Tag Archives: hatcheries

Alaskan salmon fisheries: is this sustainable – or a great intervention?

During a quick look around Twitter and the ‘tweets’ of some fishy folk, I came across various news articles from other geographic areas with wild salmon fisheries. It got me pondering the great Alaskan salmon fisheries experiment

Here is salmon catch in Alaska for the last century… or so… (the PNP program is the “public — non-profit program” for running salmon hatcheries – ocean ranching operations).


Are these levels sustainable into the future?

Is there any way possible that this is sustainable into the future?

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Here are two other telling graphs:


Anchovies... South America

Canada's North Atlantic cod catch


Is there a trend here?










That trend has a common shape… and curiously the Alaskan commercial salmon catch has a price trend that may be foreshadowing the catch trend…



(Remember, there was no shortage of salmon being caught prior to 1878 — especially in Alaska where Russian and other ‘explorers’ and ‘settlers’ were pillaging the coast for sea otter furs for quite some time prior to 1878 — And First Nations and Inuit had been harvesting wild salmon for eons prior to ‘contact’ — including in a commercial context for trade…

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Now, let’s add another even more worrisome trend into this Alaskan commercial salmon catch graph:


Hatchery to wild salmon commercial catch in Alaska

This graph comes compliments of “The Great Salmon Run: competition between farmed and wild salmon” (Knapp, Roheim and Anderson, 2007). It’s suggesting that the average hatchery-salmon catch is starting to approach 25% of the commercial catch in Alaska — or ocean ranching as they call it.

As the black boxes in the graph demonstrate, and as history most likely teaches us, the great intervention will need to continue to maintain catch levels that high. As we move into the second and third decades of the 2000s the hatchery-ocean ranching intervention will need to continue and the percentage of catch supplied by human intervention will continue.

The potential problem here is that this is a nasty little cycle that no one really wants to talk about…

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Hatcheries/Ocean ranching operations in Alaska are run by the PNPs — the “public — non-profit partnerships” . These were formed in the 1970s and 80s when the State of Alaska took over management of wild salmon from the Feds (as shown in the graphs).

These PNPs are largely operated by commercial fishing associations and the like. This means that the hatcheries-ocean ranching operations were set up under the same auspices of Canada’s Salmon Enhancement Program (SEP) — to increase salmon production and therefore increase commercial salmon catches.

These grand industrial/ecological balance upsetting experiments began in earnest in the 1970s. A time of a different mainstream cultural mindset, and a different understanding of ecological processes (well… sort of…).

In Alaska, the key to keeping these PNP Aquaculture Associations (hatchery-ocean ranching operations) afloat is that salmon caught commercially have:

FIRST — a cost recovery component and then

SECOND — a profit motive for the commercial fishing folks.

However, as one can see in the graphs above — stupendous salmon catch levels are being maintained at over 200 million fish across Alaska; YET the price levels are falling faster than the 2008 Dow Jones stock market index. (And cracks are starting to show in whether these catch levels can be maintained — see Yukon River fishery disaster at end of post)

And just like the stock market, sure there’s been a little blip back up in price — but nothing that resembles past price levels.

What does this mean for the Alaskan Hatchery-Ocean Ranching Operations?

Here’s a sample from one of the annual reports: The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association 2008 Annual Report.

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) was created to make more salmon for all users in Cook Inlet. Our forefathers hoped to provide a home for salmon biology; to gather ideas and knowledge, and a means of broadcasting this science to fishing communities and to the general public. These founding visionaries clearly planned to have a hatchery. (my emphasis)

Quite a fascinating opening to an annual report… I’m not one to quite buy-in to the philosophy of salmon hatcheries as manifest destiny… however, each to their own…

The annual report goes on to explain:

Meanwhile, the CIAA hatchery program also continues to financially struggle. A new sockeye project at Tutka Bay was very successful in 2008. Recent high prices for early hatchery-produced sockeye at Resurrection Bay have also shown promise. I’m currently holding my breath and hoping adjustments to the cost recovery program are successful, concurrent with improvements in ocean survival for the Resurrection Bay stocking.

