Tag Archives: Cohen Commission

When the words matter more: DFO – the lost, contradiction-laden bureaucracy

To “manage”:

1. Be in charge of (a company, establishment, or undertaking); administer; run.
2. Administer and regulate (resources under one’s control): “we manage our wild salmon well”.

An online etymology dictinoary suggests the roots of the word: c.1400, from Latin manualisof or belonging to the hand,” from manus “hand, strength, power over, armed force, handwriting,” from PIE *men– “hand, to take in one’s hand”

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And maybe that’s the problem… many folks have taken the roots of the word ‘manage‘ far too literally. But, I’ll get to that in a second.

The other key component of the meaning of to ‘manage’ is to “administer“:

1. Manage and be responsible for the running of (a business, organization, etc.).

2. Be responsible for the implementation or use of (law or resources).

Unfortunately, we’re running around after our lost tail here… administer means to manage, and to manage means to administer…

(yet, tucked in there somewhere between our tailbone and our rectum is the: ‘be responsible for use of resources’)

The online etymology dictionary suggests the roots of administer are: late 14c., “to manage as a steward,” from Old French amenistrer “help, aid, be of service to” (12c., Mod.Fr. administrer, the -d- restored 16c.), from Latin administrare “manage, control, guide, superintend; rule direct,” from ad– “to” (see ad-) + ministrare “serve”.

So if we keep going on this little trip, what is a “steward“?

1. One who manages another’s property, finances, or other affairs.
2. One who is in charge of the household affairs of a large estate, club, hotel, or resort.

Roots of the word suggest: ‘Old English stiward, stigweard “house guardian,” from stig “hall, pen” + weard “guard.”

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Now as we put this all together, some glaring contradictions arise, yet, maybe some insight into the ongoing issues of massive, resource-draining bureaucracies that become slurping, sucking, leeches all unto themselves. As well as insular, ivory-towered kingdoms surrounded by the pavement moat; separate from the serfs that provide the tax dollars to keep them afloat…

That aside… and not to discount the many folks that actually try to do good work amidst the sucking sounds inherent in a vacuum… or the folks that try valiantly to pull compadres out of their bureaucratic, paper-producing stupor…

If ‘to manage’ stems from what we do with our hands (manus-es), especially in relation to ‘handwriting’, and to manage also means ‘to administer’

And ‘to administer’, means to be responsible for running things, and the roots of the word suggest that it means “to steward” things…

And to steward things, means to manage others’ affairs well (e.g. a public resource)…

And the roots of that word, suggest that it means to ‘guard the hall’ essentially. Or maybe we can stretch that out to say “guard the resources, that its supposed to be responsible for administering (e.g. managing)” — which is the fish and the habitat that they rely upon. And to do this, they will most likely — in the act of managing — rely upon lots of handwriting…

Then why is it that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans seems to be much more concerned with fisheries, as opposed to “managing”, “administering”, “stewarding/guarding” the resource it is tasked to do so with public dollars?

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Don’t get me wrong here… fisheries are important, vital even. I, myself, engage in the act of fishing and fisheries often. I also grew up in communities that fundamentally relied upon ‘fisheries’ — however, those communities, and the simple act of fishing alone — require something vital to be successful.

FISH.

(and I can certainly say with safety — those same communities are asking where the fish went…)

The problems start to lie in what our collective focus is.

Is our collective focus to continue to manage, administer, and steward “fisheries”?

OR,

is it to continue to manage, administer, and steward the fish themselves — and the habitat they depend upon?

(even more so, if we see that healthy fish habitat is not all that different then the same habitat we depend on…)

Is the focus on ‘fisheries’ for next year… or is the focus on still having similar fisheries 50 years from now…?

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And, I suppose the answer is: BOTH.

We need fish and healthy habitat to have healthy, prosperous fisheries.

BUT — should that mean that the responsibility for “managing”, “administering”, and “stewarding” the two should be housed in the same place?

Is it fundamentally possible for a government bureaucracy to hold the best interests of a resource (e.g. fish, salmon, etc. and their habitat) that it intends, in turn, to kill?

— and not just a few in the case of the salmon… it was over 80% of the returning Fraser sockeye runs for well over 50 years — the supposed Maximum Sustainable Yield. And now, we’re supposed to take comfort on years like this year when it is reduced to 60% of the total Fraser Sockeye run.

A total run, that has smaller runs within it on the verge of extinction and many that have gone extinct.

Mixed stock fisheries are inherently not good for the resource.

Mixed stock means that while in the act of fishing, it is near impossible to separate, say an endangered Nechako River (mouth is at Prince George, BC) sockeye and a sockeye from a potentially healthy Adams Lake run (near Kamloops, BC).

Or, say, an endangered Skeena River steelhead from an ‘human-enhanced’ Babine Lake sockeye.

If one sets a gill net, for example, it catches largely everything that swims into it… unless they’re big enough to rip the net and free themselves.

