Tag Archives: judicial inquiry

Upper upper Fraser River sockeye: Recipes for Extinction 2011

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The last post…

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

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

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

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

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

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Late Stuarts and Stellak0 — Summer grouping

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

 

upper Fraser sockeye -- Summer group

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

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

 

There is a very concerning picture here.

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

Fraser sockeye forecast -- Summers - 50p prediction

Summers -- 50p forecast

 

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

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

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

The other Summer stocks…?

not looking so good!

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

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

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

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Similarly for Stellako.

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

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

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

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Things don’t look good on these stocks…

…even…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their total run size is 120,000.

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

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

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Quesnel River stocks — Summer group

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

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

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

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

How is this not a recipe for extinction?

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This is the absolute absurdity of mixed-stock fisheries…

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

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

They don’t know.

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

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

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

How is this current system not a recipe for extinction?

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

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

upper Fraser River sockeye 2011: DFO Recipe for Extinction

adapted from Cohen Commission tech report #2

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

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

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

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

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

 

DFO 2011 "Recent Productivity" Fraser Sockeye Forecast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Estimated Returns and Historical Productivity

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

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

Here are the numbers blown up from the above chart:

2011 Fraser sockeye forecast: Bowron and Nadina River runs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

estimated productivity of Bowron sockeye stocks

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

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

estimated productivity of Nadina sockeye

Sockeye salmon enhancement facility, Nadina River, British Columbia

 

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

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

 

Fraser sockeye forecast_2011 Estimated probabilities for Bowron & Nadina stocks

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

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

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

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

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Recipe for Extinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow?

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

They are the Recipe for Extinction — Chapter 3.

“Fraser River sockeye face chemical soup of 200 contaminants”

 

Cohen Commisson: new summer clothing line

That’s the headline on the Globe & Mail article yesterday. Another decent summary by Mark Hume, and continued information release on salmon.

The Globe & Mail article:

Sockeye salmon are exposed to a soup of chemicals in the Fraser River, and some of the ingredients are accumulating to potentially lethal levels in eggs, while others may be disrupting the sexual function of fish, according to a scientific review conducted for the Cohen Commission.

The study states that because of key data gaps, it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about exactly how the 200 contaminants identified in the river have affected the growth, survival rates or reproduction of salmon.

There is the great salmon killer again… data gaps, lack of information, and conclusions gone ‘missing’ (like the Fraser sockeye of 2009 and other years).

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Who’s looking… mr(s) Data Gap?

The issue of pollutants and chemicals is a scary, scary beast. Not just because of the risks that chemicals present (especially newer synthetic ones with little research to prove safety — for example fire retardants that are sprayed at will on BC forest fires and then accumulate in soils and waterways) —- but mostly, because of the great, gigantic, gaping void of data and research.

The great Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) ban of the 1970s due to bio-accumulation in critters, including people, in the Arctic and across North America  — which hasn’t really gone away. PCBs were used heavily through the 1930s on, until the ban came in to play. And, in many parts of the ‘developing’ world, are still used heavily.

New chemicals, many created in labs of a variety of concoctions, are much, much spookier. Marketing spin and scant research in ‘real world’ environments results in mass usage of many of these chemicals with little to no monitoring of impacts on ecosystems and critter health (including humans). Added to scant research is the immense myriad of other chemicals being introduced into watersheds — pharmaceuticals like cialis/viagara, birth control hormones and chemicals; antibiotics, steroids;  fire retardants, industrial chemicals, and so on.

And who is researching the impact of these chemicals mixing?

We’re taught from an early age not to mix various housecleaning chemicals due the dangers that that poses… what happens when you mix PCDDs (Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins) + PCDFs (dibenzofurans) +  PCBs + TCDD (2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin) + BEHP (Phthalates) + PAHs (acenaphthalene, benz(a)anthracene, and dibenz(a,h)anthracene) + a little dose of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious…?

From the Cohen Commission report #2 (pg 130):

Data on the interactive effects of contaminants (such as endocrine disruptors), disease agents, and water temperature on sockeye salmon are not available for the Fraser River Basin or elsewhere.

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Endocrine Disrupt what…?

The Cohen Commission report — Technical Report #2: Potential Effects of Contaminants on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon — can be downloaded from the Cohen Commission evidence and transcripts of May 9, 2011. (I would put it on here, unfortunately this 603 page report exceeds the upload capabilities of this site…).

The Globe and Mail article continues:

While it is unlikely that contaminants are “the sole cause” of sockeye population declines, the report says there is “a strong possibility that exposure to contaminants of concern, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and/or contaminants of emerging concern has contributed to the decline of sockeye salmon.

The report, by McDonald Environmental Sciences Ltd., a Nanaimo-based research firm, identified numerous chemicals in surface waters and in bottom sediments that posed potential risks to sockeye, including nitrate, chloride, sulphate, arsenic, mercury and selenium.

It said some of the chemicals exceeded toxicity levels for fish and it noted that “water quality conditions have degraded over the past two decades.”

The report also says research done in 2001 and 2004 found some chemicals were concentrating in the eggs of sockeye at toxicity levels “associated with 30 per cent mortality of fish eggs.

If you haven’t read about endocrine disruptors… maybe don’t… the old saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ may hold true…

These are nasty chemicals that mess with one of the oldest biological ‘systems’ — the endocrine system. There is some decent summary information at Wikipedia:

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with endocrine (or hormone system) in animals, including humans. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Specifically, they are known to cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs); sexual development problems, feminizing of males or masculine effects on females, etc. Any system in the body controlled by hormones, can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

The Cohen Commission technical report states (pg 100):

There is a substantial body of scientific evidence demonstrating that many of the substances released to the environment due to human activities have the potential to modulate or disrupt the endocrine system in fish…

…Based on the results of the qualitative exposure assessment… it is apparent that Fraser River sockeye salmon may be exposed to endocrine disrupting compounds originating from multiple sources [including: Sewage treatment plants; Pulp and paper mills; and Areas with high industrial activity/chemical contamination].

The report has a table outlining Fraser sockeye exposures during migration — juveniles and adults.

pg 102 of Technical Report #2

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…Overall, this information suggests that stocks utilizing spawning habitats located furthest from the mouth of the river (i.e., those with the longest residence times in migration corridors) are likely to have the highest exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds, while those destined for natal streams nearby the mouth of the Fraser River are likely to have the lowest exposure to these chemicals.