About 15 hatcheries across Alaska have closed and facilities at Crooked Creek, Eklutna, Port Graham, and Tutka Bay are among them. These sites continue to be used for various projects, but at a fraction of their capabilities. I believe CIAA needs to find funding to maintain operation of Trail Lakes Hatchery. Achieving escapement goals for all systems in Cook Inlet and financing a hatchery are challenging endeavors, but they are essential for the many users of today’s salmon.

We need to find a way through the financial problems we are facing and then begin to build a healthy revenue reserve. The men and women who founded CIAA were wise to do so. I am proud to join them in their effort to realize more salmon for all users.

And so now hatchery/ocean ranching operations are having to close due to financial hardship. Furthermore, some of the practices such as lake fertilization, and mass hatchery operations are starting to show some serious issues on the ecological front. Some of these are even highlighted in the good old Marine Stewardship Council audits of the Alaskan salmon fishery (however, that’s a separate post…)

In short, the mass practice of hatchery releases has huge impacts on wild, self-sustaining populations — in terms of loss of genetic diversity and in terms of giving a false sense of security in opening certain fisheries.

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And so now the vicious cycle begins — something akin to this:


Alaskan PNPs... the vicious cycle

And so what is a State government to do?

It has set this mess up through its devolution from Fed responsibility.

If more hatcheries go belly up (like a salmon in an oil spill) this means less salmon going to sea and the less salmon we will see (returning).

This means lower catch, which means less $$ for commercial fishing industry… and less $$ in cost-recovery initiatives of these public — non-profit aquaculture operations.

Less fish going out, less fish coming in, less money coming in.

Interim solution?

Catch more fish to bring in more $$ to curb the debt load.

Catching more fish means less fishing spawning and producing naturally. Less fish producing naturally, and less fish being propagated by humans — means less fish to catch down the road.

What does this all set up?

Government bail-out.

Bail out of the fishing industry — like US government had to do on the Yukon River last year.

Anchorage Daily News reporting in January 2010:

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke declared a commercial fishing disaster for Yukon River king salmon Friday following two years of poor runs, fishing restrictions and bans.

“Communities in Alaska along the Yukon River depend heavily on chinook salmon for commercial fishing, jobs and food,” Locke said in a statement from the Commerce Department. “Alaska fishermen and their families are struggling with a substantial loss in income and revenues.”

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When we intervene with most anything — e.g. oil-rich dictator run countries — history suggests that these interventions can — in the long-run — become very, very expensive and sometimes counterproductive.

When it comes to wild salmon — the interventions are endless (hatcheries, fertilization schemes, fake habitat construction, and so on…).

The problem is that once the interventions start ‘working’ everyone seems to forget they were interventions in the first place. And so we return to how things used to be — before the interventions…

The result?

A worse frigging situation than prior to the intervention.

Look at the US bank and auto industry bailout packages — do you really think the ridiculous executive compensation packages have stopped?

Or, that auto executives curbed their flying around in private jets?

Are individual citizens taking the example of debt out-of-control and curbing their own household debt?


Maybe we need to look at the root of the word and put it in the right context…

intervene comes from Latin intervenire “to come between, interrupt.”

Various definitions suggest: “Come between so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events”

Or most fitting for this situation: “Occur as a delay or obstacle to something being done.”

And what were we, or are we, “delaying”?

The inevitable.

If we continue to hammer away at salmon runs and at salmon habitats and ignore the potential perils of climate change and its affect on salmon and their habitat… we will reach a time when no intervention will offset the inevitable collapse…

What are we potentially delaying in relation to “something being done”.

That’s called lack of political will… (and public pressure)

And nobody wants to make the real tough decision… e.g. intervene on the interventions… because that will cost…

And the public has a tough time exerting pressure because the world of salmon and “salmon management” has become the world of technocrats, techno-bumpf, endless hundreds of pages government documents, inaccessible meetings flooded with inaccessible PowerPoint presentations, inaccessible government bureaucrats (e.g. “sorry that’s not my department), inaccessible language, and legislation that simply is not enforced, legal teams with little interest in enforcing and the list goes on…

Is it time for a full-on public intervention?

A Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon?


modeling model limits

Attending the Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon conference hosted by the State of the Salmon organization in Portland, Oregon last week — I was struck (again) by the huge dependence of scientists on mathematical and computer modeling in trying to ‘understand’ salmon. An entire day was spent — in a dimly lit room — watching PowerPoint after PowerPoint presentation of various equations, models, and graphic representations suggesting we “know” about salmon.