It then becomes what we term a “trade off”…

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It seems to me that it’s akin to the old practice of having cigarrette vending machines in hospitals, so that the hospitals could raise money for their administrative budgets and ‘enhance’ the bottom line…

Or, having candy and pop vending machines in schools (to raise money for bottom lines), in the midst of a population that now boasts a majority either overweight or just plain obese (and at the same time cutting physical education and sports programs).

And not realizing (or simply chalking it up to a trade-off) that this only creates a much bigger problem in the near-enough future. A completely sapped and drained medical system.

It’s the fundamental problem of many human societies… short term gain, in the midst of serious long-term repercussions (obvious ones — clear as a smokers’ exhale on a minus-20 degree morning).

Yes… again… “trade-offs”…

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Personally, and maybe I’m alone on this, I just don’t think it is possible for a giant bureaucracy, largely based in Ottawa, thousands of kilometres from both the spawning grounds and the fishery, to both look after the best interests of the fish (e.g. wild salmon) and the best interests of the fisherfolks that catch them.

It’s a fundamental contradiction, that will never be overcome.

(let alone the mass complications of simply managing the fisherfolks themselves: aboriginal, commercial-industrial, commercial-sport, and sport)

No different then the folks that say a ministry can’t house both aquaculture proponents and supporters AND the divisions responsible for the conservation and preservation of wild resources.

That’s essentially like putting the ‘management’ of wild elk populations and cattle farmers in the same ministry.

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Saddest of all… and yet, one positive from the Cohen Commission at this point, is these glimpses inside the grinding of gluttonous government bureaucracies.

One can review any number of email threads between senior ‘managers’ at DFO. At times, a curious process and yet also a sad process — reflecting a sad state of affairs — and the proof that many take the word “to manage” very much by its roots… the act of handwriting, which in this day in age is typing…

On the Cohen Commission website there is ‘evidence’ from yesterday’s hearings (Sept. 26). Some of those are email strings between senior managers.

In one is an ongoing email discussion surrounding an apparent “National Precautionary Approach Framework” . In there are the usual examples of how ‘the words’ and “the wording” are far more important, as are bureaucratic deadlines, than what happens on the water.

it's about the wording, folks

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And, this below, pretty much the suggestion I’ve made in a variety of posts over the last couple years:

this “is as close as we are likely to come to making ‘eco-system’ management operational.”

“as close as we’ll come”… so how close is that?

Is this like the protective father that says to the young suitor of his 16 year old daughter — ” 20 ft. is as close as you’ll ever come to making your amorous intentions operational…” as he pats the shotgun by the door…

Using the phrase, “as close as we’ll come” generally suggests there is some significant distance between the present situation and the desired end destination.

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Looking after, stewarding, and managing one of BC’s most important and valuable ‘resource’ — wild salmon runs — is farm more about ‘operational objectives’ and ‘measurable fishery objectives’ and making ‘trade-offs to inform decision-makers’…

bureaucratese bumpf

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Maybe, it’s just me again, however, I thought it was up to the public to discuss trade-offs and inform decision-makers.

Would one assume that the ‘decision-makers’ referred to here are not the elected “decision-makers” but the autocratic, be-good & rise-to-the-top-of-the-bureaucracy (subject to the Peter Principle) decision-makers?

Would these be the root of why we’ve had to endure five public reviews/Commissions/inquiries in less than two decades?

Will the root of the contradiction inherent in this government ministry be exposed in the Cohen Commission Final Report?

Are the fate of wild salmon wrapped up in bureaucratic ‘measurable fishery objectives’, national frameworks, benchmarks, and the ever-present “trade-off”?

Or… or… have we reached a turning point?

… a tipping point?

..a change in the winds?

 

Rocket science vs. Salmon science… (come on, let’s get a grip)

fish mysteries?

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I’ve begun reading through some of the penultimate Cohen Commission report: Technical Report #6: Data Synthesis and Cumulative Impacts.

The objective of this report as listed on the Commission website:

The researcher will synthesize information contained in the other contractors’ technical reports, to address cumulative effects and to evaluate possible causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

Quite early in the report, after a discussion trying to define what “cumulative effects” and “cumulative impacts” are is the rather common analogy utilized these days in the discussions of ‘fisheries’ science — the good old

rocket science vs. fisheries science.

Seems that many in the ‘fisheries’ science establishment and practice have become a little defensive about comments from various sources suggesting that fisheries science is not rocket science.

And so there is this quip from the authors of this report:

Rocket science is commonly used as a benchmark when describing the relative difficulty of other subjects (e.g., “It isn’t rocket science.”).

Fisheries science also isn’t rocket science, but it is nonetheless very challenging.

Rocket scientists rely on repeatable laws of physics, whereas ecological interactions are much more variable over time and space, and much less understood. If a rocket scientist had equivalent challenges to a fisheries scientist, s/he would be launching and landing rockets with all the key variables determining outcomes (gravity, atmospheric pressure, temperature, solar radiation, fuel quality, cosmic rays) radically changing from year to year and place to place, with little ability to monitor this variation, and considerable uncertainty about the basic theory behind each of these variables and their interactions.