Is it coincidence then that the majority of sockeye stocks from the upper Fraser (north of Quesnel) are the ones in the most trouble, and have seen most of the big declines over the last half century?

The Early Stuart run, Bowron, Nadina, etc.

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The Great Gap…

The Globe & Mail article continues:

Among the endocrine disrupting ingredients identified in the Fraser were industrial chemicals, pesticides, compounds with a carbon-metal bond, pharmaceuticals and “several estrogen-like compounds,” the report says.

It states that data are insufficient to evaluate the impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds, but [and] notes reports from First Nation fishermen that salmon are smaller on average, increasingly have blotchy skin and of one male sockeye that had ovaries, are cause for concern.

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Not only is data “insufficient” — there simply just isn’t any. No one is really looking. No one — in management institutions — seems to really care.

Maybe ignorance is bliss has become a bureaucratic principle…? (e.g. not my department, not my worry…)

Pg. 122 of the Cohen Commission report:

In particular, there is substantial uncertainty regarding the types and quantities of herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides that are currently being used within the watershed.

It’s not just uncertainty… it’s so bad that the only way to track what herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and so on that are being sprayed, applied, spilled etc. throughout the watershed is through sales receipts.

In addition, limitations on the available source and monitoring data made it difficult to identify all of the pharmaceuticals and personal care products, endocrine disrupting compounds, and contaminants of emerging concern that could have been released within the study area.

Worse yet:

many agencies and regulated interests maintain their own databases that are not readily available to the public or do not have a systematic means of storing and retrieving such data. As such, it is difficult or impossible to assemble all of the information needed to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks posed to sockeye salmon associated with exposure to contaminants in the Fraser River Basin.

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Conclusion?

While limitations on the available data make it difficult to answer this question conclusively, the results of this study suggest that the exposure to contaminants in surface water, sediments, or fish tissues is not the primary factor influencing the productivity or abundance of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

However, it is a strong possibility that exposure to the contaminants of concern and/or uncertain contaminants of concern (i.e., endocrine disrupting compounds and contaminants of emerging concern) has contributed to the decline of sockeye salmon abundance in the Fraser River Basin over the past 20 years.

One more reason for even stronger application of the precautionary approach and high-time for the blissful ignorance of government agencies to end on this one.

For example, have you ever traveled through the Fraser watershed in the summer? You know that same water that sockeye migrate through? Well… ummm… where do you think all of that water spraying on fields is coming from?

Same place.

If sockeye are facing a chemical soup… that same chemical soup is being sprayed on hay fields and whatever other irrigated crop. Cows, sheep, goats, etc. are eating the hay. We eat the cows, sheep, goats, vegetables, and so on.

What befalls the sockeye… befalls us.

(not to mention lots of folks eat sockeye…)

Cohen Commission: “No data means no answers, sockeye inquiry told”

Dead sockeye -- Flickr "Watershed_Watch"

That’s the headline on Hume’s article today in the Globe & Mail.

The lack of hard data on the ocean environment has become an important issue to a federal commission investigating the collapse of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River.

Repeatedly, scientists testifying at the Cohen Commission have said they don’t really know what happens to salmon once they have left fresh water and headed out into the “black box” of the Pacific Ocean. They have complained about a shortage of data, or no data at all, and have said there are limited funds available for research.

Well… it’s not just the ocean environment that has a lack of data. Pretty much every life stage of Fraser sockeye has big black boxes of little to no data. (hard or soft…)

Sure some life stages and critical habitat have been studied more than others, and some folks think they know — but then of course they don’t know what they don’t know, and sometimes they think they know what they don’t know… and so on…

The cold hard reality that Justice Cohen is going to be faced with — or is already faced with — is that we just don’t know. For example, we don’t know how many sockeye juveniles leave the Fraser every year, we don’t even know how many juvenile sockeye leave the majority of the 150 rearing areas where they spend some time as babies.

(DFO only looks at two rearing lakes in any detail… or depth.)

What we know of the population dynamics of Fraser sockeye — and wild salmon in general — is limited to about the simple fact that we know they swim in water… when compared to all of what we don’t know.

No amount of systems theory, chaos theory, or computer modelling is going to shed much more light on things either.

Not only do we not know much about sockeye we know very little about the rest of the dynamics surrounding them. Just as the article suggests:

One of the papers filed with the commission identifies a “hotspot” in Queen Charlotte Sound, for example, where more than 10,000 sharks gather on a main salmon migration route – but nobody knows why the sharks are there, how long they are there, or what they are feeding on.

Black bear cub with sockeye -- Flickr: Gillfoto

Gee… this sounds like grizzly bear research in BC. Or black bear research. Or eagle research. Or coastal wolves research. Or mink research. Or osprey research… or… or…

We simply… just don’t know.

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If we can’t even predict our own brain patterns, then why do we think we can predict behavior and nature of wild salmon runs?

(for example, does anyone have an explanation on what the heck happened last year? — with 30 million or so returning sockeye to the Fraser. We’ll never know…)

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We call it ecosystem-based planning or ecosystem-based management… but we don’t know shit about the ecosystem…

Management is defined as: “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people”.

News flash… we can’t control wild salmon… but we sure as hell can control people if need be… (look at the great federal Conservative crime plans…)

Planning is defined as: “The process of making plans for something” .

Well… what are we making?

An ecosystem?

(well… that’s what the engineers of things like “no-net less to habitat” policies would have us think… we can just “re-create” ecosystems better than Mother Nature did in the first place over millenia…)

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One of the definitions of plan suggests: “A systematic arrangement of elements or important parts; a configuration or outline” .

Hmmm… so what are the “important parts”…? And what are we trying to “configure”? And how can we know what we’re trying to configure if we don’t really know much about things in the first place (e.g. the “black box” of the North Pacific)?

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The article continues:

The knowledge gap caused Tim Leadem, a lawyer representing a coalition of conservation groups, to wonder out loud Thursday if the Cohen Commission will ever get a definitive answer on what caused the Fraser River sockeye population to collapse. The commission was appointed in 2009 after only one million salmon returned to spawn instead of the 10 million expected.

“What was the cause of the 2009 decline?” Mr. Leadem asked a panel of scientists testifying about the impact of predators on salmon. “I expect at the end of the day … [it will be an inconclusive] death by 1,000 cuts.”

Gee. Maybe Mr. Leadem has seen my cartoon:

Salmon... death of a thousands cuts

I sense a certain frustration or defeatism in that comment…

Yes, Mr. Leadem it is a thousands cuts or so… but the worst ones, the mortal ones for some sockeye runs — have been inflicted by us.

