Tag Archives: BC fishing

Once upon a salmon: “reducing fishing pressure … to rebuild diminished runs”

Carrying capacity? (circa 1977)

Notice the tag line on this photo: “Carrying Capacity?”

This is from the 1977 publication: “Pacific Salmon Management for People”.

Pacific Salmon Management for People











And yet another image from this book should have the same tag.

Massed gill netters -- Fraser River

As I’ve pointed out in other posts related to this book, the 1977 conclusion states:

To tackle the complex questions of salmon management… highly sophisticated techniques of simulation and decision-making are being evolved… Laymen, and scientists whose experience is in other areas, must take these techniques largely on trust. We are in the hands of technocrats… Certainty is elusive.

One reason for this is the prohibitive cost and difficulty of obtaining precise initial information; another is the yearly variability of freshwater and estuary environments; yet another is the urgency of many managerial choices which dictates that partial evidence must suffice. Misjudgements and errors, then, are likely. Science is to be trusted, but scientists nevertheless make mistakes. The science, as the thalidomide children would remind us, may not be complete.

Ah yes…

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And yet in 1998, a paper emanating out of the University of BC: IMPLEMENTING THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE IN FISHERIES MANAGEMENT THROUGH MARINE RESERVES by Tim Lauck, Colin W. Clark, Marc Mangel, and Gordon R. Munro seems to be pretty clear on a certain issue:

Overexploitation of marine fisheries remains a serious problem worldwide, even for many fisheries that have been intensively managed by coastal nations. Many factors have contributed to these system failures. Here we discuss the implications of persistent, irreducible scientific uncertainty pertaining to marine ecosystems. When combined with typical levels of uncontrollability of catches and incidental mortality, this uncertainty probably implies that traditional approaches to fisheries management will be persistently unsuccessful.

The main gist of this paper is the idea of marine reserves — and idea which is not foreign to the world of wild salmon, with the proposition of wild salmon reserves (at least in their freshwater environment) becoming more common.

The paper continues:

Suggestions for improving the management of marine fisheries have not been in short supply. We will not review here the long history of discussion of the ‘‘problem of overfishing,’’ but will concentrate instead on the implications of uncertainty in fisheries management.

We take as an underlying assumption that fishery declines and collapses result in large part from overfishing, that is to say, from a level of fishing intensity that is excessive in terms of maintaining a sustainable population and fishery. We nevertheless recognize that changes in the marine environment are also often involved in the decline or collapse of any particular fishery.

Levels of catch that may be sustainable under normal or favorable environmental conditions may prove not to be sustainable under abnormal conditions. Many fish populations that have suddenly collapsed under intensive exploitation had presumably persisted for thousands of years in spite of fluctuations in the marine environment. The parsimonious assumption is, therefore, that fishing decreased the resilience of these populations, rendering them more vulnerable to environmental change. From our perspective, this still constitutes overfishing.

Environmental fluctuations are but one of many sources of major uncertainty in fisheries. It is now widely accepted that management must somehow allow for uncertainty and potential inaccuracy in projected sustainable catch levels. It is our contention in this paper, however, that the full implications of uncertainty have not been recognized in the design and implementation of fisheries management strategies. This shortcoming, we believe, has been a major factor in the decline and collapse of many fisheries.

Yes, indeed. And have you looked at the coastwide populations of wild salmon and their changes over… say… the last 30 to 40 years?

Or, have you looked at a shrinking monitoring program of shrinking salmon populations?

One article published in a renowned hallowed-halls, peer-reviewed journal has:

Ghost Runs: management and status assessment of Pacific salmon returning to BC’s central and north coast_Price_2008

I’ll comment on the article in another post, as it certainly relates to recent points in other posts and comments.

One of the more striking lines from the paper — and this isn’t rocket science…

“… reducing fishing pressure as a straightforward management prescription to rebuild diminished runs.

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In this time of great environmental uncertainty… from rapidly expanding ocean dead zones due to acidification that have occurred far faster than any “modeling” by world experts predicted to climate change impacts that are also far beyond what “models” predicted…

shouldn’t we be making drastic changes to how we look after essential ‘resources’ such as wild salmon… and their habitat?

Oh wait… I think I might have read something along these lines in something else recently…

Oh yeah, the 1932 British Columbia Fisheries Department report: Contributions to the Life History of the Sockeye Salmon:

BC Fisheries Department 1932











There was a particular excerpt:

Hope you can read that fine print:

“…lack of control of the fishery is quite well understood… Increased escapements appear to be the logical remedy.”

“…in the meantime a very conservative policy is imperative.”

Indeed. Good 1932 scientific wisdom.

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Reducing fishing pressure to rebuild runs… (might be the best rehabilitation/restoration/adaptation strategy going).


Why count salmon? Getting the numbers straight — going back to 1933

Contributions to the Life History of the Sockeye Salmon by Wilbert Clemens 1933

As mentioned last week, I had the good fortune of coming across some pretty old reports on British Columbia Sockeye at a used book store.

This is the cover from the “British Columbia Fisheries Department 1933” report titled “Contributions to the Life History of the Sockeye Salmon. (Paper 19)” by William A. Clemens. It’s reprinted from the:

Report of the British Columbia Commissioner of Fisheries, 1933

These reports review the runs of sockeye on four of BC’s large sockeye-producing systems: the Skeena, the Nass, Rivers Inlet, and the Fraser.

The “Introduction” to this 1933 report seems to point to a common issue. In the fifth paragraph it states:

"Introduction" to Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries 1933

The history of the sockeye-fishery on the Fraser River is illustrated in Fig. 1 [below]. The enormous packs of the years 1897, 1901, 1905, 1909, and 1913 are conspicuous. While the calamitous rock-slide in the canyon at and above Hell’s Gate in 1913 was a factor in the elimination of this extraordinary cyclic run, it is evident that there has been a steady decline in the runs of the other three cyclic-years, and there is no reason to doubt that overfishing has been a most important factor in the decline of Fraser as a sockeye-producing area in all cycle-years. [my emphasis]

And here’s the part of this report I find quite interesting: Figure 1. “Packs of sockeye salmon on the Fraser River from 1895 to 1933, in thousands of cases. The continuous line represents the actual packs and the broken line the trend.

Figure 1. Packs of sockeye salmon on the Fraser River from 1895 to 1933

What this graph shows is that in 1913 there were almost 2.4 million cases of canned sockeye salmon. Approximately 1.7 million of these were done in Washington but still based on Fraser River sockeye.

If you haven’t had a chance to read earlier posts on this topic — I recommend: Once upon a salmon… and Somebody get the Fraser sockeye story straight, please…

Those two posts point to a serious discrepancy in the Fraser sockeye story.

The Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye presented in its earliest material a chart like this one below (i’ve added the numbers and question marks):

This graph, originally printed in a publication on the Mekong River in Asia, suggests that Fraser Sockeye only numbered about 25 million total run size in 1901 and about 37 million in 1913.

And if you’ve read all the various news stories from this past summer — many pundits were comparing this past year’s Fraser sockeye run to the 1913 run.

But there seems to be a problem…

See a 1902 Fisheries report  “Thirty-fifth Annual Report: Department of Marine and Fisheries 1902” states:

… the total pack of Fraser river sockeye for this year [1901] reaches a total of 2,081,554 cases. [as demonstrated in Figure 1 graph from 1933 report above]

Large as this amount is, representing a total of 30,000,000 fish, it could have been largely increased, possibly doubled, had the canneries had capacity enough to have handled all the fish available during the run.