And so we have a couple of highlights here: (1) considerable uncertainty about the basic theories behind… “fisheries science”…

(2) rocket scientists rely on repeatable laws of physics.

So, then let me add this variable into the equation, or beg this question:

If rocket scientists had to contend with the fact that they were going to lose approximately 80% of their rockets on a yearly basis — would they maybe approach things a little differently?

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This is the fundamental challenge I have with this entire process…

And it is summed up well here, within the report:

“Given all of the above challenges, what can fisheries science achieve that is helpful to both the Cohen Commission and fisheries managers?

First, science can test hypotheses, rejecting those that are unlikely or false. Even with considerable gaps in data and understanding, and mostly indirect evidence, contrasts over space and time in both salmon stock productivity and the potential stressors allow us to judge certain stressors to be unlikely to have been the primary factors causing declines in sockeye productivity or abundance.

The second challenge is gaps in basic knowledge or understanding. We generally do not know how, where or when sockeye die.

Well…ummm… I’ve got a pretty good idea.

It’s called US. (no, not the United States… us, humans, people).

We know from fisheries records that in the range of  80% of the entire returning adults coming back to the Fraser River on a yearly basis were caught by industrial fisheries.

take, take, take --- 80% take

So we do know where Fraser sockeye die — prior to them reaching spawning grounds… in nets set by humans.

So, in fact aren’t what we talking about here within the Cohen Commission — since no one wants to look at the simple numbers and simply hypothesis — that we are looking for some miraculous smoking gun theory, which is really based on the progeny (babies) produced by only 20-30% of the total adult run that was returning?

Remember, the 80% killed in fisheries before reaching spawning grounds — for over 50 years — is just the reported amount caught in industrial fisheries. This does not include unreported catch on the high seas of the North Pacific, bycatch in other fisheries, Alaskan fisheries, or unreported catch from in-river.

Plus, really, in the glory days of the BC coast sockeye fishery can we really suggest with any accuracy that we know exactly what was caught?

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So, essentially, what we could have is a $25 million paper exercise (e.g. the Cohen Commission) that is looking for a smoking gun to explain why we don’t understand that if we kill 80% of the returning adults for decades, that 20% is unable to produce the same size run four years down the road.

This is a $25 million exercise that is only looking at 20% of the Fraser sockeye — essentially.

We’ll just pretend we don’t see that 80% of the run, dead in the boats — for over 50 years.

And we won’t talk about the more than 80% of the Fraser sockeye runs caught prior to 1950.

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Does this not beg another question?:

If we call it “fisheries” science… does this not suggest that this is science based on: “fisheries”.

Rocket science is largely science based on “rockets” or many of the verbs surrounding rockets: launching, flying, landing, etc.– along with the variables that affect rockets and the verbs closely associated with them.

And thus would not ‘fisheries’ science then largely be concerned with the verbs that surround “fisheries”: catching, selling, landing, intercepting, and so on?

Where is the ‘science’ for the good of the fish themselves…?

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Do we expect 20% of humans to reproduce the same size population — if 80% of our human population died before it even had a chance to reproduce, could 20% maintain our species at the same size?

“Cumulative impacts” at Cohen Commission this week

 

scientific research agenda?

This week, things start wrapping up at the Cohen Commission hearings. And what a fitting note… apparently it is all about “cumulative impacts”… with a brief 363 page report to summarize.

Here is a fitting illustration to get us started: The illustrated guide to a PhD.  Over at Matt Might’s site.

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Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge: [or human knowledge about salmon]

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little: [e.g. salmon in the classroom]

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty: [e.g. fisheries… or statistics… or…]

A master’s degree deepens that specialty: [e.g., fisheries biology… and phalluses…]

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge: [e.g. or reading technical report…]

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now: [or it looks like a nipple…]

So, don’t forget the bigger picture:

 

Keep pushing.

(Matt’s illustration is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License so use as you wish, just make sure to give him credit and a link).

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I took a little glance at the brief 363 page: Cohen Commission Technical Report #6 Fraser River sockeye salmon: data synthesis and cumulative impacts.

First, I wasn’t surprised to find that several of the authors of the report have done work for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or research, or past contracts… (been a familiar theme at the Commission).

Second, my surprise was also not raised at the usual comment — From the Executive Summary:

Section 5.2 of this report describes 23 recommended research and monitoring activities

And so yet another major (or minor) environmental consulting firm submitting information to the Cohen Commission is suggesting: more research, more research, and… more research.

I can understand the fact that more research may be required… however, what is that going to change in the immediate or near term?

Sure… the North Atlantic Cod also needed “more research” while it was collapsing, as I’m sure the currently collapsed eulachon (oolichan, hooligan) populations on the BC coast also needed “more research.”

Doesn’t there… at some point in time… need to be accountability for the research that has been done, decisions made, research agendas planned, and so on?

At a basic fundamental level, we could always use more research… on everything.

I could use more research to assist me in raising children, or being married, or making day-to-day decisions… Yet… day in and day out, I still have to make decisions, and be accountable to those decisions.