Through direct action (harvest)… or inaction (how’s that enforcement of the Fisheries Act going?)

Pick your killer; our knives are sharp. We’ve filleted Fraser sockeye runs faster than the old terribly named: “Iron Chink” used in salmon canneries.

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Article continues:

Mr. Leadem noted most of the science teams that have presented papers to the Cohen Commission have concluded by saying more research is needed.

“This is perplexing,” he said. “If we are depending on science [for guidance], where are we going to find the funding? And who’s going to be pulling the strings and saying what science goes forward?”

Mr. Leadem said it appears scientists “are in a world where you are scrambling for dollars” while facing a growing list of questions.

“Yeah, we are scrambling for research funding and it is going to be the nature of science that there are always more questions that need answering,” said Andrew Trites, a professor and director at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre.

EXACTLY MY FRIGGING POINT!! (thank-you Dr. Trites).

We don’t have to depend on just science for the “answers” — because it won’t have any.

It might be able to provide gentle guidance, or thoughts, or an ‘answer’ here or there — however, at its fundamental core answering one question through science only opens up two more questions. It’s like the mythical beast Hydra — cut off one head, and two more pop up to replace it.

And so, when it comes to “fisheries” science,  it is not really a practice of “truths” and “facts” — and cannot provide all the “answers”. At its heart it is a practice of questions and theories… and analysis of things that we will never understand (e.g. the ocean).

We don’t have all the answers for how our brain works, yet we still function on a day-to-day basis. We still design teaching curricula for our children and send them off to school. And, amazingly, we can actually function and “think” on a day-to-day basis without knowing everything about our brains…

We don’t know the “answers” for the magic of how a child comes into being in the meeting between sperm and egg… We don’t know the “answers” about how we develop a soul, or even the magic occurring between our brains, hearts, lungs and every other organ working in unison. It’s a true magic mystery…

Yet we still carry on day-in and day-out…

_ _ _ _ _ _

The article:

Mr. Justice Bruce Cohen, the B.C. Supreme Court judge who is heading the hearings, asked if there is an overall strategy for addressing the many unanswered questions about the ocean environment. “Within DFO and within the larger community of science … is there an overarching body that does a macro analysis of all the science that’s taking place? Who’s going to draw the agenda? Is this a scrambled situation … or is there actually a game plane here?” he asked.

“My perception as an academic . . . in terms of fisheries management … I don’t feel there is a game plan,” replied Dr. Trites, who appeared on a panel with John Ford, head of cetacean research in the Pacific for Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Peter Olesiuk, DFO’s head of pinniped research.

No… no game plan indeed.

There never has been — and never will be (with all due respect).

And even if there was… what difference would it make?

“Salmon management”… “fisheries management” is a game of politics — not science.

Science can provide some gentle guidance — however it is certainly not the game plan.

(Just like “science” isn’t the game plan in the Vancouver Canucks’ current run at the Stanley Cup — it assists, but is not the plan).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Our relationship with wild salmon is simply that… A Relationship.

What is that… a ‘relationship’?

Well… dictionary.com suggests: “The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.”

Just like the relationship between our hearts, minds, and lungs… the relationship between white blood cells and our immune system (our most ancient of systems)… the relationship between children and parents… the relationship between dogs and owners…

What does connected mean?

Joined or linked together;

Related by family.

Hmmmm…..

And curiously, even in mathematics it means:

Not decomposable into two disjoint nonempty open sets.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Salmon and people are both concepts and objects…

And… well… here along the Pacific Rim — we are connected. We are in a relationship.

And unfortunately, this is not a balanced relationship. This is not an equal give-and-take relationship.

We’ve been more on the taking end…

take, take, take... over 80% for 100-years or so...

When people get married, or make commitments, or talk about their relationship — they don’t look to science, nor even tout the latest studies or research, or engage in a peer-review process…

If you talk to a couple that’s been married for 60 years, they don’t tell you about how the marvels of science kept them together.

No… they generally talk about the hard work… the commitments… a knowing… and call it cheesy, or hairy-fairy… but there’s also (as the song says) “a whole lotta love…”

If salmon are as important as certain surveys suggest (e.g. more important to BC’ers as French is to Quebecers) — not that we need surveys to tell us this — then why this great reliance on science… on data… on research…?

The article concludes:

Lara Tessaro, junior commission counsel, later asked the witnesses to name the DFO managers who are directing scientific research in the Pacific, a line of questioning that suggested the issue may be revisited as the hearings continue.

I think most of us know the answer to that question… (and unfortunately, from what it says in the recent Commission status update, we won’t be getting  Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

(which was to include an analysis, including an economic analysis, of DFO activities in Fraser River sockeye management since 1985;  DFO science and research expenditures related to Fraser sockeye; and  an analysis to evaluate DFO’s ability to meet its stated management objectives relative to Fraser sockeye since 1985).

The great department of Oceans sails a rudderless ship… and will it be exposed as to just how rudderless?

I’m curious to hear the answers to this and who’s at the helm (or not, or will it be like the story of the Queen of the North..? including the stifling of the truth…) — Yet, I sure hope that in the multiple thousands of pages that are being produced by the Cohen Commission that a little more time gets spent on plain language to describe our relationship with wild salmon.

Our connectedness… and how the relationship needs to improve… drastically.  And “data” is not the answer… it’s simply a tool, one piece of the equation… one piece of the relationship… one piece of the connectedness.

salmon science… a body of “facts” and “truths”?

data gaps?

Science” : the intricate process of saying a lot with a variety of charts of graphs and concluding… well… not much at all…

Oddly enough, dictionary.com suggests that “science” is sometimes mistaken as “seance” .

A seance being some spiritual communing with the dead; a ‘sitting’ — (which is the actual French roots of the word).

And as such, a seance is also defined as: “a sitting of a society”.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Now the definition of science suggests it is:

a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.

A fact: “Knowledge or information based on real occurrences.”

And truth: “Conformity to fact or actuality.”

Or: “A statement proven to be or accepted as true.”

And some suggest:“Perhaps the most general description is that the purpose of science is to produce useful models of reality”

Reality…?

Hmmmm.

So what happens when science and its practitioners enters the unknown?

Well…sometimes… it makes shit up

(…or models it with “expansion lines” and algorithms…).