The image below is not one of them… it’s my sanity-finder:

Ecological modeling?

One equation was so damn long that I swear it took a couple of PowerPoint slides to show it all… And the equation apparently had all of the various “factors” affecting salmon survival– the freshwater environment, estuary, ocean, and so on and so on.

Yet… to “know” about salmon, and to model salmon populations, we need to make “assumptions”.

It is this type of language that peaks my curiosity. See, assumption, has a few definitions. There’s the one that I use in my marriage — as in don’t assume, it makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me“. Generally, assumptions in a relationship are not a very good thing.

Dictionary definitions suggest:

The act of taking possession or asserting a claim; The act of taking for granted; Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition; presumption — arrogance.

Now there’s no question that there is no shortage of arrogance in science… it was not in short supply at this particular conference, and other scientifically-slanted events I’ve had the pleasure of attending… However, when it comes to modeling, or ecological modeling, there are things that must be taken for granted, or accepted as true without proof.

Without proof… that sounds so… so… un-scientific.

Now various definitions of ecological modeling suggest that these are meant to “simplify complex foodwebs“. Ok, now we’re getting somewhere.

Wikipedia continues with some enlightening thoughts:

Ecosystem models are a development of theoretical ecology that aim to characterise the major dynamics of ecosystems, both to synthesize the understanding of such systems and to allow predictions of their behavior (in general terms, or in response to particular changes).

[hold on to this thought of ” response to particular changes” for a few more paragraphs..]

Because of the complexity of ecosystems (in terms of numbers of species/ecological interactions), ecosystem models typically simplify the systems they are studying to a limited number of pragmatic components. [my emphasis]

Uh, huh. Simplify to a limited number

The Wikipedia definition continues by suggesting there are various factors driving the simplification process inherent in ecological models:


while understood in broad outline, the details of a particular foodweb may not be known; this applies both to identifying relevant species, and to the functional responses linking them (which are often extremely difficult to quantify)

computation of complexity:

practical constraints on simulating large numbers of ecological elements; this is particularly true when ecosystem models are embedded within other spatially-resolved models (such as physical models of terrain or ocean bodies…)

[oh yea… like salmon, maybe?]

and limited understanding:

depending upon the nature of the study, complexity can confound the analysis of an ecosystem model; the more interacting components a model has, the less straightforward it is to extract and separate causes and consequences; this is compounded when uncertainty about components obscures the accuracy of a simulation.

[hmmm… maybe like wild salmon that spend lives in gravel, freshwater, estuaries, the North Pacific, estuaries again, fresh water again… and so on, and so on]

“Uncertainty… obscures… accuracy”… important points to ponder.

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On day two of the conference, the agenda suggested that we would get into the: Human responses to hatcheries: understanding the social, cultural, legal and economic dimensions (of hatchery and wild salmon).

One of the panel presentations discussed an: “Economic analysis of a Columbia River fish hatchery program”. One of the most stunning comments to come out of this presentation was:

…it is impossible to economically model social and cultural impacts…

Thus, despite all of the various economic metrics, modeling, graphing and equations as part of this study and thousands of others… “it is impossible to model social and cultural impacts“.

During the question period, I asked the obvious question: “ok, how do we measure and deal with the social and cultural impacts then?”

There was no answer of substance from scientists present — to this thorny issue…

Is there an answer?

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On the afternoon of the second day, the famed “break-out” sessions came. I attended a sure-to-be-interesting session involving northern British Columbia and Alaskan representatives — two regions that have very different approaches to salmon hatcheries.

I won’t regurgitate the entire conversation here; however, some curious points:

Alaska pumps out billions of baby salmon from around southern portions of the state in salmon ranching programs run by non-profit (cost recovery) operations. These ranching (hatchery-like) operations continue despite the fact that many Alaskan government reps suggested most rivers naturally get enough spawners to support salmon populations.

It’s strictly an economic enterprise — not an ecological (even though there is an ecological impact).

British Columbia pumps out about 600 million baby salmon — some for ecological reasons, but most for economic.