On Fraser river, the canners placed 200 as the maximum number of fish they would guarantee to take from each boat and for 12 days, from 6th to 17th August this limit was enforced.  The fishermen could consequently during this period fish only for a short time each day. During the height of the run they dare not put more thati a small length of their net in the water.  In some cases nets were sunk and lost from the weight of fish.

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And so… if just under 2.1 million cases represent approximately 30,000,000 sockeye canned (a case is 48 lb) and reports suggest another 30 million were available to be canned what does this suggest about total run size? —

And… what does the 2.4 million cases of 1913 represent?

Well… the math would suggest approximately 36 million sockeye were canned in 1913. And, so what was the total run size?

The graph that the Cohen Commission is working with, suggests that we’re estimating the 1913 sockeye run solely by what ended out in cans.

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And then, even despite the devastating rock slide, there were still over 500,000 cases of sockeye canned in 1917 [see Fig. 1 graph above from 1933 report] — the next big year of this cycle (1897, 1901, 1905, 1909, 1913…2010). That’s still approximately 7,500,000 sockeye: canned.

But I thought that the 1913 run was decimated by the rock slide? — apparently fish still got through, because there was still enough sockeye four years later to can over 7 million — 500,000 48-lb cases.

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Could it not maybe be that the main problem is as exactly pointed out in the 1933 report above:

there is no reason to doubt that overfishing has been a most important factor in the decline of Fraser as a sockeye-producing area in all cycle-years.

And so if we were being warned of overfishing in the first half of the 1900s, is it all that advisable that we were taking 80% of the total sockeye runs in commercial fisheries from the 1950s on?

Salmon Think Tank

Do we not learn lessons from the past?

How is it that you spell “cod” again?

Oh right… “E” … “X” …”T” … “I” … “N” … “C” … “T” …

(at least commercially, and largely ‘functionally’ — why?

overfishing and mismanagement and lack of political will and too much bickering).

Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC?

Search “BC salmon” on google or otherwise and one can get a list of media articles. As usual, there is much debate from all sides of the issue — many of which are explored on this site.

Some curious comparisons this week…

The release of another peer-reviewed scientific study (Public Library of Science ONE — PLOS):

Sea Louse Infection of Juvenile Sockeye Salmon in Relation to Marine Salmon Farms on Canada’s West Coast


Pathogens are growing threats to wildlife. The rapid growth of marine salmon farms over the past two decades has increased host abundance for pathogenic sea lice in coastal waters, and wild juvenile salmon swimming past farms are frequently infected with lice. Here we report the first investigation of the potential role of salmon farms in transmitting sea lice to juvenile sockeye salmon.


This is the first study to demonstrate a potential role of salmon farms in sea lice transmission to juvenile sockeye salmon during their critical early marine migration [spring time]. Moreover, it demonstrates a major migration corridor past farms for sockeye that originated in the Fraser River, a complex of populations that are the subject of conservation concern.

Now to be fair, if one looks at the authors of this paper there are some organizations involved that may fairly be suggested to have some bias in their perspective. However, there is a rather significant difference between profit-based bias and non-profit-based bias; between satisfying-shareholder-make-profit-bias and special-interest-group-protect-wild salmon bias.

And really this whole bias thing is rather complex isn’t it?

Major universities get millions and millions of dollars of funding from industrial companies — say for example close to home here in Prince George: Canfor the major forestry company has invested a lot of money in the University of Northern BC (UNBC) campus. Go to a public presentation and you will most likely sit in the “Canfor Theatre”.

Do you think major research is going to come out of these institutions that might affect those donations?

Hard to say…?

The important point is that information gets out into the public realm for people to make up their own minds — that’s democracy isn’t it? People power?

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The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has invested probably over $100 million (or more) in aquaculture over the last decade or so — think it’s going to start releasing research or policies that have potential to make those investments obsolete?

Probably not.

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And so what does the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. (BCSFA) have to say about this recently released research paper?

More research needed into sea lice

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association [BCSFA] has stated that additional research into sea lice and its effect on wild salmon stocks is both important and necessary in response to the findings of a new study [above] that ties salmon farms to wild salmon infected with sea lice.

… the study recorded the highest lice levels on juvenile sockeye in the Georgia Strait near a farmed salmon processing plant, which intensifies existing concerns regarding the full potential consequences of the salmon farming sector on wild salmon in BC.

The aquaculture industry agrees with the researchers that more work is needed.

“Our farmers take very seriously the responsibility of managing sea lice on our fish to ensure they are not putting additional stress on wild salmon,” said BCSFA Executive Director Mary Ellen Walling. “Both sea lice and the challenges faced by BC’s wild salmon are complicated, multi-layered issues and there is more work to be done.”

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But hold on a second…

The “fact” reported at the Salmon Farmers site suggest: “farmers work to protect wild salmon from sea lice” and the added commentary from the site moderators suggest:

…the precautionary approach is a very interesting topic. Many would suggest that aquaculture (growing fish and shellfish that help take pressure off wild stocks) is one step in the precautionary principle. But you are correct that, like all forms of food production, farming seafood also has some inherent risks


If you’ve read other posts on this site; I’m not one to buy this: “salmon farming takes pressure off wild stocks” argument… that’s the good old apples and oranges thing… it’s like saying goose farms take the pressure of wild geese… and so on.

Furthermore, you can watch the little Youtube video at the site:


There’s kind of an important piece of “fact” left out in this little video…

It’s all fine and dandy that the adult Atlantic salmon are checked for lice — and you can see one pulled of an adult salmon in the video — and it’s fine and dandy that the farmed salmon pick up the lice “naturally”, and so on and so on.

That’s not really the problem.

The problem is that the farms accentuate a naturally existing parasite.

Sort of like the pine beetle infestation.

Pine beetles have been around about as long as trees. The two co-existed with ups and downs… however when intensive logging, fire suppression to protect the logging industry, a beetle break out in a Provincial Park and lack of interventions, and a list of other interventions occurred — a “naturally” occurring parasite became a devastating infestation.

The farmed salmon are in southern B.C. bays largely all year round, this means the parasitic lice have hosts all year round. Whereas wild salmon are not around all year round and thus lice don’t exist at the same densities as migration time.

When southern salmon fry migrate through salmon farming areas (many of which are directly on wild salmon migration routes — esp. Fraser salmon fry) they pick up the sea lice that wouldn’t be there in the same numbers if the salmon farms weren’t there. The sea lice are there on adult farmed salmon — adult salmon which wouldn’t be there, and haven’t been there since time immemorial.

(think head lice and elementary schools… the lice wouldn’t be there in the same numbers if there weren’t a concentration of close proximity kids heads to infest)

It only takes a few lice to knock down a baby salmon. (And if you read the study quoted above, there is a big difference in sea lice densities on salmon in areas like the Skeena River: no salmon farming — and the Georgia Strait: lots of salmon farming, plus salmon farm processing plants with guts, lice, and such pumped directly into the Strait.

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So let’s take the comment from “bcsalmonfacts” at their site:

…the precautionary approach is a very interesting topic. Many would suggest that aquaculture… is one step in the precautionary principle. But you are correct that, like all forms of food production, farming seafood also has some inherent risks

And combine it with Ms. Walling’s recent comment:

“Both sea lice and the challenges faced by BC’s wild salmon are complicated, multi-layered issues and there is more work to be done.”