Or… simply states all sorts of disclaimers, qualifiers, and other forms of political speak.

Or… gift wraps affirmative statements in crinkly, fancy ambiguity and obscurity with lovely bows of contradiction and inconsistency.

All of these sent priority post with a hefty invoice for reassurance.

_ _ _ _ _ _

I’ve started reading through the various scientific and technical reports of the Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye declines. At least the ones I can find…

In August 2010, the Commission announced an “ambitious scientific research program to help the Commissioner understand the science behind the decline of Fraser River sockeye.”

After disbanding the initial pre-eminent scientists panel formed in the early days, the Commission announced 12 Research projects back in August 2010:

Project 1 – Diseases and parasites

Project 2 – Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 3 – Fraser River freshwater ecology and status of sockeye salmon Conservation Units

Project 4 – Marine ecology

Project 5 – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 6 – Data synthesis and cumulative impact analysis

Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon: literature compilation and analysis

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

Project 12 – Sockeye habitat analysis in the Lower Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia

Back at the time that these projects were announced and the pre-eminent science panel disbanded — the Commission was still on timelines to be wrapping up right now — May 2011. As such, the researchers were given very tight timelines: “In most cases, the researchers will provide the commission with a progress report by November 15, 2010 and a final report by January 31, 2011.”

In other words… science doesn’t only need to state facts and truths about reality… it needs to be fast.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Now since then… the Commission has been extended a year; however the scientific reports were still rushed — and it shows in reading some of them.

(And if you suffer from insomnia… three of the  reports I’ve seen comes in at a pithy 120+ pages each… and when it doubt, and in a rush… list as many references as possible).

_ _ _ _ _ _

Now that I’ve stirred up the scientific ire of a hypothesizing hornets nest…

Does this make sense to you?

This is from Project Report 12 – Fraser River Sockeye Habitat Use in the Lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia, which you have to dig out of Commission transcripts, it’s not available on the main webpage.

Our review and analysis involved compiling available data from various technical reports, primary literature and online sources of potential factors or measures related to human development and activities in the lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia.

A statistical analysis of the association of human activity and potential impacts on sockeye habitats and, in turn, on Fraser sockeye productivity was not possible in this review due to the limits on the nature and extent of data available for human activity and in particular the lack of quantitative information on sockeye habitats.

So, the information doesn’t really exist… this is confirmed further in the report:

An approach reliant on quantitative measures of changes in sockeye habitats was not possible for this report due to the lack of quantitative data available on the extent and quality of sockeye habitats across the lower Fraser River area, lower Fraser watersheds (Harrison, Chilliwack and Pitt Rivers) and the Strait of Georgia.

There you have it… the information is not there, not available, not collected and so on. Yet… yet… this ‘scientific’ report which maxes out at 60+ pages of report and another 50 pages of fluff, suggests:

Overall, the development of major projects and resource restoration efforts during the period 1990 – 2010 has resulted in a net gain of sockeye habitat and these gains have been substantially added to through efforts to restore historically lost or damaged fish habitats.

Ohhh… so there’s “lack of quantitative data available on the extent and quality of sockeye habitats across the lower Fraser River” yet the report then goes on to suggest that there was a “net gain of sockeye habitat” and goes on further:

Although the effectiveness of habitat compensation projects in the Fraser River appears to be improving, the need for an improved habitat science, monitoring and data management framework is clear and aspects of this need are consistent with recommendations made by others over the past decade or two.

So… no data on the habitat… but apparently that habitat is “improving”?

The habitat protection strategies used in the lower Fraser River and Strait of Georgia, appear to be effective at supporting sockeye habitat conservation. More broadly, a hypothesis that the declines in Fraser River sockeye production over the period 1990 – 2009 are the result of habitat impacts from project development is not supported by the net habitat gains that have occurred over the 1990 – 2010 period.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

How the heck does this work?

There’s not enough data on human activity and there’s not enough data on sockeye habitat; yet, these folks can conclude that all’s well… all’s good in the hood… habitat protection is working, and so on…

Where the heck is the systematic arrangement of “facts” and “truths” that are supposed to represent “science”?

And what did this report cost? Apologies to the writers of this report and the apparently ‘well-respected’ firm that authored this report… but this makes little sense…

(and how much work has this firm — Golder & Associates done for DFO over the years?)

What happened to Rivers Inlet sockeye?

So let me ask you this: What happened to Rivers Inlet sockeye?

Rivers Inlet is a large inlet located on mainland BC a little ways north of Port Hardy off the northern end of Vancouver Island.

do you see the irony in this map?

Here’s a slide from a presentation by Rick Routledge at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver:

Rivers Inlet — once #2 in BC sockeye catch

Yeah, Rivers Inlet used to be #2 in BC sockeye catch. Although there was a time in the early 1900s when the Skeena was higher… but those runs zonked sooner than Rivers and Smith Inlets.

In the same presentation, Routledge has this slide:

Rivers Inlet

I do find it curious that since there was no data for “escapement” (potential spawners that reach the river) prior to 1951 — and as such we still call this a sockeye “returns” graph. But then, I suppose, a sockeye caught at the mouth of the inlet is still a “return”…

Key message here… a lot of fish were caught in Rivers Inlet in the early 1900s.

A similar slide to a DFO report in 1998 by McKinnell and company: The collapse of the Rivers Inlet Sockeye Fishery – The Case against a freshwater cause. (here we are looking for a “cause” again… separate from ourselves)

The numbers don’t really seem to match up between the slides… For example, the big catch year in 1926 shows almost 2 million fish caught in Routledge’s graph and maybe about 1.7 million in the DFO produced graph…

Graph comparison

But gee whiz… what’s 200,000 to 300,000 fish caught in the heyday anyways…?

(or maybe it’s just the skewing due to scale…)

But why was there never a judicial inquiry into the collapse of Rivers Inlet sockeye — once the #2 commercial sockeye producing area?

And might those two huge years of catch in the 1970s have anything to do with the crash?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Hmmm…

so what do we have here?

Well… let’s consider a couple of things…

Firstly, if we take both of these graphs back far enough into the 1800s we would see a trend like this:

familiar trend?

And I think this may look familiar to many people.

It’s sort of a similar trend to many industrial fisheries around the world over the last 100-years or so…

For the economists out there it also sort of resembles the tax curve…

e.g. taxes are good for awhile but eventually they start to have negative returns and we  see this classic mound shape…

Or for the cooks out there: the salt curve… A bit of salt is good, better to a point, then there are quickly dwindling returns on the taste front…

Or salmon cannery production… one cannery is decent, production goes up, profit goes up…

Rivers Inlet cannery (early 1900s?)

