When salmon folk lose touch…

You can't be serious...?

Sometimes when one is doing research on wild salmon, salmon ‘management’, salmon conservation, salmon rehabilitation, and the like… one may come across things that bring pause, and an occasional head shake…

Today, I was searching around for information on Chinook salmon. My path led me to the Pacific Salmon Commission; a place I often land in my salmon searches. Specifically, my search led me to a report titled:

Development of the Technical Basis for a Chinook Salmon Total Mortality Management Regime for the PSC AABM Fisheries. February 2011

(It’s down the right hand column of the home page… and only 218 pages).

I tend to be someone who often advocates for “meaning what you say and saying what you mean“. I have varying degrees of success at this, but always looking to improve.

One of my intentions for this website/weblog is to try and present a variety of views on salmon — specifically wild salmon and our rather tenuous relationship with them.

And so when I read a title that suggests that we are looking for a ‘technical basis’ to manage Chinook based on “total mortality”… it does leave me puzzling. Did we manage based on ‘partial’ mortality before?

Well… we based on AABM… which translates to “Aggregate Abundance Based Management“. I won’t get it into it now, but in essence, the AABM means we fish less when Chinook stocks are in trouble and more when they are in good shape.

I know… rocket science.

Part of the problem is that it is done by “aggregate” meaning based on groups of Chinook stocks up and down the coast (Alaska, BC and Washington) that have potential spawners counted through various methods… various methods of accuracy…

There is also ISBM, which is “individual stock-based management” where information from individual stocks is considered when making fisheries decisions.

The move to TM based fisheries… and no that’s not “trademark” as in:

“this is our fishery management regime… TM“.

It’s “total mortality”.

From what I can see it means that Chinook catch numbers will now also include undersize Chinook or otherwise that may incidentally die in fisheries. Some types of fisheries are permitted to keep undersize or otherwise fish (e.g. some net fisheries) — other aren’t (e.g. sport fisheries) and thus undersize or oversize have to be released.

Or in the case of sport fisheries, when there is an imposed limit — say 2 Chinook a day — one person in a boat may ‘limit out’ first, yet keep fishing. If they catch a bigger fish then the two their keeping for their limit, the smaller one goes overboard “for the seals”.

(this isn’t the case with all rec fishers, however, as one myself, I’ve certainly seen it happen often enough)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

As the Commission report describes it:

The TM management regime would estimate catch and the associated incidental mortality (IM) in a fishery, and constrain the fisheries based on defined limits to TM rather than LC [Landed Catch].

… [Total mortality] is the sum of the landed catch and the associated incidental mortalities from fishing…

Hey, now that makes sense, less try and account for all the fish killed in fisheries as opposed to just what shows up at the dock (e.g. canneries or otherwise)…

In other words, it’s sort of like a full accounting for what military folks like to call “collateral damage”… or that other innocuous fisheries term “by-catch”.

Almost all fisheries have size restrictions, so one can imagine the number of undersized fish caught, for example, in commericial troll fisheries… and by the time an undersize fish has been swinging around on troll gear for a awhile, it’s probably not going to do too well when it’s “released”…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

For your pondering:

In 2009, the total commercial troll Chinook catch in Southeast Alaska alone was almost 176,000

Seine Chinook catch was over 54,000 and

Sport Chinook catch was over 69,000

With a total Chinook catch in Southeast Alaska just under 300,000

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

In northern BCover 75,000 Chinook caught in commercial troll fishing.

34,000 in sport fisheries.

On West Coast Vancouver Is. … commercial troll over 58,000 Chinook caught.

Sport fishery over 66,000 Chinook.

So throw in another 230,000 Chinook caught (or so).

_ _ _ _ _ _

Not included here is the Juan de Fuca, Salish Sea/Georgia Strait, or Fraser River mouth catch numbers. Not much going on their commercially, but lots of sports fisheries.

