how do you define “recovery”?

I’m sure there are a variety of definitions out there on what is meant by “recovery”?

Dictionaries suggest it means to “return to a normal condition”.

If for example when I am playing ice hockey – something I am not very good at – “recovery” is what happens at the bench after a shift of simply trying to keep myself upright.

During the game, recovery is relative.

I never really “return to a normal condition” until well after the game and the celebratory barley-flavored fizzy pop. Sure, by the time I head out for my next shift I don’t still feel like I’ve swallowed a small kitten and might lose my dinner.

If hockey games were more than three periods – recovery would never really happen. And, as I learned the other night, recovery becomes hampered after some 6’8″ defenceman decides maybe you’ve had the puck on your stick just a bit too long… then recovery includes peeling my face off the glass and trying to remember if I know how to stand.

Several posts over the last bit have pointed some bright lights at things like Fisheries and Oceans Wild Salmon Policy and its purported dedication to “conservation”.  And the Marine Stewardship Council suggesting that they “eco-certify” fisheries in such a way that catching fish might assist depleted fish populations in recovering.

When it comes to fish populations – they are like the proverbial hockey player on the bench gasping for breath after being nailed with an open ice body check. As pointed out in and earlier post in depressing fashion – world fisheries catches have doubled between 1979 and 2005 from 70 million tonnes which was suggested to be way too much in the 1980s to the over 141 million tonnes captured in 2005.

I have also had a few riffs about the practice of Maximum Sustainable Yield – the guiding light of salmon fisheries management in Canada – which suggests we can kill (i.e. harvest, capture or other innocuous term) 80% of a population and the remaining 20% left to reach the spawning grounds will reproduce similar size runs in perpetuity (and that the 20% will also feed all the other critters out there that depend on annual returns of salmon).

Well, here is a graph I found disconcerting. This graph is from the Marine Stewardship Council’s Volume 1 (pg 80) justification of why BC sockeye fisheries should be “eco-certified” and deemed sustainable.

In the report there is an explanation of the various pretty colors. Looking at the graph, I was struck more by the amount of catch starting in the 1985 run through the 1990s when populations were actually up significantly.

This is a graph of the mid-Fraser summer sockeye runs – Chilko, Quesnel, Late Stuart, and Stellako.

Geographically these are all upstream by the communities of Prince George, Quesnel, Ft. St. James, and Fraser Lake – so quite a ways up the Fraser River. These populations were also listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2008.

Simply eyeballing the graph: the lighter gray, hatchmarked portion of the bars are the number of sockeye caught; the darker gray is the actual “escapement” – meaning the number of salmon that were not caught and left to head upstream. I hesitate to call them spawners – because there is no guarantee that these fish that “escape” fisheries will make it to the spawning grounds and then successfully spawn; especially in hot summers when rivers run warm.

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) suggests catch 80% and leave 20% to reproduce the same size run in perpetuity; however, when I look at the numbers… 1985 for example: total estimated run 12+ million ; number of salmon “escaped” upstream approximately 2 million. My math suggests that 84% of the run was caught and 16% allowed through.

Ok, maybe I’m quibbling over a few percent – but in 1989, total run 16+ million; number of salmon “escaped” just over 2 million. That means a little over 12% was allowed to escape and 88% was captured.

How is 12% of any population supposed to reproduce sustainably? Of course, someone can jump on that and say – but look at four years later the run was even bigger at 19 million. But then I’d ask in return what the heck happened between 1997 and 2001 where the run fell by 50% – was this like the perfect storm? “lost at sea”?

Where could we be now if say only 50% of those runs were taken – like Alaskan fisheries?

In those years of abundance, we apparently had an opportunity to allow things to recover. Maybe not as in “returning to a normal condition” – what is that?

Is “recovery” of Fraser sockeye runs the 40-80 million in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Or are we limiting ourselves to the 1948 and onward records? – which is when Fisheries and Oceans started tracking this type of information. Yet, canneries and fisheries on the Fraser have been hammering sockeye populations since the 1860s.

So how do you define “recovery” or returning to a “normal condition”?

Unfortunately, salmon management by federal institutions appears to have taken the 6’8″ defenceman approach of smearing the runs into the glass just when they were actually showing signs of some sort of recovery.

Anyone heard of a savings account..? or rainy day account? You know, leave some funds in the account in case something unforeseen arrives a few years down the road. Say… like lower ocean productivity.

Just as salmon runs start to demonstrate some sort of recovery, they are knocked down with the full force of a net.

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