Tag Archives: local knowledge

“There’s always the human factor…” says U.S. Coast Guard, as oil tanker hits San Fran Bay Bridge

from Silicon Valley Mercury News

from Silicon Valley Mercury News

The headline from the National Post reads: Oil tanker crashes into San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge:

An empty oil tanker caused minor damage Monday when it struck a tower in the middle of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while navigating beneath the hulking span, officials said.

The 752-foot Overseas Reymar rammed the tower about 11:20 a.m. as it headed out to sea, according to the Coast Guard and state transportation officials. It didn’t affect traffic on the busy bridge, which is the main artery between San Francisco and Oakland, Ney said.

OSG Ship Management Inc., which is the parent company that owns the Marshall Islands-registered ship, said the vessel hit an underwater portion of the massive bridge structure.

Investigators had not yet determined the cause of the crash.

“There’s always the human factor,” Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Lansing said. “That is again what we’ll look into and see whether, in fact, it was a human error or something else and take that into consideration in the development of future regulation.”

Visibility at the time was about a quarter-mile, but officials didn’t say if that was a factor.

from Silicon Valley Mercury News

from Silicon Valley Mercury News

The Silicon Valley Mercury News reports Pilot in Bay Bridge oil tanker crash had three accidents since 2009:

…The pilot of the ship was identified as Guy Kleess, 61, of San Francisco, a former Exxon oil tanker captain who has been involved in at least three other shipping accidents since 2009.

The incident provided a stark reminder of a similar Bay Bridge collision five years ago, when the Cosco Busan, a 901-foot-long cargo ship, hit the adjacent tower of the Bay Bridge, spilling 53,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel into the bay, fouling 69 miles of shoreline and killing thousands of birds.

That an oil tanker similar in size to the Exxon Valdez, with the capacity to haul millions of gallons of heavy crude oil, hit a bridge in San Francisco Bay alarmed environmentalists.

This last line is particularly entertaining… what exactly is an environmentalist in the eyes of these writers? Is it only ‘environmentalists’ concerned about this?

The Washington Times reports:

Monday’s mishap brought back memories of a major crash in November 2007 in which the 902-foot Cosco Busan rammed the bridge and spilled 53,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.

That accident contaminated 26 miles of shoreline, killed more than 2,500 birds and delayed the start of the crab-fishing season. Capt. John Cota, the pilot of the Cosco Busan, was sentenced to 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors.

Apparently, that’s just more than those ‘pesky’ environmentalists fronting concern… I’m guessing the maybe 7 million+ residents of the Bay and surrounding area might be a bit concerned if this ship had hit the bridge with its full capacity of some 500,000+ barrels of oil which it had just offloaded.

from mercury news

from mercury news

The Silicon Valley Mercury News

Biologists for years have said that if a large oil tanker spills in the bay, the currents could carry much of it southward, where it would devastate egrets,herons, harbor seals, salmon and other species in the marshes and wetlands. Because of the weak tidal action in the southern part of the bay, the oil would take months, if not years, to remove.

The article continues with some key questions:

Among the key questions Monday: Why was the ship sailing in significant fog? After the Cosco Busan spill in 2007, the Coast Guard put in place rules limiting large ships from sailing when there is less than half a mile of visibility. Coast Guard officials said Monday that the visibility was a quarter-mile at the time of the accident.

Also, did Coast Guard officials who track ships on radar warn the vessel it was about to hit the bridge tower? [what about the ship’s own radar…?]

And why did the ship or its contracted emergency response crews not deploy boom — floating barriers that protect against oil spills — until hours after the accident?

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Lansing said the ship, which was built in 2004, had a double hull, which is required under a federal law signed by President George H.W. Bush after the Valdez spill. At a news conference Monday afternoon, Lansing said investigators don’t yet know the cause of the crash but are looking at human error as a possibility.

There it is again… ‘likely possibility’… ‘may’… and now we’re back into the circle of ‘evidence absence’ and ‘absence of evidence’… and… well…

… then the great news cycle… this accident will blow away or float away in the Bay tides in coming days and weeks.

Except maybe in places where people are contemplating the ‘human error’ risk factors present in shipping oil, bitumen, fuel and otherwise in areas where collisions between land, and land-based structures could be absolutely disastrous – as the Exxon Valdez and numerous other accidents demonstrate.

