Tag Archives: Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative

Upper upper Fraser River sockeye: Recipes for Extinction 2011

 

Sockeye salmon in spawning channel, Nadina River Spawning Channel, Houston, British Columbia

This is a continuation of the last post — outlining the current Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Pacific Salmon Commission cookbook recipes for decimating troubled Fraser River sockeye stocks.

At the moment there is a $20 million (or so) judicial inquiry investigating the 2009 shockingly low returns of Fraser River sockeye.

One may not need to look too much further then the current cookbook approach to “managing” troubled sockeye stocks from the upper Fraser River.

These stocks are being “managed”/cooked into oblivion.

One might suggest it’s akin to throwing fish and steak on the same bar-b-q at the same heat and cooking the fish the same way as the steaks. The result…?

hockey puck fish… not much good to anything or anyone.

If the current DFO method of “managing” Fraser sockeye, specifically upper Fraser sockeye is not a Recipe for Extinction… then someone let me know what it is…

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The last post…

…explained how the Bowron River and Nadina River sockeye that spawn in the eastern and western reaches of the upper Fraser River face dismal pre-season forecasts for 2011.

These two runs are grouped into the “Early Summers” which include several stocks from all across the Fraser watershed that all migrate into the river at approximately the same time. These sockeye stocks have been ‘grouped’ for “management” purposes.

(e.g. it is easier to devise ‘fishing plans’ on an aggregate of stocks that migrate into the river at similar times… as opposed to carefully trying to protect smaller, endangered runs).

Some of the other Fraser sockeye stocks that co-migrate with the Bowron and Nadina stocks are larger, healthier stocks that have relatively decent productivity in recent years and decent pre-season forecasts.

As a result, the aggregate total of all the runs combined means some limited fishing may occur on the Early Summers — however this means that the potential total allowable mortality predicted and permitted for the Early Summers in potential fishing plans could potentially wipe out an entire troubled sockeye run like the Bowron or Nadina or both.

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Late Stuarts and Stellak0 — Summer grouping

There is a similar story for the Late Stuarts and Stellako sockeye runs.

 

upper Fraser sockeye -- Summer group

These two stocks of Fraser sockeye are grouped into the “Summers” — an aggregate based on run-timing a bit later into the Summer (hence the name).

DFO Fraser sockeye pre-season forecast -- Summer group focus

 

There is a very concerning picture here.

Let’s look at the 50% probability pre-season forecast for the Summer stocks:

Fraser sockeye forecast -- Summers - 50p prediction

Summers -- 50p forecast

 

This shows a total run size forecast for the four “Summer” stocks — all grouped together — of a little over 1.4 million sockeye.

The Chilko run (west of Williams Lake) is looking pretty decent with some green boxes in productivity and a run that appears to be within range of average (“mean”) run sizes.

The 50% probability suggests a run size of a little over 1.1 million, comprising almost 80% of the total “Summer” group returns.

The other Summer stocks…?

not looking so good!

The Late Stuart is showing a 50p pre-season forecast of only 41,000.

This is well below the mean run size on all cycles of well over 500,000.

And even on this cycle year, a mean run size of over 80,000.

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Similarly for Stellako.

A 50p pre-season forecast on this stock of only 79,000.

The mean run size on all years is over 460,000.

Worse yet, 2011 should be an up year with a cycle average of just under 600,000!

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Things don’t look good on these stocks…

…even…

…even if they were left entirely alone and no one went fishing.

However, DFO and the Pacific Salmon Commissionin their great wisdom — are proposing fisheries on the Summer aggregate/group that will allow up to 57% mortality on the overall group run size.

At the 50p forecast of 1.4 million fish — this equates to a potential catch of well over 800,000 Summer-run sockeye.

Yeah… that’s right… 800,000 sockeye are proposed to be caught as part of pre-season fishing plans.

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Let’s take another look for a second at those numbers….

The total run size forecast for the Summer-grouping of Fraser sockeye at the 50% probability level is: 1,414,000.

Pre-season planning by DFO and the Pacific Salmon Commission is suggesting a target of 57% exploitation, which equates to over 800,000 Fraser Summer sockeye dead.

That means that — theoretically — both the Stellako and Late Stuart runs could have the entire runs captured in fisheries — as they only comprise together less than 10% of the total Summer grouping run size.

Their total run size is 120,000.

(remember this isn’t what is predicted to reach spawning grounds — this is just predictions for reaching the mouth of the Fraser).

With a predicted fishery exploitation of 800,000 — doesn’t seem all that difficult to consider that fisheries might catch every last Late Stuart and Stellako sockeye, or 120,000 sockeye.

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Quesnel River stocks — Summer group

Not only that — factor in the one other “Summer” group stock — the runs that return to the Quesnel River (e.g. the famed Horsefly and Quesnel Lakes runs). The 50p forecast on these is only 153,000 (just over 10% of total Summer-run size)

And thus the potential fishery exploitation rate of 57% of the Summer group — over 800,000 fish — could potentially eradicate three of the four Summer stocks.

(these three runs comprise only about 20% of the total Summer group)

(And it must be remembered, as well, the “management adjustment” — or death en route to the spawning grounds — such as hot water, drought, disease, and so on, is not even factored in here… these fish face a gauntlet of threats trying to reach spawning grounds — let alone avoiding fisheries that are targeting a 60% exploitation rate)

How is this not a recipe for extinction?

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This is the absolute absurdity of mixed-stock fisheries…

…DFO’s aggregate management (groups of stocks based simply on run-timing — not health of the stocks or geographic distribution), and a “salmon management system” that is based on limited information and fisheries-first — not conservation goals.

Worse yet… ask DFO if they have “escapement objectives” for runs like Stellako, Late Stuarts, Nadina, etc. — this means how many spawners do they guess they have to get onto the spawning grounds for each sockeye stock, just to meet conservation objectives (e.g. survival of the individual runs)?

They don’t know.

The escapement objectives for Fraser sockeye are also done by the aggregate groupings — e.g. Early Summers, Summers, etc. — so if particular runs like the Stellako and Late Stuarts disappear… it doesn’t really matter if other stocks within the groupings remain somewhat healthy.

Worse yet, DFO and the Pacific Salmon Commission only have enough information to track 19 individual Fraser sockeye stocks.

Estimates suggest there might have once been over 200 individual Fraser sockeye stocks, utilizing over 150 different spawning areas. (Other estimates suggest that total run sizes once reached numbers of over 160 million Fraser sockeye on a yearly basis…).

How is this current system not a recipe for extinction?

This cookbook has already cooked, baked, poached, decimated… call it what you want… numerous small, distinct Fraser sockeye stocks.

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(Cohen Commission… hope you’re reading this… and looking into this vital issue… if this Recipe for Fraser Sockeye extinction does not come out in final reports… it’s largely a wasted $20 million — and we can all start writing the eulogy for upper, upper Fraser sockeye).

upper Fraser River sockeye 2011: DFO Recipe for Extinction

adapted from Cohen Commission tech report #2

It might be with some irony that today the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser River sockeye is conducting hearings into fisheries Monitoring and Enforcement. There is probably little question that better Monitoring and Enforcement could assist Fraser sockeye stocks; however, on a cost-benefit analysis between ‘good management‘ vs. ‘monitoring, enforcement, & compliance‘ would there really be much comparison…?

