Tag Archives: Haida Gwaii

Another unfortunate, misinformed media article on Fraser sockeye.

Unfortunately, this is probably on the top ten list for worst researched, misinformed Fraser sockeye articles.

Globe and Mail,  Monday Aug. 30th by Gary Mason (who generally writes sports articles and others…)

B.C. should look to Alaska for tips on salmon management

From the opening to the close, this article is wrong on so many fronts, although he’s quite right on DFO’s worst blown forecast ever this year on Fraser sockeye.

I left a comment on the article on the G & M page, but one is limited to 2000 characters in those comments. Several others left some not-so-kind remarks — however there was a common theme of ‘more research required prior to publishing’, please.

Mason’s article:

…Worse, even as the sockeye began returning to the Fraser River in droves in late August, DFO refused to allow a fishery. It had to make sure it wasn’t seeing things. Consequently, millions of sockeye were lost while DFO dithered – money that cash-strapped fishermen desperately need.

Wrong, there were several commercial openings for Fraser sockeye as well as an open sport fishery on the river. I’m curious where the salmon were “lost” to?

Oh no, wait… you don’t mean “lost” Mr. Mason… you mean they swam upstream to spawn… Now that’s a novel thing for salmon to do.

I don’t disagree that fishermen are most likely cash-strapped… however, there is no shortage in history of groups of workers dependent on natural resources having to move on to new careers and livelihoods. It’s not pleasant… however, rather common in B.C. and Canada — often as a result of mis-management of the natural resources in question in the first place.

North Atlantic cod is the first that comes to mind.

Or how about the B.C. endangered logger? The forest industry is still a disaster in BC and many folks have had to move on to new livelihoods. Or how about entire communities: Cassiar (once a great asbestos mining town), or Tasu (once a thriving mining town on the west coast of Haida Gwaii) — or Rose Harbor (once a thriving whaling community now within Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site) — or Kitsault an old mining town (molybdenum) north of Prince Rupert listed for sale in 2004 for $7 million.

These are unfortunate occurrences — however, do happen. All too often with commercial fisheries, and have occurred in commercial salmon fishing fleets across B.C. Maybe the finger can be pointed to mis-management; however, we have all played a part.

_ _ _ _

Mason’s article:

Alaska harvested more than 170 million salmon in 2009, compared to the near-complete disappearance of the species in B.C. in the same year.

No… not all BC salmon species “disappeared” — mainly just Fraser sockeye — one BC salmon species. Other BC salmon are showing long-term declines, but have not “disappeared”. There were still 10 million salmon harvested in BC last year. Plus, didn’t the Marine Stewardship Council just “eco-certify” all BC sockeye salmon fisheries? And close to ‘eco-certifying’ a bunch of the chum and pink fisheries?

That doesn’t sounds like “near-complete disappearance”… the MSC is apparently “world-leading” in “eco-certifying sustainable fisheries”…

What was thought to be evidence of a complete collapse of the West Coast salmon fishery prompted the federal government to set up a commission to investigate. Then, a year later, 30 million turn up at the door of the Fraser. What gives?

Wrong… there was not a complete collapse of the West Coast salmon fishery (see above); nor, did that prompt government to set up a public inquiry (Cohen “commission”).

There was a significantly blown forecast for Fraser sockeye in 2009 (one species comprising the entire West Coast salmon fishery) and this was the third year in a row there was no Fraser sockeye commercial openings. This is clearly laid out in the preamble to the Cohen Commission.

“What gives?”

Well… Fraser sockeye are cyclical. Just because 35 million+ is now the total 2010 forecast run size for Fraser sockeye does not suggest that all is good in the hood. One of the suggested reasons for a big run this year is favorable ocean conditions (La Nina) coupled with reduced harvests in the four year cycle previously (e.g. 2006 and 2002). Those two years also saw decent returns and some very high effective female spawner estimates.

In three years we are still going to see the return from last year’s run which was suggested to be just over 1 million total — which does not equate to 1 million effective spawners.

_ _ _ _

That, to me, sounds like the commission will be examining how the DFO conducts business and sets policies and whether those policies are working.

As a point of reference, Mr. Cohen may want to look at how Alaska baits its hooks.

Yes, I agree with this point. Justice Cohen is mandated to look at how DFO conducts business. Of course, this is the fifth time in the last two decades that this has occurred and changes are slower than mice running in molasses (in the fridge).

Of course the great challenge for Justice Cohen is that policies written on paper are about worth as much as the sheets of paper. Where the mice can run free and clear is in how those policies are actually implemented on the ground. For example, the Wild Salmon Policy, which is full of great words and ideas… but in reality, on the ground, in the real world — poorly implemented, underfunded, bumpf-filled, and near-impossible to actually achieve

For example, true “ecosystem-based management” (EBM)… if we used and implemented EBM, then we wouldn’t be talking about “lost” or “wasted” salmon, when they are simply swimming upstream to do whatever it was that the creator/universe intended for them to do: be food for bears, eagles, racoons, etc. or maybe even spawn… not because “cash-strapped fishers” didn’t catch them and sell them to Wal-Mart at bargain basement prices.

Because the oft-admired Alaskan sockeye fishery occurs well before the BC sockeye fishery… BC fisherfolks are pumping sockeye into an already flooded market. This means lower prices; this means un-economic returns; this means little relief of the “cash-strapped”.

Like anything, selling more doesn’t necessarily mean making more… it’s those wonderfully dry terms of economics called “supply and demand”. Throw in some capacity of the marketplace to deal with an influx of fish, and “houston, we have a problem”. Right now in Vancouver and suburbs, fisherfolks may be catching lots of fish but are being forced to sell them dockside off their boats, as there just isn’t the capacity (or demand) at canneries and fish markets (they’re already aflood with sockeye from other places).

So… if we want to talk “wasted” or “lost” fish — what happens when BC fisherfolks on the Fraser are left with a surplus of sockeye that they can’t sell? I might have some proposed recipes.

(by the way Mr. Mason, I don’t think Alaska does much baiting of hooks, most of their fisheries are net-based)

_ _ _ _

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Salmon Management Model is one of the most successful in the world when it comes to sustaining a sometimes temperamental species of fish…

Not so fast; as I recommend in my comments to the article Mr. Mason may want to do a web search on the Yukon River Chinook fishery disaster declared on last year’s fishery. See earlier posts on this site: Fishery disasters and brave, brave decisions… and Alaskan fishery disasters and Marine Stewardship Council – don’t worry… it’s sustainable.