Here’s an image from the Vancouver Sun of the community of Kitimat and the Douglas Channel stretching west:

Vancouver Sun image

Vancouver Sun image

And a more complex view of the Douglas Channel from the Dogwood Initiative website;

from Dogwood Initiative website

from Dogwood Initiative website

And the Bay Bridge… pretty darn tough to see that thing…

Fog City

Double-hulled, triple hulled, highly trained pilots, radar, Coast Guards, regulations (current or future), policies, judicial reviews, ministerial imperatives, etc. … it don’t matter when it comes down to old faithful “HUMAN ERROR“…

It’s not a matter of ‘if’… it’s only a matter of ‘when’… that is… when we’re talking shipping, ships, and oil.

Risk… Reward?

[Remember this post from almost exactly one year ago today: Proposed Northern Exit-gateway Pipeline: Accidents happen because of human error… and are not averted due to elaborate statistical anlayses…  [or elaborate regulations… which may not be followed anyways… as in this case and half mile visibility and big bridges]

Enbridge Northern Exit-way II

Enbridge Northern Exit-way II


What a fish story …!?


Two fishermen and two historians often disagree widely as to what happened, omitting altogether the even more difficult problem of ‘why’.”

.  – Rudy Wiebe. Canadian author and teacher. Intro to: “The Story-Makers” (1987 reprint of 1970 collection of short stories)

fishermen and historians?

I came across this quote recently in an introduction to a book of short stories. It was one of those random finds… or maybe it was not random…

I commonly utilize a saying: “I don’t believe in coincidence, I believe in synchronicity…”  And the experience of coming across this quote, fits well with many of my life experiences, including recent ones…

Of all the places I chose to wander in a large university library today to take a break… to stretch my legs… i wander down this book’s particular aisle, look up and pull it off the top shelf…

The story-makers… now that sounds curious…”, I say to myself.

I begin to read the introduction…

The impulse to make story needs no defence. Where it arises, who knows. It simply is, like the impulse to sing, to dance, to play games. It would seem, however, that story-making is the uniquely human of these impulses for, though many animals sing, play games, perform intricate and beautiful dances, it still remains to be discovered whether any make stories…

… For us, to make story is to entertain: we entertain ourselves as we entertain our listeners. In other words, the emotional impulse to make story drives toward the principle of pleasure…

_ _ _ _ _ _

And, so I’m running along with this intro, thinking, ‘this is kind of cool’ then I scratch off the side like an old record player getting jostled.

See, recently, I attended a former colleague’s Masters’ project defence. I was struck in the presentation by an explanation, following a direct examiner question, of the ‘concept’ behind the project being described. The ‘concept’  was described as essentially something that came to him out of the ether… (that was his story).

My internal thinking resembled the scratching of the record needle blaring through the speakers…

“No, it didn’t… that’s bullshit”, my internal voice says about the ‘birth’ of the ‘concept’…

My reasoning for this thinking fueled by working on similar projects, in a non-academic sense, for several years and a recognition that the ‘concept’ being discussed has essentially been around as long as the Internet has been around — and probably even more before that.

I continue listening to the presentation, with a distinctly sour taste in my mouth watching an academic committee essentially lap it up. “Oh this is wonderful stuff… so progressive…” (I paraphrase).

And, my internal storyline is shouting, “you’re going to let that go by… this is academic rigor…”

I leave the presentation… well…feeling jaded.

As in the sufficient dictionary definition suggesting: “1. satiated by overindulgence: e.g. a jaded appetite. 2. worn out or wearied, as by overwork or overuse.”

How many times has this happened to others? Sitting and listening to someone sell something as if it’s their idea, and yet knowing they might be bullshitting, or the simple fact that the ‘concept’ being sold is part of a much larger thought process that was pondered well before this particular individual claims it came out of the ether, or ‘just came to them…’

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now this is where things are a little complicated or complex or convoluted…

Subjective… one might suggest.

The individual making the claim of concept, may very well truthfully feel that the concept is only unique to them. Cutting edge to their mind; unique; an epiphany. A ‘story’ they created.

So then is it a lie?

(or maybe just shoddy research…? or, flawed pondering…?  or, flawed academic review? … hard to say really… like much of the law, it comes down to gray areas, both the messy, slimy, bulbous gray areas near and just above the area between our shoulder blades and the interpretations that gray area garners…).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Now similarly, these sames sorts of questions can be asked of the current fuss in Canadian politics around the F-35 fighter jets and the recent Auditor General’s report suggesting that the Conservatives/Reformers were lying about what they knew about the true cost, or didn’t know…

But then of course, the definition of lying is a rather subjective, gray area… ebbing and flowing in politics like a Bay of Fundy tide.