…throw in a couple more canneries

another Rivers Inlet cannery

…and eventually things plateau, populations start declining, production declines, profits decline… and CRASH!…

Was it worth it?

(and unfortunately, we can’t cut the costs of production by outsourcing to a place like China or otherwise… the classic economic solution)

_ _ _ _ _ _

 

Secondly, there is a classic western-science based assumption in all of this…

The idea that no one else was harvesting fish — commercially or otherwise — prior to the mid-1800s.

The common colonial concept of: Terra nullius the Latin expression for “no man’s land”; nobody here – nobody there.

Terra nullius & Mare nullius

Mare nullius is the ocean equivalent — “nobody was using the ocean…”

Almost every graph one looks at in the ‘science’ world shows this bizarre assumption that no salmon were being harvested prior to contact.

Why is that?

We know that entire cultures harvested millions upon millions of salmon. The bulk of First Nation cultures of BC are basically built upon the backs of salmon.

Some research suggests that the First Nation harvests of salmon pre-contact may actually have been higher than average commercial catches in previous decades.

So, why is there no big research agenda directed at finding just how many salmon were being harvested pre-contact? (appears it was done sustainably as the cultures thrived…)

Or how many salmon were being harvested by First Nation communities at the same time as the cannery boom? (granted most communities were forced from their fishing grounds and through this process basically formed the present landscape of the First Nation reserve system…)

Why is this not on the Cohen Commission research agenda?

Oh right… because we’re only looking at the 2009 Fraser River sockeye crash and nobody wants to admit that overfishing is one of the biggest culprits… because that would mean it’s our fault, us humans… much easier to blame ocean conditions, climate change, and so on and so on.

Sort of like the insurance industry that has outs with ‘acts of god’… for things like building on the floodplain of huge rivers and having dikes fail that were built to withstand the 1 in 100 flood year. (certainly wasn’t our fault for building in the floodplain in the first place… because really, how much comfort is there building in a place called “delta”?)

_ _ _ _ _ _

A key point here is that people are an intimate component of the salmon cycle — pretty much always have been; always will be.

And yet, when it comes to research agendas… judicial inquiries… salmon think tanks… and otherwise — we so often want to focus on the other ‘reasons’ for declines: ocean conditions, marine survival, juvenile migration, gravel condition, nursery lakes, etc.

(oddly enough though, we often don’t even focus on some of these basic components…e.g. DFO only really looks at 2 sockeye nursery lakes in the entire Fraser system)

Seems, we just don’t want to look in a mirror… and look back.

Might a look in the mirror clearly demonstrate the reason why Rivers Inlet sockeye have gone the way of the North Atlantic Cod?

Or why so many other BC sockeye and other salmon populations are on a similar path, or already well down that path…?

(Pretty much the only reason the Skeena River has sockeye anymore is because of massive enhancement and human-made spawning channels in the Babine system — which accounts for approximately 90% of the total Skeena return)

Is there an example of any wild animal population anywhere that is subject to industrial economic models over the last 100 years that has survived to tell a tell of plenitude and plenty and true long-term sustainability?

If we know that the decaying carcasses of spawned out adult salmon are key food for future generations of salmon; are key ingredients for the health of the surrounding environment (e.g. forest); and are key to the health of us-humans — then why do we continue to follow the route that we do?

Rivers Inlet canned salmon

All the fish in these cans means that consumption of nutrients is largely limited to humans in places a long ways away from the salmon’s natal stream… and what percentage of the sockeye runs to Rivers Inlet are represented in these cans — 80%, 90%, 98.5%…?

This means less nutrients for everything around and in the stream… which in turn means a dwindling cycle…

Why are we so damn blind to the impacts of the last 125 years (approx. 30 salmon life cycles)?

Doesn’t really matter where you look, the population trends of wild fish and humans over the last 150 years or so… tend to be on disparate angles.

humans and fish

I’m just not so sure the mystery is all that great…

Yet we continue to spend small fortunes on “research agendas” and “action plans” and “inquiries” to prove something we probably already know… e.g., we took far too many fish in the heyday, and now we’re paying the price.

The cod story is not a mystery… so why is the sockeye story expected to be much different?

And now the question is how many ‘interventions’ are we going to continue to muddle with? (stay tuned for next post)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Update from April 14th.

Related… came across this in one of Raincoast’s reports:

Salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest

page 15

Fish assholes?

are you kidding?

Have you ever seen such a thing?

I thought it a hoax of sorts until I searched online and found this:

.

German style?

.

.

.

I’m curious about how this would be as a “main dish”?

.

.

 

.

This also seemed a fitting accompaniment… “side dish” if you will for another “once upon a salmon” tidbit.

This one comes from 1983 an “Ocean Law Memo” from the University of Oregon in 1983. Came across this randomly online.

The troubled Pacific Salmon Treaty: why it must be ratified

ocean_memo_24_1983

did we learn?.

Yup… I think this is referred to as the classic: “Tragedy of the Commons”.

If I don’t catch them, those fish assholes over there will… so why conserve?

_ _ _ _ _ _

Next sentence?:

And so for years, Alaskans caught Canadian-bound salmon.

BC fisherfolks caught US-bound salmon.

And each side would retaliate against the other and try their best to be the biggest fish assholes, especially on trans-boundary rivers.

And who paid the worst price?

Well… the fish of course

(and the multitude of First Nation communities that depended on those annual returns).

And which fish got hammered the worst?

Well, Coho and Chinook are sure in deep trouble in a lot of places:

Chinook loss -- 1983. Do we ever learn?

And so here we are… 28 years later… and things look worse… much worse.

What are we now… 1000% below optimum?

And really, with all the threats such as urban expansion, climate change and the like… what is optimum “escapement” (spawners) now?

Is it double what it was in 1983… triple… quadruple?

And yet here we are in Canada faced with yet another multi-million dollar ‘review’ of “fisheries management”.

What possibly could have gone wrong?

Let’s search the culprits, the hypotheses, the theories, the ‘science’… what possibly could have gone wrong…?

“It just doesn’t make sense…”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Who the ffff…

fruitcake

are we trying to fool here?

We fished the shit out of them for over a hundred years, stuffed more salmon in little aluminum cans then ever thought imaginable and sold them on the cheap.