Or the fact that Alaska has one of the world’s biggest salmon ocean ranching programs. See earlier post: how do we define “wild”? or search it online. 2.5 billion salmon fry pumped out into the North Pacific every year from Alaska, all of which will never know a river. 95% of Prince William Sound commercial salmon fishery is ocean-ranched salmon.

So, really, how do we measure or define “most successful in the world”?

Enbridge purports to have “world-leading” safety standards — yet, as their pipeline rupture and resultant spill in Michigan is proving… maybe those “world-leading standards” are simply self-defined on paper…

Plus, it’s not that difficult to be “sustainable” when you have a sparsely populated state, fish that migrate in northern sections of the North Pacific, and wonderful intact habitat… (bit of an apples and oranges comparison… both fruits; but rather different)

_ _ _ _

B.C. fishermen probably should have harvested about 80 to 90 per cent of the current 30-million-plus salmon run. Yet, because of the DFO’s reluctance to open the fishery until it could verify the run size, 10 million fish are estimated to have been lost.

That wouldn’t have happened in Alaska. We should find out why.

As I ask in my comment to the article — show me where Alaska has successfully harvested 80-90% of their sockeye runs for many cycle years and been succesful. Their harvest yields are closer to 50% of total run and have been for decades. DFO’s have been in the 80% range since the 1950s; and we can see what that got us.

I think maybe Mr. Mason has bought a little too much into the fishery suggestions of Dr. Carl Walters who has been quoted in numerous articles and has stated in several radio interviews that we should be harvesting closer to 80% of this year’s Fraser sockeye run.

As I also point out in my comments to the article and in other posts on this site. Over 70% of the Fraser sockeye run this year is comprised of one stock — the Adams/Weaver run is predicted to be over 24 million of a total run size of about 35 million.

There are estimated to be over 200 separate stocks of sockeye in the Fraser River. Many of which are teetering on extirpation or extinction and several smaller stocks that no one even knows their status. And thus, if we run out and harvest 80-90% of the total run… (at the time of Mason’s article the total run size was hovering around 30 million; it’s now upwards of 35 million.)

Therefore, we harvest 80-90% of the run (as suggested by Mason in the article and Dr. Walters in other forums) which leaves 3.5 million (90% harvested) to 7 million (80% harvested) total run size. Subtract off the “management adjustments”, a percentage attached to total predicted marine run size to account for in-river mortality due to water levels and temperatures — that number has hovered around 15% for the Summer Group and 35% for the Late Summer Group (which incl. the Adams run).

Oh… well if we took 80-90% in commercial fisheries and then had to subtract 35% to account for in-river mortality. Well… we’d be at a negative run size: -15% if we harvested 80% and -25% if we harvested 90% (negative run sizes might have BC implementing ocean-ranching tout de suite…)

So let’s say we’re not that stupid. Let’s say we take the total run size, then subtract off the management adjustment (MA), then suggest a 80-90% exploitation rate. Or let’s just pretend there is no in-river mortality (i.e. MA).

Well… with the estimates of overall Fraser productivity over the last decade (remember this graph):

Salmon Think Tank graph produced by Pacific Salmon Commission Chief Biologist

Let’s give it a healthier than shown productivity rate of 2 adult returns per spawner.

Total run size forecast in marine areas at 35 million: 35 million – 80% exploitation = 7 million fish with potential to reach spawning grounds.


35 million – 90% exploitation = 4.5 million potentially reaching spawning grounds.

Ok, 4.5 million to 7 million spawners multiplied by an overly optimistic productivity of 2 adults returning per spawner leaves us with a potential total run size in 4 years of 9 to 14 million. That’s about 2.5 to 4 times less than the total run size this year.

If we repeat the same practice in 4 years (2014) we’d have an even smaller run four years after that (2018) —  if productivity levels remain low, as many predict them to do so.

This sounds brilliant.

Maybe Mr. Mason should stick to sports and real estate articles.

Carrying Capacity & Salmon fishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Godin, suggests in his post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly as Godin suggests:

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

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

There is not room for rough estimates that suggest:

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


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

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

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

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

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

weather forecasts; salmon forecasts

weather forecasting tools and investment in red…………………….salmon in blue.

Growing up on Haida Gwaii (islands off the coast of British Columbia) “weather-obsession” is a common ailment. When one lives on islands out in the ocean, weather is important; crucial in many cases. Anyone planning to travel on the sea must have a decent idea of what the weather is doing — it is knowledge meaning the difference between life and death.

With weather there is local and regional; daily and seasonal, and so on. These must be considered when traveling on the water. Not just on islands in the sea but also large lakes and even large rivers. For example, kayaking in the inlets of Haida Gwaii, or on the open ocean a traveler needs to be aware of the shift in winds that occur as tides rise and fall, the shifts from morning to evening, inshore and offshore breezes and so on.

In days past, local and community knowledge dictated how weather was forecast: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight — red sky in the morning, sailor’s take warning”. On Haida Gwaii, the difference between a wind from the south-east and wind from the south-west is dramatic; south-west often means squalls and weather that may pass. South-east means take cover — and if it’s in the fall or winter — you may need to take cover for weeks.

Forecasting weather now is an incredibly complex and techno-gizmo dominated affair; it continues to get more and more complex all the time. There are satellites orbiting Earth strictly for weather purposes – these are sent out costs of billions of dollars. On the ocean are weather buoys that measure air pressure, wind direction and strength, waves, swell and wave direction. There are planes flying around; weather balloons launched. There are airports, regional weather stations, local weather stations and so on, and so on.

Weather obsession is a particularly acute illness. One particular member of my family, still living on the islands, has serious weather obsession. She has website bookmarks with text forecasts, satellite images, weather buoys that surround Haida Gwaii, including some far offshore. I can phone her and I can get a full reporting hour by hour of where a low-pressure weather system is sitting and the strength of air circulation (i.e. wind), relative humidity, barometric pressure rising or falling, sea swell direction and strength and even distance between peaks of waves.