And the comments from the above article:

[this] intensifies existing concerns regarding the full potential consequences of the salmon farming sector on wild salmon in BC… The aquaculture industry agrees with the researchers that more work is needed.

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Well… the European Union, and European Environmental Bureau (1999) has some interesting definitions and considerations of “the Precautionary Principle” :

2.2 Precaution places the burden of proof on the proponents of the activity.

The reversal of the burden of proof is a fundamental principle of precautionary action. The reversal of burden of proof creates incentives for the proponents of an activity to prove that their product or activity is safe. The traditional burden of proof, which lies with legislators [think DFO’s new legislation and the Province of BC before that], may cause considerable delays before action is initiated [considerable delays when government bureaucracies handle things… no… I don’t believe it].

Furthermore, in the case of ‘uncertainty’ the traditional burden of proof may not work. Yet failure to act may in some cases impose considerable costs upon society and health

2.3 Precaution applies the substitution principle, seeking safer alternatives to potentially harmful activities, including the assessment of needs.

Where safer alternatives are available or may be marketed in the forthcoming future, these should be promoted as a substitute to the activity giving rise to ‘reasonable suspicion’. The substitution principle allows for technology driven changes (best environmental option) instead of waiting for the proof of harm. [think closed containment salmon farming, and no salmon farms on wild salmon migration routes]

The principle should be applied in a wide sense including the consideration of alternative products or services to serve the same function in addition to alternative materials for the same product…

2.4 Precaution requires public participation in decision-making.

Risk perception has a cultural dimension.

There is a considerable degree of subjectivism in choosing for a risk averse or a risk friendly approach, different within and between different societies. Decisions on the acceptability of technologies and activities, as well as on the intensity of their control cannot be defined by ‘sound science’ alone, but requires a mechanism to identify the preferences of the society. [this is where non-profits come into play]

Therefore, accountable, transparent public and democratic decision-making within Community institutions is a prerequisite to intelligent decision-making that will serve all citizens…

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A mechanism to identify the preferences of society.

Great point.

This isn’t just about science. This isn’t just about peer-reviewed journal articles. This isn’t just about esteemed fisheries scientists and their viewpoints and research. And this most certainly isn’t just about economics and agricultural exports and even just about jobs.

This is about the relationship between people and salmon; people and their surrounding environments; and people and their desired futures.

Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC… Rather than a quasi-legal, Dr. science-heavy, multi-million dollar Commission? (but I will wait to read the final report next year on this… Maybe Justice Cohen has and will hear the voices of common BC’ers and otherwise).

Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC… rather than just an under-financed, sometimes overworked, heavy on the B bureaucracy that is fundamentally broken in so many way.

What do you think?

What’s your salmon story?

apparently not the only one questioning the “precautionary approach” of DFO in opening commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye

This is a note from “Watershed Talk” a weekly update from the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS).

Watershed Talk august 6 2010

It is prepared by technical staff to provide updates to folks throughout the watershed. Here’s the note on the recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to open commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye — specifically on one of the four “groups” of sockeye.

The Fraser River Panel has confirmed that the Early Summer Run stock group is returning in numbers much greater than the preseason forecast (783,000). At the time of writing this (Friday August 6) the Pacific Salmon Commission has recommended to the Fraser Panel to set an in-season run size estimate of 1,600,000 fish for this group.

This season the Department has heard the serious concerns about population levels for the “Early Miscellaneous” stocks of Early Summer Run sockeye. These stocks include the Bowron [east of Prince George], Nadina [far upper reaches of Fraser River soueast of Houston, BC], and Taseko [west of Williams Lake] sockeye. The Department is trying to actively manage these stocks to avoid exceeding an Exploitation Rate (ER) limit of 25%. [set in pre-season planning to protect vulnerable stocks within this group]

It remains to be seen if they will be successful; current estimates put the ER at or very close to the 25% ER limit now. The rather aggressive fishery openings that have been and will be occurring may end up exceeding the 25% ER level as some fi sh from these stocks are still showing in marine areas as commercial fi sheries get underway.

Also, predictions continue to be made that in-river temperatures may exceed 20 degrees C over the next little while. If this occurs, the Management Adjustment (MA) for the entire Early Summer Run aggregate would be significantly increased, meaning that available harvestable surplus (Total Allowable Catch, or TAC) may be reduced significantly to allow for high en route and pre-spawning mortality as well as sufficient fish for the spawning grounds.

Because of multiple uncertainties (temperature/flow conditions, and run timing) managers are being warned that the MA may be as high as 0.9, meaning that almost half of the numbers entering the Fraser could die before spawning. If this does indeed happen it is conceivable that spawning escapement targets for Early Summer Run stocks might not be met despite the increased abundance of these fish – given that fisheries have been opened in an optimistic manner despite the weather and water temperature outlooks.

And better yet, DFO decided to open even more fisheries on Fraser Sockeye in the last few days. Some improved run size forecasts and all of a sudden it’s “go time”…

This despite the fact that the Fraser River is running temperatures over 19 degrees C and even the Pacific Salmon Commission press release from yesterday (Aug. 6) states:

Pacific Salmon Commission Aug. 6 Press Release

Fraser sockeye commercial fishery opening; first time in over 3 years… but, how do you spell precautionary approach?

The other day I listened in to the Pacific Salmon Commission and Fraser Panel (component of Commission) conference call updates on the status of Fraser River sockeye. On the decent news front… it appears that one of the “groups” of sockeye is returning higher than pre-season forecasts.

The “Early Summer” sockeye run comprised of various upper river stocks had pre-season forecasts of just over 780,000 and now in-season estimates are suggesting about 950,000 sockeye. Some conservation measures were proposed on the “Early Summers” to protect some of the more endangered stocks within that group, for example the sockeye that return to the Bowron River east of Prince George, BC.

You know, the same Bowron River that sports what was once referred to as one of the biggest contiguous clearcuts on the planet… In my younger days, I spent the better part of several treeplanting seasons in the Bowron Valley Area trying to kick start the reforestation process so that another of the great human monuments that can be seen from space might begin to regenerate.

The Upper Bowron Spruce Beetle Outbreak: A Case History

Check out the The Upper Bowron Spruce Beetle Outbreak: A Case History. At the peak of the madness in the early 80s it is estimated that 700 loaded logging trucks a day were leaving the Bowron.

Coordinated harvesting operations removed 15 million m3 [a m3 — cubic metre — of wood is approximately one telephone pole] green attacked timber between 1981 and 1987. This amount of raw material could produce enough lumber to build 900,000 average 1,200 square foot homes! Logging trucks, with radiator caps touching the red flag of the truck in front, carrying 15 million m 3 of logs would stretch for 5,300 miles.

But, alas, there’s probably no connection between the dwindling Bowron sockeye and the intense deforestation in that area in the 70s and 80s… (however, I digress…)

_ _ _ _

On the conference call, I am quite sure that I heard the Chief Biologist from the Pacific Salmon Commission suggest he had no recommendations on opening a fishery just yet because the “Summer” group of Fraser sockeye appeared to be running late. The “Summers” had a pre-season forecast of just over 2.6 million. This ‘group’ is comprised of the famous runs to the Quesnel River (e.g. Horsefly and Quesnel Lakes, east of Williams Lake) and the Chilko run, west of Williams Lake, plus two up-river stocks in the Nechako River, northwest of Prince George.

If the “Summers” return at pre-season forecasts then there will most likely be some commercial fishing opportunities — the first in over three years. However, with the “Summers” running late.