Much of the discussion in this session, and much of the conference, surrounded “carrying capacity” of the North Pacific. What sort of ecological impact is occurring as a result of sending out over 5 billion baby salmon from hatchery/ranching operations around the North Pacific?

I kept asking the obvious question to me: “what is the carrying capacity of the North Pacific?… It sure as heck has seen a lot more baby salmon in the past then it does now…”

The answer quickly spouted by many scientists around the table was “we’ll never really know… it’s impossible to model… it’s too big…”

But then that would be followed up by comments such as: “it’s sure not what it used to be”… “it’s way less now”… “climate change is affecting it”.

Oh, OK, well if climate change is impacting it… how much is it impacting it — the carrying capacity? What are the effects of climate change? How are these effects changing the carrying capacity?

“Well… we don’t know… we’ll never really know… it’s impossible to model… it’s too big…

however, we are seeing some of the impacts in ocean acidification…which is rising at an alarming rate

I pointed out, that from what I have read, all the various models used to predict ocean acidification rates were way off, way wrong. We are already seeing rates that were not anticipated until at least 2050 (according to the models).When it comes to wild salmon, ocean acidification can be devastating, as the acidification will dissolve the shells of little critters like copepods that are essential food sources for baby salmon as they head out to sea.

So, OK, if ocean acidification can be devastating to salmon; is happening faster than expected — how can we get a better understanding of what the impacts might be?

you probably know the answer… “we’ll never really know… it’s impossible to model… it’s too big…”

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Remember that piece from above though, about “response to particular changes”:

Ecosystem models are a development of theoretical ecology that aim to characterise the major dynamics of ecosystems, both to synthesize the understanding of such systems and to allow predictions of their behavior (in general terms, or in response to particular changes)

If we don’t understand:

  1. Carrying capacity of the North Pacific
  2. Effects and rate of climate change, and thus also
  3. Effects and rate of ocean acidification

And we can’t model the social and cultural impacts of losing wild salmon, of building thousands of hatcheries, and of building hundreds of salmon farms along wild salmon migration routes.


Sanity-finder #2:

Suzie Sockeye

finding good ideas… preventing good ideas

Over the last couple of months I have found myself back in a place that I managed to avoid quite effectively for the last several years — windowless meeting rooms (granted the Simon Fraser University hosted Fraser Sockeye salmon summit was in the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver with lots of windows), conference centres, strictly adhered to agendas, task master meeting chairs or panel chairs or facilitators, and imposed limits for questions (Sir, you are only allowed one question… so make it good), and so on and so on…

The irony with the root of the word conference is that it comes from medieval Latin and means to “bring together” . And, I suppose, Yes… conferences do bring people together. People sit in the same rows as other attendees, breathing the same recirculated air, watching PowerPoint presentation after presentation, swilling mediocre conference centre coffee during breaks to try and stay alert, then wiggling in place not wanting to be rude by walking out on a speaker to drain a diuretic filled bladder.

(i’ve determined — through intensive scientific rigor — that the wiggling is far more effective for alertness then the caffeine kick…)

Or, as I observed in Portland last week at the State of the Salmon conference on Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon… almost everyone left in the third period (my hockey analogy).

At the start of the conference, the Hilton Hotel staff were running around bringing more chairs into the stuffed Ballroom with well over 300 people in attendance.

By the last day, a scheduled half day, and the day when things actually became a bit more  interesting; when some emotion entered the equation; where people actually talked about how they felt about salmon; when there was some feeling; when some folks actually talked about “action” as opposed to talking for the sake of talking… or graphing for the sense of graphing… or charting for the sense of charting…

…there were only about 50 people left in the room at the end of the conference.


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Seth Godin — marketing guru and mr. change agent — has a great post from the other day:

Where do you find good ideas?

Do you often find ideas that change everything in a windowless conference room, with bottled water on the side table and a circle of critics and skeptics wearing suits looking at you as the clock ticks down to the 60 minutes allocated for this meeting?

If not, then why do you keep looking for them there?

The best ideas come out of the corner of our eye, the edge of our consciousness, in a flash. They are the result of misdirection and random collisions, not a grinding corporate onslaught. And yet we waste billions of dollars in time looking for them where they’re not.

