how good is your spin? and how good is your bladder control?

There appears to be a bit of…. well… what some might refer to as a “pissing match” going on in relation to some Pacific salmon populations – specifically B.C. sockeye. Involved in this urinary fracas are the Marine Stewardship Council, the Pacific Salmon Commission, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Marine Stewardship Council, if you have had a chance to read earlier posts on this site, is an organization created by the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever (one of the world’s largest seafood suppliers) in the late 1990s – last year was their tenth anniversary.

They state on their website:

We are a global organisation working with fisheries, seafood companies, scientists, conservation groups and the public to promote the best environmental choice in seafood.

The MSC is the world’s leading certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable seafood.

The Pacific Salmon Commission was: “Established by treaty [Pacific Salmon Treaty signed in 1985] between Canada and the United States for the conservation, rational management, and optimum production of Pacific Salmon.” Basically, the treaty was signed because of a lot of bickering over the years about who was intercepting who’s salmon.

The fundamental role of the Pacific Salmon Commission is two-fold:

  1. first, to conserve the Pacific Salmon in order to achieve optimum production,
  2. second, to divide the harvests so that each country reaps the benefits of its investment in salmon management.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): “helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.” The organization was formed in 1948 and:

is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network – a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world.

The urinary fracas – you might ask?

In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added Pacific sockeye salmon to its Global Red List of Threatened Species with BC sockeye as the most endangered.

In a press release regarding the IUCN listings, the Portland-based Wild Salmon Center summarized some of the findings in October 2008.

In their assessment, the IUCN Salmonid Specialist Group found that a total of 80 subpopulations of sockeye species existed in recent history[around the Pacific Rim]. The report documents that five have gone extinct.

The majority of threatened subpopulations are in British Columbia, according to the Salmonid Specialist Group, which prepared the IUCN Assessment. Subpopulations at risk include those in sections of the Fraser and Skeena Rivers, as well as smaller rivers in the southern coast of the province. Many have experienced steep declines, with runs in some areas declining by more than 80 percent in the last three generations (or twelve years). Several of the runs were listed as critically endangered.

It is suggested that the assessment prepared by the IUCN Salmonid Specialist Group: “is based on the largest collection of data ever assembled on salmon abundance, coming from 243 spawning locations across the Pacific Rim. Data were obtained from universities, and federal, state, provincial, and indigenous groups in Canada, Russia, and the United States.”

In yesterday’s opinion editorial in The Tyee (a BC independent online magazine), the Marine Stewardship Council’s Regional Director for the Americas – Kerry Coughlin – took some length to defend the Council’s recent decision to eco-certify BC sockeye fisheries. Or at least, give it a “determination”, which is now in a 15-day objection period – after nine years of assessment (i.e. almost as long as the MSC’s existence).

Ms. Coughlin highlights the fact that the MSC took the International Union for Conservation of Nature listings into consideration while undertaking their “eco-certification” assessment. She states: “In regard to the IUCN red-listing B.C. sockeye, however, the scope and approach of the methodology used is different from MSC’s.”

No disrespect intended Ms. Coughlin – but do you think so?

No kidding the methodology is different.

As the IUCN states:

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies species according to their extinction risk. Its primary goal is to identify and document species most in need of conservation and provide an index on the state of global biodiversity.

Whereas, the MSC’s stated Mission is:

to use our ecolabel and fishery certification programme to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practises, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis. (my emphasis)

These are two completely, entirely different purposes, outlooks, and modus operandi.

The IUCN looks at things from a numbers perspective in terms of extinction risks and conservation for the sake of a species and ecosystem.

The MSC is entirely focussed on human fisheries, human choices, and human markets.

I hope there’s a fricking different “methodology” .

To be fair Ms. Coughlin mentions some of the differences,  then points to the MSC certifiers’ report where the differences between the two programs are discussed.

In the MSC report – Final Certification Report Volume 1 – on page 83 of 211 is a two page attempt at an explanation as to why the IUCN listings were not really considered. The report points to objections from the Pacific Salmon Commission regarding the initial IUCN listings of endangered sockeye.

The Pacific Salmon Commission had a press release in November 2008 regarding the IUCN Assessment of Fraser River sockeye. Reading through the nine page objection to IUCN’s endangered sockeye labeling the Commission actually agrees with some of the IUCN findings for example:

The endangered status of Cultus sockeye is well known as assessed by COSEWIC [Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada – Federal Government] and multiple actions are being taken to assist with population recovery…

The Pacific Salmon Committee objections in regards to Cultus sockeye (lower Fraser River population) and with some of the other Fraser River populations was how the populations were aggregated by the IUCN – not that the populations are not in deep shit. They are in deep shit – as the Pacific Salmon Commission agreed with.

The main gist of the Pacific Salmon Committee objections was with the “three generation” (12 years) assessment model utilized by IUCN to arrive at their conclusions. The Commission suggests that:

The years 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 were each years of maximum total returns for their respective cycles over the 50 yr data set.

Those years of higher returns, they suggest, skewed the IUCN numbers so that it appears that in the first life cycle of their assessment runs were high – and then by the third life cycle were 80% lower in some cases.