At least that’s the hope…right. You know how it is when you get stood up for a date. For the first little while you think… “oh, she’ll be here soon, she’s just running late…” And then you move to: “oh gee, I hope she’s OK and nothing happened…”. Then reality begins to set in: “shit, she’s not coming…” Then disappointment and anger… rejection.. and so on.

Ok, I’m not speaking from experience, just hypothesizing that that’s what it feels like…

The point being, that I seem to remember last year this thought of: “gee… they must just be running late…” Soon to be followed by some slight concern… then panic… then denial… then a judicial inquiry… then burying the judicial inquiry in hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of documents…

You probably get my point.

So, what I heard suggested was, maybe we shouldn’t go fishing on the “Early Summers” yet because that would mean we might start hitting “Summers” and we don’t have enough information for an in-season estimate on the “Summers” yet. So we better hold off for now.

I’m positive that something to that effect was said by the fisheries scientists in the group. (and please correct me if I’m wrong, however, I’ve also had that confirmed by one individual within Fisheries and Oceans)

See, and something like that must have been said because when you look at the Pacific Salmon Commission news release for Tues, Aug. 3 it states:

Pacific Salmon Commission news release

So no in -season “Summer” forecasts for a few weeks yet. And as a result:

Pacific Salmon Commission


Ok, that seems pretty definitive. “Remain closed to fishing”

But then on Wens, Aug. 4th I receive a press release from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) dated Aug. 3rd:

Fishery Notice – Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Subject: FN0587-Salmon: Fraser River Sockeye Update – August 3 – Areas 11 to 29

Based on the observed migration of Summer-run sockeye through the marine  approach routes to-date, assessments of abundance are less than expected if  their arrival timing is similar to pre-season expectations. Based on later run  timing for Early Stuart and Early Summer runs, Summer-run stocks may be  migrating later than expected but it is too early to confirm run size.

Proportions of Summer run stocks are approximately 30-40% of marine test  fisheries catches. The estimated escapement of Summer-run sockeye past Mission  through August 2 is 218,000 fish.

The following fisheries are planned:

Licence Area B seine will open daily from 6 AM to 9PM on Thursday, August 5,  and Friday, August 6, in portions of Management Area 12 and 13.

Licence Area D gill net will open 6 AM to 3PM in portions of Management Areas  11, 12 and 13.

And so… the “theory” is that these openings are targeting “Early Summers” not “Summers”.

This is the justification passed along to me anyways… yet if one looks at the test fishing scale sample information it appears that there could be as high as 30%-40%  “Summers” in the areas (e.g. Area 12 and 13 — near Campbell River on Vancouver Is.) — as pointed out in DFO’s own press release.

So, even though DFO’s own press release suggests there is no in-season estimate of “Summers” (and that they are just “late”) and the Pacific Salmon Commission says they don’t have enough information to predict “Summer” sockeye run size, and that the PSC suggests that Canadian waters “remain closed to fishing”.

…There are commercial nets in the water right now as I type, catching Fraser sockeye.

Makes sense to me… does it make sense to you?

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Maybe everyone is just so eager to prove how “sustainable” the Fraser sockeye fishery is after the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) “eco-certified” it officially the other day.

Curiously, the MSC defines the precautionary approach as (and it’s a mouthful):

Precautionary approach – A set of measures and actions, including future courses of action, which ensures prudent foresight, reduces or avoids risk to the resources, the environment, and the people, to the extent possible, taking explicitly into account existing uncertainties and the potential consequences of being wrong.

Oh yea…

how do you define precautionary approach?

Does it include opening purse seine fishing opportunities on limited information and unavailable in-season population estimates?

Does it include opening fishing opportunities while there is a judicial inquiry (Cohen Commission) into declines on Fraser Sockeye?

I do find it remarkable that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans suspended all fisheries aspects of First Nation Treaty negotiations in B.C. with the justification that we must wait until Justice Cohen releases his findings…

Yet, DFO still thinks that their ability to “manage” Fraser sockeye is acceptable… hmmmm.

Who’s in charge here?

Carrying Capacity & Salmon fishing

Sharing the river. Should I be smiling...?

Seth Godin, marketing guru and general ponderer, has a fitting post today on carrying capacity — and many folks might consider pondering the message. Here are a couple key points:

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs…

Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market’s ability to pay.

Yesterday, my website was picked up by a British Columbia Sport Fishing discussion forum that is focusing on the issue of potential sport fishing closures to protect the Fraser River early-timed Chinook (the 4-2’s). If you haven’t seen earlier posts on my site here, or seen the numbers, this particular population of Fraser Chinook is on a death spiral and has been for several years (over four years by Fisheries and Oceans own estimates).

Right now, these Chinook are also migrating from the North Pacific to the Fraser River. At this moment, they are migrating right past the BC capital city of Victoria through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And, yet Fisheries and Oceans Canada has deemed that Chinook stocks around British Columbia are healthy enough to support coast-wide sport fishing openings on the ocean — from Haida Gwaii to the mouth of the Fraser River.

However, First Nations and others are asking for a complete fishing closure  to allow these early-timed Chinook through to the spawning grounds of which basically every last fish of these runs needs to finish their life. Scarier yet, there is even a major hatchery (Spius Creek) that support this early-timed Chinook run — and the run is still in deep trouble.

Reading through the particular Sport Fishing discussion forum — one can see that many individuals are taking serious issue with the fact that sport fishing openings that they rely on for their businesses may have to be closed — and should be closed based on the early-timed Chinook numbers. Angry individuals are lashing out at targets for their blame — and fair enough, many of these folks have probably run thriving businesses for several years based on a finite resource.

One thing is clear… numbers and statistics coming out of Fisheries and Oceans are unreliable, full of holes, and dependent on various computer models and equations. DFO’s own numbers suggest that early-timed Chinook can only sustain an exploitation rate of 8-11% while productivity remains as low as it has been for over four years. Last year (2009), DFO numbers just released suggest that 50% of the run was killed (with 30% of that attributed to two marine sport fishery areas).

(It should be pointed out that the south-east Alaska commercial fishery is allocated a certain percentage of Chinook as part of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Of course, DFO maintains that all of these early-timed Chinook migrate along the continental shelf before coming inland and thus don’t impact Fraser Chinook)

(oh yeah, that’s out where the Pacific Hake trawl fleet is busy, along with other industrial trawl fisheries… just fish for thought).

Varying levels of accuracy or not — 50% of the run killed is absolutely unacceptable. It doesn’t even matter at this point who caught what percentage. The bottom line is that DFO is failing miserably in protecting a vital public resource that countless individuals (and other critters) depend on.

And worse yet, this massive federal bureaucracy with over one hundred people responsible for looking after wild salmon maintains ignorance:

  • “we don’t know what it is…”
  • “ocean productivity is down… it’s not us.”
  • “it’s definitely not salmon farms…”

It is, thus, unfortunate, to read various discussion postings, comments on media stories and so on, that point fingers at First Nation fisheries as the culprit — or carry on about equal access for all, or “one fishery for all” as the federal Conservatives call it.

Quick numbers: historically the commercial fishery is responsible for over 90% of salmon catch in BC, sport fishery 3-5% and First Nation fisheries 3-5%.

As Godin, suggests in his post:

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

I draw an analogy with the U.S. banking sector and what has happened over the last few years. For many years the banking sector was ‘happy, profitable and growing’. Then it got carried away and when that particular business sector reached “twenty” — bankruptcies ensued en-masse.