Let’s look at this coming year’s sockeye forecasting and pre-season planning (2011): As the Recipe for Upper Fraser Sockeye extinction is plain as day

Below is a rather complex chart produced by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that documents the “recent productivity” of 19 (of the over 150) distinct Fraser sockeye stocks.

The 19 sockeye stocks in which DFO actually has enough information to utilize are further grouped into four run-timing groups (Early Stuart, Early Summer, Summer, and Late Summer).

These can be seen down the far left hand side — Column A. (I will break this chart down further with specific focus on some key numbers and columns).

 

DFO 2011 "Recent Productivity" Fraser Sockeye Forecast

First off, the Early Stuarts, one of the furthest upstream migrating Fraser sockeye — Northwest of Prince George in the upper Nechako drainage (Stuart River is main tributary — see map above), is in deep trouble.

In essence, what column “I” suggests is that the historical ‘mean run size’ for the Early Stuarts — based on all cycles — is 311,000.

On the 2011 cycle (Fraser sockeye predominantly run in four-year cycles) the mean run size is 172,000.

Columns “K” to “O” give the ‘probability’ of various forecasts.

Column K is the “10p” forecast suggesting that there is a 10% chance (or 1 in 10 chance) that runs will be at or below this number — for Early Stuarts that’s 6,000.

The standard generally used in pre-season forecasting is the 50p or 50% probability forecast which for Early Stuarts is 17,000 (column “M”).

So the Early Stuart median for all cycles is 311,000 — for the 2011 cycle-year it is 172,000 — however for this year the 50% probability pre-season forecast for 2011 predicts a run size of only: 17,000.

Even the best-case scenario (90p — 90%) predicts a run-size of only: 42,000.

(Note: Last year 2010 — the apparent big record year — the Early Stuarts met the 90p pre-season forecast and had an estimated return of 100,000).

However, raise any questions on the Early Stuart sockeye and DFO will say “but we’ve been in conservation mode on these fish for decades”. Yet, even just as far back as 1997 — the total run size of the Early Stuarts was estimated at almost: 1.7 million sockeye.

And yet that year the estimated catch was over 770,000.

Worse yet, an en-route loss is estimated at over 630,000.

Only an estimated 260,000 reached the spawning grounds. A mere 15% of the total run.

And then this year the best case scenario suggests only 42,000 as a total run size, not even what might reach the spawning grounds — some 1000+ km upstream…

Hmmm. wonder why we there’s a problem…?

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Estimated Returns and Historical Productivity

So, yes, the Early Stuarts have been in trouble for quite some time — however, it seems like this is akin to a flu-bug in the upper watershed. Trouble for upper Fraser sockeye seems to be contagious..

In the “Early Summer” grouping there are two sockeye stocks with enough information for “management” purposes — the Bowron (returns to Bowron River east of Prince George, and northeast of Quesnel) and the Nadina (returns to upper Nechako River, west of Prince George and southwest of Fraser Lake).

Here are the numbers blown up from the above chart:

2011 Fraser sockeye forecast: Bowron and Nadina River runs.

This half of the chart shows the estimated Effective Female Spawners (EFS) in columns “C” and “D”.

The “BY” stands for Brood Year. Therefore, 2007 is the Brood Year (BY) for the majority of returns this year: 2011 — as sockeye largely have a four-year life cycle. However, some years and some runs have more five-year old sockeye return as well. Often this is in the range of approximately 20-30% of the total run. And thus column “D” is the estimated Effective Female Spawners of 2006.

And so in 2007, the estimate suggests there were 1,100 Effective Female Spawners (EFS) and in 2006 there were 600 for the Bowron.

For the Nadina there were an estimated 1,000 Effective Female Spawners in 2007 (the main brood year for this year’s 2011 returns) and 4,500 EFS in 2006.

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The next columns — “E” and “F” are estimates of the productivity of each Effective Female Spawner over an 8-year time period (column E) and 4-year time period (column F).

For a population of any critter each female (effective female spawner) must average a productivity of 2 progeny that live to become reproductive adults — ideally an average of one male and one female — just to maintain any population with no growth or depletion.

The Bowron has an estimated productivity of 2.4 (over 8 years) and 2.1 (over 4 years) returning adults for each female spawner (the numbers in red boxes — red meaning bad/stop ).

estimated productivity of Bowron sockeye stocks

This means that the Bowron stock of Fraser sockeye is barely replacing itself at current productivity.

The Nadina is faring a little better with estimated productivity over 8 years of 3.0 (in the red box) and over 4 years of 4.6 returning adults per effective female spawner (in the yellow box – meaning, caution).

estimated productivity of Nadina sockeye

Sockeye salmon enhancement facility, Nadina River, British Columbia

 

(It should be noted that the Nadina sockeye largely utilize man-made spawning channels… and they are still in trouble…).

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The next set of numbers further along the right on the chart are rather revealing as well, here’s a clip with columns C-H taken out:

 

Fraser sockeye forecast_2011 Estimated probabilities for Bowron & Nadina stocks

Columns “I” and “J” are showing average “mean” runs sizes for these various runs as an overall average of all years previous — “all cycles” column “I” and the four-year cycle that includes 2011 column “J”.

For the two runs of concern — Bowron and Nadina — one can quickly see that the difference between the average run sizes and the various probabilities of run sizes this year — there’s a big discrepancy.

(And it must be pointed out that this is estimates of Total Run Size returning to the Fraser which may be targeted for fisheries — not the total run size that is predicted to reach, or reached, the spawning grounds.)

As mentioned earlier the 50p or 50% probability forecast is the one most commonly used during pre-season forecasts. For the Bowron that’s 5,000 estimated as a total run size (as compared to a mean average of all years of 39,000) and for the Nadina 12,000 (as compared to a mean run size of 80,000). (Remember, total run size predicted, not what’s estimated to reach the spawning grounds).

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Recipe for Extinction

The Bowron and Nadina River adult sockeye stocks migrate into the Fraser River approximately the same time as several other stocks that migrate to different parts of the Fraser River. The other stocks are listed in the chart above — names like Fennell, Gates, Pitt, Raft, etc. These stocks are spread from the upper, upper Fraser through the upper Thompson River, right down to the lower Fraser with the Pitt.

All, most likely, quite genetically distinct from each other — however, simply grouped because of run-timing. These are called the Early Summers for exactly that reason. Convenient for fishing plans… maybe not so convenient for conserving genetic diversity of stocks… or even conserving stocks themselves…

If you look through the various other runs within the Early Summers grouping, a few are looking relatively healthy, with 50% forecasts suggesting run sizes a little larger then the mean averages. There is even some green in the productivity and EFS boxes.

Total 50% probability pre-season forecast for all Early Summers is 453,000. With a few healthy runs… this means potential fisheries targeting this Group.

At the present time apparently DFO and Pacific Salmon Commission is considering fishing plans that would target a 40% exploitation rate on these Early Summers — which suggests that close to 200,000 of these Early Summers could potentially be targeted in fisheries.

For the Bowron and Nadina sockeye runs, this could mean total disaster.

There are only a total of 17,000 total fish at the 50% probability pre-season forecast for both these runs combined — and this is just fish forecast to reach the Fraser River, not the actual number forecast to reach the spawning grounds, which for these two runs is over 1000 km up the Fraser River.

These 17,000 potential fish could easily be swallowed in fisheries targeting other healthier Early Summer stocks.

Or, let’s say even conservatively that these targeted fisheries only catch half of the Bowron and Nadina returning runs — 8500. Conservative estimates suggest that 40% or more of these fish will die en route or prior to spawning. If that occurred there would still be 90% of the total run wiped out.

