Tag Archives: Fisheries and Oceans

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?

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?

“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.

Environmental Assessment processes in Canada becoming kangaroo courts?

Figure this one out… (is this not exhausting?… and expensive for taxpayers…?)

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you heard the one about a pig in lipstick...?

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The controversial proposed Prosperity Gold project west of Williams Lake in BC is back into the federal Environmental Assessment process.

Last November, the federal government denied approval for this flawed open-pit mining proposal following a “scathing” (Jim Prentice — Conservative Environment Minister’s words) federal Environmental Assessment report. The report concluded that the project as proposed would have “signficiant environmental effects” and therefore should not be approved. The federal government (then a Conservative minority) agreed.

Environment Canada Nov. 2, 2010  press release:

the significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed.”

“as it is currently proposed” is the big phrase to pay attention to here…

In short… one of the central concerns of the proposed project was turning Fish Lake (aptly named) into a mining waste and tailings facility. Taseko Mines Ltd. the Vancouver-based mining company swore up and down that without the lake for a tailings facility the project was not economically feasible. They put a $300 million price tag on the lake — as in it would cost an extra $300 million to undertake the project without having access to destroying the lake.

And this made the project economically infeasible.

Despite fierce opposition from First Nations and many others — including the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans for many, many years — Taseko insisted on pushing ahead with the ‘kill-Fish Lake’ option.

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For those not entirely familiar with this project… Taseko Mines Ltd. has been trying to push this proposed open-pit copper and gold mine for many years. A few years ago, in my own conversations with senior staff at the organization, they suggested Taseko had over $90 million invested in bringing this project to development.

Now that it has gone through two environmental assessment process — British Columbia and Canada — those costs are sure to have risen significantly.

Taseko Mines lobbied British Columbia and Canada to ensure that they were not subjected to a Joint Review Panel. The purpose of a Joint Review process is to harmonize the process and save the costs of having to do two separate Environmental Assessments.

Now why would a company not want a harmonized process? Why enter two separate processes with the added cost?

That appears to be clear when through a fast-tracked British Columbia Environmental Assessment (EA) the proposed project was approved.

This despite several important studies still not being completed. And the fact that the BC EA process still suggested that the project would have significant environmental impacts…

‘But these would be outweighed by the apparent economic benefits.’

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Curious, that, as it is called an: “environmental” assessment”…

However, the BC EA website does suggest that the Office and process considers:

… thorough, timely and integrated assessment of the potential environmental, economic, social, heritage and health effects that may occur during the lifecycle of these projects

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Yet, if one reviews the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) website there is a much more comprehensive discussion of the benefits of “sustainable development” and there are lengthy reports describing what this means and how Canada will uphold its international commitments on this front.

To provide Canadians with high-quality federal environmental assessments that contribute to informed decision making in support of sustainable development.

The classic internationally-recognized definition of sustainable development being upheld here: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In the mid-1990s, every Canadian federal government ministry was bound by this definition and provided strategies, actions plans, and other bureaucratic drivel to meet this definition. (you know… benchmarks, accountability measures, best practices, etc.)

And so what option was the federal government left with last November when the “scathing” federal EA assessment report was tabled and not only laid out the ‘significant environmental impacts’ of killing Fish Lake and turning it into a tailings pond for mining waste but also more, as outlined in their final report:

The Panel concludes that the [Prosperity] Project would result in significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights or title.

The Panel also concludes that the Project, in combination with past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects would result in a significant adverse cumulative effect on grizzly bears in the South Chilcotin region and on fish and fish habitat.

Yeah, that does seem a bit scathing… and straight forward.

Sorry folks, Rejected. (with rubber stamp)

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Now through the federal EA process many questions were asked about alternative proposals for the project. Against Taseko’s desires, they did start to rumble about other options, as opposed to killing Fish Lake — especially as commodity prices such as gold and copper started to recover from the global recession.

However, some of those options may very well have bigger impacts then the initial proposal.