The difference with wild salmon… there are no “Tarps”.

Troubled Asset Relief Programs (TARP). And even if there was — interventions are incredibly expensive; just ask the Alaskan or Japanese salmon ranching programs…

Over the last decade or two, the sport fishing sector has grown on a scale similar to fish farming — somewhere around 2000%. (Actually, fish farming since the 80s is probably closer to a 2,000,000% growth rate.)

When I was a kid growing up on Haida Gwaii (once referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) sport fishing as a business was a tiny sector. It’s not to say that lots of folks weren’t sport fishing. I was on a river or on the “chuck” (ocean) basically every weekend from the age of 3 to late teens — mainly fishing for coho.

Sport fishing lodges and the like were just not a huge business — yet.

Now… sport fishing lodges on the west coast of Canada are booming businesses — dotting the BC coast like the salmon canneries and whale stations of old. Or, the logging camps of past decades. (do you sense a pattern?)

Along with this corporate consolidation, tonnes of small mom-and-pop sport fishing businesses; eking out a living on a seasonal sport fishing clientele.

Curiously, it seems to be a similar tract as the commercial fishing industry (or whaling industry before that) — which has largely gone the way of the U.S. banking sector. Only the big and ‘vertically-horizontally integrated/ corporately consolidated‘ have survived. Most of the mom-and-pop operations (i.e. like small regional banks) driven out of existence.

Exactly as Godin suggests:

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs…

Sport fishing and sport fishing businesses relying on wild salmon (or hatchery salmon) also have a natural scale — just as commercial fisheries do. There may be room for several businesses built upon the backs of wild salmon; however there is not room for corporate concentration and consolidation.

There is not room for rough estimates that suggest:

  • a peak day off the west coast of Haida Gwaii with 400-500 sport fishing boats in the water;
  • off the Northwest Coast, West Coast, and southwest coast of Vancouver Island with maybe 1000 (?) sport fishing boats in the water;
  • Johnston Strait and Georgia Strait with 200-400 (?) boats;
  • Central BC Coast with ?? hundred;
  • allocations of Chinook to the Southeast Alaska commercial fishery; and so on.


Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market’s ability to pay.

I would hope then — and as an avid sport fisherman myself — that maybe the sport fishing business sector and associations might enter those tough discussions about “scale”…. about how many ‘businesses’, along with how many ‘food fishers’ (my general focus for sport fishing) can be supported by current salmon runs in B.C.

Maybe go have some discussions with sport fishers and sport fishing business-owners along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California who haven’t seen an opening in a little while… with any openings almost entirely focussed on hatchery runs.

We all need to remember that we’re basically after the same thing: salmon. Sadly, of which, are declining at rapid rates and have been for at least my generation.

And, of which, we’re not the only ones that depend on them — as demonstrated in my picture above.

Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans Canada?

This is a follow-up to a post from March 12 — Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws? — in relation to how Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is managing Fraser River Early Spring Chinook. This population is referred to as the 4 sub2’s — meaning that these Chinook largely return when they are four years old after spending 2 years in freshwater and 2 years in the ocean.

This year’s pre-season forecasts from Fisheries and Oceans (in January 2010) states:

Extremely poor escapements [spawners] in 2009. Record lows at Nicola (440), Coldwater (26) and Louis Creek (10). 2009 was the fourth successive year where recruitment failed to replace parental spawning abundance.

This means the runs are so small, there are so few Chinook spawning that there will not be enough baby salmon produced, sent to the ocean, and return as adults to spawn — to match the size of the parents run.

This means negative growth. This is like a human population only having one child (or less) per couple.  This means “death-spiral” for any population.

As a result, Fisheries and Oceans has listed these Chinook stocks (along with many other Fraser Chinook stocks) as Status Category #1 meaning “stock is (or is forecast to be) less than 25% of target or is declining rapidly. Directed fisheries are unlikely and there may be a requirement to avoid indirect catch of the stock”.

On a DFO’s scale of one to four — 1 is as bad as it gets.

The Nicola Tribal Association, which represents several First Nations in Thompson River watershed (tributary to the Fraser River) states that at least 10,000 of these early-timed Chinook 4-2’s need to return to the Nicola River for any fishing to occur. Last year, the 2009 season, less than 1000 Chinook returned.

Yet… Fisheries and Oceans just released the 2009 catch data for Fraser Chinook. Last year, estimates suggest that over 50% of the early-timed Chinook were caught last year. This means less than 50% of the run reached the spawning grounds — this doesn’t mean those salmon successfully spawned. Last year was a hot summer in the Fraser River; one of the highest average river temperatures ever recorded (almost mid-20s Celsisus water temperature with some reports of 28 degrees Celsius water temps further inland).

And yet… further… in last year’s Integrated Fisheries Management Plan DFO stated:

In response to the continued decline in abundance of Early-timed Fraser chinook stocks in recent years, the Department put in place additional management measures in 2008 to reduce fishery impacts on Early-timed Fraser chinook by 50% overall, compared with impacts observed in recent years.

The Plan for last year concludes: “Based on the information currently available, it appears that the exploitation rate on Early-timed Fraser chinook in 2008 will be less than observed in 2007, thus meeting the 2008 management objective.” That objective was to reduce fishery impacts by 50% of recent years.

Sorry folks — the management objective was not met. Not even close!

Somewhat close if we compare 2008 to 2007.

  • 2008: total of 35.4% (Canadian &  U.S. exploitation rate)
  • 2007: total of 54.4%

My math isn’t very good however 35.4% is not half of 54.4%.

The exploitation rate in 2007 was the highest in “recent years” — so what if we take an average of say… the last ten years (seems like a fair representation of ‘recent’):

Total exploitation over last ten years on Nicola River Chinook (comprising the bulk of the early-timed Chinook 4-2s):

  • 1999: 28.3%          2004: 32.6%
  • 2000: 40.5%         2005:  49.2%
  • 2001: 17.2%         2006: 33.9%
  • 2002: 11.2%         2007: 54.4%
  • 2003: 31.8%         2008: 35.1%

What is the average of the last ten years? 33.4%

Oh wait, maybe five years is more ‘recent’… so what’s the average over the last five years: 41%

Thus, if DFO’s “Conservation/Sustainability Objectives” the section of the Integrated Fisheries Management Plan which the above quotes come from is to: “to reduce fishery impacts on Early-timed Fraser chinook by 50% overall, compared with impacts observed in recent years.

They have failed miserably. They have also told half the truth by suggesting that they have been successful in reducing exploitation by 50%.

Half of the last ten years is about a 16-20% exploitation rate. Better yet, DFO’s own information — a PowerPoint presentation titled “Chinook Salmon Conservation and Proposed Management Approach” — states that for Fraser Spring 4 sub2’s “sustainable exploitation rates currently estimated in 8-11% range for low survival period; populations declining at current exploitation rates.”

So what was the exploitation rate in 2009?  DFO just released this information… wait for it…

50.2 %!!

Utter and complete failure.

This means that DFO allowed over 40% more Fraser early-timed Chinook to be killed than they themselves have deemed is sustainable. Furthermore, DFO’s own plans state: “2009 was the fourth successive year where recruitment failed to replace parental spawning abundance.”

So why the hell did they allow over 50% of the run to be caught by various fisheries?