This is all considering fish on paper… which is the problem here.

The Recipe of Extinction for upper Fraser sockeye stocks is: mixed stock fisheries based on fisheries management plans that manage to the Aggregate Groups (only four) and do not discern between endangered individual, genetically distinct runs — such as the Bowron and Nadina stocks.

(let alone the 130 or so unnamed Fraser sockeye stocks that don’t have enough information to be considered by DFO or the Pacific Salmon Commission).

Tomorrow?

We consider the Late Stuarts and Stellako, two more Upper, Upper Fraser River sockeye runs that face a worse scenario as part of the Summers group of Fraser sockeye.

They are the Recipe for Extinction — Chapter 3.

Starving eagles, starving streams, hurting communities… disappearing salmon

Seems like almost every group involved in salmon — in some form or another — is not happy with how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is operating. There is a significant pissing match going on surrounding halibut allocations these days with many folks calling foul.

And there is the building pressure for another season of salmon returns to BC streams — and the pre-season forecasts don’t paint a pretty picture.

Is this not a classic scenario — dwindling resource; bickering user groups?

The bottom line is that — even with the big return of sockeye last year — wild salmon have disappeared coastwide in BC. The Cohen Commission is solely focused on sockeye in the Fraser.

But what about the utter collapse of the sockeye in Rivers Inlet, or the collapse of sockeye in Vancouver Island streams, or the fact that 90% of the sockeye in the Skeena River come from “enhanced” stocks?

Mark Hume writing in the Globe and Mail the other day:

Salmon-catch system ‘broken,’ commercial fisherman say

A panel of veteran commercial fishermen, some from families that trace their fishing heritage back to 1918, has urged a federal judicial inquiry to change the way salmon catches are allocated on the West Coast.

“The system is broken,” Ryan McEachern, a fourth-generation fisherman, told the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

Mr. McEachern, treasurer of the Area D Salmon Gillnetters Association, said the system for allocating the salmon catch was designed when fishermen could go anywhere they wanted off British Columbia’s coast.

But starting in the early 1990s, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans switched from a coast-wide to an area licensing system, restricting boats to designated areas, regardless of how strong the runs are in that area. The result, Mr. McEachern said, is that a fair distribution of the catch across the entire fleet is almost impossible because, from season to season, some boats are restricted to areas with few fish, while others are in areas where fish are plentiful.

“You cannot make what you’ve got work,” agreed Peter Sakich, president of the Gulf Trollers Association, whose family has been fishing for salmon in B.C. for more than 90 years.

Dennis Brown, a former organizer for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, said another problem is that the allocation process has become “politicized.”

He said the salmon catch is being allocated more to achieve policy goals, handed down from Ottawa, than by a desire to properly manage the resource.

Mr. Brown argued that DFO is allocating fish away from commercial fishermen, in order to redistribute the catch to First Nations, so as to promote its aboriginal fishing strategy.

The aboriginal fishing strategy has encouraged the development of a controversial, commercial, native-only fishery on the Fraser.

Mr. Brown said DFO is also allocating fish away from the commercial fleet because of a poorly thought out weak stock policy, which has been blamed in recent years for closing the sockeye fishery on the Fraser, when big runs of fish were coming in.

In order to protect weak stocks, which often intermingle with much larger runs of salmon, DFO shuts the fishery down when the weak runs enter the river.

But Mr. Brown said DFO has been overzealous in pursuing that goal, and over the past several years millions of sockeye that could have been harvested have been allowed to swim upstream, in order to protect a few weak runs.

“There is no fair allocation now … because of a whole number of political policies that have been introduced since the 90s,” he said.

“In recent years, allocation of the resource … has become almost dysfunctional,” Mr. Brown said. “There are all kinds of nice sounding formulas [for allocating the catch]. . .but the end result . . . is an absolute catastrophe.”

In allocating the catch, DFO first estimates the number of salmon returning to key rivers, such as the Fraser, then calculates how many need to be allowed upstream to spawn, in order to hit conservation targets. The remaining number of fish constitutes the total allowable catch, which is then divided among First Nations, commercial fishermen and sports anglers. Every year each group asks for a larger share, while conservationists argue that more fish should be allowed upstream to spawn.

The commission, which is under the direction of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in late 2009 after the sockeye run in the Fraser River collapsed.

Hearings are currently under way in Vancouver. A final report is due by June 30, 2012.

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There is some irony in Mr. McEachern’s comments surrounding the move from coast-wide licensing to area-licensing — As the sport fishery in BC has coast-wide freedom, and some sport fishing lodge operators take full advantage of this by having fully-mobile lodges (e.g. large boats that act as mother ships essentially).

On another note… there appears to be a common misunderstanding suggested in Mr. Hume’s writing (or maybe it’s just semantics?):

In allocating the catch, DFO first estimates the number of salmon returning to key rivers, such as the Fraser, then calculates how many need to be allowed upstream to spawn, in order to hit conservation targets. The remaining number of fish constitutes the total allowable catch, which is then divided among First Nations, commercial fishermen and sports anglers. Every year each group asks for a larger share, while conservationists argue that more fish should be allowed upstream to spawn.

The problem with “dividing” the ‘total available catch’ (which is determined through a process of voodoo science — the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative for sockeye) — is that this seems to miss the point of Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and court cases such as the Sparrow decision.

The way the systems is supposed to operate is that DFO must ensure that:

  • Conservation is met first;
  • First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) needs are met second; and then, and not until then,
  • allocate catch to commercial and sport fisheries.

So of course every year, every group is going to ask for a larger share (of a dwindling resource) — however, it seems that the point that is missed here is that First Nation communities are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, by far. The ‘formulas’ originally used to allocate FSC catch are significantly outdated; they have not been changed to reflect a growing First Nation population in the Fraser watershed and other areas.

And now… with absolute wild salmon declines across the Province, who is ensuring that the Conservation needs are met — The Conservatives? (hmmm).

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Mr Brown asks:

“In recent years, allocation of the resource … has become almost dysfunctional,”… “There are all kinds of nice sounding formulas [for allocating the catch]. . .but the end result . . . is an absolute catastrophe.”

Exactly right — it is an absolute catastrophe. I would suggest it has not become “almost dysfunctional”… it is dysfunctional.

Why?

Because we’re playing catch-up.

For 50 years we harvested between 70-80% of the Fraser sockeye run — and probably even more than that in the 50 years before that.

And now we wonder why the red line on the bottom graph (productivity) looks like the EKG line of a dying heart attack victim.

Some estimates suggest that pre-contact the Fraser sockeye run was probably well over 100 million and maybe even as high as 150 million.

Archaeological evidence suggests that many First Nation communities and individuals got over 90% of their protein intake from salmon.

Research in the 1930s found the same thing with grizzly bears over 1000 km up the Columbia River.

If you read Mr. Hume’s Globe article from yesterday on starving eagles (yesterday’s post on this site — read it below) or the CBC article on the same issue (Starving eagles swarm to dumps)– the impacts of broken fisheries policies for the last 100 years are showing themselves more and more.

Where has the breakdown been in allocating the resource?

To the place that needs it more than humans — the ecosystem.

The evidence has been their in plain sight for years — starving bears showing up in communities and at garbage dumps and thus shot, similarly with eagles, collapsing productivity in rivers all over the place as a key nutrient source (salmon carcasses) dwindle — and a key indicator in the human system: many folks bickering for more allocation (tragedy of the commons).