Total 2009 Chinook catch numbers — on what the Commission calls ISBM fisheries — was almost 205,000 with over half of those caught by sport fisheries (approx. 116,000) and First Nation (approx. 53,000) the rest was test fisheries and commercial.

_ _ _ _ _ _

The estimated “Incidental Mortality” (IM) — e.g. numbers not included in these numbers — appears to be estimated at close to 10%.  (…coincidentally, about the same approximate percentage of Chinook catch in BC, by First Nations…e.g. 12% as compared to the approximate 50% caught by sport fishers )

(And remember, much of these number are based on raging estimates)

Sport fisheries are only covered by creel surveys (e.g. interviews with fisherfolks) and estimates suggest about 10% coverage, as well as fly overs to count boats…

Ever dwindling though, due to funding cuts to Fisheries and Oceans monitoring and enforcement budgets.

So throw in another 70,000 (at least) dead Chinook into the equation.

(that’s almost the entire Fraser River Chinook run in some years…)

_ _ _ _ _ _

So some of this “Incidental Mortality” stuff begins to make sense once the glaze is peeled back from one’s eyes in trying to read mulit-hundred page documents that have an executive summary that reads like this…

Pacific Salmon Commission Chinook Tech docs

I think I spent more time scrolling back to the Acronym guide… and my new ‘techno-bumpf’ translation app.

However, here’s my favorite part:

The CTC also formed a Total Mortality Work Group (TMWG) in 2003 to develop the technical analyses and approaches necessary to implement total mortality regimes. The TMWG made substantial progress on methods for translating the relationship between nominal landed catch and the abundance indexes (AIs) for AABM fisheries into TM units, but was not able to complete the work due to lack of consensus on the interpretation of the TM language in the Agreement.

The “CTC” is the Chinook Technical Committee within the Pacific Salmon Commission… of which there are 32 people.   I’m not sure how many of those reached “total mortality” to become part of that working group…

Maybe another name might be appropriate…?

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However, this incredible depth of scientific analysis, techncical committees of over 30 people for one species of salmon, and so on… certainly makes one start to ponder “what is being spent on total mortality working groups…” which largely guide “fisheries”?

As opposed to trying to design: “how do we get as many fish onto the spawning grounds as possible — working groups

how do we avoid having to go to capital expensive, concrete-laden, long-term expensive hatchery options… which often do more damage then good — Working Group

And… “how do we make sure those fish have healthy habitat — Working Group

8 thoughts on “When salmon folk lose touch…

  1. priscilla judd

    As long wild salmon are THE competition for a Fish Farms industry the business of DFO ought to be monitoring that wild salmon “competition”.

    I mean if DFO put their regular sort of systematic energy into creating a fish farm policy – using, diagrams, acronyms, mathematical equations, graphs, total mortality figures etc … working group models and power point presentation to industry leaders and figuring out science based decision making policy – with sample predictions and something or other based research – the fish farms would decline at a predictable DFO type rate by way of lacking information and human interference and then wild salmon just might have a chance.

    I mean if people were allowed to decide the necessary means of protecting their resource (wild salmon) as though the decision making was a personal responsibility – perhaps greed and waste wouldn’t be a determinant in the catch. The middleman here (DFO) does not inspire responsibility for living creatures – it’s like the way we talk about war – or how we distance ourselves from the real world using the word escapement – these are not just something escaping from our ownership – where is the talk about the life of the fish – it all seems more than arrogant – it’s ignorant and in my opinion – it needs to be changed.

    At some point in the past – the fishing decisions and the habitat decisions by first Nations had something to do with the creature – the salmon were not nearing extinction when first contact was made by Europeans.

  2. joe

    Well the competition also involves market prices for farmed fish and wild sockeye. The farmers have reported lower prices for their product in North America last year due to plentiful wild sockeye and don’t seem too happy about it. We know Fisheries and Oceans want the farms to be more successful, too bad for the wild salmon it seems.

  3. Brian

    Quote from Priscilla Judd: As long wild salmon are THE competition for a Fish Farms industry the business of DFO ought to be monitoring that wild salmon “competition”.