If you’re planning to travel by ferry between the mainland and Haida Gwaii — a six hour crossing in calm seas — this is important information. Staff on the ferries are certainly watching, no one wants to get caught in a “south-easter” blowing over 100 km/hr with wave swells topping 10 metres. (they won’t sail when the seas are over 3 metres… but accidents happen).

One Christmas about ten years ago — my brother and I were visiting the islands. We were delayed on the way out and spent Christmas Day on the ferry due to weather. Our travel plans back were delayed by ten days. An intense low pressure system moved in to the area and the ferry could not sail. Swells on the Hecate Strait were reaching over 14 metres (that’s almost 50 feet!) and on a sustained basis for days. The really scary part was there were only eight seconds between passing wave crests.

Not pleasant.

Thankfully weather forecasting was able to predict this with a certain amount of accuracy.

Enough accuracy to say: “stay the hell off the ocean!”


What does this have to do with salmon forecasts?

No matter what tools are used for forecasting of any kind — financial markets, sports teams odds, crop yields, elections, etc. — there is always margins of error. Some might assume that more tools, techno-gizmos, mathematical equations, and like that utilized — the more accurate the forecasting.

That may be true to an extent. If we look at weather forecasting… the one-day outlooks are getting better; however there are still so many factors in these complex systems that it is very difficult to be entirely accurate. There are also the unforeseen unforeseens; the unknown unknowns (thank-you Mr. Rumsfeld).

As we move out to five day forecasts, as we all well know, the forecasts become a lot less accurate, a lot less reliable. They are like a general guidance

And thus the salmon comparison.

Forecasting salmon returns is very, very difficult. There are almost as many potential factors affecting salmon, as there is weather — if not maybe more. Even weather affects salmon — for example the movement of the Aleutian Low Pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska and the California High. These can dictate ocean currents and nutrient upwelling and cycling throughout the North Pacific — the salmon “pasture”.

Now, if we compare the amount of tools and investment that guide weather forecasting and compare this to salmon it looks something like this:

Granted maybe weather has larger economic implications.

When it comes to weather though, meteorologists have accepted that they can not account for and factor in all the ‘unknown unknowns’ into the equation. Meteorologists have accepted that weather is part of an incredibly complex system that humans can only barely begin to understand — no matter how powerful our computer modeling and no matter how many indicators, phenomena, and quirks and quarks we factor into our equations.

One new thing is discovered, and this simply opens up a whole new set of questions.

Sadly though — this does not seem to be the case with salmon.

The absolute bulk of the message, the spending, the ‘investment’, and the research I am seeing in salmon discussions is that:

  • we need more research,
  • we need more technology,
  • we need more accurate forecasting,
  • we need more computer modeling,
  • we need more accurate fisheries management equations (like Maximum Sustainable Yield),
  • we need more telemetry and sonar and radio tags and techno-gizmos, and
  • we need to know more about the ocean and so on, and so on, and so on.

This isn’t like the weather. There will always be weather. Weather is not going in extinct in some areas. We can’t eat weather.

The amazing thing with weather and techno-gizmos and weather buoys and satellites and up-to-the-minute web forecasts and weather channels and, and, and…

If you stand on the dock with an old-timer or someone knowledgeable about local conditions,  they will look up to the sky and say: “I don’t know if you should head out, that breeze is turning to the south-east, it could get a little choppy out there….”

98 times out of 100 they’re probably right.

This same knowledge exists in local communities about salmon runs. When they migrate, how they migrate, where, indicators of strength, and so on.

This knowledge can’t be captured by sonar, or by telemetry, or by computer modeling, or by simulations, or by mathematical equations…..

It’s captured by being there (not in some meeting in Vancouver…)

one opinion becoming everyone’s opinion?

MEMORY STICK NO. 3 (Series 1 - 12) twig, wire, jute, paper tag, ink by Simon Davies

The tag on this piece “Memory Stick No. 3” reads:

Collected from a pine tree on the high bog plain at Naikoon – 10/17/04. This stick holds 250 years of data in its cell structure – north pacific weather, cosmological events, supernatural occurrences, insect and animal movement – human history.

The high bog plain area of Naikoon – Northeastern Haida Gwaii – is a truly remarkable place. This area remained ice free during the last glacial advances – ice age. As such, there are various plant species there that exist nowhere else on the planet.

The trees in the bog are stunted, tangled, twisted little things. Some of the trees are head high and yet hundreds of years old. The muskeg is almost all pillowy moss where each step sinks knee deep in peat and sphagnum.

To access the bog plains, hike up a forest trail from the gravel road that parallels North Beach. The trail starts at the mouth of Klikkidamen – or White Creek. From the upper bog plains, on a clear day, one can easily see Southeast Alaska across the colonial named Dixon Entrance.

In years past – such as 250 years ago when cells from this twig were starting their first metabolizing – Haida people would paddle their 50+ foot cedar canoes across the Dixon Entrance to friends and family and communities on the islands to the north – now separated by an imaginary border, a barrier of political process.

In years past memory sticks were the stories and songs taken by canoe and given and received at potlatches – the central core institution to Haida society and many other Nations up and down the coast.

Now… a memory stick is a collection of silicone and microprocessors and computer chips that can carry stories and songs in a collection of 1’s and 0’s – binary code and the like. A memory stick is a small flat little piece of plastic that can carry thousands of images imprinted on its “memory” – images also full of stories and songs.

Now, instead of traveling hundreds of kilometres across stormy, choppy, current-filled Straits and Entrances – stories and songs in the form of 1’s and 0’s travel as fast as a memory-flash from Haida Gwaii to Hong Kong.

Now, urban and rural communities are beginning to be linked in one community – the online community. Several years ago the Canadian federal government began an initiative to ensure every community in Canada – no matter how isolated – has access to high-speed Internet. In some ways this has been happening.

I told a story in a post a few weeks ago about working in a northern BC First Nation community accessed by plane (landing on a gravel runway) or five hours by gravel roads from the nearest highway.This community has high-speed internet delivered through satellites. Sometimes the reception is a bit inconsistent and evenings can be really slow as kids get online to play video games with kids from Newfoundland or Florida or South Africa.

Today in the Globe and Mail newspaper there is an article about how the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is pressuring the telecom industry to improve their wireless and high-speed internet services to rural communities – rather than just focusing on urban communities.

I am also reading Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone is Connected. Connect Everyone to your Business. Joel has a blog on the topic. You can probably guess that this is connected to the idea of six degrees of separation.