And yet… we actually do have policies in place that could potentially rebuild the resource, or at least stabilize the declines. It’s right there starting with “C” and and ending in “N”… it’s called “conservation”.

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With absolute respect to the long time settler fishing families quoted in the article — they have vital knowledge that is important to this whole discussion. However, this same story has been repeated the world over… go ask the long-time settler fisher families in Newfoundland as they watched their livelihoods disappear. Or the Baltic Sea… Or, coastlines around the world that have seen inshore fisheries disappear…

This issue is certainly not unique to the BC coast — nor is it unique to the history of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Unfortunately, how we all collectively deal with it… is not that unique. It follows a common pattern… dwindling resource and bickering about shares.

How does the analogy go…? it’s like arguing over the best deck chair on the Titanic as it’s going under…

Is it possible to write a different story about BC’s wild salmon?

“Who, in their right mind, would use our most valuable resource – sockeye salmon – as fertilizer, deliberately?”

I had some time this morning to stop by the Cohen Commission hearings in downtown Vancouver… This is the wisdom imparted upon the Cohen Commission today by Dr. Carl Walters:

“Who, in their right mind, would use our most valuable resource – sockeye salmon – as fertilizer, deliberately?”

Maybe it’s a long career studying fish… maybe it’s the dominant view of colonial economics… maybe it’s… actually… I don’t know what?

Dr. Walters recommendations to the Cohen Commission today include returning to a time of killing more fish… harvesting more “pieces”… reaching “maximum sustainable yield” (determined by modeling populations; not actual reality).

We should return to the those higher fishing rates, so that we can also manipulate nature so that there is cyclic dominance of sockeye runs — basically meaning, we need to mess with nature so that every four years there is a larger run than the other three.

Well this makes sense doesn’t it?

It’s all based on theory, hypothesis, modeling, and spreadsheet wet dreams… and the best part is it’s based on about 50 years of data. Much of it collected in various forms… various forms of reliability, various forms of actual collection, and so on and so on.

Hmmm.

Sockeye salmon have been around a million years or so and we humans (well…er… doctors) feel that after looking at information from about 10 to 15 life cycles, 20 tops (sockeye generally have a 4-year life cycle) — that we have enough knowledge to fundamentally alter a natural cycle that has gone on for eons.

Much of the entire Pacific Rim is fundamentally built on the backs of salmon, and a collection of (largely) white fellows get together and feel that through the hallowed halls of academia — that we “have it figured out”…  that we know nature well enough that we should catch more fish.

Because really: “Who, in their right mind, would use our most valuable resource – sockeye salmon – as fertilizer, deliberately?”

Well… what the hell were sockeye and other salmon before humans came in to the picture and started f*#@ing things up?

Or to be more accurate, in the last 150 years or so when the theories of Francis Bacon and the Bible dictated that man has dominion over nature, and that nature is simply there for the convenience of colonial powers…

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The absolute absurdity, audacity, and plain silliness of this idea had me shaking my head today as if I was having a grand mal seizure. And almost sadly, laughing out loud… (but that would not be appropriate federal court room behavior).

As the lawyer — representing the commercial fishers granted “standing” at the Commission — carried on his rather obvious and leading line of questions — the absurdity grew.

The esteemed Dr. Walters then suggested that he had detailed spreadsheets and analysis that demonstrate how much ‘potential revenue’ commercial fishers have lost due to an apparent “experiment” by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to reduce harvest rates on sockeye salmon over the last 10 years or so.

(spreadsheets and analysis that no one at the Commission was yet privy to… just casually brought up today…)

See, in a remarkably brilliant thought process a few years back, DFO decided that if sockeye runs are dwindling at alarming rates — maybe, just maybe… harvest rates should be reduced.

Say from the neighborhood of 80% of total run size (e.g. Maximum Sustained Yield — MSY) to approximately 50% of total runs. Harvesting less fish might mean more baby fish could be produced because more adults reached the spawning grounds…

Wow, as many folks suggest: ‘this is not rocket science’.

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However… no… there is this other theory that floated out of the academic world: “over-escapement”.

This bright-light idea suggests that too many fish on the spawning grounds actually reduces productivity — meaning less babies produced. “Density-dependent productivity” they call it.

And so if we kill off 80% (primarily in commercial fisheries) we will actually create more babies… and thus more fish into the future… (Less is more essentially, is where this theory is running)

Is anyone following the flawed logic here…?

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Now here’s where even more flawed economic theories start creeping into the equation. Let’s call this ‘economic creep theory’…  (I just made that up).

‘Economic creep theory’, as observed today at the Cohen Commission, suggest that if we pull out our handy dandy spreadsheets and computer models, we can in fact start to prove how much “lost revenue” commercial fishers have been hit with due to this “experiment” by DFO to reduce harvest rates on sockeye from 80% to 50%.

Seems like simple math doesn’t it… take the approximate run sizes of the last however many years when the 50% “experiment” kicked in, figure out how many more “pieces” could have been harvested. (see we don’t call them salmon anymore when they enter the economic realm…  they are pieces — it’s like the term “collateral damage” to refer to real, actual people blown to bits in bombing campaigns by Western forces in various countries)

Multiply by the market price and presto… look at all that “lost” revenue. Or “lost yield” as it was referred to today.

Because really: “Who, in their right mind, would use our most valuable resource – sockeye salmon – as fertilizer, deliberately?”

That’s just wasteful… think of how much more money Jimmy Pattison could have made through his Canfisco company if we just kept hammering the sockeye runs?

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I’m not an academic per se… but where do we start breaking down the flaws in this logic and my new ‘economic creep theory’…

Even if we use economic arguments… let’s say we put 30% more wild sockeye on the market in those years when harvests were reduced from 80% to 50% — what impact would that have on sockeye prices? (i think this is called “supply and demand”… maybe more fisheries scientists should look this up).

Does this mean that we might have past that magical margin where more product on the market doesn’t necessarily equate to more revenue…?

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Now let’s take a slightly different angle on this economic argument that commercial fishers are out of pocket because of DFO’s apparent “experiment” to reduce harvest rates…

Who are some of the other ‘players’ here — even just on the human side of the equation…

Oh right… First Nations.

Those folks with rights enshrined within the Canadian Constitution.

Before contact, 150 years or so ago, an entire economy, culture, and ecosystem ran on wild salmon returns. In the 1880s (or thereabouts) some colonial folks realized that the salmon were quite a bounty — a significant economic resource.

Canneries blossomed faster than the spread of H1N1 virus and salmon runs were blitzed for the next 40 years and onwards.

And what happened to the hundred of individual Nations that were forced off of fishing sites and cordoned off in “reserves”, outlawed from hiring lawyers, outlawed from holding ceremonies that had been in place for eons, outlawed from voting, had children hauled off to foreign places to learn English and God…?

There’s some pretty decent books on these issues.

_ _ _ _ _ _

And so… here runs the Cohen Commission… a $25 million (or so) exercise in talking all things BC sockeye… rambling on in legalese and Dr.-ese and ‘economic creep theories’ — and in the meantime discussion of fisheries and all things salmon in the BC Treaty process — are hauled off the table (even though some of these have been ongoing since 1992). With the extension of the Commission, comes another year of delays for those Nations engaged in Treaty negotiations — meaning more debt, loans, and expenses related to this process (millions of $$).