    The competition of wild salmon is “us” as a collective and not just a particular industry you still know absolutely nothing about. Start looking at your own backyard and the shoreline areas of Shuswap and Mara Lakes. For your information, the department has already taken over the responsibility of aquaculture in this province.

    Quote from Priscilla Judd: “I mean if DFO put their regular sort of systematic energy into creating a fish farm policy – using, diagrams, acronyms, mathematical equations, graphs, total mortality figures etc … working group models and power point presentation to industry leaders and figuring out science based decision making policy – with sample predictions and something or other based research – the fish farms would decline at a predictable DFO type rate by way of lacking information and human interference and then wild salmon just might have a chance.”

    Priscilla, you again speak on the side of glaring ignorance. You have no clue what departmental biologists and technicians do nor do you even care to find out (even when pointed in the right direction). You are the one lacking information. If you truly cared about wild salmon you would put more of your “systematic energy” in volunteering your time in restoring salmon habitat, helping educate children in the classrooms about salmonids or grabbing a peugh and a machete and do some deadpitch. How much time have you put in working with salmon or finding where they spawn and rear? How much time have you spent in reading the transcripts from the inquiry and learning about issues other than aquaculture? Instead, you put your “energy” in sitting at your computer writing posts on topics you know nothing about.

    Quote from Priscilla Judd: “I mean if people were allowed to decide the necessary means of protecting their resource (wild salmon) as though the decision making was a personal responsibility – perhaps greed and waste wouldn’t be a determinant in the catch.”

    I could possibly see that happening with some people, but your understanding of stock assessment and salmon in general would lead me to the conclusion that you are not one of those individuals. I had edited out what I really wanted to say in respect for Dave’s blog.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment Priscilla,
    in opposition to other comments here, I agree with much of the sentiment.
    as i’ve pointed out before, the history of “fisheries management” is not very good around the world over the last 100 years. The UN lists fish populations subject to fisheries pressures as in big trouble oceans-wide.

    One of the main culprits — in my humble opinion — the concept of ‘maximum sustainable yield’ it is still as prevalent in ‘fisheries management’ as gills are on fish…

  5. salmon guy Post author

    Brian, I pick up a sense of defensiveness in the comments… as if DFO as an identity needs to defend themselves against critics.

    it’s interesting that you jump to the attack on folks fronting criticism. That is the challenge of working for a publicly-tax payer funded government department. It is subject to criticism and questions, just as politicians are. There is a line crossed when politicians start running around calling people ignorant. There is also a line crossed when folks that work for tax-payer funded government departments (or work on contract or otherwise) start suggesting members of the public are ignorant and making certain suggestions on where very dedicated people should – or should not – put their time.

    Personal attacks do little to move the discussion forward. Moving a discussion forward means everyone trying their best to practice inclusiveness and recognizing there is an incredible diversity of opinions and that all voices count.

    If there are folks in the general public that don’t fully understand the work that DFO staffers and biologists do — is it really entirely the fault of the general public for being so ‘ignorant’?

    Or… does the responsibility lie with the individuals within DFO that sit on their high horse and state how they themselves are not the problem at all… it’s that damn ignorant public?

    Maybe the DFO should do a much better job of learning how to communicate what they do in in normal, plain language — and have ongoing efforts (akin to marketing) to give the general public a whole lot more faith that everyone has “conservation” as their absolute and true purpose.

    As the great quote from Einstein suggests: “if you can’t explain your work to a six year old; you don’t understand it yourself” (or something to that effect).

    The joys of the country we live in is the right to free speech, which includes questioning scientific practices, business practices, etc. And really… when it comes to fisheries science, stock assessment, etc. — I think folks in Canada have every right to ask hard questions. The North Atlantic Cod example will always ring loudly in people’s ears. And yes, some folks will point out that scientists involved were ringing the alarm bells and it was politicians that ignored the alarms until it was too late.