They were an “endless resource”.

Nuke this stream, then just move up the coast.

Nuke that stream, then just move down coast.

Are there not enough abandoned, empty pilings rotting in the ebb and flow of Pacific tides to remind us of “WHY”?

Why?

 

Are we really going to continue to talk about dividing salmon right up until the last two are swimming upstream?

Look around the world… the history of “fisheries management” over the last 100 years, is an absolute f-in failure.

There’s a reason why the United Nations makes declarations to go to war… alongside: stating in no uncertain terms that fisheries around the world are in dismal shape.

Why?

Because wars and collapsing fisheries result in similar outcomes… dead and dying people; dead and dying communities; rubble and ruin.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Who are the real fish assholes?

Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) muzzling scientists?

So the previous post here: marketing is everything; everything is marketing… (even at DFO) quoted a Mark Hume Globe and Mail article and his coverage of the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye. At the Commission recently was Dr. Laura Richards, Pacific Regional Director of Science for DFO.

“Do you think it’s a role of DFO scientists to develop speeches for parliamentarians?” asked Bruce Wallace, senior commission counsel.

The role of science is really to provide factual information, and that’s what we do,” replied Dr. Richards.

_ _ _ _ _ _

I’m a fan of the power of contradictions; they are often a source of power… of tension between opposing views… however, maybe not so much in testimony in a quasi-legal process.

Mark Hume writing in yesterday’s Globe:

Researcher suggests ‘salmon leukemia’ is to blame for decline of Fraser sockeye

Of all the theories heard so far by the Cohen Commission, the most intriguing involves new research by a molecular scientist who is pointing to the possibility of an epidemic of salmon leukemia.

Kristi Miller hasn’t been called to testify on her research yet, but her work is already causing a buzz at the inquiry, in part because it seems an effort has been made to keep it under wraps.

Dr. Miller has not been available for media interviews, even though she recently published a paper in the prestigious journal Science. Usually, Fisheries and Oceans Canada promotes interviews when one of their researchers gains an international profile for groundbreaking work. But when Dr. Miller’s paper came out earlier this year, all requests for interviews were denied.

When Laura Richards, Pacific regional director of science for DFO, testified last week, he asked her about a series of e-mails that suggested Dr. Miller was being muzzled.

In a Nov. 2009 e-mail to Mark Saunders, manager of salmon and freshwater ecosystems division, Dr. Miller said she was being kept away from a science forum.

“Laura [Richards] does not want me to attend any of the sockeye salmon workshops that are not run by DFO for fear that we will not be able to control the way the disease issue could be construed in the press. I worry that this approach of saying nothing will backfire,” she wrote. “Laura also clearly does not want to indicate … that the disease research is of strategic importance.”

Dr. Richards testified that Dr. Miller had somehow misinterpreted things, and that there was no intent to silence her.

Dr. Miller won’t testify for months yet and she remains banned from giving any media interviews. But her research, which could explain why up to three million salmon a year are dying in the Fraser, is already reverberating at the Cohen Commission.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Research is suggesting that this ‘salmon leukemia’ virus is killing up to 70% of Fraser sockeye in some years. And this isn’t just any old research, it has been published in the prestigious journal Science.

The response from DFO to one of their scientists being published?

“…she remains banned from giving any media interviews.”

But don’t forget:

“The role of science is really to provide factual information, and that’s what we do,” says Dr. Richards – the Pacific Regional Director of Science for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

… except, it appears, when it really should be widely communicated and distributed.

_ _ _ _ _ _

If you’d like to read other accounts of Dr. Richards enlightening testimony visit the Cohen Inquiry Notes blog by Elena Edwards who writes frequently about testimony at the Commission:

 

Inquiry into the Art of Avoidance

In a stunning display of ‘uh’s and um’s’ Dr. Richards responses to the line of questioning by Gregory McDade for the Aquaculture Coalition was nothing short of disappointing with many heads shaking in disbelief.

An example of the mind boggling testimony ;

McDade; “[At] the conference that saw Dr. Miller present her hypothesis that the disease agent is intercellular, possibly a virus? Do you remember that?”

Richards; “Uh, there was certainly a presentation that she made at that meeting and I, uh, I can’t recall specifically exactly what she said, but I have to assume that the abstract is an accurate representation.”

McDade points out, “Well, you in fact attended that meeting as co chair of the committee on scientific co operation…”

“That’s correct.”

“…and ultimately prepared a summary of these proceedings.”

Richards; “Uh, yes. That’s correct. Well, a very short summary that was sort of based on this.”

McDade; “Dr. Hinch sent you a copy of the very document we’re looking at.”

Richards; “Well I didn’t review the…, I can’t say that I honestly read every single line in this document but I did skim it, yes.”

_ _ _ _ _

McDade asks the impossible question; “Do you not know what vertical transmission even means?”

Dr. Richards; “Uh, I’m not uh…I have a general sense of that but I’m not going to give you a specific definition. I think that really needs to be done with the experts.”

McDade; “Well, Dr Richards, I’m not looking for a highly technical definition here, I’m looking for your understanding about this.”

Silence settles over the room as everyone waits with baited breath for the intelligent response they all know is coming. And come it does as Dr. Richards replies;

Well we are talking, uh…I, I… look, I’m just, uh, I’m just, um … sorry, I’m sorry, I just, my brain has gone fuzzy on that particular point right now so I would rather not give you an answer that’s wrong.”

McDade, seeking clarity, asks; “Doesn’t it simply mean that you can transmit from the parents stock through the eggs to the next generation?”

Dr. Richards; “Uh, it, I think that’s what it is, but I would like to… as I said , this is not my area and I just want to be very careful  of to not give incorrect  evidence.”

Now imagine an entire day of such non answers to a very serious matter indeed, and perhaps we can begin to understand that if this is the type of management offered by DFO, we should be most concerned for the future of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon!

Salmon status unknown

Recently at the Cohen Commission looking at declines of Fraser River sockeye, a backgrounder was released for one of the 12 technical reports to be completed:

Project 3 – Evaluating the Status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and Role of Freshwater Ecology in their Decline

Only the Executive Summary and Backgrounder is available for public consumption at this time.

This technical report was apparently meant to:

…investigate several aspects of Fraser sockeye ecology, including the status of sockeye Conservation Units, a review of industrial and urban impacts on freshwater ecology and salmon life history, and an expert assessment of potential impacts from historical industrial and urban activities on Fraser River sockeye.