And so, I ask Dr. Walters, where are his calculations on lost ‘revenue’ for First Nations communities…? the lost ‘yields’ suffered by First Nations over the last 150 years…? the ‘cost-benefit’ analysis on the impacts to cultures, to communities, and to families as fishing rights held for eons were ripped from First Nation hands.

With all due respect to the commercial fisher folks… some of whom were/are First Nations themselves… if we want to start using the Cohen Commission to talk “lost revenues” due to ‘conservation’ measures, then lets put all the cards on the table.

Because really:”Who, in their right mind, would use our most valuable resource – sockeye salmon – as fertilizer, deliberately?”

Well… actually… Carl, there are many cultures around the Pacific Rim that realized, and still recognize, that salmon feed more than just humans (and more than just the eagles and bears you alluded to today in testimony).

Salmon, our “most valuable resource”?

Maybe salmon is considered that for some… but I often suggest it’s our brains, which can be used for logic and living in reality rather than computer models and spreadsheets.

Fraser Sockeye: responding to commentary

One individual has left some long though-out comments in recent days on this weblog, and I figured I’d post one of my responses today as a post (sometimes the comments don’t see the same traffic).

The comment trail for this is in the previous post to this one: “Duh! Killing more fish isn’t the way to get more fish”. You can follow some of the discussion there. Here’s my comment from today:

Some thoughts on your shared thoughts and questions:

Interesting to hear that the record spawners of 2002 was not necessarily the case in 06 in Quesnel Lakes. The estimated run sizes for this year reflect that. The Adams/Weaver has now ballooned to an estimated 25,000,000 total return this year. From an initial pre-season forecast of about 8,000,000 we can see where the huge missed forecast largely stems from. The increase of 17,000,000 on the Adams/Weaver alone is a big piece of the total Fraser pre-season growing from about 11 million to now close to 35 million.

From a biodiversity perspective, this is quite worrisome. Many, many folks are ‘celebrating’ the huge return this year, yet it is only one stock (Adams/Weaver) that is comprising over 70% of the total Fraser run this year. Great that there’s more numbers… however the stock complexes that really need to see better returns may very well not see increased run sizes. For example, the Early Stuart group is still in dismal shape. Bowron is still looking dismal. Nadina fish (far upper Fraser) are apparently experiencing heavy pre-spawn mortality.

It’s the small runs, the diverse runs, that really need to see some recovery. One of the huge worries of mine about the Adams/Weaver comprising so much of the run — is that they are so susceptible to high pre-spawn mortality due to high water temps. We may have dodged a bit of a bullet this year with a cooler last half of Aug. and early Sept. but four years from now, or eight?

Added to this concern, is that one run comprising 70% of the total run, and at the huge numbers of this year, precipitates huge pressures to get fishing — see MP John Cummins most recent press release… Yet, chasing one run through terminal marine fisheries always means mixed stock impacts (less healthy sockeye runs, steelhead, in-big-trouble interior coho and so on — as you probably well know).

The comparison can be drawn to the Skeena River where the enhanced, spawning channel Babine sockeye run comprises about 90% of the total Skeena sockeye population. When it returns in good numbers — commercial marine fisheries are opened and this means all sorts of impacts on other less healthy stocks — e.g. Sustut and Bear Lake sockeye, Morice Lake sockeye, Skeena steelhead and so on. It’s a dangerous game.

This leads me to the comments on the Fraser “groups”, “stocks”, Conservation Units, etc.
That is a disaster from a management perspective.

You’re exactly right; the Early Stuart ‘group’ is comprised of well over 19 separate stocks — however DFO ‘manages’ it to only the ‘Group’ level — i.e. Early Stuarts. And as far as I know Early Stuarts are only one conservation unit (CU). This is evident in the fine piece of junk: the Fraser River spawning sockeye initiative (FRSSI). Early Stuarts are only looked at as one entity — not the multiple stocks, that you rightly point out, it is comprised of.

And in fact, the Fraser sockeye CUs change as fast as the Pacific Salmon Commission’s in-season run estimates. Last I heard, Fraser sockeye CUs are now down to about 38 from the 44 you mention. At a pre-season meeting this spring, absolutely no one from DFO could definitively say how many Fraser sockeye CUs there are – and what they are… and these were some of the most senior DFO staff members going on the salmon front — including the lead Wild Salmon Policy ‘implementer’.

(you know the old: “who’s on first? where’s second?” jingle… or as I’ve heard other much-more-experienced-than-me individuals suggest: who the hell is in charge around there?)

And so here’s my point in a nutshell… see earlier post Free Money-Part II as well…

200 distinct Fraser sockeye stocks — yes, it may be difficult to manage to every distinct stock. However, there’s only enough information on about 19 distinct stocks to inform management models and fishing decisions (see any DFO publications on the FRSSI model; it’s only working with 19 stocks within the four run timing “Groups”). And worse yet, there is no connection between the 19 stocks used in modeling and the proposed Fraser sockeye conservation units (CUs). It’s a complete shemozzle.

And thus, when various harvest models and “integrated fisheries management plans” start “kicking out” percentages of proposed harvest based on only four run-timing “Groups” — I think there is huge cause for concern. For example, this year DFO proposed to limit harvest on the Early Summer run-timing group to 25% of the total run (as opposed to the 60% proposed harvest on Summers and Late Summers) — apparently to protect some of the particular stocks that are becoming conservation concerns. But, how can anyone distinguish — with the 25% harvested — if the fish are from healthy stocks within the Early Summer group (e.g. Scotch, Seymour) from endangered stocks within that group (Bowron, Nadina)?

Again, this is the problem with mixed stock terminal marine fisheries.

If one sits in on meetings with DFO and listen to them spout about the accuracy of their “science” and the excuses they make to anyone concerned about specific Fraser sockeye stocks — it generally circulates around how ‘exact’ their science is and that they know best. The ongoing defence of the FRSSI computer simulation model is a scary, scary thing.

These sorts of tools start to make someone such as yourself out there in the field — rather obsolete. Why have field workers, when we can just computer model the whole thing based on past records…? The FRSSI model takes data from the last 48-50 years (spotty at best) on 19 stocks and pushes that data out 50 years and then designs harvesting strategies from the numbers “kicked out” by the models.

You’re exactly right on the cut-backs to things like juvenile enumeration work. If we start to look outside of the major watersheds (e.g. Skeena, Fraser, Nass) the level of DFO cutbacks to people actually in the field with their feet and hands in the water actually interacting with the salmon and the critters that depend on them — is atrocious.

Salmon management — from the government view — is becoming, largely, an exercise of academics, scientists and computer modelers — not folks with waders and gumboots on.

With my final questions being — with so much uncertainty in fisheries management (esp. Fraser sockeye and other salmon) should we be “managing” the fish populations — according to the dominant big runs, or according to only the 19 stocks of over 200 that we have information on…?

Or… should we maybe act much more precautionary and manage Fraser sockeye and other salmon to the small, endangered, extinct stocks that are most likely only growing in number?

This is the great conundrum… if endangered species legislation was enacted on some upper Fraser sockeye stocks; then management would have to manage fishing pressure according to what the endangered runs could support — NOT what the 17 million+ Adams/Weaver run can apparently support. Or what Fraser steelhead populations, or interior Fraser coho, or early-timed Chinook can handle.

What the heck are management institutions and commercial fishing proponents going to do when the big runs are in just as much trouble as the small, going extinct runs are…?
oh wait, we’ve seen that over the last three years… no fishing.