In his ending to the first chapter, Joel states:

The big idea in a world of Six Pixels of Separation is to embrace community as the new currency. Understand and believe that your business and how it is perceived in the marketplace are going to get increasingly complex in the coming months. How you are positioned, how people see you, and how you speak back to them are going to be the global validation for your growth. In a world where we’re all connected, one opinion quickly turns into everyone’s opinion. How you build trust in your brand, your business, and yourself is going to be an important part of how your business is going to adapt and evolve. (author’s emphasis)

I don’t know if I fully agree with the sentiment of embracing community as the “new currency” – communities have, and always will have, currency, or “transmission from person to person” as one dictionary defines currency. However, I do agree with the idea that one opinion can turn into everyone’s opinion.

I hope that many organizations recognize this in a world becoming more and more connected (over 1.5 billion people now online) – for example, organizations that exist solely to provide consumers with tools to make more conscious decisions when purchasing, such as “eco-labelling” and “eco-certification”. Or organizations marketing certain products such as farmed salmon or wild salmon.

I was quite amazed the other day to look through Seth Godin’s blog – one of the most popular in North America with hundreds of thousands of followers and daily visitors. For example, he released a book last week Linchpin – it’s already on the New York Times bestseller list. Godin has suggested in a couple of blog posts to stay away from farmed salmon. He also highlighted – in his book All Marketers Are Liars – a story about a test conducted in New York which tested fresh whole salmon from various local markets labeled “wild”. Turns out a significant amount of the salmon – some sold at $29/lb – labeled “wild” were in fact farmed salmon.


Impressively, in comments on Godin’s posts were comments from farmed salmon associations with links to webpages and health “facts”. Seems maybe the salmon farming industry gets this new social media, this “community”. Not surprising when three quarters of the over 300,000 metric tonnes of salmon consumed in the U.S. is farmed.

how tough was testing for your driver’s certification?

There is a certification scheme for one of the top killers in North America. It’s called a driver’s license. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia states on their website: “Not only are new drivers more prone to crash, one in four of their crashes result in an injury or fatality.”

Furthermore, there are best practices, benchmarks, guidelines, frameworks and even laws suggesting drinking alcohol and driving are not the best combination – yet in Canada approximately 35% of car crash deaths are alcohol related.

What is a speed limit?

It’s like a “best practice” for the road conditions presented – for example lots of little kids running around on their way to and from school – maybe 30 km/hr would be the best practice for these areas. Trans Canada open highway across the prairies – well – speed limits are more like a target benchmark and as most of us assume we’re allowed a little leeway either way. Often 10% to 15% – if the speed limit is 100 km/hr generally cops will give you 110 km/hr or maybe even 115 km/hr.

Once you have your driver’s certification – you have to work very hard to lose it – unless you are caught driving drunk or you’re caught over the benchmarks and best practices on many occassions. (but then hire a good lawyer and maybe you get away clean…)

With all of the benchmarks, best practices, and laws – do people still speed? Do people still drive drunk?

Is there any further testing – say every five years after you first get your license? No. Well not at least not until you are a much more seasoned driver.

I carry a little card that suggests I am certified to drive; however,  my test to get that certification was pretty darn lax. My driving test was done on Haida Gwaii – islands six hours by ferry off the coast of British Columbia. The driver’s test examiner would come about once every six weeks from the mainland and we had to book well in advance.

For my test, we drove around looking for a spot to try and “parallel park” the dreaded test within the test. We used a telephone pole (as a pretend car)  and the only car parked on the side of the road for about a kilometre each way. Funnily enough, he tested me on my reversing skills in the exact same spot: “ok… you’ve parallel parked, now back up about 30 metres…”

I think the only thing I lost points on during the test was using my palm for a big turn instead of hand over hand… I didn’t tell the examiner that my brother and I used to “drive” our 1950s Ford pickup around our field when we were kids. My brother would steer and I would be on the floor on the pedals…. I think only the “go” pedal worked anyways.

Within a few months of getting my driver’s license ( I was 19)  I was driving into downtown Vancouver along the Trans Canada highway; within less than a year I had bought my own truck. Do you think other drivers  felt safe, knowing I was certified? Do you feel safe when you see a car with a little green “N” blow by you on the freeway with the young driver texting on their cell phone? (not to say there aren’t some good young drivers out there)

Of course, things have changed a little since I received my license, however I don’t know if the testing is still much different back where I grew up – but at least there’s “graduated licensing” in British Columbia now.

That’s kind of like a “conditional” license. Does that make it safer, or better?

And thus, to draw my analogy…. Does “ecocertification” and “ecolabelling” actually mean that something is actually “eco” – i.e sustainable?

Do you feel much better filling up at a Husky gas station (or is it Mohawk): “Mother Nature’s station”?

When I see a product on the shelf, or in the freezer with a little sticker or logo am I going to reach for it over the product without?

In the case of Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – probably not now after doing some consumer research – however, many folks may very well. Kind of like the pragmatic folks who buy Volvo’s based on their safety claims – yet if you’re a crappy driver, the safest vehicle ain’t going to help you much in a meeting with a telephone pole, or another vehicle.

Unfortunately, the history of Fisheries and Oceans the “driver” of fisheries management in Canada – their driving record ain’t all that good (they kind of had a head on with North Atlantic cod…. and the cod lost). It was a serious case of drinking and driving (and they certainly didn’t have an airbag – oh wait, who was the Minister of Fisheries then?) – and yet they weren’t sent to mandatory counseling, or testing, or even rebuked by a judge. They just said “gee… we don’t do it like that anymore…”.

And in the case of the MSC – sure they’ve got Fisheries and Oceans on a “graduated” conditional certification scheme for BC sockeye fisheries – some 40 conditions and a “five year action plan”. But similar to driver’s; once you’re certified, it’s pretty damn tough to lose your certification – even if the testing for your certification was pretty lax and maybe even conducted with gaping voids like not having to really parallel park.

With MSC – I don’t think anyone has lost their eco-license in the organization’s ten year eco-history.

I’m sorry Marine Stewardship Council but your “Principles” may have some flaws…

Apologies to those of you who might be a bit tired of reading my posts on the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). However, I must say, that it is “eco-labeling” (MSC’s own words) such as this program that point to some of the issues in fisheries worldwide.