I’m not sure this approach would go over all that well:

“well… my banker… I need to do more research on that overdraft this month, and determine how I won’t go into overdraft next month — so if we could just leave that overdraft sitting there in the red, that would be great…”

NO… I’m thinking my banker ain’t going to go for that…

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When the ‘rate of return’ isn’t sufficient to support you withdrawing money, your financial planner does not come back to you and say “I need to do more research…”

… and please pay me more to do that research”

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As the illustration above depicts… when it comes to human knowledge about things (e.g. wild salmon)… “experts” “more research” “more statistical analyses”, etc. is not going to change things.

Just as a recent cartoon on this site depicted, the old adage that if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

The institution that is DFO is an unwieldy pig. It’s mandate is wrapped up in it’s original mandate of the 1940s and 50s — support industrial domestic fisheries.

But what happens when your domestic fisheries become drained… well, ask Japan, or other international organizations that rely upon distant-water fleets to supply their internal and export demand.

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More research, and requests for “more research” by firms that specialize in research, seems to me, to be a rather endless cyclical spinning of despair…

And what good is any research… if it’s not followed up by “ACTION”?

It’s akin to movies or books… a director, writer, actor, etc. can ‘research’ until the cows come home… but at some point in time decisions need to be made, and action ensues, Seth Godin (marketing guru) calls it “shipping”.

At some point we all need to ‘ship’…

It would be absolute sham, if the main thing to come out of the Cohen Commission is a $25 million bill for a plan that simply suggests: “MORE RESEARCH”…

Even my early readings of the apparent “cumulative” impacts on wild Fraser sockeye, is big ongaps” and “more research“…

Well… news flash… there will always be ‘gaps’ and need, on some level, for “more research”…

What’s that old saying about lemons and lemon-aid…?

 

Conflicting mandates at DFO?

no conflicts...

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On Sept. 19th or so, the Cohen Commission has two days of hearings on cumulative impacts. Two days… to discuss cumulative impacts…

There’s also several days of DFO largely defending itself, etc. …

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final hearings at Cohen Commission

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This following the release of a DFO ‘Communications Plan‘ entered as evidence last week at the Commission… suggesting that the public is dull, and all these slanted journalists… and so on.

There’s an interesting editorial at the Times Colonist from the other day:

DFO in conflict on fish farms

Many British Columbians will likely be mildly insulted to find the Department of Fisheries and Oceans considers opposition to salmon farming the result of a confused and unaware public, manipulated by environmental groups and poorly served by biased reporters.

That’s the conclusion in a DFO communications plan filed as an exhibit at the Cohen Commission investigating the decline of Fraser River sockeye runs.

The National Aquaculture Communications and Outreach Approach report, by a New Brunswick communications consultant, is revealing.

The DFO is assumed to be the champion of the industry. Critics – or reporters – are presumed to be self-serving. Environmental groups raising concerns are seeking “to further their agenda and fundraising efforts.”

News coverage often draws those sorts of comments. In the case of salmon farming, both supporters and critics routinely accuse the news media of favouring the other side. That’s one of the things that is troubling about the report. The industry can be expected to have an agenda.

So can communities and environmental groups.

But the DFO should be a neutral, science-based regulator, ensuring that the best evidence is used to set standards for fisheries, farmed and wild, that protect the environment and the public interest. That role is undermined, even corrupted, if the government department becomes an advocate for a particular industry segment. Its impartiality and willingness to enforce standards is cast in doubt. Its pronouncements can no longer be trusted.

Actions like forbidding scientists from discussing their research are taken as evidence of pro-aquaculture bias.

The report highlights a fundamental conflict. The DFO, or at least senior management, believes it should be promoting aquaculture. At the same time, it is charged with regulating the industry. The two roles create, at the least, the perception of conflicts of interest.

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The issue with DFO in general is that its one huge institutional conflict. The number one mandate is supposed to be “Conservation” — however, it’s institutional focus for the last hundred years has been to support commercial and sport fisheries.

On one hand it hands out money to various groups for fisheries related work… and then on the other hand shows up with big truck and guns demanding to know what folks are doing in a creek.

On one hand, its supposed to ‘conserve’ fish habitat, and then on the other hand approve major hydro dams and mining projects, which in turn are supposed to ensure “no net-loss of habitat”…

On the one hand, its supposed to ‘conserve’ fish habitat, and then takes on ‘economic development’ with aquaculture…and hands out over $100 million in ‘research & development’…

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Is this not akin to the RCMP arresting and investigating crimes… and then having an economic interest in building more jails, or recovering funds from the sale of goods seized in crimes…?

(there’s enough fuss as it is — with the RCMP investigating itself…)

shouldn’t maybe the ‘conservation’ of wild salmon get handed over to Environment Canada, or some ministry with an actual mandate to ‘conserve’…

there’s significant irony in a government ministry having the central mandate of “conserving” something so that people can catch and kill it…

and ‘conserve’ for whom? why?