Ok, fine. Sure, maybe there were some higher returns in the early nineties – according the the “50-yr dataset” – as “comprehensive data have been collected on escapement and returns” [i.e. spawners] since 1948. And, yes, maybe the IUCN assessment showed some dramatic declines as compared to the 50 year dataset.

However, what about the last 100 years, or 200 years?

As I have mentioned in several posts this past week (Once Upon a Salmon) – in 1902 the Minster of Fisheries reported over 30 million sockeye were canned on the Fraser River and 30 million more could have been canned if the hatcheries had had the capacity.

Sure the early 1990s had some decent runs – but a frigging long ways off what might be considered “maximum total returns” if we start looking at 100 years, or 150 years, or 200 years.

I might point out another slight gaping void Ms. Coughlin and MSC and independent certifying agencies:

The 9-page Pacific Salmon Commission objection to IUCN listings mentions nothing about Skeena sockeye, which are included in the MSC eco-certification of BC sockeye fisheries. The two pages of the MSC report dealing with the IUCN listings also mentions nothing about Skeena sockeye.

I lived in the Skeena watershed for five years – on the Bulkley River. There used to be a lot of sockeye that would migrate right past the farm I lived on – not while I was there, but in years past. Those sockeye spawned and reared as little gaffers in the Morice River and  Morice Lake. The Wet’suwet’en House groups of the area relied on these returns for a very, very long time. Now they catch next to none – the run has been decimated.

So, unfortunately, the peeing continues – however it’s being done with great spin.

I don’t necessarily side with one of the urinary participants over another (although the IUCN never engaged in much defence, they just left the assessments stand for themselves) – however, I do have a slight inclination towards the organization that has been around since 1948, has over 1000 organizations and scientists from over 160 countries around the world and incorporates indigenous knowledge into their assessments – over an organization that has been around for 11 years, was formed by a multi-national corporation and multi-national charitable organization and had three meetings with three First Nations over a 9-year period with something so culturally and communally important as sockeye.

Then hires professional spin artists to “sell” eco-certification. And the unfortunate thing is that the MSC may very well have done legitimate assessments on the other over 60 fisheries they have “eco-certified” in the last ten years of their existence. Maybe there are fisherfolks around the world benefiting from this “eco-certification” – unfortunately in the case of BC sockeye it seems to be a spin-machine hard at work which, in turn, spawn pissing matches.

The Pacific Salmon Commission, I am sure has great folks and does good work. I had the pleasure of brief involvement with the Yukon River portion of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and met some great folks working hard for salmon on the Yukon River Panel. However, the PSC has been around for about 25 years and has a strict modus operandi: optimum production and “reaping benefits of investment” from salmon harvests.

Hopefully, somewhere along the line we all realize we’re peeing in the same river, which runs out to the same ocean.

2 thoughts on “how good is your spin? and how good is your bladder control?

  1. kd

    Since you mention the Skeena and MSC…one interesting item to note is the stock/fishery DFO and MSC chose to examine for certification is the enhanced Babine Lake stocks from the Fulton and Pinkut enhancement facilities….No mention was made of the wild sockeye stocks…whcih are mostly all depressed to some degree or another.
    So, MSC certifies that this enhanced sockeye fishery is ‘sustainable’… yet it is the main cause of decline for most other wild sockeye stocks (through overharvest in a mixed stock fishery at the mouth of the Skeena). The gall of these guys to make this claim when stocks such as you mention, the Nanika wild sockeye, are at historic lows.
    Certification is all about marketing…

  2. salmon guy Post author

    yeah, you’re exactly right. Initially I was going to include some of that in the post – however it was starting to get a bit long.

    It’s quite sad that on the Skeena River, MSC only considered the Babine run – almost all enhanced and engineered spawning channels:

    “Skeena sockeye are currently managed using an aggregate escapement goal of 900,000 for all Skeena stocks, with 85-90% of the sockeye spawning within the Babine Lake CU [conservation unit]. Escapement to Babine Lake is monitored using a counting fence.

    Escapement estimates for most non-Babine stocks are derived from visual surveys. The observed escapement for non-Babine stocks are typically expanded by 3.6 to account for low observer efficiencies and spawning areas not surveyed.”

    pg 71 of Volume 1 MSC report.

    I find it curious that the stocks are “expanded” due to “low observer efficiency” – could it go the other way too? Maybe visual surveys over-estimate?

    What sort of visual surveys – walking the stream, or helicopter? how many times a year? Same people every year, walking same areas?

    Therefore, according to the MSC reports, the Skeena sockeye fishery is sustainable because it catches 95% enhanced fish. No consideration for decimated Morice stocks which is a completely different Skeena tributary, or Nanika, or the Sustut at the very back end of the Skeena where it backs onto the Mackenzie River drainage (upper Finlay River).

    Appears their conclusion – numbers must be good, look at the Babine. I think this fits with the analogy I’ve raised before – why not just invite big game hunters to bison and elk ranches and assume the wild populations of those animals are healthy… and that the hunt is “sustainable”.

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