Eureka: It was Colonel Mustard in the ocean with a net… practicing mixed stock fisheries.

Cohen Commisson: new winter clothing line


Earlier this year I introduced you to the new corporate sponsor for the Cohen Commission:


Cross off “summer” in the illustration above and put in “Winter”… as we move into the close of ‘hearings’ for the Cohen Commission and the short daylight hours, and long winter nights of Justice Cohen and his staff forging through testimony, upwards of a million pages of ‘data’, bumpf out the ying-yang, job-protecting bureaucrat testimony, and so on.

In my somewhat cursory review of the technical reports completed for the Commission — at least those available for review, let me give you a few of my salmonguy summary notes:

(1) very few scientists want to come out and actually take a hard line on something… (all protect the almighty god of Objectivity)

(2) there are many scientists lining themselves up for an ambitious and aggressive research agenda… (i’ve lost count of the “recommendations for research” in the technical reports). And one doesn’t do well on that front by having ‘opinions’ contrary to the funding agencies…

(3) I’m starting a list of how many ways one can say “limited data” or “data gaps. There are more ways to say it then there are ways to count a sockeye…

I’m hard pressed to believe we actually know anything more about Fraser sockeye then they swim downstream go to the ocean, come back, swim upstream, spawn… and… wait for it…


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Let me give you a little taste:

Technical Report #1: Diseases and parasites

…There are certainly many pathogens that occur in wild sockeye salmon, but their precise impacts on survival in these stocks are poorly understood...

The absence of data on pathogens and diseases in wild salmon in British Columbia is a reflection of the historical research focus on fish diseases, in both the Province and other regions. Most research on salmonid diseases has been directed toward those afflicting captive fish, either in government hatcheries or private fish farms.

As with many scientific issues, more research is needed to elucidate the impacts of pathogens on Fraser River sockeye salmon…

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Technical Report #1A: Hatchery Disease Impact Assessment

…The disease impacts of salmon enhancement facilities on Fraser River sockeye salmon are largely unexplored in the literature. The published literature failed to provide sufficient direct or indirect evidence to fulfill standard criteria for causation.

The literature was unable to provide sufficient information to determine the likelihood of salmonid enhancement-associated diseases impacting Fraser River sockeye salmon, the magnitude of the hypothetical impacts, or the ability of enhancement facilities to prevent or mitigate the risks…

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Technical Report #2: Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

…Many other substances in the Inventory of Aquatic Contaminants have the potential to adversely affect Fraser River sockeye salmon, including organometals, cyanides, monoaromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated and non-chlorinated phenolic compounds, resin and fatty acids, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, hormone mimicking substances, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, wood preservation chemicals and nanoparticles.

However, insufficient information was available to evaluate the hazards posed to sockeye salmon in the Fraser River associated with exposure to these contaminants…

(now that’s comforting — if I can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not good for me… or sockeye)

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Project 3 – Evaluating the Status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and Role of Freshwater Ecology in their Decline

…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 this gap

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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Project 4 – Marine ecology

Quite satisfingly, doesn’t carry on about all the data limitation — just the time constraints of pulling the report together:

A major objective that was achieved in this report was to assemble, within an eight week period, as comprehensive a summary as was possible of what is known about Fraser River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in the ocean. While much of this effort involved summarizing information published in data/technical reports and the primary literature, where necessary, original data have been re-examined and new analyses conducted to fulfill the terms of the Statement of Work.

However, it was more an exercise of regurgitating information already out there… (appreciate the honesty).

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Project 5A – Summary of Information for Evaluating Impacts of Salmon Farms on Survival of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon

Inferences from statistical analyses that correlate trends in abundance or survival of Fraser River sockeye with trends in pathogens found in salmon farms will be extremely limited by the number of years of available data. There are only 3-5 years of overlapping Fraser River sockeye survival and salmon farm data available for statistical evaluation.

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Project 5B – Examination of relationships between salmon aquaculture and sockeye salmon population dynamics

The analyses in the first part of this report are based on short time series of aquaculture variables, beginning no earlier than 2003, with low statistical power to detect relationships should they truly exist.

(nothing like only 7-8 years of data to do ‘analysis’…)

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Project 5C – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon: Results of the Noakes investigation

(No points about limited data, more about how other ‘scientists’ are not looking at the right data…)

Some of the publications are highly speculative for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the absence of data from government and industry as well as assumptions used by the researchers. In some cases, the publications were deficient to the point that they were neither objective nor scientific and they generally lack credibility.