And now, folks, we have “New Prosperity“.

Taseko Mines has created a fancy new PR website touting all the economic advantages of their “New” project. One can also read the “new” project summary, which includes:

…While the New Prosperity proposal does result in the loss of the 6 hectare Little Fish Lake, Little Fish Lake provides only low overwintering values (i.e., it is subject to winterkill)…

Hmmm.

I’m guessing there’s no connection between Little Fish Lake and Fish Lake…?

And, yup, i’m sure that Little fish “provides only low wintering values”…

I’m attaching a couple of images that most folks learn in elementary school:

example food web in a lake

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example of mountain lake food chain

And here’s another:

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Fascinating stuff, that ecology thing…

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Now, I’m sure there’s no connection between the incredible run on commodity prices such as Gold and Copper over this past year? Gold now sits at record prices, copper not far off.

And somehow Taseko’s “long-term” forecasts for these metals looks so much better now, then they did two years ago.

How does that happen?

How does the “forecast” change that dramatically?

Oh wait, because its based a helluva lot more on current prices then it has anything to do with what computer models pump out. Because really, we know that economic forecasting is less accurate than weather forecasting, and even less accurate then things like modelling natural ecosystems (e.g. wild salmon returns).

So let ask the experts this… what happens when a project such as this ramps into development and commodity prices crash?

Then no lake (even Little Fish Lake), and ‘no economic benefits’.

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Now, it is important to notice that the federal government (aka Conservatives) left the door wide open for Taseko to return to the consultants… er… drawing table to draft up more reports and more plans to revise their development plans…

However, even the alternatives discussed through the previous EA process will most likely still have significant environmental impacts. The new proposal (e.g. “New Prosperity”) reminds me of the old saying of putting lipstick on a pig…

And this apparent “New Prosperity” is largely based on commodity bubble prices that won’t last in a very, very fragile world economy — and still doesn’t change the fact that the ‘new prosperity’ represented in the project still poses significant adverse environmental impacts and effects.

It may be a “new” prosperity — but that’s still to the same people as before, not the local First Nations and others that still oppose the project in its “new” form.

And it’s still the “old” environmental impacts, and still the “old” economy vs. environment debate.

And most of all… it still makes a mockery of an Environmental Assessment process in BC that is still simply a BC Liberal-government kangaroo court, rubber stamping facility.

“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…

 

discarding North Coast chum — make sense? (If it’s broke — it probably needs a fixin…)

spawning chum

This comment was posted recently under the post: If it’s broke; it probably needs a fixin’… wild salmon “management” in Canada

Seems like something might be ‘broke’… (thanks for the comment Greg).

North Coast commercial salmon fishermen have discarded almost 22% of their total catch so far this year, including 1.2 million pounds of chum salmon, many coming from stocks DFO has described as being of “special conservation concern”. One-half of these chum discards came from areas in and around the Great Bear Rainforest.

Unlike most other BC fisheries there are no independent observers to confirm the accuracy of the discard information provided by fishermen. At least two DFO science papers and a recent J.O.Thomas Report have expressed concerns about fishermen “underhailing” their discards. Hence, the number of fish reported by DFO as having been discarded should be considered a “minimum” estimate.

In addition, the absence of independent observers means that fisheries are not monitored to ensure fishermen abide by their “Terms of Licence” and return the discarded salmon back into the water “with the least possible harm”. There are no scientifically defensible estimates of the proportion of discarded chum that survive to spawn, but it is believed to be relatively low.

DFO requires that chums be discarded as a “conservation measure”. Yet, DFO cannot provide scientifically defensible estimates of how many chum salmon are discarded, the proportion that survive to spawn, the consequences of killing so many salmon from depressed populations, or the associated ecological costs.

Why is this allowed to occur?

1. Chums are of no commercial value on the North Coast. In fact, they are a cost to fishermen. Discarding chums slows the fishing process. The objective is to discard the unwanted salmon as fast as possible rather doing all that can be done to ensure they survive the encounter.