“No fishing” starts to make a department of “Fisheries” somewhat obsolete… Added to the mix, prices of less than $1 per pound for sockeye starts to make commercial fishing somewhat obsolete; and a commercial salmon fishing fleet with a landed value of only $20 million last year starts to make justification for a 10,000 full-time equivalent employees federal Ministry start looking akin to a stuffed pig at Christmas… (with the apple in the mouth and all…)

(and we know what happens to that pig)

modeled modeling or mottled modeling?

the modeling "Rack"

The other day I listened into an update conference call on various sockeye salmon forecasts (“in-season” compared to “pre-season), environmental forecasts, salmon modeling, environmental modeling, guesstimates, estimates, predictions, test fishing, genetic classification, and so on and so on.

There is definitely far more “scientific” guesstimates and conference calls going on then commercial fishing these days. It’s quite an industry… compare this computer model estimate with that computer model estimate compared to this pre-season modeling effort compared to that pre-season estimate compared to this in-season model and that simulation… well… you can guess at the rest of that story.

Fair enough to some of it… there should be a rough idea of what’s out there before industrial scale fisheries set out to catch as much as possible in as short a period of time. The old “if I don’t catch it… someone else will…”

I did hear a very, very telling comment from a rather senior scientist on the conference call:

“…THERE IS A FAIR AMOUNT OF UNCERTAINTY…”

Yeah… you bet there is… and thank-you for that honest statement.

However, it’s such a curious phrase… what is a “fair” amount of uncertainty? “Fair” compared to what…? What if we had “unfair amount of uncertainty”? (but then that’s semantics, isn’t it?)

_ _ _ _ _

One of the curious discussions on the call was how this year’s very cautious pre-season forecasts were being beaten in many cases — sockeye runs are returning better than expected and better than “computer models” were pumping out. Apparently this year, various management institutions and fisheries scientists applied more cautious estimates (or at least parameters in computer models) so that there wasn’t a repeat of last year’s fiasco and blown forecasts.

The new fall colors for salmon forecasting this year have been “blushing red“  … as in:

“well… gee… you know, pre-season salmon forecasting is a very imprecise activity”.

See post from a few months ago: weather forecasts; salmon forecasts to put it into perspective.

With this sort of confession, I then tend to ask: “well… why is your in-season forecasting all that much better?”

Or, “if your pre-season is so inaccurate… what’s the point of running disastrous computer modeling programs like the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI)? Am I to believe it will be better? And if it’s better… how much better than pre-season?”

model blueprint...

_ _ _ _ _

One of the bizarre exchanges on the phone call was a discussion around this year’s new “model” forecasts, as compared to the modeling used in last year’s disaster forecast (e.g. 10 million Fraser sockeye forecast and only 1.3 million returned). If last year’s methods of modeling had been used this year,  they would have apparently churned out numbers close to what we are seeing returning this year.

But… instead… this year we are depending on “new” models that would do a better job than last year.

OK, this is just Hollywood script-like. Last year’s modeling techniques sucked (e.g. blown forecasts on the high side); however this year’s modeling techniques suck too (blown forecasts on the low side) – yet last year’s techniques used this year would have produced forecasts that are actually closer to reality.

Bizarre… even more bizarre was that there seemed to be a positive tone in the discussion surrounding this bizarre anomaly.

e.g: “gee.. good to know…”

I’m not so sure I’d be shopping that reality around… isn’t there a comparison to be drawn with having financial forecasting tools that didn’t catch the crash of the markets (i.e. were wrong) in 08, and then suggesting… you know, if we used the tools that blew last year, this year, they would be right this year…

(Yeah great… all my money’s gone now, but if I still had some – things would have been better this year… bizarre).

_ _ _ _

Not too long ago a respected fisheries biologist asked me if I knew the old Greek story of Procrustes’ Bed.

No, I said. And he proceeded to tell me.

His reason for telling me the Procrustes story, was that I was asking questions about the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ latest computer modeling program — FRSSI, the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative

Procrustes’ Bed, he told me, Procrustes’ Bed…:

Procrustes was a host who adjusted his guests to their bed.

Procrustes, whose name means “he who stretches”, was arguably the most interesting of Theseus’s challenges on the way to becoming a hero.He kept a house by the side of the road where he offered hospitality to passing strangers, who were invited in for a pleasant meal and a night’s rest in his very special bed. Procrustes described it as having the unique property that its length exactly matched whomsoever lay down upon it.

What Procrustes didn’t volunteer was the method by which this “one-size-fits-all” was achieved, namely as soon as the guest lay down Procrustes went to work upon him, stretching him on the rack if he was too short for the bed and chopping off his legs if he was too long. Theseus turned the tables on Procrustes, fatally adjusting him to fit his own bed.

I get the feeling that when it comes to modeling salmon populations… Procrustes  is very fitting… “he who stretches…”

Procrustes salmon modeling

wild salmon dissonance and patchwork quilts for fisheries managers

Dissonance, the Free Online Dictionary suggests means:

Wild Salmon Policy?

1. A harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds; discord.

2. Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict.

Under the first definition I was privy to some serious dissonance this past week while sitting in salmon-related  meetings listening to a senior Department of Fisheries and Oceans manager run circles around questions. At one point, he was even asked for a “yes” or “no” answer; yet a long-winded response would start winding up…

“No, no… I said YES or NO, please” said the questioner again.

“Well… yeah… but… you need to understand…” said the bureaucrat.

One of the most offensive ways to answer a question or begin any explanation is: “you have to understand…”

_ _ _ _

Part of the meeting involved discussions around Fraser sockeye and predicted returns. Of course, this type of discussion involves the computer simulation model Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) which apparently pumps out fishing plans, or “TAM rules” (total allowable mortality). This model is great for theoretical understandings of biological organisms — like Fraser sockeye — but an absolute joke for “managing” biological organisms in the wild — like Fraser sockeye.

Worse yet (and you can read more on previous posts on this site) the Fraser River is suggested to have approximately 200 distinct sockeye populations or stocks; and approximately 150 different spawning areas, and countless nursery lakes. The FRSSI is based on information on 19 stocks or populations, much of that information spotty at best, and only about 50 years of data which means approximately 12-15 life cycles of sockeye. Those 19 stocks are further simplified into four groups based on the timing of their upstream migration and spawning.

The model has various productivity scenarios fed in (again spotty estimates); with the added benefit that DFO only studies two sockeye rearing lakes (yeah that’s 2).

Worse yet, the FRSSI model does not incorporate any data prior to about 1948 when DFO started keeping records.

Worse yet, the model has no ecological values factored in — things like seals, bears, eagles, and so on. It simply sets fishing rates and guesstimates how many sockeye need to reach spawning grounds.

It’s supposed to be “Pilot Study” and is listed as such in DFO promotional material… yet, it’s being used to “manage” sockeye on the Fraser, even though there hasn’t been a commercial fishery in three years (that will probably change this year…).

However, I suppose one positive out of this is that the maximum fishing rates (maximum sustained yield – MSY) is now 60% of total run size, not 80% as it has been in the past….

Salmon think tank... salmon fisheries in the tank...

_ _ _ _

The second definition of dissonance occurred in the same meetings last week when DFO reps started presenting information on Fraser River Chinook: pre-season forecasts, proposed exploitation (a.k.a. fishing) rates, and various forecasted population scenarios with proposed fishing rates:

The 5 represents the age of these fish and the small subscript 2 represents how many winters they spent in fresh water as babies (i.e. fry) and the Spring and Summer referring to timing of their migration.

