Once upon a salmon: “Salmon management for people”… that’s the problem isn’t it?

Pacific Salmon Management for People

I came across this book in a Vancouver Island used book store recently as well. It was published by the University of Victoria in 1977.

It’s quite a remarkable read for simply shaking one’s head and mumbling: “…we just never learn… we just never learn…”

There’s also some recognizable names from today’s salmon debates…

Here’s some material from the Preface of the book:

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Over the past few years there has been a rapid and widespread expansion of enlightened attitudes towards managing resources and planning their development. Two principle components can be identified. The first is recognition that a resource is part of an ecosystem, and that manipulation of any part of the system will have effects ramifying throughout. The second component is an awareness that people also are a part of the ecosystem, and the ramifying effects will reach them in many different ways and times.

This book emphasizes the salmon resource system — the fish, the environment, the people, and the social organisation and interactions which nowadays link them together and which overlies the natural ecosystem of simpler times. Its examination of this system unfortunately cannot be comprehensive. The system is too complex for that…

… Section III concerns itself with the future, for without such prognostications the book itself would be only an academic exercise of little use to people…

Indeed.

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Here are three quotes from Section I: Emerging Knowledge and Theory.

“One can only look with sadness and with wonder at the record of man’s use of the Pacific salmon resources…”

For myself… this book was published before I was in kindergarten… how sad and with depressed wonder is that view of man’s record with Pacific salmon — now?

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“This (the involvement of biologists in salmon management) is particularly necessary during a management period when a philosophy of systems analysis, in which salmon tend to be regarded as statistically predictable automata, rather than living individually varying animals, is being emphasised.”

Not much has changed on this front… we now have a Department of Fisheries and Oceans “Pilot Study” called the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) which is a computer modeling program that uses a variety of paper maché theories to attempt to predict run sizes and fishing limits.

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“It is ironic that just as the agencies are beginning to achieve maximum sustained yield (on the Skeena sockeye at least), the inadequacies of this theory are becoming widely recognized.”

It is even more ironic that in 2011, thirty-four years later — salmon management is still based on this tired old theory of maximum sustained yield. It’s still a central component of the apparent Wild Salmon Policy.

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And, yet… the conclusion to this book could, no doubt, be written today. It could be the same words used in Justice Cohen’s final report…

The problem of Pacific Salmon management is twofold: the maintenance of a natural resource, and its allocation to people with diverse claims. The setting is the contemporary world of urban and industrial growth, unemployment and inflation. The light which we throw on the problem is the new understanding that issues cannot be interpreted, nor decided upon, in isolation but must be seen in a broad context of ramifying relations which we call a system.

James Crutchfield described how man as a predator of salmon has failed conspicuously to maximize either the salmon populations or his own gains. Stocks have declined, and labour and capital have been grossly wasted. From the failure to put the fishery on a sound economic basis stems the failure to reach the primary goal of salmon management – “some composite measures of human well-being.” The chief reasons for the pursuit of immediate profit and conflicts of interest. Inadequate knowledge of the ecological needs of salmon has not been a prime cause of their decline. Decisions have been made knowingly.

The mood of today, and it may be an ephemeral mood, is tempered with restraint. The tradition of stewardship, traceable to Plato has a voice. Man has responsibilities towards nature (and the mind to the body?). Certainly the Pacific salmon must not attain the status of the Atlantic salmon in Europe…

…The problems of salmon management, then, represent in microcosm some great issues of our time. They call not merely for ecological economics but also from ecological politics. They are one test of whether man can make a civilization distinguished by restraint and a sense of place…

I know the sense of place that I have of British Columbia and the Pacific Rim in general… is one that includes healthy runs of wild Pacific salmon.

When will we learn? When will we learn?

Maybe reading these old reports on salmon ‘management’ should come with a mandatory prescription of Prozac.

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