above were for upstream migrating fish. Aboriginal people from northern Alaska to southern California used these types of structures to capture upstream migrating salmon — and harvest them selectively.
Often times, weirs like this would be located at various points along a stream or river — with Nations upstream depending on the nations downstream to allow fish past.
Most of these weirs — and looking after salmon (e.g. enter buzzword: stewardship) — were tended through elaborate rituals and traditional systems handed down for eons.
Simple principle really: catch too many fish and die a few years later due to starvation.
Or… catch too many fish downstream and suffer the wrath of starving nations upstream.
However, aboriginal fishing weirs and traps were outlawed by colonial laws in the mid to late 1800s — too much competition for the newly expanding salmon canneries.
And thus, very selective in-stream fisheries gave way to mixed stock, non-selective ocean fisheries…
And… elaborate systems of charts and graphs and equations and formulas and licensing and government bureaucracy and the Peter Principle and so on…
This isn’t to say that the traditional systems weren’t perfect and ripe for misuse — however, the checks and balances over thousands of years had allowed a pretty skookum system to entrench.
And thus now, what are we left with?
They provide some work for folks — however, function little according to their original intention: Food and selective harvest.
Now the counting fence is largely a tool to satisfy the charts and graphs and equations.
And to attempt to satisfy eco-bumpf suggestions of ecosystem-based management and sustainability and conservation… all terms that are entirely relative according to who is speaking them (or including them in their most recent annual report or greenwash campaign).
Of course, the original counting fences did serve a “management” function. In addition to serving as tools to facilitate food harvest and selectivity — they were used to gauge the strength and health of each particular salmon run, including looking at ratio of females to males.
Now though… these weirs (i.e. counting fences) largely serve to count the many dieing, dwindling, disappearing salmon runs. When a river’s salmon run becomes too small — it becomes “uneconomical” to continue operating the counting fence.
Not enough fish to count… no point in having a fence to try and count ghost fish.
Maybe someone could do a tally of the number of fish ‘counting’ fences that have disappeared, been de-fenced (you know…as in de-plane) over the last 2-3 decades?
That would probably be a pretty good indication of salmon run health coast-wide…
Sort of like the numerous other salmon “enumeration” programs that have gone the way of the Rivers Inlet sockeye (for example) or East Coast Vancouver Island Coho or Fraser River early-timed Chinook, etc. etc.
It’s not all doom and gloom — it just seems some priorities are sadly twisted, and that history and community knowledge are bounced out the back of the bus and run over by the logging truck rumbling behind….