Estimates for this year suggest a run of these Chinook somewhere between 58,000 and 62,000; however, not a lot is known about these fish and they represent a huge geographic area in the various Fraser tributaries that they spawn in – from the far upper Fraser to tributaries downstream through Williams Lake (Chilcotin) and Thompson River and tributaries.

I asked what seemed like the obvious question to me: “what is the rate for maximum sustained yield (MSY)?… is it 80% of the run — like in the past; 60% like it is with sockeye now; 50% like many Alaskan salmon runs are managed to?”

“Well, you have to understand…” began the DFO rep…

Eghad, here we go again.

“…these Chinook are managed differently… it’s based on habitat capacity and output…so it’s not a set rate”

“Gee… that sounds accurate”, was the response that slipped out of my mouth.

I was given a name of a DFO scientist working in Nanaimo that is apparently the expert on this: “Parken”.

_ _ _ _

I looked up his work (apologies, I’m assuming it’s a he… i think I heard the pronoun “he”). I came across a report on the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat: Habitat-based methods to estimate escapement goals for data limited Chinook salmon stocks in British Columbia, 2004

Seems like some pretty interesting work… although I was struck immediately by a key phrase in the title: “data limited“.

There’s another way to phrase that, that might be more accurate: “limited data“.

In other words… we don’t really know because we have limited data.

And this is laid out quite clearly in the report, even in the abstract:

Our habitat-based model can generate biologically-based escapement goals, rooted in fish-production relationships, for data limited stocks over a broad range of environments. This simple approach requires easily acquirable data and makes few assumptions. However, spawner escapements of known accuracy and reliability are required, which may impede implementation for some systems. The approach is well suited for most data limited stocks in BC and can be tested and refined as new stock-recruitment data become available. Since the habitat-based method was more accurate than the interim method for BC Key Streams, we recommend applying it for data limited stocks in BC to establish escapement goals until more stock-specific data are available. [my emphasis]

Again… as mentioned previously in other posts. My comments are not meant to be a jerk; just pointing out some gaping voids and massive assumptions. Sometimes these assumptions are pointed out in papers and reports; yet, many/most fisheries science folks still talk in circles around them. It’s as if the massive assumptions and “data limited” experiments are a personal affront against them and their “science”.

Our goal was to develop a habitat-based approach to generate escapement goals for data limited Chinook stocks in British Columbia (BC). We focused on developing a model with general applicability that could be applied inexpensively and quickly, while making sufficiently accurate predictions to suit fisheries management purposes.

That’s the problem in most cases… “fisheries management” is more speculative then investing in penny stocks sold out of some guys basement. And thus the “purpose” of fisheries management is to carve out as many fish as possible for human consumption, economic opportunities, and social considerations — then think about the environmental/ecological implications…thus “sufficiently accurate” for fisheries management?! Yikes…

We focused on developing simple models that lacked biological detail, yet described general biological patterns across a range of environmental conditions and Chinook salmon biology. Inasmuch as high precision and accuracy are desirable properties of models, we aimed to develop a method with reasonable accuracy and precision for most domestic and international fisheries management purposes.

But isn’t “biological detail” the whole purpose of looking after fish populations and all the critters that depend on them?

Yes, precision and accuracy are desirable properties… especially if you work for the same federal department responsible for decimating North Atlantic Cod.

There’s a big important word missing after the “properties or models” and the “,” (comma); it’s “BUT”…

As in “… , but we aimed to develop a model with reasonable accuracy”

“Reasonable” accuracy…?! what the ^*!#?

reasonable to whom…?

Is this like the legal test: “a reasonable person…” or is this like “reasonable” to fisheries management folks… or “reasonable” to a Fisheries minister with a long distinguished career with Revenue Canada.

Sorry folks, but the history of “reasonable accuracy and precision for domestic and international fisheries management purposes” is brutal. There’s a reason why the oceans have lost 90% of large predator fish and 75% of the world’s fish populations subject to fisheries pressure are in trouble.

Time for a new paradigm.

Is this a wet blanket?

And maybe time for DFO to stop managing salmon via a patchwork quilt of methods…

Or at least fully admit limitations — especially “data limited” limitations — and get a whole lot more precautionary. Oh wait, isn’t the precautionary approach part of the Wild Salmon Policy…?

salmon modeling practices to be presented at Cohen Commission

Related to the posts of the last couple of days on “modeling” to “simplify complex situations…

“If you ask a physicist how long it would take for a marble to fall from the top of a ten-storey building, she will answer the question by assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum. Of course, this assumption is false. In fact, the building is surrounded by air, which exerts friction on the falling marble and slows it down. Yet the physicist will correctly point out that friction on the marble is so small that its effect is negligible. Assuming that the marble falls in a vacuum greatly simplifies the problem without substantially affecting the answer.”

Department of Fisheries and Oceans has developed a range of different computer models for modeling salmon run sizes (e.g. “simplifying complex situations): I think they’re working towards one per species… (see previous posts on Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative – FRSSI to see some of these brilliant tools in action…)

Justice Cohen: ummm... I think it's supposed to be "in a vacuum"

–click the image to see it a bit bigger–

All models simplify reality in order to improve understanding…(hmmm)

“All models — in physics, biology, or economics — simplify reality in order to improve our understanding of it.” So suggests my Economics textbook.

"ANGEL " doll face, toy wings, tape, bathroom scale approx 6 x 12" by Simon Davies

Is it me… or is “simplify reality” sort of like an oxymoron. It rings in the same frequency of Department of Fisheries and Oceans new favorite phrase: “low abundance”.

Yeah… “low abundance” is the new phrase used often in meetings by DFO to describe crashing Fraser River sockeye runs and other dwindling BC wild salmon populations. Yup, “abundance” the word that means: “a profusion; a great plenty; an overflowing quantity.”

So what is a “low” overflowing abundance?

I’m not sure if the phrase is used purposefully, or just one of those bureaucratic bumpf phrases spawned from the hallowed halls of government expediency. (I’m getting into the spirit of it…).

It’s sad, really. It’s the same innocuous phraseology that suggests that innocent people killed in western airforce bombings in the Middle East are “collateral damage” or that “terrorists are hiding behind human shields…”

It’s the same cardboard phraseology that suggests that ‘biological models’ or ‘economic models’ —- “simplify reality”. Not forgetting that the word reality means “the quality or state of being actual or true.” So how is it that we “simplify” things that are in a state of being actual or true?

If we simplify these things… does this not mean that we then subtract from the “actual-ness” or “true-ness” of these things?

_ _ _ _

“High school biology teachers teach basic anatomy with plastic replicas of the human body. These models have all the major organs — the heart, the liver, the kidneys, and so on. The models allow teachers to show their students in a simple way how the important parts of the body fit together.” — (more from my Economics textbook).

Is this “simplifying reality”?

Well, no… because as much as certain components of the human body can be displayed in plastic, with pretty painted colors, it does not answer many of the great mysteries of life, or mysteries of the human body.

“Of course, these plastic models are not actual human bodies, and no one would mistake the model for a real person. These models are stylized, and they omit many details. Yet despite this lack of realism — indeed, because of this lack of realism — studying these models is useful for learning how the human body works.”

Sort of.

It teaches how bits and pieces work — like food goes in, poop comes out. Blood moves through veins and arteries and the heart beats to pump it through, and so on, and so on… However, these “models” don’t give us enlightenment into the human brain and the mysteries therein.