Re-branding government ministries…

branding is everything... everything is branding.

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This article out of the Globe and Mail yesterday:

E-mails cite ‘directive’ to re-brand government in Harper’s name

Despite Conservative assertions to the contrary, a directive did go out to some civil servants last fall ordering them to use the term “Harper Government” in official government of Canada communications.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press contradict a published denial by Dimitri Soudas, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former director of communications, who wrote “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Since when have we started making announcements as the ‘Harper Government’?” Daniel Morier, Health Canada’s chief of social media, asked in an internal email on Nov. 30, 2010.

Mr. Morier also passed along the following inquiry: “Why is @healthcanada creating partisan ‘press releases’ and marketing them as non-partisan ministry news?”

Erin Junker, a senior communications adviser at Health Canada, responded by email: “This was a directive I received from PCO.”

The Privy Council Office is the bureaucratic nerve centre that serves the prime minister, working in concert with the Prime Minister’s Office.

A PCO spokesman responded to a series of questions Wednesday about the Health Canada email exchange by reiterating that “there has been no change in policy or direction.”

Non-partisan departmental web sites switched to a Tory-blue motif soon after the Conservatives took power in 2006, and taxpayer funded Economic Action Plan website, signs and ads have blanketed the country since 2009 in a “whole of government” exercise that is indistinguishable from the partisan Conservative pitch.

It’s true…quite remarkable, and immensely slimy.  Go look at every federal ministry website you can find. Finance ministry, , Human Resources Development Canada, Treasury Board, and one of my favorites Economic Action Plan.
Better yet, the Economic Action Plan has all headlines stating:

Harper Governmentfederal government of Canada this

Harper Government federal government of Canada that

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The G&M article continues:

And the remake of the Government of Canada brand has only begun.

This summer, PCO posted a public notice of “Proposed Procurement” for new design concepts for Government of Canada advertising.

“PCO is seeking to develop a ‘whole of government’ branding approach that increases the public resonance and recall of government messages and information,” says the proposal.

It calls for bids to alter the “voiceovers, sound bugs, music, colour schemes, taglines, vision icons” of government advertising in everything from the Web to TV and radio.

Some critics say they’re alarmed to see any partisan re-branding of what should be the scrupulously non-partisan machinery of government.

“There’s a serious issue here and it’s a deeply corrupting one for the public service,” says Ralph Heinzman, who teaches public administration at the University of Ottawa.

The former senior civil servant spent five years overseeing the Government of Canada’s communications policy and helped rewrite it, then headed the office of Values and Ethics in Treasury Board – which oversees all civil servants.

Mr. Heinzman was awarded the Vanier Medal in 2006, Canada’s highest recognition for public administration for his work in the areas of ethics and citizen-centred service delivery.

His assessment of the “Harper Government” label is scathing.

“I would say that any public servant who’s involved in communications activities of that type is in breach of both the Communications Policy and the Values and Ethics Code,” Mr. Heinzman said in an interview.

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Caught wind of some of those changes. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is being re-branded “Steve-O” in honor of George W.

And the Privy Council Office (PCO) is being re-branded the Primary Conservative Office.

But don’t worry (as some commenters on this site have suggested)… those in Ottawa engaged in communications and PR have no intentions of purposely misleading you…

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What do you think the response would be if the NDP got into power and changed all the websites to an ORANGE motif?

And I do seem to remember quite a few old RED federal ministry websites when the Liberals were in concocting the sponsorship scandal…

It really is little wonder that so many folks have become so disillusioned with politics and politicians.

Marketing is everything, everything is marketing.

Which is another way of saying: beware of branding.

 

 

“Fisheries plan alleges confusion and bias in B.C”… who butters your toast?…

public dollars...

public funded communications strategies?

Fisheries [DFO communications] plan alleges confusion and bias in B.C

A Department of Fisheries and Oceans communications plan, filed as an exhibit at the Cohen Commission, portrays the B.C. public as confused, West Coast newspaper reporters as biased and environmental groups as self-serving.

The National Aquaculture Communications and Outreach Approach, prepared for DFO by a New Brunswick consultant, sets out a three-to five-year plan for convincing both DFO staff and the public of the merits of fish farming.

David Black, associate professor in the School of Communication and Culture at Royal Roads University, said communication plans prepared for government ministries, with the public interest in mind, need to be held to a high standard and the DFO plan fails to meet that higher standard.

To represent the citizenry as confused and unaware raises some concerns in my view as to the underlying attitude,” he said. “It is also a strange thing to identify journalists as not effectively doing their jobs.”

The report impugns the named journalists and shows a lack of respect for the practice of journalism, Black said.

To assume bad faith and a lack of professionalism on the part of journalists is ethically and strategically dubious,” he said.

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Maybe this should be titled:

When publicly funded institutions forget who butters their toast…

Seems a bit odd that a publicly funded institution is using public dollars to tell the public how dumb they are… but then that’s also been the take by some individuals commenting on this site, defending internal practices of DFO, and explaining how ‘misinformed the public is’.