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And this is pretty much what I continually observe at various meetings and conferences… ghad forbid we take a side road, a side trail that we didn’t even see on the map, or didn’t show up on our dashboard GPS, or Google Maps. Or… maybe even leave PowerPoint off, or maybe host a conference in a big field… rent a big tent, or just tell everyone to bring an umbrella… or hire actors to act out our talks… or sing a presentation…

No… this is crazy talk.

Consultation, conferences, “dialogue” (as a noun, or verb — as in “dialoguing”), discussion must be run by tight agendas, task master Chairs or facilitators that limit questions or real conversation because the next panel is ready to begin…

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Preventing good ideas? Three attitudes that prevent us from receiving continual flow of blessings… the three “pots”: a full pot, a pot with poison in it, and a pot with a hole in the bottom.

The pot that’s filled to the brim is like a mind full opinions and preconceptions. We already know it all. We have so many fixed ideas that nothing new can affect us or cause us to question our assumptions.

The pot containing poison is like a mind that’s so cynical, critical and judgemental that everything is poisoned by this harshness. It allows for no openness and no willingness to explore the teachings or anything else that challenges our righteous stance.

The pot with a hole is like a distracted mind: our body is present but we’re lost in thought. We’re so busy thinking about our dream vacation or what’s for dinner that we’re completely deaf to what’s being said.

… Nothing will improve, unless we become more intelligent about cause and effect.

— from Pema Chödrön’s book “No Time to Lose“.   (from the Buddhist tradition).

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I certainly observed all of these “pots” at this last conference… and maybe even had one or two of those pots on my head myself.

How do we go about finding better ideas?

How do we become a lot more intelligent about cause and effect?

How do we forge some new “pots” that aren’t so limiting?

Salmon culture, culturing salmon, and enculturation.

In some ways we can see the power of salmon culture in the conclusion to Alexandra Morton’s “Get out Migration” walk along Vancouver Island to protest open-net salmon farming. On Saturday the walk concluded in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. Estimates suggest about 4,000 people attended the conclusion to the 500-km walk, with over 8,000 signatures collected on a petition to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to move salmon farming to land-based closed contained systems to protect wild salmon from sea lice and various diseases.

With some irony, it is the ability to culture salmon that has led to salmon farming practices. Furthermore, culturing salmon in hatcheries has been done in North America since the 1800s; and it has now become huge business with over 5-billion baby salmon pumped into the North Pacific every year from hatchery operations around the Pacific Rim. Almost all of these started with the goal of increasing harvests…

This past week at the State of the Salmon 2010 Conference: Ecological Interactions of between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, Oregon — culturing salmon in hatcheries was the topic of discussion.

The purpose of the conference was to bring an international crowd together to discuss potential interactions, and as suggested in the welcome letter in the conference program:

…step back and critically review what we know about the scale and magnitude of interactions between  wild and hatchery salmon…

Curiously though, an article came out in the Seattle Times on May 5th, the second day of the conference, discussing the gathering.

Oregon conference discusses protecting wild salmon

An international conference of scientists and fisheries managers meeting in Portland this week is looking at less-studied impacts of hatchery fish on wild salmon — disease, predation and competition for food — and how to overhaul a hatchery system that may hurt wild salmon more than it helps.

The article has a “hatcheries-are-bad” slant, which was certainly not the consensus at the conference. Here are some competing messages that I heard sitting in on various sessions:

  1. A Japanese scientist pointed out that hatchery salmon are a very important source of healthy seafood. (Somewhere between 90-95% of Japanese commercially caught salmon are from hatchery and salmon ranching efforts).
  2. The Russian government is sitting on over $2 billion ready to invest in substantially expanding hatchery operations in Russian portions of the North Pacific coast.
  3. Alaska takes a lot of pride in their over 2 billion baby salmon pumped into the North Pacific and places like Prince William Sound where 90-95% of the commercial catch is salmon ranching efforts. In Southeast Alaska, goals for spawning salmon are easily reached in most streams and yet large salmon hatchery and ranching operations continue.
  4. Canada is ramping down hatchery operations in many areas. (however, I know of several sport fishing proponents that would like to see hatchery operations ramped up significantly).
  5. Western U.S. states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California — are having raging debates about ramping down or ramping up. “Conservation” hatcheries are apparently important components of trying to protect salmon runs listed under the Endangered Species Act. Representatives of tribal organizations highlighted the importance of hatchery operations to keeping salmon returning to their areas.