(interesting… absence of data can in turn make someone have a non-objective nor scientific opinion and therefore lack credibility? that’s a rather bold subjective statement in itself to be made in a “scientific” investigation– is it not?)

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Project 5D – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon: Results of the Dill investigation

(And in a complete about face from the above report…)

Unfortunately, it turned out that the data provided by Provincial government (BCMAL) and the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) were insufficient in both quantity and quality to allow a rigorous analyses capable of answering these questions with certainty. The biggest problem was the very short length of the time series available for analysis, basically only 4-5 year classes.

(these darn scientists, why can’t they just all get along…seems like reports 5C and 5D are a little pissing match between each other)

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Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

The final section of our report provides recommendations which address important data gaps and known deficiencies in the fisheries management system

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Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Naming the predators of sockeye salmon should not be a difficult task given that everyone likely loves sockeye—but scientifically supported ecosystem-level information about predator species (numbers, diets, trends, and distributions) is sparse throughout the sockeye salmon range.

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Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon

…There has been little research examining cumulative impacts, both across multiple stressors (e.g. fisheries capture, temperature, pollutants) or life history stages (i.e. carry-over effects), and/or among generations (i.e. intergenerational effects). These information gaps are critical to fill to begin to understand current trends in sockeye salmon productivity and abundance

(ummm… so… what has been the purpose of the Cohen Commission then…? to simply identify data gaps and recommend a big research agenda? Or… was it to try and answer some questions around current trends in salmon productivity and abundance, e.g. 2009 collapse).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Further research is required to draw definitive conclusions about the relative influence of such large-scale versus more local processes.


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Project 12 – Fraser River Sockeye Habitat Use in the Lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia

Although the effectiveness of habitat compensation projects in the Fraser River appears to be improving, the need for an improved habitat science, monitoring and data management framework is clear and aspects of this need are consistent with recommendations made by others over the past decade or two. In our view, some efforts have been made in this direction, but these have not been adequate and are even less likely to be adequate into the future…

Research in habitat ecology to evaluate alternative approaches to those prevailing today will be needed to adequately evaluate habitat compensation projects.

Programs and management initiatives used to examine and understand the quantitative parameters of habitats, potential losses and gains, habitat quality types and the dynamics of habitat productivity do not appear to be sufficient for keeping track of the current and future status of habitats used by sockeye and potential links and associations to variations in sockeye productivity.

However, one of my favorite lines comes early in the Executive Summary for this report:

Salmon are often viewed as a living barometer of the conditions in the environment and their habitat state and stock status could reflect potential impacts from human activities.

Yet… sadly… for crying out loud… we’ve got that little legal disclaimer in there…

“POTENTIAL” impacts.

ghad forbid, we say there’s actually been an impact of humans on salmon…

(that wouldn’t be objectively peer-reviewed…)

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Now, I suppose the question is whether or not, Justice Cohen will rely upon his legal training to come to some sort of conclusion on this rather expensive exercise.

Will he decide the issues on a matter of facts…?

Or will it be in the objective test of a reasonable person?

The sad thing is… that the objective test of a reasonable person means someone acting prudently… and in this case it could potentially be a professional person acting prudently.

And thus, will Justice Cohen be adopting the prudent, objective viewpoint of a fisheries scientist to review this information? or a policy maker?

ghad help the salmon if he is. Save yourselves little oncorhynchuses

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I can safely say I do not envy his work over coming months…

and here’s to hoping that more fisheries scientist could actually come out with an informed “opinion”.

This whole “objective” science thing is BS anyways… go read the old philosophers to find out how realistic it is to sit on the throne of objectivity and not have an opinion.

It’s not possible, and it sure as hell doesn’t do wild salmon any good.

We might as well all just run around with our tail between our legs, babbling on madly about how we don’t have “enough data”… if we could just get “more data”… “then we’d understand”… “then it’d be easy”.

We’ll never have enough data!

And how is it that catching and killing over 80% of the Fraser sockeye runs for over 50 years is not an impact!

A devastating one…

It’s the same story the world over… it’s why fisheries stocks around the world are in deep shit.

We catch them and eat them. All my empirical objective data says so… (as does the United Nations…)

We can keep looking for our keys under the streetlight because that’s where the light is, or we can look for them near where we dropped them… in the dark alley.

The lights are on folks, and just like a good Shakespearean drama, the spotlight is on us.

We did it. It was Colonel Mustard in the ocean with a net… practicing mixed stock fisheries.

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