Does this harken to the North Atlantic Cod issue…?

As I’ve said before:

Marketing is everything, everything is marketing.

“DFO scientist says Privy Council silenced her”

Canadian Press story:

DFO scientist says Privy Council silenced her

A fisheries scientist says she believes senior officials close to the prime minister prevented her from talking to the media about her research into the 2009 sockeye salmon collapse in B.C. …

Miller testified she believes it would have been useful to speak to the media after the article’s publication to let them know what scientists knew and didn’t know and she found it frustrating to see the direction some news stories went.

The federal government did not dispute Miller’s suggestion that it was the Privy Council Office, which serves the prime minister, that refused to allow Miller to talk to media.

“Dr. Miller’s testimony was thorough, extensive and speaks for itself,” Dimitri Soudas, communications director at the Prime Minister’s Office, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

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Globe and Mail story:

Privy Council blocked scientist’s access to media, Cohen probe told

The top bureaucratic arm of the federal government decided a fisheries scientist who published a paper on a virus that could explain the decline of Fraser River sockeye would not be allowed to speak to the media, even though her department had no objection, an inquiry has heard.

Further complicating matters is the fact that funding for Dr. Miller’s program is in jeopardy due to a shift in policy for paying staff.

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Nothing to be concerned about though… will be the comments flowing in from some of those that leave comments on this site…

Why did the Privy Council Office feel it had to intervene?

And what about the continued flow of ‘outside’ funding to keep DFO scientists afloat? … and now in jeopardy of being cut-off…?

curious stuff…

 

“Elwha River salmon, steelhead better off without hatcheries” (and the problem with ‘benchmarks’)

"Benchmarks" (in flux) table... "could you get me a new coffee?" asks the manager on the right...

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This is a rather interesting article out of a Seattle paper:

With the dams being removed, a massive hatchery program threatens to impede effective use of the millions spent to open up the river and help salmon and steelhead runs recover.

… interesting if you’re into this sort of thing. Although I suppose it’s more opinion piece than article… as it carries a clear bias.

This summer, the longawaited dam removal on the Elwha River finally gets underway, marking the culmination of a two-decade effort toward restoring salmon to one of Washington’s most pristine rivers. The Elwha, in many ways, is a chance to rewrite history, undoing a century of destruction wrought by two dams that block migrating salmon from 90 miles of their historic habitat.

By all accounts, removing the dams from the Elwha watershed is an extraordinary opportunity, one that will bring about the rebirth of a river, which was once home to some of the largest Chinook ever documented and where a 65-pound salmon was more the norm than a rarity. Throughout their evolutionary history, wild salmon and steelhead have recovered from a range of catastrophic disturbances.

Curious language this…”rewrite history”… “recovered from catastrophic disturbances“.

“Rewrite history”… maybe a bit of hyperbole here… does that mean colonization of the Pacific Northwest? the massive commercial fisheries of the last 120 years or so? (probably not…)

On one hand, ‘catastrophic disturbances‘ is about exactly right though…

As, much of north-western North America was under a kilometre or so of ice some several thousands of years ago. Theories suggest that during the last period of great ice sheets — some 12K to 18K years ago — wild Pacific salmon hung out south of the Columbia River all the way down into Mexico; northwestern Alaska, Yukon, and current Bering Sea in the area known as Beringia; and in various ice-free refuge areas (e.g. northeastern Haida Gwaii, Brooks Peninsula on western Vancouver Is., etc.).

The salmon runs ‘recorded’ since European contact were still potentially on a ‘recovery’ track as the landscape ‘recovered’ from so much ice, melt, and glacial retreat.

So…  “recovered from catastrophic disturbance”?

See, “recover” means ‘to restore to a normal state’ or ‘to get back again’.

What is the ‘normal state‘ for salmon in any particular river?

How do we know when wild salmon populations have “recovered“?

What’s the “benchmark”? (as scientists and corporatists like to say)

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The article continues:

Despite the capacity of these fish to recover naturally, state, federal, and tribal fisheries managers are poised to squander the opportunity. They’ve opted to build a $16 million hatchery that will flood the river with more than 4 million juvenile salmon and steelhead each year, including more Chinook and steelhead than are released on the entire northern coast of Oregon.

This is despite 20 years of research demonstrating conclusively that hatchery fish are a major contributor to the decline of wild salmon in our region.

Now there’s a hotly debated statement…

Last spring I attended an international conference in Portland, OR hosted by “The State of the Salmon” organization: Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon.

Ecological Interactions postcard

This very issue was batted back and forth across the North Pacific and north and south up the western North American coast.

Folks in the lower 48 largely curse hatcheries. Folks in Alaska sing the praises as they have multi-million dollar investments in ‘ocean-ranching’ programs.

Folks in Japan absolutely rely on hatchery/ocean-ranching programs for about 95% of their domestic catch.

And the Russians are apparently sitting on somewhere near $2 billion to start massive hatchery programs along their coastline.