This report is focused on evaluating changes in freshwater ecology and its role in recent sockeye salmon declines, including the status of sockeye salmon populations and habitats and the impacts of human activities on freshwater habitats.

Reading the Executive Summary for the report I was struck by some pretty curious statements:

This report is focused on evaluating changes in freshwater ecology and its role in recent sockeye salmon declines for the Cohen Commission. This work includes examining the status of sockeye salmon populations and habitats, as well as the impacts of human activities on freshwater habitats (i.e., logging, hydroelectricity, urbanization, agriculture, and mining).

Changes in freshwater ecology due to natural and human forces are hypothesized as having three pathways of effects. These pathways include effects on the: (1) quantity and quality of spawning habitats; (2) productivity of nursery lakes for rearing; and/or (3) habitat conditions associated with migration of smolts / adults.

To assess the current status of Fraser River sockeye salmon populations, we have been charged with three tasks:

(1) summarizing existing delineations of population diversity into Conservation Units (CUs) [a CU is defined by the Wild Salmon Policy as “a group of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, is very unlikely to recolonize naturally within an acceptable time frame”];

(2) evaluating Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) methods for assessing conservation status; and

(3) determining the status of Fraser River sockeye salmon CUs. Delineations of Conservation Units were necessary to quantify habitat conditions, analyze landscape level disturbances, and evaluate the relationship between changes in freshwater ecology and changes in productivity…

Back to the Backgrounder:

Status of Conservation Units

The report identified 36 sockeye Conservations Units (CUs) within the Fraser River basin, including 30 lake and six river-type CUs..

The researchers found that 17 of the 36 Fraser sockeye CUs have poor population status and are distributed across all run timing groups.

The status of 11 CUs is unknown.

_ _ _ _ _ _

So the status of at least 30% of the Conservation Units is unknown… yet, a CU is “a group of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, is very unlikely to recolonize naturally within an acceptable time frame…”

_ _ _ _ _ _

The Executive Summary continues:

… Given our review of available data, measures of freshwater habitat condition are generally not available across many CUs even though Strategy 2 of the Wild Salmon Policy is charged with developing relevant habitat indicators.

hmmm.

…Given a general lack of information that could be used to reliably define dynamic changes in condition across sockeye salmon spawning, rearing, and migratory habitats…

uh, huh…

Given a lack of experimental design in the way population, habitat, and stressor data have been collected, our ability to test for cause and effect relationships between the freshwater environment and Fraser sockeye salmon declines was limited. As a result, we were only able to use a limited set of quantitative techniques and data summaries to assess the role of freshwater influences.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

‘Measures not available’… ‘lack of information’… ‘lack of experimental design data being collected’… ‘tests for cause and effect limited’… ‘limited set of quantitative techniques and data’…

Do I sense a pattern here?

And yet…conclusion is:

…we believe that recent declines in Fraser River sockeye salmon are unlikely to be the result of changes in the freshwater environment.

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And so a desktop, office exercise (one that was probably not cheap) for: “evaluating the status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and the role of Freshwater ecology in their Decline” concludes on “limited data” and “lack of information” that the freshwater environment for Fraser sockeye is just fine.

Is something amiss here?

But wait… a consulting firm that states its mission is: “to bring together people, science and analytical tools to sustain healthy ecosystems and human communities.” And “our dedicated and knowledgeable team of scientists fills a niche in the consulting field — we work together in interdisciplinary teams with our clients, applying quantitative methods and qualitative concepts to resolve complex natural resource and environmental management problems”

states in its recommendations:

(1) To improve our understanding about survival at critical freshwater life stages, scientists need better estimates of juvenile abundance, overwinter survival, and mortality during smolt outmigration.

(2) To improve our understanding about population status across Conservation Units, scientists need more information about the abundance and distribution of small lake and all river CUs.

(3) To improve our understanding about habitat status across Conservation Units, scientists need information on habitats monitored in a consistent manner on a regular basis across a larger number of rivers and nursery lakes.

(4) To improve our understanding about the population level effects of stressors on freshwater habitats, scientists need more precise estimates of the biological consequences of disturbance as a function of increasing stress.

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Appears scientists need a lot of information on the freshwater environment, yet some scientists “in the consulting field” can still state that recent declines are not a result of the freshwater environment, yet also state “ohhh, we need more research, more research…”

Something just doesn’t sit right here…

Didn’t it state at the beginning that: “Changes in freshwater ecology due to natural and human forces are hypothesized as having three pathways of effects. These pathways include effects on the: (1) quantity and quality of spawning habitats; (2) productivity of nursery lakes for rearing; and/or (3) habitat conditions associated with migration of smolts / adults.”

But then it is stated in the recommendations that we need far more research on all of those “three pathways of effects”?

Fraser sockeye declines are not a result of freshwater habitat changes… but we better do more research?

Fraser sockeye declines are not a result of freshwater habitat changes… but there are huge data gaps?

Which one is it?

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The final recommendation stated is:

(5) To improve transparency in the science and related decision making scientists, managers, and the public need information that is more accessible and collected in a way that is more integrated across federal and provincial agencies.

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Couldn’t agree more… The public certainly does need information that is more accessible.

Maybe I’m making some pretty early judgments without reading the full report, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the questions…

Figure this one out… DFO at its finest.

Some interesting salmon articles over the last few days.

Carrying capacity? (Victoria, BC circa 1977)

Figure this one out… Mark Hume in the Globe and Mail yesterday:

B.C. anglers want Ottawa to charge them more to fish salmon

Sports anglers in British Columbia have asked the federal government to charge them more to go salmon fishing.

But the 300,000 anglers who annually buy salt-water licences on the West Coast just can’t get the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to agree to a fee hike, a federal commission appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper heard Monday.

“We have been enormously frustrated by the Department’s inability to charge us more money,” Gerry Kristianson told the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

Mr. Kristianson, Chair of the Sport Fishery Advisory Board (SFAB), said salt-water-fishing licences haven’t increased in price since the mid-1990s, and anglers are prepared to pay more if the money will be returned by the government to help manage the resource.

He said his board, which advises DFO on a voluntary basis, has been told the request for higher licence fees is caught up in government red tape.

Mr. Kristianson said it seems odd any group “is unable to have the government collect more money from it,” and urged Commissioner Bruce Cohen to look into the situation.

Mr. Kwak [also from SFAB] said the province is considering hiking its fresh-water licence fees, and urged Mr. Cohen to keep that in mind should he make any recommendations concerning increases to the federal salt-water licence.