Economists use models to learn about the world, but instead of being made of plastic, they are most often composed of diagrams and equations. Like a biology teacher’s plastic model, economic models omit many details to allow us to see what is truly important.

There’s the fundamental issue. I’m curious, who is making the value call on: “what is truly important”?

This is like suggesting that the “models” of a Paris runway fashion show: “allow us to see what is truly important”. (personally, seeing someone’s hip socket and all their ribs is not really my idea of reality — especially in a society that currently includes over 60% of the population obese or overweight).

Or that the “reality show” Survivor models reality of a group of people surviving on a deserted island — when we know that this reality, in true actuality, can mean cannibalism and desperate choices (watch the movie or read the book “Alive: the story of the Andes survivors” by Piers Paul Read)

This is the same set of assumptions that suggests that looking under the hood of a car allows people to see “in a simple way how the important parts of the car fit together” and that we therefore understand how the car runs. Well… no… we might understand the mechanics, but this does not mean we understand combustion and how that combustion is harnessed and how the oil needed to be extracted from the earth to make that car run, and how that oil is comprised of long dead critters, and how the oil was transformed into gasoline, and how the engine parts are comprised of various minerals that needed to be mined somewhere, and so on, and so on.

This is exactly the issue.

If economists assume that they understand human economies through diagrams and equations — i.e. “simplifying reality”; and that doctors understand human bodies through plastic replicas; and that biologists understand ecosystems through mathematical equations and computer programming… well… then we have some serious problems on our hands. (and we do).

(not to forget that I listened to a Dr. in economics explain at a recent conference in Portland — in no uncertain terms — that no system exists for modeling social and cultural impacts of economic decisions. This is an important point in relation to yesterday’s post re: Taseko Mines proposing to turn Fish Lake into a waste rock – tailings facility — Or, in relation to crashing BC salmon populations and the social and cultural impacts on First Nation and settler societies)

_ _ _ _

So how do we deal with some of these issues?

"Dancing Block Head" by Simon Davies

Well… we create empty, innocuous language that skirts around the margins of the issues — rather than get right into the heart of the issues. (Or, we create another model… that “simplifies reality”…). We convene about 5 – 20 meetings, teleconferences, and conferences per month and talk around the issue, collect our healthy day rates and per diems and full benefit packages, eat our greasy hotel breakfast, and await the minutes from the last, and agenda for the next…

We call crashing salmon populations — “low abundance”. We call people maimed and killed by incredibly destructive and non-selective weapons — “collateral damage”. We have government institutions say things like “conservation is our number one priority” but then prove time and time again that “conservation” doesn’t actually mean don’t do something at all (e.g. fishing an endangered population of fish) — it actually means government agencies will “balance perspectives and stakeholders”.

(Meaning: thou with the most lobbying power will be succesful)

For example, “conservation” of Early Stuart Sockeye in the Fraser River right now (a once great population, now a mere shadow of its former self in less than 100 years) means catching an estimated 10% of the population every year in “test fisheries”. So we are forcing this population further down the road of extinction, for the simple purpose that we can count it.

Why do we need to count it?

Because we need to put those numbers into more models and equations to predict the overall run size (i.e. “simplify reality”).

Why do we need to predict the overall run size?

So that we can go fishing.

This is brilliant.

_ _ _ _ _

“Simplify reality”… that’s what we need models for.

Models like the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI), or other various fisheries models and equations utilized by fisheries management institutions — are meant to “improve our understanding”.

So I’m wondering how that “improved understanding” through the “modeling” — i.e. simplifying reality — of salmon runs, through “conservation first”  — i.e. conservation = some of us are going fishing — is assisting us these days?

Wait… I have the answer: last year on the Fraser River 10 million sockeye forecast; 1 million actually returned.

Yup, models… they simplify reality.

I don’t know if it gets much simpler than: we’re F^*^%d unless we start meaning what we say, and saying what we mean.

Difficult decisions: if not now; when?

Doesn’t the great hallowed phrase “sustainable development” mean something to the effect that we have to ensure we leave something for future generations?

Crabfishing wisdom…and salmon management

There are three ways that this business operates:

Make things happen. Watch things happen. Or, sit there after and wonder what the f*#k happened…

I don’t want to be the latter…

This is the wisdom of Bering Sea crab boat captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie — who was made famous by the impressive show Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel. I watched the first episode of season six last night and had to write down that great tidbit of wisdom.

Unfortunately, when it comes to wild salmon and the institutions established to look after them — there’s a whole lot of the latter two.

Case in point:

  • Wild Salmon Policy.

In 1999, I was reviewing early drafts of the proposed Wild Salmon Policy. I still have some of this material sitting in boxes for future reference. There was some decent ideas and language in early iterations — and there was some crap.

Six years later, this Policy was finally legislated in 2005.

Eleven years later, ie., the present day. There is very little of this Policy enacted on the ground (and of course some folks in the Department might take issue with this). Nice language such as “conservation” is plastered all over the document, and “ecosystem-based management” and “conservation units”.

However, Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) staff complain about lack of resources to implement – and “challenges”, and “challenges”, and rinse and repeat if necessary…

Sure some things are happening – like “Pilot Studies” in Barkley Sound, the Skeena watershed, and the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI). Yet, there is some serious lack of “making things happen” and actually focusing on implementation (not for lack of staff).

“Conservation” remains a nice thought staring down from the top shelf of government offices that gets dusted periodically by cleaning staff every now and again; and ecosystem-based planning… well… it’s gone the direction of NASA’s lunar program: It got filed under: “lost”…

As, really, how does a department of “fish” and “oceans” start dealing with at least 137 different species that depend on salmon returns just in the freshwater environment alone:

Isn't it time you put your carcass to work?

(click on image to see PDF document from Salmon Nation)

Over ten years of Wild Salmon Policy-ing and we still can’t implement simple conservation measures on some salmon populations in death spirals.

Take the graph below for instance… I have clunkily finished off a DFO graph showing exploitation rates of Fraser River Chinook 4-2′s (Early-timed Chinook).

The “conservation” goal (remember this is DFO’s number one priority when it comes to fish) for last year was to cut fishing rates (i.e. exploitation) by 50% on Fraser early-timed Chinook.(this is besides the fact the Wild Salmon Policy clearly defines “conservation” as very separate from allocation and use of populations…)

This means exploitation should have been down around 22% (the avg. of 2006 and 2007).

They had a significant whoops factor in missing the conservation goal by almost 30%. Worse yet, DFO’s own numbers suggest that during low productivity (e.g. look at drop of survival rates from 1999 into 2000s) that 8-11% exploitation is all these stocks can handle.

The unfortunate thing with fish stocks is that they don’t do so well with “whoopsees factors” — look at East Coast cod. Or Early Stuart Sockeye on the Fraser River — they’ve been a conservation concern for at least 30 years and aren’t showing signs of bouncing back.

And thus, here we are… unfortunately… in a “watch things happen” mode when we most certainly need to be in a “make things happen” mode. However, when the dust clears (off that Wild Salmon Policy on the top shelf) I don’t think many of us we’ll be stuck in the: “what the f#*^ happened?” mode. The picture is clear… it’s missing that first step…

(* on a side note, I didn’t realize it until today, checking the spelling of the boat, that Captain Phil Harris of the Cornelia Marie passed away earlier this spring. Regards to his family and friends… he’s quite a character on the Discovery Channel documentary that’s been following the crab fleet for several seasons now.)