(And Canadians… well… we just apologize and say “maybe this, maybe that”… “ooops sorry, my fault…your salmon spawned with mine, but i’m still sorry”)

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The article:

Domestication alters salmon so dramatically that a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) revealed that even when hatchery fish are only one generation removed from the wild, wild fish produce approximately twice as many offspring as their hatchery counterparts. The current plan on the Elwha will domesticate a majority of the remaining wild salmon in the basin, reducing their productivity, and threatening their ability to build locally adapted, abundant wild populations.

Despite all the public interest, decisions on the Elwha recovery plan have been made largely without public input, driven instead by the millions of dollars set aside for a misguided and counterproductive hatchery. Meanwhile, research and monitoring critical in tracking the progress of the recovery remains woefully underfunded. The recovery plan claims that hatchery releases will be phased out as wild fish recover in the watershed, yet to date no benchmarks for wild recovery have been set, giving hatchery managers a blank check to continue harmful hatchery programs in perpetuity.

Oh, oh… there’s that benchmark thing. Scientists and ‘managers’ and money managers love benchmarks. (and of course there’s that ‘decisions made without public input’ thing as well…)

The problem with ‘benchmarks‘ when it comes to wild salmon populations is the point I raised above… how do we know when things have “recovered”?

What is the ‘normal state’ for salmon in the Elwha?

Or for any river for that fact… the Fraser, the Columbia, the Skeena…?

So where do we establish the ‘benchmarks’?

And what the hell does benchmark mean? (visit an older post to see)

‘Setting a benchmark’ is a term from carpentry, for building tables and chairs… not for setting arbitrary numbers to define success in ‘rebuilding’ salmon populations… (or measuring corporate success for that fact…)

And the bigger problem with ‘benchmarks’… they’re always based on the past.

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The point here isn’t necessarily to criticize the writers of the article or the points they make, as many I tend to agree with… more to question the assumptions that lie behind much of the statements made.

(and for a continued interesting read, if you’re into this sort of thing, read the comments to the article).

The assumptions that lie behind this article, are very common assumptions in the salmon world.

They are prevalent in the current $20 million+ federal public inquiry: Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye declines. For example, how can we know the extent of the devastation that humans have wrought on Fraser sockeye populations if we have no ‘normal state’ to compare against?

… or can’t ever agree on what a normal state was? Let alone what the historical populations were in the 20th century.

How do we set “rebuilding goals” or “restoration benchmarks” (beware of preceding bumpf…) — if we don’t know what a steady state might be?

Oh right… we’ll use our assumptions to measure “productive habitat” — for example, this many metres squared of gravel means this many fish will successfully spawn, and this many young will return as adults…

yeah whatever… I call bullshit.

We just don’t know.

In the last 150 years, we have intervened to such a scale, around every corner, across every inch of water that wild salmon inhabit, that we just don’t know what “normal” is.

Was it ever ‘normal’… or… is constant flux — normal?

If we’re “benchmarking” how stable do you think your table would be if someone kept changing the length of the other three legs?

Or, if while you’re cutting to one benchmark, someone is shaking the sawhorse wildly back and forth, or the piece of wood you’re trying to cut?

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There comes a time when I agree with the sentiment of some of the comments to this particular article.

Leave well enough alone.

Rivers of the Pacific Northwest can become naturally dammed by debris flows and mudslides and volcanoes. Eventually the dam releases and all the gravel and sediment blasts downstream. Fish populations are mutilated for years, but eventually a certain dynamic equilibrium (e.g. constant flux) is met, fish populations thrive, bears are happy, etc.

Hatcheries are essentially little more than warm milk and cookies.

They’re comfort food to make us feel better after obliterating fish species in the first place… or simply to support an economic benchmark.

Wild salmon runs recovered from Ice Age(s)… they’ll probably recover this latest scourge as well.

 

 

 

“Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control?”

Pretty good piece by Dr. Gordon Hartman, former Department of Fisheries and Oceans, posted at “The Common Sense Canadian”. As quoted on the website:

Dr. Gordon F. Hartman has consulted on fisheries issues in a number of foreign countries to help them contribute to the well being of that resource. Leading fishery scientists all over the world will attest to his knowledge and ability. Dr Hartman, long a premier scientist and manager with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was one of the “dissident scientists”, as Alcan referred to them – a sobriquet he wears with pride – who helped mightily in the fight to cancel the Kemano Completion Program proposal for the Nechako system.

This title is quoted from a publication by Jeffry Hutchings, Carl Walters and Richard Haedrich, back in May of 1987. Their paper dealt with government control of science information in regard to the cod fish crisis in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Kemano Completion issue in B.C.  Now, almost 25 years later, their title question is still appropriate when we consider the control of public communication by Dr. Kristina Miller, a DFO scientist at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. The control is in regard to her public discussion of her (and co-author’s) highly technical paper on genomic signature and mortality of migrating Sockeye salmon (Science, pages 214-217, Vol. 331, 14 January, 2011). The muzzling of this scientist originates primarily in the office of the Prime Minister of Canada, far more than in the DFO bureaucracy.