Today, Kerry Coughlin the Marine Stewardship Council’s “Regional Director for the Americas” wrote an editorial for The Tyee a British Columbia-based “independent daily online magazine.” The article is a defence of the Marine Stewardship Council and it’s recent decision to certify B.C.’s sockeye fisheries.

The article dovetails with emails I have received from the MSC over the past week or so. I received the emails – that basically defend the MSC and their processes – after I sent them links to this site, specifically, Lesson 1, Lesson 2, and Lesson 3 for the MSC that I proposed a little over a week ago.

Again, as mentioned in previous posts, I’m not trying to be a jerk – or intending disrespect to the organization and individuals involved, nor the sixty-three fisheries that have been “eco-certified” by the MSC (in just over 10 years). I haven’t spent, or had, the time to read through the thousands upon thousands of pages that accompany these “eco-certifications” so can’t yet suggest a completely flawed process.

I have spent some time, though, trying to wade through the BC sockeye fishery certification at well over 500 pages.

I’ve also recently been reading the “MSC Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Fishing” . These are the central core tenets of the organization and the sixty-three fisheries worldwide the MSC has certified as “sustainable” in the last decade since the organization was created by the World Wildlife Fund and multinational corporation Unilever (one of the world’s largest sellers of seafood).

I had some interest in these Principles, because as you may have read in my post from the other day quoting the Bruntland Report from the 1980s:

In 1979, the stats used for the report, total volume of fish captured (wild fisheries and aquaculture) in the world’s oceans was more than 70 million tons.

The report stated:

With conventional management practices, the growth era of fisheries is over.

[Yet] the world fishery has doubled since 1979 from 70 million to over 141 million tons captured in 2005…

So, personally, the words “sustainable” and “fisheries” can sometimes begin to ring oxymoron-ish – especially industrial-scale fisheries. It’s not to say that sustainable industrial fisheries may not be possible; and really at some point they will truly have to be and at one time in the past they were. However, a fishery is a fishery – and most everything in the ocean is connected (and beyond) – take a whale, impact a krill; take a shark, impact a pilot fish; take a salmon, impact a bear (oh wait, that’s not the ocean… point made).

(what’s the old saying? give a man a fish feed him for a day, give him a net…and watch him fish the crap out of the sea…)

Marine Stewardship Council Principle 1:

A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion of the exploited populations and, for those populations that are depleted, the fishery must be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery.

Hold on a second. If one reads for the literal meaning of this entire sentence – it is one long contradiction. A “fishery” means one thing – killing fish. If one is killing humans, one is depleting a population. If one is killing fish – this is depletion.

I suppose the important point here is: “over-fishing”.

This is where things get sticky and complex. As with anything who gets to define and determine the “over”?

If a population is depleted – then it must be fished in such a way that “leads to recovery”? These are diametrically opposed ideas, and are they not fundamentally opposed to the idea of “sustainable”?

If a population is “depleted” killing any more of it is not “sustainable”? Even in the most skewed definitions of the word…

I am all ears if there are examples out there of “depleted populations” being harvested in such a way that leads to population “recovery”. My guess is that realistic economic returns and depleted populations being harvested are not two things that exist in the same sentence (other than the one you just read).

If you have had an opportunity to read my earlier post Once upon a salmon – and I recognize I’ve raised this in a few posts this past week; however these are stunning numbers – in 1902 the Canadian Minister of Fisheries reported that over 30 million Fraser River sockeye were canned that year and that 30 million more sockeye could have been canned if the canneries had had the capacity. (And remember this is just canned sockeye, this doesn’t include fresh sold, Aboriginal fisheries, and whatever other fisheries).

So, MSC, and independent scientific review board, and independent certifying body, and Ms. Coughlin – you all rightfully recognize that there are some issues with Fraser sockeye (and I might add the other three sockeye river fisheries included in this eco-certification), such as listings as endangered species for some stocks, and a judicial inquiry, and the case of only a little over 1 million sockeye showing up this past season – what sort of numbers are we suggesting for these particular “populations that are depleted” and what sort of “fishery [will] be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery”?

And are we talking 1902 numbers of “recovery” – or 1850 numbers of “recovery” – or 1491 numbers of “recovery”?

I suppose catching one sockeye a year is still considered a “fishery”….

Concluding thought:

In British Columbia, a significant number of First Nation communities depend on sockeye fisheries and have for thousands and thousands of years – and somehow these Nations looked after those runs sustainably.


Sockeye from large hatchery runs (or the rare healthy run) are trucked on highways (right beside the rivers that once hosted the salmon runs) to other First Nation communities that have no sockeye runs anymore.

My experience in B.C. First Nation communities – sockeye are not about “fisheries” – sockeye are life.

On Haida Gwaii where I grew up – I fished a particular river a lot growing up. The name of that river is the Yakoun River. The river runs up the heart of the northernmost island. As far as I have been told, “Yakoun” means River of Life in Haida.

"Yakoun Lake Schematic" by Simon Davies

I’m guessing the once strong run of sockeye – one of the few on Haida Gwaii – is the reason the name was given in the first place…

Number of First Nations meaningfully consulted in this 9-year MSC process – that apparently investigates and certifies sustainable fisheries?


And that’s three in a series of three meetings one summer quite a few years ago.

Number of First Nations dependent on annual sockeye returns on just the Fraser River alone:

Approximately 50.

no more blueprints…

A little while back I had a post exploring the concept of “conservation” . I quoted Edward de Bono (innovator of Lateral Thinking and Six Thinking Hats)  in his definition of concept as a: “convenience package, a grouping, a clustering, an assembly for a purpose…”

As well as providing a dictionary definition of “conservation“:

2. a. Preservation or restoration from loss, damage, or neglect.

b. The protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and of natural resources such as forests, soil, and water.

I also quoted the definition of “conservation” provided in Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Wild Salmon Policy:

Conservation is the protection, maintenance, and rehabilitation of genetic diversity, species and ecosystems to sustain biodiversity and continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes.

In as much as the DFO definition is full of a lot of bumpf – I can sympathize somewhat. The concept of conservation is a complex one. As I mentioned in some comments to posts, I don’t think the answer to this complex issue is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ definition – or blueprint solution.

