Public hungry for salmon info?

hungry public?


Two stories ran this past week that raised my curiosity.

One in the Globe and Mail:

Cohen commission’s calm hides turmoil behind scenes

The article focuses on the “undertaking of confidentiality” that all Cohen Commission participants had to take before participating in the Commission.

Alexandra Morton has suggested she needs to be released from the undertaking to release important information on salmon viruses that may be impacting, or could hugely impact, BC’s wild salmon.

But in counter submissions, the B.C. government and the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association argued that it is important for the commission to maintain confidentiality so that evidence can be presented fairly and in context during the hearings.

The BCSFA argued that releasing documents before they become exhibits “would promote a media trial that would distract the public from the commission’s work.”

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Distract the public from the Commission’s work” ?

If a poll was done right now in BC… how many people would suggest they’re following the Cohen Commission?

If the public is so voraciously consuming the Commisson’s multiple hundreds/thousands of pages of reports, evidence and information then why not televise the hearings on CPAC or otherwise?

It could be like an OJ-trial spectacle…

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Another related article ran in the Tyee — BC’s independent online news stop:

Is a Virus Ravaging BC’s Sockeye?

The government’s position seems to be that releasing scientific data to ignorant, sensation-hungry reporters will only confuse matters — as if decisions on a major public resource could be made behind closed doors.

There it is again… this assumption that the media and public is absolutely glued to this issue.

In some ways– yes… in many ways– no.

And most definitely not waiting with bated breath for some ‘complicated policy prescriptions’ or ‘core policy drivers’ to begin dealing with the issue of salmon declines…

medicated public?

And the even better assumption (my favorite) that the media and public is “ignorant” of these issues.

‘just leave it with us professionals… we know what’s best’

(and my response: “well… if you know what’s best then why didn’t you do that in the first place…?”

4 thoughts on “Public hungry for salmon info?

  1. Trish Hall

    I think you’re right that if polling were done today it would show a dismally low number of avid Cohen followers in BC—especially if you go by how many people are attending the hearings in person! However, I think your blog might be more appropriately titled “Public hungry for Cohen info?” since recent polling done by Watershed Watch Salmon Society and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust ( shows that people in BC feel very passionately about the cultural importance of salmon and an overwhelming majority feel that “small salmon runs should not be traded off to favour the commercial fishing industry and economic development should not come at the expense of salmon habitat.” That’s a powerful statement, and one that suggests it may not be the subject of the information, but the source and delivery that’s the problem!

    So, we know the public cares deeply about salmon. We also know that the Cohen Inquiry is in fact unearthing lots of interesting insights into sockeye “management.” Watershed Watch has attempted to bridge the gap between the concerned public and the information overload coming from the inquiry by developing Salmon Leaks ( —highlights of key testimony and evidence that is emerging from the Cohen Inquiry.

    It will also be interesting to see if the public’s appetite for information changes later this summer as the Inquiry tackles the issues of disease and aquaculture. In the meantime, it’s also important to remember that it’s not simply about the information coming out of the inquiry now, but what’s done with it. This is where the public voice is truly needed to ensure that changes are made to improve sockeye, and all salmon, conservation in the future.

    Trish Hall, Watershed Watch Salmon Society

  2. Brian

    “Alexandra Morton has suggested she needs to be released from the undertaking to release important information on salmon viruses that may be impacting, or could hugely impact, BC’s wild salmon.”

    As people feast on another Morton escapade here is the actual ruling that put some context to the whole matter. I know…I know….conspiracies and government secrecy is a juicier story. A trial in the media only serves to derail the inquiry and further confuse the public before the completion of the final report. If you read the ruling it explains the logical reasons why certain information needs to be confidential. In addition, Cohen needs to be impartial and fair to all participants – not just the vocal ones.

    “And the even better assumption (my favorite) that the media and public is “ignorant” of these issues.”

    I think ignorance is more of a choice which is commonly followed by stubborness and paranoia. Unfortunately, these choices become barriers for enlightenment. The media in some cases feeds into this ignorance by not getting the story correct or by editing the story to make it more entertaining rather than informative.

