Recently at the Cohen Commission looking at declines of Fraser River sockeye, a backgrounder was released for one of the 12 technical reports to be completed:
Project 3 – Evaluating the Status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and Role of Freshwater Ecology in their Decline
Only the Executive Summary and Backgrounder is available for public consumption at this time.
This technical report was apparently meant to:
…investigate several aspects of Fraser sockeye ecology, including the status of sockeye Conservation Units, a review of industrial and urban impacts on freshwater ecology and salmon life history, and an expert assessment of potential impacts from historical industrial and urban activities on Fraser River sockeye.
This report is focused on evaluating changes in freshwater ecology and its role in recent sockeye salmon declines, including the status of sockeye salmon populations and habitats and the impacts of human activities on freshwater habitats.
Reading the Executive Summary for the report I was struck by some pretty curious statements:
This report is focused on evaluating changes in freshwater ecology and its role in recent sockeye salmon declines for the Cohen Commission. This work includes examining the status of sockeye salmon populations and habitats, as well as the impacts of human activities on freshwater habitats (i.e., logging, hydroelectricity, urbanization, agriculture, and mining).
Changes in freshwater ecology due to natural and human forces are hypothesized as having three pathways of effects. These pathways include effects on the: (1) quantity and quality of spawning habitats; (2) productivity of nursery lakes for rearing; and/or (3) habitat conditions associated with migration of smolts / adults.
To assess the current status of Fraser River sockeye salmon populations, we have been charged with three tasks:
(1) summarizing existing delineations of population diversity into Conservation Units (CUs) [a CU is defined by the Wild Salmon Policy as “a group of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, is very unlikely to recolonize naturally within an acceptable time frame”];
(2) evaluating Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) methods for assessing conservation status; and
(3) determining the status of Fraser River sockeye salmon CUs. Delineations of Conservation Units were necessary to quantify habitat conditions, analyze landscape level disturbances, and evaluate the relationship between changes in freshwater ecology and changes in productivity…
Back to the Backgrounder:
Status of Conservation Units
The report identified 36 sockeye Conservations Units (CUs) within the Fraser River basin, including 30 lake and six river-type CUs..
The researchers found that 17 of the 36 Fraser sockeye CUs have poor population status and are distributed across all run timing groups.
The status of 11 CUs is unknown.
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So the status of at least 30% of the Conservation Units is unknown… yet, a CU is “a group of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, is very unlikely to recolonize naturally within an acceptable time frame…”
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The Executive Summary continues:
… Given our review of available data, measures of freshwater habitat condition are generally not available across many CUs even though Strategy 2 of the Wild Salmon Policy is charged with developing relevant habitat indicators.
…Given a general lack of information that could be used to reliably define dynamic changes in condition across sockeye salmon spawning, rearing, and migratory habitats…
Given a lack of experimental design in the way population, habitat, and stressor data have been collected, our ability to test for cause and effect relationships between the freshwater environment and Fraser sockeye salmon declines was limited. As a result, we were only able to use a limited set of quantitative techniques and data summaries to assess the role of freshwater influences.
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‘Measures not available’… ‘lack of information’… ‘lack of experimental design data being collected’… ‘tests for cause and effect limited’… ‘limited set of quantitative techniques and data’…
Do I sense a pattern here?
And yet…conclusion is:
…we believe that recent declines in Fraser River sockeye salmon are unlikely to be the result of changes in the freshwater environment.
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And so a desktop, office exercise (one that was probably not cheap) for: “evaluating the status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and the role of Freshwater ecology in their Decline” concludes on “limited data” and “lack of information” that the freshwater environment for Fraser sockeye is just fine.
Is something amiss here?
But wait… a consulting firm that states its mission is: “to bring together people, science and analytical tools to sustain healthy ecosystems and human communities.” And “our dedicated and knowledgeable team of scientists fills a niche in the consulting field — we work together in interdisciplinary teams with our clients, applying quantitative methods and qualitative concepts to resolve complex natural resource and environmental management problems”
states in its recommendations:
(1) To improve our understanding about survival at critical freshwater life stages, scientists need better estimates of juvenile abundance, overwinter survival, and mortality during smolt outmigration.
(2) To improve our understanding about population status across Conservation Units, scientists need more information about the abundance and distribution of small lake and all river CUs.
(3) To improve our understanding about habitat status across Conservation Units, scientists need information on habitats monitored in a consistent manner on a regular basis across a larger number of rivers and nursery lakes.
(4) To improve our understanding about the population level effects of stressors on freshwater habitats, scientists need more precise estimates of the biological consequences of disturbance as a function of increasing stress.
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Appears scientists need a lot of information on the freshwater environment, yet some scientists “in the consulting field” can still state that recent declines are not a result of the freshwater environment, yet also state “ohhh, we need more research, more research…”
Something just doesn’t sit right here…
Didn’t it state at the beginning that: “Changes in freshwater ecology due to natural and human forces are hypothesized as having three pathways of effects. These pathways include effects on the: (1) quantity and quality of spawning habitats; (2) productivity of nursery lakes for rearing; and/or (3) habitat conditions associated with migration of smolts / adults.”
But then it is stated in the recommendations that we need far more research on all of those “three pathways of effects”?
Fraser sockeye declines are not a result of freshwater habitat changes… but we better do more research?
Fraser sockeye declines are not a result of freshwater habitat changes… but there are huge data gaps?
Which one is it?
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The final recommendation stated is:
(5) To improve transparency in the science and related decision making scientists, managers, and the public need information that is more accessible and collected in a way that is more integrated across federal and provincial agencies.
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Couldn’t agree more… The public certainly does need information that is more accessible.
Maybe I’m making some pretty early judgments without reading the full report, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the questions…