Conservation, as suggested in the Wild Salmon Policy, applies to natural systems, or ecosystems. Natural systems are complex systems; which means uncertainty, unpredictability, and unforeseens – look at natural disasters such as Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, tsunamis, etc.  And hence, my riff yesterday on suggestions from DFO scientists that more scientific models and equations are required. I suggest maybe a little more actual standing stream side – rather than office exercises that can never account for all variables.

Now, here’s the most important variable that is left out of DFO’s definition and concept – the social-human variables. And this is where there’s a gaping void.

The first principle of the Wild Salmon Policy, and DFO’s overall fisheries management approach, is “Conservation” . The second principle is Aboriginal Fisheries (food, ceremonial, etc.), then Commercial and Sport Fisheries.

OK, so if the second two principles are clearly social principles – then why isn’t the first principle laid out as a social principle or concept?

This goes back to my questions:

  • What are we conserving?
  • Why are we conserving?
  • And, maybe even most importantly, by who’s definitions are we conserving?

There is a difference between denotation (the stated part) of a document, word, or principle; and the connotation (the various understandings) of a document, word, or principle. Connotations are virtually impossible to control. (See my post on the front yard-back yard analogy)

In the Wild Salmon Policy, unfortunately, the stated definition (denotation) of conservation is flawed, which will continue to create serious issues with public connotations. The definition sticks strictly to the natural systems view of “conserving” things – unless DFO sees the human elements that are implicit in “continuance of evolutionary and natural production processes” when it comes to wild salmon.

Wild salmon and humans have co-evolved and co-existed around the Pacific Rim for eons. Humans have been intimately connected to wild salmon “evolutionary and natural production processes”. Even more-so now as humans have developed the ability to largely wipe out a creek’s entire salmon run, with little more than a few seine nets at the mouth over a period of a decade or two, logging out a watershed, or building a new suburban neighborhood of bread box, chip-board homes.

So, if the second and third principles are about human consumption – then why not state clearly in the first principle that “conservation” means: conservation so that humans can continue to harvest them – instead of a bunch of bumpfy, bafflegab language that doesn’t really denote anything specific at all about very complex, unpredictable things.

Or, better yet, why not clearly state that conservation and things like biodiversity are distinctly social systems, as much as natural systems?

For example, one of the most common methods of “conserving biodiversity” practiced worldwide is to create “protected areas” or national parks – which are in turn controlled and ‘managed’ by national governments. Creating national parks is a distinctly social practice, social issue, with levels of natural and social complexity.

Creating parks are often heated, controversial, and complex social arrangements that create tensions for years – and as many folks suggest, in turn, may not really do much for the natural systems they purport to “protect”. As some have suggested, creating national parks or protected areas is a ‘blueprint solution’ with a top-down enforcement model.

And then of course there are questions and concerns that highlight the gaps between blueprint policies and actually enforcing them. (speed limits or bike helmet laws mean anything to anyone? If someone is speeding on a highway and there’s no cop there to measure it – is she still technically speeding?).

So what if we looked at, and worked with, the concept of conservation as a distinctly social principle, as well as a principle for guiding our activities as part of natural systems?

Certainly, many indigenous societies have. When it comes to wild salmon, indigenous societies had to have conservation principles – it’s simple really: kill too many fish, and die (or move to a new territory, someone else’s).

And, again, really, the Wild Salmon Policy and DFO policies are about ‘fisheries management‘ – not just the actual fish. Fisheries are implicitly social institutions with multiple levels of interests and hence, complex social systems as well as complex natural systems.

Thus, blueprints like the Wild Salmon Policy, will never work without acknowledging the complexity and interrelated natural and social systems. And if those of you working in this field remember, the Wild Salmon Policy evolved directly out of a document titled: “Blueprint” for Pacific salmon. Plus the Minister for DFO in 2005 discussed:

The blueprint to reform Pacific fisheries focuses on four main themes…

Let’s leave the “blueprints” to constructing buildings – stable, static things – not for dealing with complex social and natural systems.

And why is it that government policy often operates on assumptions that human well-being and ecosystems are separate distinct things?

They are intimately connected – humans are not separate from ecosystems, as climate change is clearly showing us. Or, as someone such as myself who grew up on islands six hours by ferry from the mainland has learned intimately (on several occasions – 6 metre waves mean anything?). Humans are part of natural systems, with all our muti-layers of social, community, and institutional interactions.

And to be fair, there is language in the Wild Salmon Policy that talks about linking local and traditional knowledge, linking to stewardship groups, and the principle of “open and transparent” processes (go to DFO’s website and search around for documents and such related to the Wild Salmon Policy and tell me how “open” and “transparent” you find it…).

Another gaping void: between words on paper and action on the ground.

The world is getting a little flatter (in a figurative sense) as suggested by author Thomas Friedman. Globalization is hard at work, and things like wikinomics, open-source software, and growing access to the Internet are shifting how we relate and interact with each other. I have incorporated some of these things in other posts and will continue to do so.

Corporations now have interns that search through social media looking for comments – positive or negative – and try to utilize those, or fend them off. Obama utilized social media and networking quite successfully in his presidential campaign. Open-source mapping programs like Ushahidi are working wonders in disaster relief in Haiti – or in violence related to the elections in Africa (where the program originated). I worked in an isolated B.C. First Nation community six hours by backroads away from the nearest highway – and yet they have high speed internet and laptop purchase and use is growing exponentially (along with Facebook use in the community).

As such, complex issues like wild salmon ‘conservation’ (which includes harvesting) that cross natural and social systems will require networks of people, networks of knowledge, networks of learning, networks of joint problem-solving, and networks that span from federal government offices in Ottawa to community homes on the coast of British Columbia. (and many networks of conflict resolution)

These networks must be international, global, and yet still local. Biodiversity is a global, international, and local issue.

This mean activities that are multi-varied and multi-leveled. It will also require better distribution of power and resources – and much better processes that: “look first to understand, then be heard” .

No more blueprints for complex natural and social systems.

Lesson 3 (for the Marine Stewardship Council) in how not to earn credibility

For thousands of years First Nations people on the British Columbia coast and inland have been almost entirely dependent on salmon runs. Some estimates suggest that the Fraser River basin was potentially one of the most densely populated areas prior to colonization. Various estimates also suggest the Fraser River used to support somewhere around 120-140 million salmon.