    “It will also be interesting to see if the public’s appetite for information changes later this summer as the Inquiry tackles the issues of disease and aquaculture.”

    It will be unfortunate if the only thing people take away from this inquiry is aquaculture.

  3. salmon guy Post author

    well Brian… if it turns out that aquaculture is the one having the biggest impact on wild salmon, then it may be best if that’s what folks take away from the Commission.

    The odd thing about all of this ‘escapade’ (as you suggest) is that it has the exact effect on the BC salmon farmers association (BCSFA)– and their buddies at DFO — that they are all probably trying to avoid.

    All this push for secrecy and confidentiality just gets folks in the public more concerned. “what’s there to hide?” many will be asking. ‘why all the secrecy?… what could be so damaging?’

    And that sort of thing is ripe for more media reports, bringing more light to the salmon farming issue.

  4. salmon guy Post author

    thanks for the comment and links Trish.

    I agree the poll demonstrates some interesting information and certainly suggests wild salmon are at the forefront of BC’s public eye. However, polls also need to be taken in context as well. For example, if we sat down and had a conversation with the folks that suggested: “…economic development should not come at the expense of salmon habitat.” — would there be a decent understanding of what this could potentially mean?

    Would the suburbs and bedroom communities of Vancouver stop growing up the hillsides, through the wetlands, in riparian areas and along the riverbanks?

    With commodity prices on a tear over the last few quarters, would miners and the support industries do business differently?

    Would interior BC support folks serious restrictions on logging?

    And would politicians — apparently elected by these same salmon-loving folks — represent their constituents properly and enforce existing legislation (e.g. FIsheries Act) as it is written?

    Last year, I took on the issue of the overuse of the word “conservation”… “it’s only language part II – “conservation” is like scotch broom”

    “…This is where I suggest the term conservation is like scotch broom; it is a toxic invasive species in our language. It looks pretty and yellow in bloom and nice to look at; yet, it drowns out any natural simple words that have existed for a long time but were forced out of town. And when we look at the roots we start to see where some of the problems are. The roots of the word conservation and conserve raise issues of ambiguity. We start to say things, without saying much at all.

    Maybe by making sure we yank all the roots out of the ground we could rid ourselves of these invasive species.

    Some of the natural species could then re-populate our discussions. And this is where we need lots of good conversations open to everyone to make sure we’re all talking about similar things and we aren’t simply planting invasive species that become so common that they drown everything else out.

    This is the issue with obscure terms such as conservation, stewardship, ecosystem values, and the like. These terms are not accessible to everyone and when we break them down – they look nice but they don’t really say much – and yet they give the false appearance that everything is fine.

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    I don’t raise this to be difficult… it’s more to allow folks to have real discussions about what we’re talking about here. Polls are nice. Public inquiries and commissions are nice (and expensive). And it’s great that organizations like WW try to facilitate or bridge the discussion between general public (joe and jill plumber) and science. However, we all need to be clear about what we’re discussing — what does it really mean?

    If we want to “conserve” wild salmon — should we then have all of these “test fisheries” which are basically seal feeders — for the good of “science”?
    If we’re interested in “conservation” can we build oil & gas pipelines through the heart of “the world’s greatest salmon river”?

    I’m always curious to hear what people and organizations really mean by “salmon conservation”?
    For example, conserve salmon for whom or what? and why?
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    And, I think you’re exactly right that it’s more about what is done with the Commission’s findings as opposed to the information revealed and processed. However, much of the legislation that’s required to: ‘protect salmon habitat’ for example, already exists. It’s just not enforced.

    The Wild Salmon Policy is full of lovely terms like ‘ecosystem-based management’ that is now basically parallel with the term ‘collateral damage’ to refer to innocent civilians blown up in the name of ‘freedom and liberty’. It’s watered-down, bumpf-blather, thrown around by bureaucracies and institutions to justify their day-to-day feel good ‘at the end of the day’ activities.

    cynic-rant aside. I’m not holding my breath that great changes will flow from this Commission… (the ‘cohen train wreck’ as some DFO folks recently referred to it in a meeting I attended). However, still appreciative that many organizations such as WW are active and participating and seeking change.
    Keep at it, and thanks again for the comment.

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