And, thus, some rather interesting discussions in various sessions. One principle hard at work was enculturation from the variety of cultures represented at the conference — from various countries’ cultures to regional cultures and differences (e.g. Alaska compared to lower 48).

Enculturation is defined as:

the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values.

Jonah Lehrer is a Rhodes scholar, contributing editor for Wired magazine, wrote the book Proust was a Neuroscientist, has a blog — Frontal Cortex — as part of scienceblogs.com (thanks for the forward Simon). He has a great post: Enculturation and Wall Street — the post starts:

The process of enculturation doesn’t just afflict middle-aged scientists, struggling to appreciate a new anomaly. It’s a problem for any collection of experts, from CIA analysts to Wall Street bankers.

Day three… work creation project…?

Today is day three, the last day, of the conference on Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, Oregon. As the web page suggests:

We hope that this conference will inspire collaboration among the 300+ expected attendees, including scientific, management, conservation, indigenous, industry, and political communities.

Many of these attendees have traveled a long ways to attend — from Russia, Japan, and even New Zealand.

I suppose if I read the web page a little more carefully before registering I might not be as disillusioned as I am at the moment.

The meeting will culminate in a panel discussion to develop a vision of working together to contain and manage ecological risk. Outcomes will include a comprehensive annotated bibliography on the subject of ecological interactions between wild and hatchery salmon, peer-reviewed proceedings including the latest research, identification of critical research gaps, and next steps for developing practical management tools.

For one who likes to explore meaning behind language and words — this statement above is basically suggesting that we are going to keep talking, ruminating, and pondering – resulting in a list of things we might do.

And… thus… we are writing the job description for the variety of scientists out there researching these things. Look we got all these experts together and here’s the gaps we need to fill.

The problem with gaps in science is that it’s like the worse bridge building project ever…. every time a new bridge span is put in place the gap widens… rather than closes.

That’s the thing with ‘questions’ and ‘gaps in knowledge’ — answer one, and two more pop up, answer those two and four more pop-up.

like battling the Greek monster Hydra…

Is there a better way?

somebody please kill PowerPoint…

It is now after 4 p.m on the first day of the Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, Oregon. The current presentation is: “Reproductive behavior of wild and hatchery spring Chinook Salmon spawning in an artificial stream

Yeah, that’s “artificial stream”… at least the presenter has a sense of humour about this.

I have seen more charts and graphs, ridiculous equations, and covariant-variant factors today then a highschool kid will see in a year of calculus. Now the worst part about this is that every one of these has been in a dreadful PowerPoint presentation. And I mean dreadful… worse yet… the room is dimmed to make those PPoint presentations even worse.

In the spirit of presentations today, I have graphed my “temporal” and “spatial” frustration to the right (using PowerPoint) — these two quoted words being terms I have heard often, today… too often.

Every time I glance around the 300 people or so I see at least two yawners at any moment. Sitting in a dimly lit room reading bullet points (along with the presenter who is also reading them out – some who know how to speak into a microphone and some that don’t). Actually I just looked around and I count five people sleeping – yup, head bobbing, drool soon to follow… (I’m not lying).

No offense intended to many of these well-meaning individuals presenting here (or at other scientific conferences); however, someone has got to kill PowerPoint — or give scientists a course in using PowerPoint and presenting effectively. I suggest Garr Reynolds and his book Presentation Zen and check out his blog — he’s got a great post on Visualizing the consequences of sugary drinks. (talk about effective)

Just because you have graphs and charts — DOES NOT mean you have to show all of them.

“Now in this graph you’ll see… Interestingly, now in this graph you’ll see… and here in this graph you can see…”

At several points I’ve been ready to yell out “hey, I didn’t see that… could you show me again.”

Maybe there should be a catch-limit on graphs per presentation?

Or, a “no graphs and charts after 1 p.m.” rule?

Just because you know how to use PowerPoint does not mean you have to use it. Just because the lights have a dimmer does not mean they have to be down all day…  dark means sleep! (especially after lunch).

Would these types of conferences be that much more exciting — or bad — if presenters had to sing their presentations?