    Regardless, every player in that situation is culpable… just as everyone is in our current salmon predicament.

    If folks that do stock assessment and otherwise think they have all the answers and that everyone else asking questions is simply ‘ignorant’ — we’re not going to get very far in protecting, conserving, and rehabilitating something that is considered a precious resource by most everyone — salmon.

    Salmon pretty much inhabit — lest we forget — the same habitat as us. If they’re populations are faltering, do we actually think we’re separate from that?

  6. Dave Barnes

    Dave, I have to agree that DFO does a very, very poor job of commmunicating anything fisheries related (programs, techniques, protocols, research, etc) to the general public. Not sure why that is but it is much too deeply ingrained, has been for years and must be improved. I applaud Brian as he is about the only DFO staffer with the field, academic experience and balls that will speak to these issues. I say cut him some slack as he is not only doing his day job, he basically has become DFO’s sorely lacking internet Communication Officer for the Pacific Region. That must be lonely and some testiness should be expected.

  7. salmon guy Post author

    thanks Dave B.,
    i sincerely hope that Brian is responding on this site on behalf of himself, and a person passionate about fish — and not DFO… as I don’t imagine calling folks within the general public “ignorant”; as a representative of an organization that is funded by general public tax dollars — would go over too well within senior governments ranks or otherwise. Politicians have been canned for that type of behavior as have senior bureaucrats…

    I agree that it does take some guts to defend an organization that is severely under the microscope… however, one might have to ask — is it really worth attaching one’s personal life to an organization? As the cold, hard reality… In the end, it is just a paycheque… (granted some folks see it as a tool to genuinely try and do good… and try their best at that).

    I appreciate the engagement and discussion; however folks should be clear and forthright if they are speaking on behalf of any particular organization… as this blog is in the public record like any other open Internet conversation. If folks engage as themselves and individuals that work within an organization and are simply sharing their experience – great.

    I catch your drift, however I don’t agree at all with patience for testiness. Folks make a choice to defend organizations and if those organizations are funded publicly and appear to be failing miserably at doing what their mandated and expected to do — then the public has every right to ask hard questions and expect clear answers. (everyone is also more than welcome to their opinions). I do appreciate that folks work hard within the Department to change things… however, that’s a choice. I’ve had the opportunity offered in the past, but turned it down as it felt like an element of defeat.

    The organization is structured like a quasi-military operation (hence why the Coast Guard fit quite seamlessly)… and runs like a military organization. The hierarchy is entrenched and deep… And dissenters are ostracized and booted out of the fraternity… (in my humble outsider opinion).

    Lastly, i am the moderator of the conversation on this site… and as such welcome a diversity of opinions and statements, but they have to remain respectful. I debated deleting that particular comment, and i’ve edited others in the past — in the interests of having challenging discussions. And like anything… if folks don’t like that practice… they can change the channel.

    As I’m sure many do, within DFO when it comes to reading this blog — which has been communicated to me by others within the Department.
    That is unfortunate, as this might suggest that the culture within the Department suggests that many individuals working in the organization think they are higher than the general public… more knowledgeable… all-knowing, etc. (I don’t think you’d deny that many individuals within the organization fit that bill…)

    Might be so much more productive if more folks from DFO engaged and continued discussions like the ones occurring on this site and others, deepened the discussion, and added valuable insight from within (as yourself and Brian have done). Because, exactly as you point out, communication coming out of the Department is terrible; I might suggest it’s as bad as communication coming out of Stephen Harper’s offices — it’s muzzled, highly controlled, and subject to endless spin.

    I’m quite appreciative of individuals that work within the department engaging in the discussion here… however, that has to come with an understanding that there are some pretty critical, worm-can opening, hard questions and comments being mounted here towards the department — and the practice and great assumptions of “fisheries management” and “fisheries science”… there are few places in the world where someone can point to those two ‘practices’ or disciplines and say: “look how well it’s working”…

    thanks again for the comments.

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