I have read the paper and it is unclear to me why there should be any reluctance on the part of government, at any level, to having such research discussed with the public. It is even less clear to me why Dr. Miller is constrained from discussing such work until after she appears before the Cohen Inquiry in late August. Her work is already open to the scientific community through publication in the prestigious journal, Science. To the extent that Dr. Miller and co-author’s work on wild salmon in the Fraser River may provide help in sustaining them, it should be open to the public now. Science should not be used for playing political games.

When one considers the behavior and record of governments, over the years and at the  very “top end”, there is cause to wonder what the real commitment is, deep down, in regard to sustaining wild salmon. The bitter history of issues such as Alcan/Kemano, salmon farming, and Fraser River gravel mining underlie such concern. In each case there appears to be an unspoken policy of business and industry first, and wild salmon and their environments second. Salmon-friendly measures such as the “wild salmon” policy and “no-net-loss” principle are positive, however, they seem to have less weight than they should when big business is involved.

Such doubt and concern has “big roots” as far back as the mid 1980s in the Kemano completion issue. A major element of debate involved the allocation of adequate flows in the Nechako River for the Chinook salmon population that reproduced there. Full review of this unfortunate part of history is not possible in a limited space. A listing of the chronology of events is given in my paper in the publication (GeoJournal, October 1996, Volume 40, nos. 1 & 2, page147 – 164).

A deeper and harsher indication of the misuse of scientists and their work is given in the Brief to the B.C. Utilities Commission Review Panel by Dr. J.H. Mundie (The Kemano Completion Project: An Example of Science in Government, 50 pages, February 1994).

  • Dr. Mundie tells of the Schouwenburg report, the joint year-long work of about ten scientists, being buried. This report contained the best advice the scientists could offer regarding required flows for salmon in the Nechako River.
  • He reviews how DFO scientists and managers were told that the minister accepted Alcan’s prescribed flows as adequate.
  • He reviews how a group of DFO people and Alcan consultants, over a four day weekend period, came up with a program to make Alcan’s dictated flow regime work.
  • He testifies to his being pushed, unsuccessfully, to change his expert witness document regarding flows required for salmon.
  • He quotes the minister’s statement in regard to scientists who were concerned about the Alcan/Nechako River process, they should either agree with him, or “take their game and play elsewhere.”

Except for the need for brevity, the experiences of other scientists could be added to this section. This history is not presented to re-acquaint people with the whole controversial history of the Alcan/Nechako episode. It is touched on to indicate that little has changed during about the last 25 years in the way governments manage science and scientists.

Organizations like DFO contain many very talented and dedicated people. The public does not gain the full benefit that they might offer in the present politicized and bureaucratized system. Both the public and the public servants deserve better.

As for the Fraser River salmon, they face a difficult and uncertain future even if only the freshwater environment is considered. It is a future marked by change and complexity. The complexity involves interaction of climate, flow regimes, thermal and forest cover changes. Added to these are, expanding human populations, water abstraction, pollution, and competing demands for catch.

There is urgent need for a structure that can focus on these major challenges now and into the years ahead. Such complex and expanding challenges cannot be dealt with without scientific knowledge. Whatever the Cohen Inquiry might do, it is not a substitute for science now, and into the future.

Beyond the provision of knowledge, we need a structure that allows the public to know what the scientific findings and advice are. We need a structure that permits thoughtful public response and feed-back to such information.

If political people must over-ride science for reasons of “greater societal good”, which they have every right of do, let them do so openly. Then let them also explain it openly, rather than trying to shape and manipulate science, through the bureaucracy, to serve political or business ends.

G.F. Hartman, Ph.D.,

August 2011

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The underlined part goes back to this idea I’ve put out there frequently, something akin to a Citizen’s Assembly on how we coexist with wild salmon.

As I’ve also mentioned frequently on this site, it’s not just up to the ‘scientists’; however, science does play an important part.

(and this is made clear by the Prime Minister’s Office interference on this particular issue of muzzling scientists)

Unfortunately, though, just as the East Coast Cod collapse, and issues such as massive dam construction, and so on — it doesn’t really matter what the “scientists” say or what their ‘science’ says; it’s the economists and politicians opinions that win. And thus a “scientific inquiry” — which is essentially what the Cohen Commission has become — won’t answer many questions…

One scientist says that, another says this… and so goes the merry-go-round.

Or the famous beast known as Hydra arrives, and that’s the thing with “science” and natural systems — just when you think you have the answer, you realize you have two more questions that need be answered. Chop of another head, two more pop up.

These are issues of political will and political decision-making — whether it be in the Prime Minister’s office or the DFO office… and yet the Cohen Commission is not to find fault with any people or branches of government. And thus, what sort of “answers” to folks expect?

And, like it or not, media plays a role in near everything. The bigger change in recent years that many of the 40% of older work force in institutions like the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans (and older range of MPs and long time bureaucrats) may not have have  full grasp upon — the power of social media.

Marketing is everything and everything is marketing — plain and simple.