don’t call NASA.

I’m not sure if I’ve come across better language that may point to some of the problems. The following quotes are from a senior fisheries researcher within Fisheries and Oceans from a recent conference on the nutrients that salmon bring to the river environment.

And as I’ve pointed out before, I do not mean to disrespect, simply highlight where I think there are serious issues with language (emphasis is mine) that tends to fog out reality:

Full implementation of the Wild Salmon Policy will require that we design experimental systems that allow us to quantify the impacts of sectoral activities on ecosystem integrity in the regions where they operate. WSP implementation also requires DFO to become more responsive to dealing with the ecosystem account end of the ledger in terms of fisheries management because we are signatories to both national and international agreements that obligate us to develop an ecosystem approach to fisheries management.

I have started to do a lot more investigation into where the language of ‘management’, ‘economics’ and ‘accounting’ started to infiltrate agencies responsible for looking after natural resources. The fact that there are senior bureaucrats that talk about how we look after salmon in language from ‘accounting’ – is concerning.

And maybe we should look after salmon better because it’s the right thing to do instead of “because we are signatories” (but then maybe I’m just being too picky on language…)

Or, in talking about natural systems in mechanized terms – same DFO researcher, same discussion:

bears function almost like a squad of “front-end loaders”

In reference to the number of salmon that bears move from stream to the forest. Those salmon operate on the same principle that has us apply fish meal and fertilizer to gardens, lawns and farms – they are fertilizer for plants (as well as food for scavengers). Sometimes analogiess are helpful to make points –  but bears as front-end loaders….

And here’s the conclusion to the discussion:

We need to do quite a bit more research. … instead of just following the signature of marine derived nutrients and whether or not MDNs can be found on landscapes or in critters, we really need to create salmon-mediated, energy and nutrient flux models to show quantitatively what the impact of salmon returns are on the integrity (ecological structure and function) of whole communities of organisms.

Once created, such models will allow us to compare the importance of nutrient and energy delivery functions of salmon relative to the alternative pathways by which nutrients and energy may be satisfied for whole communities. It will be a non-trivial challenge for fisheries science to provide a clear perspective that allows meaningful headway in specifying salmon management practices to achieve a better balance of ecosystem values for future generations.

Thank ghad, someone actually used critters in a scientific forum – however, eghad at the rest of the language.

No, no, and no.

We cannot create “models” that are going to predict “whole communities of organisms”. There is a reason that population dynamics are components of chaos theory. There is absolutely no way to predict, measure, or identify all factors that affect one population – let alone an entire fricking community of organisms.

A little over a hundred years ago – say one hundred and fifty – salmon had been doing just fine “managing” themselves for some 2 million+ years. In the last 10,000 – 50,000 years (hot debate among archaeologists) around the Pacific Rim, salmon and humans have done quite well. Oddly enough, in the last 70-90 years – through most of their historical range – wild salmon runs have declined by 90% in many areas.

More models, more equations, and more computer simulations are not going to bring wild salmon runs back to their historic sizes or even to significant fractions of their historic sizes. Waiting until we create more models, more equation, more computer models, and conduct more research is also not going to do anything in the meantime.

For government, politicians, and scientists to suggest we should wait longer for that alchemical equation, model, or computer simulation that will change salmon into gold is about as irresponsible as it comes.

The bottom line…

  • if you systematically kill 80% of a population of anything over a period of several decades and expect 20% to produce the same size population in perpetuity (the practice of Maximum Sustainable Yield),
  • then dam, urbanize, log, mine, and pollute the habitat that is essential for re-creation –
  • then throw in some ‘natural’ negative oceanic changes,
  • throw in a little more killing of major food sources (i.e. herring and other feed fish),
  • throw a bunch of fish farms on migration routes,
  • and what the hell, throw ins some massive (capital intensive) hatcheries that pump out  genetically inferior populations.

– And what do you get?

hmmm, I think I can safely say: no need to put this in PowerPoint and no need to send this to the rocket scientists at NASA.

3 thoughts on “don’t call NASA.

  1. Hugh Stimson

    Hindsite is easy. Foresite is hard, and requires models of one kind or another. We shouldn’t invest more faith in models than they warrant, but we can’t make choices without them. I don’t think shutting down efforts at forecasting salmon population scenarios would help us much, unless you see a feasible route to shutting down all salmon fisheries cold turkey.

    “More models, more equation, and more computer simulations are not going to bring wild salmon runs back to their historic sizes or even to significant fractions of their historic sizes. ”

    Of course, that requires making policy choices. And to be effective, those choices have to be informed by research, including but not limited to equations and computer simulations.

  2. salmon guy Post author

    Thanks Hugh – good comments.
    You’re exactly right about hindsight-foresight. And no, I certainly don’t see a route for shutting down salmon fisheries, nor would I ever want to see that happen. Salmon fisheries have been an essential component of indigenous culture around the Pacific Rim for eons – and a critical component of settler cultures for many a generation. And, I can safely say that salmon fisheries and fishing have been huge in my life – and I hope they can be for my kids.

    So, yes a need for predictive capacity – it’s the feedback mechanisms in the models that are key. Such as what models, who’s, and how they are used. I think, where the cynicism and skepticism for many (definitely for me) is in the federal institution (DFO) that produces the models for B.C. salmon fisheries. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) really messed up on East Coast Cod. They used highly flawed models to set catch quotas – despite being told by local fisherfolks that their predictions were off (substantially).

    The result – economic devastation in East Coast communities – that continues to ripple away. And I don’t really remember reading much about heads rolling at DFO.

    And thus, feasible routes to shutting down all salmon fisheries or not; if there are no salmon (or at least not enough) then there’s little choice in the matter. Now, I’m not one for the Chicken Little “sky is falling” arguments – however it is quite dire in some places (look at the California, Oregon and Washington coasts). Plus, I’ve certainly seen the impacts of salmon catch cut-backs on the west coast B.C. trolling fleet (I think many of them might have been lucky to get 48 hrs of fishing last year – and yet the sport fishing industry was pretty darn busy…).

    So, yes, full agreement with you on the informed research, and even use of some equations and computer simulations – however, I would hope that more folks would remain skeptical – esp. the ones that were taking a look at their RRSPs or other retirement plans last year about this time. No matter what the models and equations are; there are significant “unsights” (in relation to hindsight and foresight). If we can’t predict our own human-created stock markets (or our own brains); how are we going to accurately predict mother nature?

    As you might gather from some of the other posts – I tend to lean towards a little less “science”, a little less bumpf, and a heck of a lot more local and traditional knowledge, community inputs and control – and a rather large amount of conflict resolution training would be a big help.

    thanks again for the comment.

  3. Hugh Stimson

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Conceptual modelling is an old old game, and at least some people and institutions treat it with the wary respect it deserves — not beleiving too much in your own guesses about the weather is a indication of earned wisdom. But somehow more elaborate computational and mathematical models don’t always receive the same degree of informed skepticism, or escape oversite by more localized kinds of knowledge.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

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