One disturbing aspect of the 2009 information: the Juan de Fuca (divides southern Vancouver Island from Olympic Peninsula in Washington state) sport fishery jumped from an average of about 1% over the last 10-12 years to almost 12% in 2009.

Not only is DFO efficiently managing these Fraser early-timed Chinook into extinction — they are empowering the sport fishing industry to exact the finishing swipe.

Further Evidence:  at this very moment Chinook sport fisheries remain open coast-wide in B.C.

This despite the fact that First Nations from up and down the Fraser River have called for a moratorium on all fisheries to allow these early-timed Chinook to migrate to their spawning grounds. First Nations gave DFO a March 31 deadline — nothing has been done. Hooks are in the water, fishing derbies are planned, and tension builds.

Fisheries and Oceans have failed miserably in meeting their own conservation/sustainability objectives in reducing exploitation rates by 50% on Fraser River early-timed Chinook.  Last year, exploitation rates jumped by over 15% from the 35% of 2008 to a rate that saw over half of the early-timed Chinook killed in fisheries.

This is unacceptable (and embarrassing).

Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans?

Or, should we just strike another $20 million public inquiry – The [enter name here] Commission into Fraser River Chinook declines?

Or, maybe it’s just time for a fundamental independent review of the entire fisheries management regime responsible for looking after Canada’s Pacific salmon?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws?

Pre-season estimates  for returns of Fraser River salmon for this year (2010) are trickling out of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It’s not a pretty picture… not a pretty picture at all. In Saturday’s Vancouver Sun reporter Stephen Hume reported on some of the forecasts.

Forecast not looking good for B.C.’s salmon stocks this year:

Another disastrous season for B.C.’s iconic wild salmon appears to be unfolding even as yet another inquiry gets underway, this time into the collapse of last year’s Fraser River sockeye runs.

Meanwhile, some scientists in the department of fisheries and oceans are warning that the outlook for 2010 is already worse than it was in 2009, when only about 10 per cent of expected Fraser River sockeye returns materialized. (my emphasis)

I’m sitting here looking at Fisheries and Oceans 2010 Salmon Outlook. These are “early” estimates — apparently the practices for which these estimates are based,  are changing drastically after last year’s complete failure of forecasting Fraser River sockeye. (10 million forecast — 1 million actually arrived).

Apparently there are four “Outlook” status categories that guide early ‘management’ decisions: numbered 1 – 4. (I paraphrase here):

  • Status 4 — Abundant returns forecast. Fisheries will be directed subject to various policies.
  • Status 3 — Near target returns. Forecast suggests particular stock will be within 25% of target and stable or increasing. Directed fisheries according to policies.
  • Status 2 — Low returns forecast. Well below target levels and declining. Directed fisheries uncertain and likely to be small – if at all. Policies will determine allocation.
  • Status 1 — Stock is basically hooped. Less than 25% of target, declining rapidly. Any fisheries highly unlikely, possible draconian measures (like 1998 complete coho closure due to conservation concerns).

This is supposed to be Fisheries and Oceans new — green, amber, red — approach to fisheries allocations. And if you’re not familiar with how salmon are allocated. Law in Canada, in the Fisheries Act, and legislation directs that absolute #1 Priority is Conservation when it comes to salmon. Here’s the allocation direction.

  • First, make sure conservation objectives are met.
  • Second, allocate First Nation fisheries for food, social and ceremonial purposes.
  • Third, allocate to commercial and sport fisheries.

I reiterate, Absolute #1 is Conservation first.

When it comes to Chinook forecasts this year for the upper and middle Fraser River — it’s a death spiral.

Fisheries and Oceans own forecasts state:

Continued poor marine survival has resulted in continued poor to very poor escapements. 2009 was the third successive year where total recruitment has failed to replace parental spawning abundance.

This means the runs are so small, there are so few Chinook spawning that there will not be enough baby salmon produced, sent to the ocean, and return — to match the size of the parents run.

This means negative growth. This means death spiral for any population.

This is not a situation like Canada or most of Europe where we can simply open our borders and improve our immigration policies to ensure our populations don’t experience negative growth and avert a shrinking labour force, and thus avert a shrinking economy, and thus avert falling stock markets….

No, death spiral. This means that even if the most draconian conservation measures were applied, the population of Chinook in the middle and upper Fraser would continue to dwindle — going the way of the Yangtze dolphin, the dodo, the passenger pigeon (you know the stories). Not to mention, that there will most likely be no First Nation fisheries targeting Chinook – comprising the second commitment under Canadian law.

So can somebody please answer me this:

Why the hell is there an open sport fishery for Chinook salmon right now at the mouth of the Fraser River?

From Fisheries and Oceans website:


Chinook is open year-round in Area 29, except for the tidal portion of the Fraser River.

Area 29 is the area covering the mouth of the Fraser, north to Sechelt and west to the Gulf Islands.

But get this, it’s not just Area 29 — the entire frigging coast of BC is basically open to Chinook fishing year round!

All areas where upper and middle Fraser Chinook may be migrating to reach the mouth of the Fraser River — are currently open for sport fishing!!

Fisheries and Oceans is contravening their own legislation. The Wild Salmon Policy states:

Specifically, DFO is committed to managing fisheries such that Aboriginal fishing for food, social and ceremonial purposes has priority over other fisheries.

And yet, DFO currently has open Chinook fisheries coast wide, and specifically encircling the mouth of the Fraser River. The upper and mid Fraser early Spring Chinook are basically on their way in and will be over the next bit. The Spring stocks are not far behind.

How can Fisheries and Oceans say they are managing for conservation first under these circumstances?

Justice Cohen (of the Cohen Commission inquiry into Fraser sockeye declines) I hope you have an opportunity to read this, or are presented this info during the inquiry into the Fraser sockeye collapse.

It’s called mis-management.

when change is in the winds…and wings.

In the 1990s, Fisheries and Oceans Canada had to start making drastic changes. One of the big reasons was the Sparrow decision in 1990. The case involved a Musqueam fishermen in the Vancouver area who was charged for using a net that was longer than regulations permitted. The case weaved its way through the Supreme Court of BC, the Court of Appeals and on to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In essence, the final decision in Sparrow stated that First Nations have the aboriginal right to fish for “food, social and ceremonial purposes”. This right took priority before any other fishing. Thus the principles of conservation first, then aboriginal fisheries, then commercial and sport fisheries that guides fisheries policy now — and sets the basis for the Wild Salmon Policy.

Fisheries and Oceans had to fundamentally change the way they “managed” fish and fisheries. Annual budgets were shifted dramatically, various departments had to change their operating procedures, and a shift in general corporate-bureaucratic operation. From the decision flowed the Aboriginal Fishing Strategy in 1992, which tried to change the way Fisheries and Oceans dealt with and negotiated with First Nation communities.

Also in the late 1990s was the Marshall decision on the east coast of Canada. In that decision the Court “affirmed a treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood under treaties signed with the British in 1760-61.” One of the crazy aspects of this case is that it involved two Mi’kmaq fellows catching eels and selling them for $787.

Following this case, a negotiation process of over five years began with 34 Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations affected by the decision. The Court suggested that negotiation, as opposed to litigation was the way to move forward. A common direction given repeatedly by the courts in decisions involving aboriginal rights and title.

(There is a brief from 2006, describing DFO’s response to the Sparrow and Marshall decisions on their website.)