2. The recreational sector has little interest in north and central coast chums and therefore places little value on them.

3. Most of the impacted chum stocks are located in wild and remote areas of BC like the Great Bear Rainforest, isolated from the majority of BC’s population, and therefore “out of sight, out of mind”.

In contrast, management of chum fisheries on the South Coast reflects the economic and social value people living on the south coast place in their salmon. Commercial fisheries targeting chum salmon are managed to a maximum 15% commercial harvest rate. There are significant and growing recreational fisheries for chums in both salt and fresh water. Eco-businesses have flourished taking people to gaze in wonder and awe at grizzly bears feasting on salmon. And watching chum spawn in local streams is a major event in many communities.

In order to save North Coast chum salmon DFO needs to be told that the value of these fish should be measured not just in dollars. That as British Columbians we value our wild places, our bears, our steams, and our forests. And what binds it all together is our salmon.

They are too important to be discarded. North Coast chum salmon stocks need to be rebuilt and protected.

Greg Taylor
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust
August 5, 2011

“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.

 

And the pressure builds… “silences and lies” and DFO and the feds…

Thanks to some other folks that are hilighting these articles. The mainstream media seems to be on to this bandwagon now…

New York Times article:

Norwegians Concede a Role in Chilean Salmon Virus

By   Published: July 27, 2011

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A virus that has killed millions of salmon in Chile and ravaged the fish farming industry there was probably brought over from Norway, a major salmon producer has acknowledged.

Cermaq, a state-controlled Norwegian aquaculture company that has become one of the principal exporters of salmon from Chile, has endorsed a scientific study concluding that salmon eggs shipped from Norway to Chile are the “likely reason” for the outbreak of the virus in 2007, according to Lise Bergan, a company spokeswoman.

But, she argued, “the report didn’t pinpoint any company” as the culprit. [gee, thank goodness for that...]

The virus, infectious salmon anaemia, or I.S.A., was first reported at a Chilean salmon farm owned by Marine Harvest, another Norwegian company [which also has a large amount of operations on the B.C. coast].

It quickly spread through southern Chile, wracking a fishing business that had become one of the country’s biggest exporters during the past 15 years. The Chilean industry, whose major clients include the United States and Brazil, suffered more than $2 billion in losses, saw its production of Atlantic salmon fall by half and had to lay off 26,000 workers.

The outbreak in Chile also revealed structural problems within the industry, including overcrowding in pens that environmentalists say probably helped speed the spread of the virus. Since then, the industry and the Chilean government have instituted a wide range of reforms to try to contain outbreaks, but despite extensive efforts to rein it in the virus continues to spread.

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Victoria Times Colonist

Muzzling scientists wrong

Taxpayers paid for Kristi Miller’s important research on why West Coast salmon stocks have been crashing.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for which she works, wanted the information made public.

There is great public concern about the future of salmon.

And when Science, a leading research journal, published the findings in January, it notified 7,400 journalists worldwide and advised them how to seek interviews with Miller, who leads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

Then the Privy Council Office in Ottawa – the top bureaucrats – stepped in and muzzled Miller, Postmedia News reported this week. She was ordered not to talk to journalists or speak publicly about her team’s research.

Those in control in Ottawa also ordered the Fisheries Department not to issue a news release about the study, saying that it “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect.” (The research identified a genetic marker associated with increased death rates for Fraser sockeye and “raises the possibility” that a viral infection might be to blame.)

The gag order remains in effect more than six months later.

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From UPI.com:

Canada said to be silencing scientists

OTTAWA, July 27 (UPI) — A leading fisheries scientist studying why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast has been muzzled by a government department, documents show.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the prime minister’s office, stopped Kristi Miller, who heads a $6 million salmon genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island, from talking about her work published in the research journal Science, Postmedia News reported.

The journal notified journalists worldwide and encouraged Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.”

Documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act show major media outlets were making arrangements to speak with Miller but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The office also blocked a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” the documents show.

The Harper government has been reining in federal scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest, Postmedia said.

Researchers are now required to submit to a process that includes “media lines” approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa, Postmedia said.

The government’s control over communication is “really poisoning the science environment within government,” said Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“When the lead author of a paper in Science is not permitted to speak about her work, that is suppression,” he said. “There is simply no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

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Don’t think this story sounds familiar… go back and read the various accounts of the collapse of North Atlantic Cod. Here’s a decent little summary I found online, from the peer reviewed Canadian Journal of Communication.

Silences and Lies: How the Industrial Fishery Constrained Voices of Ecological Conservation

by Carol Corbin — Vol 27, No 1 (2002)

…As the fishery industrialized over the course of the twentieth century, those who worked in the industry became increasingly segregated. Distinct discursive realms emerged, among them “fishers’ vernacular,” “scientific language,” “product talk,” and DFO’s “official word.”

There was little dialogue between the groups and little collective opposition to the overfishing. DFO’s “official word” claimed that the stocks were strong despite protestation to the contrary from several fishers’ groups and DFO’s own scientists.

The outcome for the region was economically and ecologically devastating.

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However, I suppose we should listen to the “official word” from the technocrats within some of these institutions that suggest all is good in the hood…

“Scientist muzzled over missing-salmon study”

Is this not deja vu all over again?

I am curious what the lengthy commenter “Brian” who apparently works for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has to say about this one…

The Province/Vancouver Sun, 26th July 2011

 Scientist muzzled over missing-salmon study

Privy Council Office gags B.C. biologist, dismisses her findings, blacks out documents

Margaret Munro (Postmedia News)

VANCOUVER — Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400” journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study.

Science told Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.” It advised reporters to contact Diane Lake, a media officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, “to set up interviews with Dr. Miller.”

Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The Privy Council Office also nixed a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

Miller is still not allowed to speak publicly about her discovery, and the Privy Council Office and Fisheries Department defend the way she has been silenced.

But observers say it is indefensible and more evidence of the way the government is undermining its scientists.

“There is no question in my mind it’s muzzling,” said Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“When the lead author of a paper in Science is not permitted to speak about her work, that is suppression,” he said. “There is simply no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

The Harper government has tightened the leash on federal scientists, whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest — be it about fish stocks, air pollution or food safety.

In one high-profile case reported by Postmedia News last year, Natural Resources Canada scientist Scott Dallimore had to wait for “pre-clearance” from political staff in the minister’s office in Ottawa to speak about a study on a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada at the end of the last ice age.

Researchers, who used to be free to discuss their science, are now required to follow a process that includes “media lines” approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa. They vet media requests, demand reporters’ questions in advance and decide when and if researchers can give interviews.

Environment Canada now even has media officers in Ottawa tape-recording the interviews scientists are allowed to give.

Yet transparency as well as open communication and discussion are essential to science, Hutchings said, and Ottawa’s excessive control over communication is “really poisoning the science environment within government.”

“An iron curtain has been draped over communication of science in the last five to six years,” he said.

The Privy Council Office and the Fisheries Department said Miller has not been permitted to discuss her work because of the Cohen Commission, a judicial inquiry created by the prime minister to look into declines of the famed Fraser River sockeye salmon. She is expected to appear before the commission in late August.

The Privy Council Office has “management responsibility” for the commission and decided Miller should not give media interviews about her study because of the ongoing inquiry, said PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is conscious of the requirement to ensure that our conduct does not influence, and is not perceived to be attempting to influence, the evidence or course of the inquiry,” department spokeswoman Melanie Carkner, said in a written statement.

Hutchings doesn’t buy it, saying he finds it “inconceivable that the Cohen Commission would have viewed the communication of brand new scientific information as somehow interfering with its proceedings.”

To Hutchings, the muzzling of Miller is “all about control — controlling the message and controlling communication.”