I met a professor (in the school of mining) from the University of BC a few years ago that makes his Masters students sing their presentations. Yeah, that’s in the school of mining….

Seth Godin, marketing Guru, has a post on his site explaining an upcoming road tour.

My favorite concerts have always been the acoustic tours. Instead of fancy production, dancing rabbits and lip syncing, it’s one person, one microphone and a human-scaled interaction. (Or sometimes five people plus Jerry).

So that’s the way I’m approaching this tour. No slides, not so many carefully rehearsed bits, just me and a focused audience, talking through issues that matter. The goal isn’t to deliver twitter-sized sound bites, but instead to immerse participants in a different way of thinking about the work we do and how we spread our ideas. I want to urgently and persistently change the way you do your work.

… Talking through issues that matter…. Yes. This cannot, should not, and must not… be done by PowerPoint. Especially when it comes to salmon. These discussions should be done on rivers, lakes, streams and beside the ocean where salmon live. Please.

Opening day thoughts…

Today is the opening day of the conference: Ecological Interactions between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, OR. There’s approximately 300 or so attendees including an international contingent from Russia and Japan.

The opening and first two keynote speakers have just finished. The first keynote speaker — Ray Hilborn — is a professor at the University of Washington. The second keynote speaker — Rob Walton — is a policy analyst with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Professor Hilborn highlighted some of the older science on this issue such as a paper from the late 1970s that suggested that the long-term consequence of heavy fisheries is that small stocks are sacrificed.

Uh-huh… Guess we haven’t learned that yet — can you say Fraser River sockeye?

One of the other key points I picked up from Professor Hilborn was the idea of “goal displacement” — which occurs when an activity becomes the objective. One of the examples he used was the  practice of using Coded Wire Tags (CWTs) — which are put in the noses of hatchery salmon — and then relying on the recovery of salmon heads with CWTs to actually manage a fishery.

On Fraser Chinook, for example, the recovery of CWTs and utilizing the data is mandated by the Pacific Salmon Commission. Thus, if hatcheries aren’t pumping out baby salmon with CWTs up their noses; it makes it much more difficult to ‘manage’ the fishery. In theory anyways… (my editorializing might suggest there are some serious shortfalls in this system)

And thus keeping the hatchery going has become the objective — and therefore goal displacement.

(It should be noted that the original goal of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada Salmon Enhancement Program in British Columbia was to double commercial catches… Another dismal failure).

If we failed on that goal, and continue to fail on that, and continue to sink millions of dollars into hatcheries… why?

The second keynote speaker, Mr. Walton, unfortunately depressed me to great end. He started his presentation by suggesting (and I’m paraphrasing):

Here in the United States, we draft legislation, Congress passes it,  and then we get sued.

He ran through the history of creating policies around the Endangered Species legislation here in the U.S.  and how wild salmon and hatchery salmon have played a key role. Initially, the NMFS developed policy surrounding Endangered Species protection for salmon with various pieces of legislation that explained the role of hatchery salmon in the Evolutionary Significant Units (ESUs) of the western states– sound similar to the Conservation Units of Canada?

In March of last year, NMFS was sued regarding their policy. Not only were they sued from one side – a coalition of environmental groups; they were sued from the opposite side — a coalition of businesses including water user groups, construction companies, developers, etc.

This case is built on several other court cases involving salmon and protection. What started in a District Court decision overturning earlier legislation, then went up the U.S. court systems. At each juncture NMFS would return to the office draft new policies, present them, pass them, then get sued again. Another set of lawsuits over ridiculous language, then a decision by judges, then more policy drafting, then more lawsuits, then more judges decisions, then more policy drafting, and so on, and so on….

So in the U.S. — salmon are managed by lawyers, judges and the legal system (in essence) — with a bunch of policy wonks sandwiched in between.

During the question period a representative from the Squamish Nation told a story about how  elders in his community scratch their heads: “science and technology screwed this all up in the first place — and now science and technology is going to fix it?”

Another question was telling: a rep from Washington State who “works in the trenches” asked (paraphrasing again):

when’s the talking about action going to stop… and actual action begin?

A tough question, especially to start a conference… and this was evident in the lack of meaningful answers given by panel members and keynote speakers.

Onwards with the day…