A glance at Reports on Plans and Priorities (Treasury Board of Canada) from 2006-2007 shows that forecast spending for that year on the Aboriginal Fisheries Program was over $30 million. Other programs related to this are $16 million for the Aboriginal Aquatic Resources and Ocean Management Program (started in 2004). And, the Fisheries Access Program which focuses on retiring commercial licenses and giving them to communal holders in First Nation communities. This program was initially forecast at over $350 million in 2001 and was forecast to spend over $57 million in 2006-2007 with ongoing commitments for years to come.

The Nuu-chah-nulth case from this past November (of which there are posts from earlier this week) — found that regardless of these DFO efforts this still did not change the conclusion of Madame Justice  Garson:

[791]     I conclude that the plaintiffs [Nuu-chah-nulth] have proved that Canada’s fisheries regulatory regime prima facie infringes their aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish by their preferred means, both legislatively and operationally.

There appears to be some parallels between the Nuu-chah-nulth and their aboriginal rights to sell by fish — and the conclusion of the Marshall decision that concluded those nations actually had treaty rights to sell fish.

Are the 140 Nations or so — and over 80 inland Nations — that rely on Fraser River salmon now going to have to litigate individually to confirm that “Canada’s fisheries regulatory regime prima facie infringes on their aboriginal rights to sell by fish by their preferred means”?

(This will be really cost effective for all involved…)

Or, will their be more fundamental changes to the operation of Fisheries and Oceans? And more spending of millions on programs that aren’t achieving basic legal principles?

Or, could some of the negotiation regarding fisheries be taken up in the British Columbia Treaty process that involves tri-lateral negotiation between Canada, BC and individual First Nations?

Umm, No.

…because federal Fisheries Minister Shea issued a press release a few days ago stating that all fisheries components of the B.C. Treaty process were off the table until Justice Cohen releases his report on the inquiry into declines of sockeye on the Fraser River. Not due until May of next year.

(on one note… nothing like another 15-month delay on the BC Treaty process that has been ongoing since 1993 — nothing like a 17-year multi, multi million dollar negotiation process… showing little, if no, progress in the majority of cases. Granted there has been one or two treaties negotiated in that time)


Seth Godin, marketing guru and author, has a fitting post today related to this:

The Wordperfect Axiom

When the platform changes, the leaders change.

Wordperfect had a virtual monopoly on word processing in big firms that used DOS. Then Windows arrived and the folks at Wordperfect didn’t feel the need to hurry in porting themselves to the new platform. They had achieved lock-in after all, and why support Microsoft?

In less than a year, they were toast.

When the game machine platform of choice switches from Sony to xBox to Nintendo, etc., the list of bestselling games change and new companies become dominant.

When the platform for music shifted from record stores to iTunes, the power shifted too, and many labels were crushed.

Again and again the same rules apply. In fact, they always do. When the platform changes, the deck gets shuffled.

Think this only applies to software?

The platform for healthcare changed from independent doctor’s offices and small practices to hospitals and hmos.

The platform for TV changed from airwaves to wires (so HBO and ESPN win, NBC loses).

The platform for cars is changing from gas engines to alternatives.


(I’ll follow up with some thoughts in a later post.)

when fan blades are jammed with poop… pull the plug.

Yesterday, I posted on deafening silence vs. nattering nothingness — largely in relation to the outcomes of the Supreme Court of British Columbia decision Ahousaht Indian Band and Nation v. Canada (Attorney General) or Nuu-chah-nulth decision regarding fisheries rights. In essence, the courts ruled that the Nuu-chah-nulth have an aboriginal right to sell fish commercially – which flies in the face of limiting First Nation fisheries to strictly “food, ceremonial and social purposes.”

Not only do the Nuu-chah-Nulth have the right to sell fish commercially — that the federal Fisheries Act infringes on their rights at an operational and legislative level. Madame Justice Garson found that many of the avenues for the federal Fisheries Minister to make unilateral decisions were flawed and unfounded. The ruling gave the parties two years to negotiate terms for how this would change.

As mentioned yesterday, the resounding silence from the federal government and Fisheries Minister following the decision — was impressive. The decision came down in early November 2009, not until the second week of February 2010 did the Fisheries Minister actually send a letter to the Nuu-chah-nulth (after multiple letters from Nuu-chah-nulth leadership); a letter that sounds like it was blathering nothingness suggesting the Fisheries ministry had not figured out how to move forward on the issue.

I am speculating here, but maybe it was because Fisheries Minister Shea was too busy in China in early January promoting the seal industry, and meeting with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters because they are an “important stakeholder and partner with whom we currently work together on many initiatives relating to fish and fish habitat in Ontario” (yeah, Ontario a  hotbed of salmon activity), and the various announcements in relation to Canada’s economic action plan.

In actuality, I think it is because there is so much shit in the fan at Fisheries and Oceans Canada these days that the air circulation for its 10,000 plus staff might be a little stagnant.

Fisheries and Oceans often find themselves with fecal matter flying towards the proverbial fan — it’s a darn difficult set of tasks, complex issues, and heated stakeholders and rights-holders involved in many aspects of the resources they are tasked to look after. In other words — they’re a big target. However, governing parties of the day have little long-term view. What’s the point? — especially in these days of minority governments.

Sadly, though the myopic or short-sighted view seems to be a plague upon the federal Ministry — that and the fact that they seem to lose good staff as if jumping from a sinking ocean-liner, and have an aging workforce that is set to cause attrition faster than avian flu in a Fraser Valley chicken farm. As, really, what’s the point of studying fisheries management these days and hoping for a lifetime career in a government ministry that’s about as seaworthy as a bathtub right now.

In February last year, the British Columbia Supreme Court issued a ruling in regards to the legislation that guides salmon farming in British Columbia: Morton v. British Columbia (Agriculture and Lands). Morton being Alexanda Morton the marine biologist who lives in the Broughton Archipelago between Vancouver Island and the mainland — where a significant concentration of salmon farms have developed over the last decade to two. Also plaintiffs in the case along with Ms. Morton were:

  • the Wilderness Tourism Association,
  • Area E Gillnetters Association, and
  • Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association of BC.

The issue at hand was that Ms. Morton and other plaintiffs were claiming that the Province of British Columbia — specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands — does not have the jurisdiction to manage finfish (salmon) aquaculture in B.C. waters.

See, in 1988, the federal government (Fisheries and Oceans) and the Province of BC concocted an agreement handing over management of salmon farms from Fisheries and Oceans to the Province. The Province of BC maintains that its “farming” and thus the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture.


This case had to go right back to the Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly known as the British North America Act). The Constitution Act divided powers between the Federal Parliament and Provincial governments with Sections 91 and 92. As Justice Hinkson said in his ruling for this case:

[107]        The respective powers of Parliament and the provincial legislatures are set out in ss. 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Neither Parliament nor a provincial legislature can expand its jurisdiction over the classes of subjects in ss. 91 or 92 by passing legislation which purports to do so.

So the feds and province screwed up royally back in 1988 — basically they broke constitutional law from what I can see. The problem is that, as you may have read in posts over the last month to two, salmon farming has grown astronomically in BC waters since then — anywhere from 500-2000%. All of this guided by legislation that is not valid.

[193]        … Given the specific enumeration of the management and protection of the fisheries in s. 91(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the national resource of the fisheries in not a matter that should or can be left to a level of government other than Parliament.

Justice Hinkson was left in a jam. He found the current provincial legislation invalid; and that the federal government had no legislation to guide salmon farming; it was:

[188]… constitutionally invalid…

[198]        The absence of sufficient legislation to regulate fish farms could well be more harmful to the public than the perpetuation of the impugned legislation.