The government released 762 pages of documents relating to the Miller study to Postmedia News. Many passages and pages were blacked out before they were released.

The documents give a glimpse of the way media strategists, communication specialists and officials control and script what government scientists say — or, in Miller’s case, do not say —about their research.

The documents show the Fisheries Department wanted to publicize Miller’s study, which raises the spectre of a mysterious virus killing huge numbers of Fraser River salmon before they reach their spawning grounds.

In November, two months before Miller’s findings were published in Science, Fisheries Department communications staff started preparing “media lines.”

The lines said Miller’s findings “demonstrate unequivocally that salmon are entering the river in a compromised state and that survivorship can be predicted based on gene expression more than 200 kilometres before salmon reach the river.”

Miller’s team has not yet identified a culprit, but her Science study said one possibility was a virus associated with leukemia, which can be transmitted from fish to fish.

Reporters from Postmedia News, CBC and many other media, including Time Magazine, asked to speak with Miller after receiving the Jan. 9 notice from Science.

The documents show DFO communications staff firing off a series of “URGENT” emails as they tried to get clearance from Ottawa for Miller’s “media lines” and the OK for her to speak with reporters.

They eventually got approval from DFO’s deputy minister and the federal fisheries minister’s office but then had to go “to PCO for sign off,” the documents say.

“You need to write a note for hot-button approval,” Rhonda Walker-Sisttie, director of DFO public affairs and strategic communications in Ottawa, told the Vancouver communications branch by email, advising them to use the “PCO template for media requests.”

As the reporters’ deadlines loomed, Terence Davis, DFO’s Pacific regional director of communications, implored Ottawa to clear Miller to talk.

“If we are unable to set up a technical briefing or interviews for later today, the opportunity for DFO to gain the profile we would like for Kristi’s work may be lost or very much diluted,” Davis said in one email.

“We are pushing hard,” Walker-Sisttie assured the Vancouver communications office.

Then, weeks after the department learned Miller’s findings were to be published in Science and several days after 7,400 journalists were notified about the study, the PCO decided not to let Miller talk about her findings and their significance.

“PCO has decided that we can only respond in writing,” Walker-Sisttie reported from Ottawa. Another explained: “Kristi was not approved to provide interviews.”

The reporters, who the documents show were baffled and miffed by DFO’s inability to get Miller on the phone or on camera for interviews, filed stories based on her highly technical Science report and interviews with some of Miller’s colleagues at the University of B.C.

Miller is still not allowed to speak about the Science report, which she wrote in a Nov. 12 memo “reflects only a fraction of what we know.”

But Miller will finally be able to discuss her work in late August, when she is scheduled to testify at the Cohen Commission.

Hutchings said government communication strategists are likely now busy telling Miller: “Here is what you can say. Here is what you can’t say. Here is what we want you to stick to. Don’t talkabout this.”

“I’d be amazed if she is not receiving such quote, unquote ‘advice,’ ” said Hutchings.

 

When is it that publicly funded institutions can start muzzling publicly funded civil employees from releasing information rather vital to the public interest?

trouble at the DFO henhouse?

sinking ship?

So what happens in the federal Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans when colleagues call out their own? …When employees/scientists call out other employees/scientists?

Is this something the ol’ Human Resources dept. deals with?

And what does it do for public confidence when a publicly-funded government institution has their employees bickering?

A memo released as evidence within the Cohen Commission into Fraser sockeye declines suggests a little trouble in the henhouse… (in the list of evidence released July 8th — exhibit #1342)

Hargreaves and Beamish memo 2003

'... i agree with the criticisms of DFO'

.

Not that this sort of squabbling is surprising… however, this Ministry has a pretty important function. One is left wondering who’s running the show?

no association, personally or professionally

‘…not a good team player…’

how dare you.

I didn’t realize “science” was a team game…

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The Cohen Commission is into a summer break now, however there could be some more interesting DFO memos etc. How many other non-‘team players’ aren’t pulling the line?