He also told the Commission “upward of 5,000 fishermen a day” can be seen on the Fraser during the sockeye run, but said it is not clear how many fish they catch, because DFO doesn’t have a comprehensive or rigorous way of collecting catch data.

Mr. Kwak questioned whether an accurate count of anglers can be made from patrol flights over the Fraser. And he said DFO workers, who ask anglers on the river how many fish they have caught, in an onsite survey, can get misleading data, because fishermen exaggerate how many fish they have caught…

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And so sport fishers are asking DFO to charge them more for licenses… and… DFO does not get accurate information on how many fish sport fishers are catching.

Hmmmm… I think I sense one potential solution here… maybe charge sport fishers more and then use those fees to better monitor the sport fishery itself?

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Two related articles. One also from Mark Hume at the Globe and Mail:

Rising temperature in Fraser River affecting Salmon population

The Fraser River is heating up because of climate change and an increasing number of salmon are dying in the warmer water from diseases or parasites or are simply dropping dead from cardiac collapse, a federal judicial inquiry has been told.

Scott Hinch, an expert witness on aquatic ecology, told the Commission of Inquiry Into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River that sometimes 50 per cent of the salmon that return to the river die before they reach the spawning beds.

Dr. Hinch said because the Fraser has increased in temperature by about 2 degrees C, salmon are changing the timing of their spawning migrations, to enter rivers weeks earlier or later, in an effort to avoid warm water. And once in the river they are seeking out cold-water refuges, sometimes going up tributaries to sink to the bottoms of lakes or schooling where cold streams enter the Fraser.

As water temperatures continue to climb (predictions suggest an increase of between 2 and 4 degrees over the next 60 to 80 years), more and more Fraser River salmon are likely to die before they have a chance to spawn, said Dr. Hinch, a fisheries researcher and professor at the University of British Columbia.

“Certainly we’re gong to see higher en route mortality [in the future],” he said. “We’re going to have to forsake more harvest on these fish.”

Dr. Hinch said the warmer water doesn’t kill fish directly, but once the temperature of the Fraser has climbed above 18 degrees C, as it does for several weeks every summer, the fish are subject to stresses which increase the chances of death.

Higher water temperatures also increase the rate of development of pathogens, exposing salmon to disease.

The research, one of 12 scientific papers being prepared at the request of Commissioner Bruce Cohen, says the phenomenon of en route loss of salmon was first reported in 1992 for three distinct runs of sockeye, which come back to the Fraser in the spring, early summer and summer. A fourth run of sockeye, which returns to the river in the fall, didn’t exhibit the problem until 1996.

The paper states that since 1996 “en route loss of at least 30 per cent has been observed for at least one run-timing group in each year,” and many stocks have had losses of 50 per cent or more.

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Gee… sure makes sense to me then, that we should be harvesting upwards of 80% of these runs as one other pre-eminent scientist has suggested to the Cohen Commission and spouted off on radio, tv, and wherever else his voice could be recorded last year.

Bring back maximum sustainable yield…!

kidding.

Dr. Hinch and Dr. Martins, who synthesized decades of salmon research in their paper, said warmer water temperatures appear to be decreasing the survivability of salmon at nearly all life stages, not just when the fish are adults returning to spawn.

But Dr. Hinch said there is “shockingly little information” on the early life stages of salmon.

He also noted that one run of sockeye, which goes up the Fraser and then into the glacial-fed Chilko River, have adapted to handle dramatic temperature ranges.

He said it is important to protect a wide variety of salmon stocks, because it is not clear which fish may hold the genetic key to survive in the warmer water of the future.

I’ve noted this before… in asking DFO they really only investigate about two sockeye nursery lakes in the entire Fraser system. Some estimates suggest there hundreds of nursery lakes.

Sounds like biodiversity and protecting all runs is important — and even more important as every organism has to become more rapidly adaptive to climate change. Human communities are sure as hell having to become more adaptive — especially coastal communities. There’s only so much boulder rip-rap armoring of coastlines that can be done to protect infrastructure…

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The Tyee has also ran a related article:

‘Perfect storm’ of virus and warming water threaten sockeye: scientist

An expert in aquatic ecology told the Cohen Commission that a retrovirus is having a more devastating effect on salmon smolt as rising water temperatures put stress on them.

Dr. Scott Hinch, expert in aquatic ecology and forestry professor at the University of British Columbia took the stand as a witness accompanied by Eduardo Martins, UBC population ecologist at the Federal Judicial Inquiry in to the collapse of the 2009 Sockeye Salmon runs yesterday and today.

Hinch said the optimal average temperature for salmon is around 13-15 degrees. Over the last 20 years the Fraser River has increased by about 2 degree, often causing salmon to seek thermal refuge in cold water at the bottoms of stream or lakes.

“Survival decreases as temp increases,” said Martins, whose research showed that an increase in water temperatures would likely a higher die off rate among smolts and older salmon.

“Mortality got to be a problem at about 18 degrees in the river. When things got up to about 19 degrees stocks survived very poorly,” said Hinch.

Climate change has been showed to be a major stressor for returning salmon. But far less is known about how climate change is affecting salmon while they are at sea.

“This life stage is the most poorly understood of the salmon, there is a major data gap when they are in the open ocean,” said Hinch.

“It’s possible to keep fish alive [in warmer water temperature], if the water is pathogen free,” explained Hinch.

But the water in which B.C. salmon swim isn’t pathogen free. In fact a mysterious retro-virus that has been shown to be killing off large numbers of salmon before they have spawned. Salmon showing a certain genomic predisposition were 13.5 more likely to die before spawning than their healthier counterparts.

“Warm water highly increases the mortality rate of pre-spawning salmon,” explained Hinch. “Stress hormones impede their ability to spawn, and develop eggs and sperm. And higher temperatures, are making it harder for the fish who are experiencing disease to cope.”

Also of central concern are early entry patterns of returning salmon. Some runs are not holding in the mouth of the river as long, and are spawning as early as two months earlier that their usual run time.

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This is an important point:

“Climate change has been showed to be a major stressor for returning salmon. But far less is known about how climate change is affecting salmon while they are at sea.”

Well… we will never know much about what is going on out at sea… and we will never be able to accurately predict the impacts of climate change, nor rates of rapid change.

And what does this mean?

More precaution. Give the wild salmon a chance…

climate change isn’t going anywhere… it’s here to stay.