His only choice was to give the federal government a year to develop adequate legislation — meaning that it should have had this legislation since 1988. In the meantime, the status-quo would hold otherwise there would be no legislation (i.e. “more harmful to the public).

In a follow-up appeal process in January of this year, Justice Hinkson ruled that there would be a one-year ban on any new salmon farm licenses until the federal government (Fisheries and Oceans) could develop adequate legislation. The federal government didn’t even participate in the first court case.

(there are some other really curious aspects to this case surrounding “public” and “private” fisheries and the argument over what constitutes “standing” (e.g. see Cohen Commission and lack of definition — I’ll save these for another post, this one will already be long enough)

This instigated brown stained blades on the DFO fans… that was last spring.

Then this summer the complete blown forecast on Fraser sockeye by Fisheries and Oceans. In early November, the Prime Minister’s office announced a public inquiry into the issue:

“The Government is establishing a public inquiry to take all feasible steps to identify the reasons for the decline of the Fraser River sockeye salmon population,” said the Prime Minister.  “It is in the public interest to investigate this matter and determine the longer-term prospects for sockeye salmon stocks.”

I find some of this rather disturbing. On one hand it is good that a public inquiry has been a launched — however, how the hell is a Supreme Court Justice and a team of lawyers supposed to determine “the reasons for the decline”?

Isn’t that the job of Fisheries and Oceans? Isn’t that why they have an over $200 million budget for fisheries management and another $100 million or so for research?

The “longer term prospects”?

They’re not good Mr. P.M.

It has been determined that this year’s run was so small it won’t be able to produce a similar size run for the future. This is called a death-spiral….

Stockwell Day also informed us in the press release:

“This is a significant and important issue for BC fisheries industry,” said Minister Day.  “Our government is deeply concerned about the low returns of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River and the implications for the fishery.”

Well, Mr. Day, granted you actually represent a BC constituency, I’m rather appalled.

There is no fishery. There has been no fishery for three years on Fraser sockeye. The “implications” are: No damn fishery for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a “significant issue” — this is a flippin disaster.

One individual in the BC interior – Priscilla Judd –  has taken it upon herself to distribute canned salmon to impoverished interior First Nation communities (see Georgia Straight article). Communities that have depended on the yearly return of salmon for thousands of years. Some estimates suggest that pre-European contact, First Nation individuals on the Fraser were consuming over 500 kg of salmon every year. Now that’s healthy.

Now, it’s 0 kg in many cases. There is no fishery. That’s devastating.

Unfortunately, the Terms of Reference for the public inquiry – the Cohen Commission –  are clearly laid out:

…conduct the Inquiry without seeking to find fault on the part of any individual, community or organization, and with the overall aim of respecting conservation of the sockeye salmon stock and encouraging broad cooperation among stakeholders.

There is one organization, and one organization only, tasked with making sure that wild salmon are well looked after. That organization is Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

If the Prime Minister says all “feasible steps”; is not one of those steps potentially the fact that Fisheries and Oceans dropped the ball? Not just dropped the ball, but utterly and completely mismanaged how the ball was even in the game in the first place… or was counting the wrong score; or plain and simply at the wrong game.

In the Nuu-chah-nulth case the Madam Justice had no problems “finding fault”.

In the Morton case, the Justice had no problem “finding fault” and suggesting it get fixed tout de suite.

There is a history of courts of law finding fault with the approach of Fisheries and Oceans Canada — as well as inquiries, Attorney Generals, and Royal Commissions. Some that in the 1990s were even officially called: “Here We go Again”.

The other day, March 2, federal Fisheries Minister Shea issued a quiet press release stating that all fisheries negotiations as part of treaty negotiations in British Columbia would be deferred until the Cohen Commission into the Fraser River sockeye declines is complete:

“The Government of Canada is deferring the negotiation of fisheries components at treaty tables in British Columbia that involve salmon, pending the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. The deferral of fisheries related negotiations will allow for treaty negotiations to be staged so that fish chapters in treaties can be informed by the findings and recommendations of the Inquiry.”

I’m not sure if Minister Shea has looked at the geography of B.C. or of treaty negotiations. First off, I can’t imagine there isn’t anything more fundamental to treaty negotiations in most BC First Nation communities than fisheries. Secondly, not every Nation of the over 200 First Nations in BC is located on the Fraser River.

Why would the Gitsxan, or Tahltan, or Tsay Keh Dene be affected by the Commission’s ruling on Fraser sockeye? (Tsay Keh isn’t even in a Pacific drainage, it’s in the Arctic drainage.)

Even the Terms of Reference for Cohen Commission repeatedly state, for example:

B. …to consider the policies and practices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (the “Department”) with respect to the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River.

C. to investigate and make independent findings of fact regarding:

i.  the causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon…

And really, if the Cohen Commission finds that the “current state of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks and the long term projections for those stocks” is absolutely dismal — what would some communities have left to negotiate? (I understand there are other important components, however my experience has been fish are central)

Even the BC Treaty Commission frames the fisheries issue as such:

Fishing Issues
Integral to First Nations’ Culture
First Nations have for thousands of years sustained vibrant and rich cultural identities profoundly linked to BC’s land and waters. It is said that the Nisga’a, people of the mighty river, are so connected to fish that their bones are made of salmon. Living in balance with the land and the water is an integral part of First Nations’ cultures, and fishing is regulated by longstanding cultural laws around conservation and preservation for future generations.

Justice Hinkson in the Morton case has a great observation:

[109] … the very functioning of Canada’s federal system must be continually be reassessed in light of the fundamental values it was designed to serve.

Sadly, it appears that the “fundamental values” of the federal fisheries system are lost. The complete destruction of North-Atlantic Cod was one of the first indicators.

That same federal system is arguing in courts of laws, denying in courts of law — the highest courts of the land — that coastal First Nation societies were not fish-based cultures, didn’t trade with other Nations, and have no commercial interests in fish or salmon.

It appears that maybe the “light” in the hallowed halls of the federal Fisheries ministry is being filtered through brown excrement… excrement that has been hitting fan blades and spraying across windows.

This is more than just shit hitting the fan. This is a full on shit storm.

In times of vastly shrinking public service budgets, red-numbered federal and provincial budgets, and court cases that are slapping a Ministry upside the head… the thought of a public inquiry headed by a judge starting to poke and prod into:

the policies and practices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River – including the Department’s scientific advice, its fisheries policies and programs, its risk management strategies, its allocation of Departmental resources and its fisheries management practices and procedures, including monitoring, counting of stocks, forecasting and enforcement,

… has got to have some senior Fisheries bureaucrats seriously considering early retirement.

I will not be surprised to see an exodus from that Ministry faster than a cat hitting water. There is a fundamental shift afoot — and the shift is going to hit the fan real soon.

I might suggest that rather than carrying on this constant legal wrangling based on the act of ‘deny, deny, deny’ — why isn’t there a serious investigation into how First Nation societies up and down the Fraser River co-existed and co-managed salmon resources?

It was also done on the Columbia, the Yukon, the Stikine, and so on. Ground-breaking new approaches and management systems that actually work will not be coming out of bureaucratic behemoths.

Bureaucratic behemoths appear to need a serious slapping from the highest courts before they institute change — and even then, as demonstrated by Minister Shea’s silence on the Nuu-chah-nulth case… legal facts still don’t spur meaningful action.