From the mouth near present-day Vancouver to the upper reaches around Takla Lake, Valemount, and other headwater areas there was a pretty simple principle at work – catch too many salmon and die (or have to move to another territory). Somehow the amazing number of nations on many of these rivers had a system for making sure salmon made it upstream to neighbors and upstream to spawning grounds.

When I worked in the Yukon in the early 2000s I learned about an impressive system that made sure that over 90 different nations were able to access salmon along the 2700+ km Yukon River. In the present day, the Yukon River Panel with reps from the U.S. and Canada are working every year on making sure that salmon runs make it upstream.

80% of the salmon spawn in Canada (in the Yukon Territory), however, for many years over 80% of the salmon were being caught in the U.S. in Alaska. Something had to give.

Now, everyone along the river is attempting to figure these issues out. Salmon runs have declined, open sea fisheries are largely closed, and so many people – First Nation or not – depend on salmon every year for things like dog teams, an essential form of transport in winter.

There’s also a very unique chum salmon run that fights upstream to near the community of Teslin – an over 2700 km journey (including past one dam at Whitehorse). It’s one of the longest traveling chum runs in the world; chum generally like to spawn near the mouths of rivers.

It’s not an easy process – however, a pretty amazing amount of people try and work through the issues.

In trying to read the MSC reports, it’s suggested that this certification process was the longest the organization has been involved in at over nine years. As the process:

has required all parties engaged in the process (i.e clients, DFO, First Nation and ENGO stakeholders, the assessment team members and the certification companies), to constantly backtrack and review the preceding certification step and its results in order to proceed to the next assessment task. [pg. 1]

In addition, there was:

a vast amount of information provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the client, environmental, conservation and First Nation stakeholder groups. [pg. 3]

I was curious what some of the First Nation input was – especially in light of the complex legal environment that surrounds aboriginal rights and title (treaty rights with the Nisga’a on the Nass River) and B.C. fisheries. And the very strong emotions that surround salmon fisheries for most First Nations people.

I read, and read, and read (as mentioned in previous posts there’s over 500 pages of reports) – ok, maybe skimmed at times – and not until page 68 of the Volume 1 report does it state:

SCS [Science Certification Systems, Inc. the company that conducted the certification process] made a significant effort (through emails, faxes, couriered packages, and phone calls) to both contact and speak directly with First Nations organizations associated with the fishing and fisheries management of salmon in British Columbia, Canada. Although these efforts were made, SCS was unable to gain any traction with First Nations.

And, in fact, pretty much the only communication with First Nations was a meeting “in the interest of efficiency” between one member of the review team with three groups in a series of three meetings over a one month period in 2005.

One, maybe don’t run off about how First Nations were involved in the nine year process in the opening pages of the reports – if in fact there was only three meetings in 2005 with specific Nations.

Two, there is a legally mandated principle of “meaningful consultation” with First Nations in Canada. A few years ago the logging company Weyerhaeuser learned an important lesson about how phone calls (or faxes, or emails) were not considered “meaningful consultation” when dealing with the Council of the Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii regarding Tree Farm License 39.

I’m not suggesting that the Marine Stewardship Council has engaged in a process that requires “meaningful consultation” as the Canadian courts have attempted to describe it – however, Fisheries and Oceans the federal ministry that engaged heavily in this process and has a “five year action plan” to meet conditional MSC certification – does.

Any thoughts?

Judicial inquiry? "Here we go again…" (Version 10.0)

Is it me, or is the announcement of another judicial inquiry like a bad Microsoft Windows release? Just as we think we couldn’t possibly download another Windows update or patch – the next version comes out. I have found a federal parliamentary report from 2004 titled: Here we go again, or the 2005 Fraser river salmon fishery.

Twelve recommendations and yet, here we go again….

A quick review of online searches shows an impressive list of reports and investigations into Pacific salmon over the last three decades.  From what I have seen personally in declines in my favorite rivers and streams, and looking through records of numbers of salmon spawning in streams – there’s little doubt as to why so many investigations have been launched.

Unfortunately, this isn’t like some t.v. episode of CSI (crime scene investigation) or other cop show where the investigators  always get their bad guy. It’s kind of more like episodes of X-Factor where the mystery continues… although in X-Factor I don’t think they finish the program with some longgg list of recommendations. (and its not that I’m much of a t.v.-fan – it just makes a decent analogy here).

I’m trying to compile an accurate and sequential list of the number of inquiries, parliamentary standing committees, Pearse et al. reports, Mifflin Plans, special investigations, independent analyses, and whatever other investigations that have occurred regarding Pacific salmon in my lifetime. At first review – it’s not that easy so I’m sure someone out there has a good list.

The next question I have is how much have these ‘investigations’ cost?

Secondly, how much has all the follow-up cost – or lack of?

I can’t say I’ve found all that many reports titled “Mifflin Plan: – five years later how we successfully implemented the recommendations”. (Doesn’t mean those aren’t out there – let me know if they are).

As mentioned in a previous post or two – one of the better programs I have seen come out of the Fisheries and Oceans behemoth bureaucracy is the Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Program (HRSEP). Yes, I have some bias as I was fortunate to get two years of really interesting and satisfying work with a small community group on Haida Gwaii (off the coast of British Columbia) where I grew up and almost a year of work with a First Nation in the central Yukon – all under funding from the HRSEP initiative.

The program was roughly $50 million over 4-5 years in the late 1990s with a focus on rehabilitating salmon habitat throughout B.C. and the Yukon. (Good idea, maybe just consider doing it for more than one life cycle).

What if we took all the funding allocated to political investigations, parliamentary hearings (done in Ottawa a few thousand k.m. away from the nearest salmon), and sandbox bickering and actually put it into more programs on-the-ground?

What if we took all the funding and instead of pumping it into multi-million dollar ‘science’ programs that tell us squid are eating baby salmon off western Vancouver Island – and put it into compiling the incredible depth of knowledge in every community connected to wild salmon?

(not that I am one to suggest that all of the scientific investigations are bad – or that compiling “more data” is going to solve the problems – just some thoughts).

Or, continuing with the Microsoft analogy, if anyone has seen the latest commercials (oh damn, I’m using t.v. references again – truly, not much of a watcher, just a hockey fan). The commercials surrounding the Windows 7 release have average folks talking about how features of Windows 7: “were my idea”.

