“The Salmon Doctors: Condition Critical”

Darwin's theory at work -- apparently we humans walked out of the water...

Pretty interesting articles over at the Tyee — a two part series: “The Salmon Doctors: Condition Critical

The second: “Sockeye Feel the Heat” (By¬†Jude Isabella, 24 Aug 2011, TheTyee.ca):

“Global warming cranks up stress on salmon. Scientists are scrambling to identify what the heat’s unleashed.”

…What [Scott] Hinch [University of BC-based researcher] worries about most when it comes to salmon are two horsemen of the environmental apocalypse: warming temperatures and pathogens.

The Fraser River is close to 2 C warmer than it was just 50 years ago for cold-blooded salmon. That’s a problem.

“Warmer temperatures are going to be a big influence on disease proliferation so I’m very interested and concerned about that angle and we know so little,” he said. “The research hasn’t been done.”

All sorts of circumstances drive pathogens — infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and prions (a cause of the fatal brain disease BSE) — to morph or spread. Crowded fish farms in Chile, for example, hastened the spread of the infectious salmon anaemia virus. And climate change is a big player in pathogen behaviour. So given the almost slam-dunk certainty that Earth will be warmer in our lifetime, what can sockeye expect?

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One of the more telling parts of the story:

The inescapable human factor

So how would you fix declining sockeye runs in British Columbia, I asked one population geneticist. His answer was simple.Probably just fix their habitats and leave them alone.

Unfortunately for salmon, especially the sockeye in the Fraser River watershed, habitat is more than a scientific concern. It’s a commodity, which means people are not likely to leave them alone. The Fraser River is home to over 100 sockeye populations with a commercial worth of over $1 billion annually, on average.

Canada’s commercial relationship with the fish is older than the scientific relationship. Since the Hudson Bay Company began exporting salted salmon in cedar barrels from Fort Langley on the Fraser River in the 1840s, the numbers of people invested in sockeye has climbed, while sockeye numbers have declined.

It seems a curious slip, or maybe it was not a slip…

…put the end of one sentence onto the beginning of the next:

habitat is more than a scientific concern. It’s a commodity

The second sentence goes on to explain how salmon are a commodity and folks are heavily invested in catching and selling them. Yet both are exactly right.

Salmon habitat is a commodity (especially along all corridors in the lower mainland and southern areas of BC), and so are the salmon themselves. As is much of the other stuff that grows on the landbase, or was deposited within the landbase, or flows through the landscape.

Water is the most precious commodity… er…um… habitat that salmon depend on and yet it most certainly isn’t treated that way.

These are all a problem.

salmon commodity cycle

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One of the most telling and truthful elements of the article is a quote from Dr. Hinch:

“We all know, from the cod collapse on the East Coast, that even some of the best science can be ignored.”

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And one of the fundamental points that I keep making and will continue to make:

Unearthing answers will take cooperation between scientific disciplines — a real challenge when it comes to combining biology and anthropology. They generally tend to have different mindsets.

Added to this “cooperation between scientific disciplines” is the ‘non-scientific’ disciplines as well.

Local knowledge. Community knowledge.

I would further add, as I have often, the “answers” will most likely NOT be found by “science” alone. There probably are no “answers” — JUST CHOICES.

Choices made by local communities and citizens, and choices  resulting in & inspiring political will.

Because just as the scientists well know; even the best science is often ignored by politicians — and public relations folks can and will spin things any which way they want (or are directed… by Prime Minister’s offices, Assistant Deputy Ministers, or otherwise).

Or, one scientist is pitted against another, one scientific ‘study’ is glorified at the expense of another.

Just as many of the comments on this site will demonstrate… there are a range of answers… er… um… opinions, on what should be done.

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More to come on this…

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