What if in programs guiding how we care for wild salmon – everyday folks could say: “Coho Creek habitat rehabilitation… my idea”?

Or, “designing effective community salmon forums… my idea”?

In 2004, the BC government formed the Citizen’s Assembly on Electoral Reform. One hundred and sixty citizens from all the constituencies of BC  met for ten months through 2004: “studying electoral systems in use around the world, holding public hearings, accepting public submissions, and finally reaching a decision.” The Assembly was designed to be “an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens who examined the province’s electoral system.”

The budget for the Assembly was under $5 million. And sure the referendum in 2009 didn’t institute the recommendations of the Assembly – but then not instituting the recommendations of multi-million dollar reports is kind of the theme here.

The work of the Assembly will not go away – plus there are now 160 BC citizens that are probably a lot more engaged in the political process. Plus a search online shows that the Assembly’s work is discussed around the world as many other areas look at electoral reform.

What if something like the Citizen’s Assembly was done to investigate how we look after wild salmon?

What if a Citizen’s assembly could study wild salmon systems in use around the world, holding public hearings, accepting public submissions, and finally reaching a decision.

The Assembly could be an independent, non-partisan assembly of citizens (with significant representation of First Nations) who examine how we care for the wild salmon systems in Western Canada – and Western North America for that fact.

The upcoming judicial inquiry into Fraser River sockeye is suggested to cost in the range of $20 million. Could we not undertake a citizen’s assembly for less – and be more effective?

No disrespect intended for those who have called for the judicial inquiry, nor Justice Cohen who will oversee the inquiry. It’s simply that after years of getting the same things out of these processes (albeit expensive $$) – and then turning to Fisheries and Oceans to actually change and better manage salmon – is completely irresponsible, pointless, and sad.

On my bookshelf is a book called Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins by Annette Simmons. On one hand, that is exactly the problems that I see – a judicial inquiry is built upon the premise of the adversarial legal system that we pride ourselves upon. Evidence is weighed and the best advocate for their argument wins based on a balance of probabilities, or, beyond a reasonable doubt. (yes, I understand the inquiry is a little more administrative than a court of law…)

However, on the other hand, as Simmons explains on the cover jacket of her book:

People float in an ocean of data and disconnected facts that can overwhelm them with choices. In this ocean of choice, a meaningful story can feel like a life preserver that tethers us to something safe and important – at the very least, to a trace of humanity that proves there is a “you” communicating with them, whether the “you” is yourself or an organization you represent. This book helps you lay the groundwork for using story as a credible tool to connect with your audience, and create a meaning more powerful than mere facts could ever do.

If there’s one thing I learned on The Wild Salmon Cycle – there are no shortage of meaningful stories when it comes to wild salmon, throughout their natural range stretching from Inuvik, NWT to Los Angeles, CA. Whether it was an elder of the Gwich’in people of Tetlit Zheh (Fort MacPherson, NWT) on Nagwichoo tshik (Peel River) – see post “No one ever asked…” – or, oil riggers from Texas that I met in a roadside rest area near Denali National Park in Alaska (they were off to fish salmon on the Kenai Peninsula and each handed me $100 to support the ride), or a homeless fellow in a wheel chair in San Francisco – there are fantastic salmon stories out there.

I’ve sub-titled this blog “what’s your salmon story?” for a reason. There is some scientific research – data, charts and graphs, and the like – that comes out and I think: “hmmm that’s interesting”. For example, bears and salmon in the trees (carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis). However, it’s people’s connection to salmon – their stories – that are important and essential, and, that may very well blaze a path to get out of this quagmire.

What if we had a citizen’s assembly on wild salmon?

The Economist Magazine

In November of this year, the Economist Magazine featured an article on salmon declines in the Fraser River: Socked: Another inquiry into vanishing stocks.  On one front, great that the issue is getting this sort of international coverage; on another front, a few curious assertions in the article.

Regarding the recent federal announcement of a judicial inquiry into the sockeye collapse on the Fraser, the article states: “Applause was muted. Four other federal inquiries held over the past three decades have failed to halt the decline.”


Why not take the $20 million or so that it costs to undertake a judicial inquiry and put it back into programs that actually make a difference on the ground? – as opposed to drawing the same conclusions and making the same recommendations as the last few multi-million dollar inquiries.

The article suggests: ” the province’s rich salmon fishery, worth about C$500m ($475m), could disappear…”

Fair enough, the magazine is focussed on economies. And yes, maybe the commercial salmon fishery represents that sort of economic range – however, salmon on a whole (in strictly economic terms) represent so much more.

For example, in 2006, IBM completed a report on the economic value of Skeena wild salmon:

The report concluded that wild salmon of the Skeena River represent about $110 million to our economy and this doesn’t account for ecosystem values and other values.

The Economist article continues: “Scientists and environmentalists agree that the causes of the decline include overfishing and the destruction of spawning habitats. Some also blame unauthorised fishing on the Fraser by First Nations…”

Curious that there is a suggestion of ‘agreement’ about the causes: overfishing and habitat destruction (and I don’t mean this as criticism of the article). I agree that some of the biggest issues are exactly overfishing and habitat destruction – hence why I don’t think ‘more research’ is the answer – as has been suggested by many (see previous posts). There is a place for research – but it is far from the answer, or the first step of action.

Fundamentally, I ask: if there is  such agreement then why not take drastic measures to begin the process of working on the agreed upon problems?

On the issue of First Nation fishing… I have raised this point for years, as have several others – repeatedly – that catch numbers need to be put into perspective. The commercial/sport fishery accounts for over 95% of the salmon caught in BC; the aboriginal fishery less than 5%. Mainstream media in BC has quite the love affair with running articles on First Nation ‘poaching’, or illegal fisheries, or whatever angle feeds the rabid misconception.

The misconception and misrepresentation has, from my observations, been largely successful. A few years ago I was a tour guide for bus tours on Haida Gwaii (formerly referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) where I grew up. One of the groups I guided was largely from the Fraser Valley. When the discussion turned to salmon and some of the salmon issues on Haida Gwaii there were some pretty pointed questions about how much the “Indians” were poaching, and how much of a problem that was on the lower Fraser River…..

I gently passed on the approximate catch numbers – yet, it’s still difficult to break down flawed reasoning based on media pandering.