Even more so when we start to broach the subject of ‘marketing’… (and lying).

As I repeatedly state: ‘everything is marketing and marketing is everything’.

What is a thesis defence, but an exercise in personal marketing…

One person’s story, can be another person’s spin. One’s spin, anothers’ story and so on and so on and so on until we vomit off the side of the merry-go-round.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Gregory Cajete a Native American educator and writer suggests: “Through story we explain and come to understand ourselves.

Similarly, Wiebe suggests:

… it easy to imagine that the impulse to make story and submit to it is rooted in our necessity to label. Wherever we live we invent symbols (a picture, a sound, an act) for things, apparently in order to relate in an essentially human way to the things themselves.

Another story theorist and psychologist in the academic world Jerome Bruner suggests:

A story must construct two landscapes simultaneously – the outer landscape of action and the inner one of thought and intention.

True, quite true.

Wiebe continues in his introduction to a book on short stories, putting the opening quote in context:

Story recounting what happened

…and the broken dream that may occur when the “primitive encounters the modern world”…:

The earliest development of this form [story] is no doubt autobiography (it happened to me) followed closely by biography (it happened to them) and, after perhaps generations by history (it happened to our tribe, that group of nations, etc.). It moves from one extreme — say, the fisherman telling once more about the fish that got away — through an incredible spectrum to the other extreme — say, Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples.

Besides, it can include every conceivable combination of information from generally accepted fact through informed surmise to the sheerest tall tale.

Two fishermen and two historians often disagree widely as to what happened, omitting altogether the even more difficult problem of ‘why’.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Now stick with me here, for a moment more (if you’re still here…)

Wiebe weaves a decent mat here:

Such circumstances need hardly surprise us. We all are to an extent limited in what we can take in… This is a verity every good story-maker knows, the quality of story depends rather less on what happens than on how the story is made, and if you can begin your story with “I was there; this really happened” you already have long hold on your audience.

Then, if you can with skill, shape facts and events to show the human meanings behind them… you have a truly memorable story. How much you mix actual fact and fancy is not so important as that the story whole moves us to understand ‘what happened’ in a profounder human way.

And there we have a certain crux of the matter…

How much we weave actual fact with some fiction is not so important, as long as we tell a good story.

Now, this isn’t meant as a criticism of Wiebe — as he’s referring to good short stories, which are often a good weave of fact and fiction — however, this ability of story-telling is as old as the wind, or at least as long as humans have broke wind…

But then one might argue that places have story, and story is about places… a storied-landscape albeit…

The point being that inherent in story-telling — whether it be a politician, or political party, trying to story-tell their way out of lies (or into them…), or into government for that fact, or…

…an interviewee pulling and pushing the truth around a little in an interview or a resume, or…

…stretching things around a little in the academic world, such as ‘defending’ a thesis or otherwise, or…

…an Us vs. Them argument fronted by governments or enviro groups, or special interest groups…

the stories are going to vary.

… in their ability to entertain, capture attention, and how much is “F”act and how much is “F”iction and how much is ‘f’ancy and ‘d’ancy.

Or, maybe just like mountains on Bruner’s  landscapes… was it a mountain of a lie, or a molehill of stretched fact…?

Or, was it simply all in the interpretation of features on the landscape in the first place?

For a person in a wheelchair, a set of stairs might as well be a mountain… for the able, maybe one of those stairways to heaven…

Yet, at the end of the story the more important question is: ‘Why’?

And to that, i have nothing even closely resembling an answer…


Keeping science free of policy advocacy? …Hogwash! (and irresponsible?)

how circular do you like your arguments?


I have been ‘tweeting’ some comments today in relation to this idea… this endlessly circular and apparently misguided idea that ‘scientists’ should not engage in advocacy — when it comes to advocating for one policy option or another — at least in relation to their own data:

“our science”, they say.

‘Scientists’ should instead, in their great Objectivity, gently speak to the numbers, to the data, to the ‘information’, to the ‘science’…

If conservation biologists are to be valued by decision makers and society as the source of information on conservation, we must be perceived as neutral in the conduct and communication of our science…

...says he (Dr. Robert Lackey and others), in a 2007 paper in the ‘neutrally’ named academic journal ‘Conservation Biology’.

Now before you tune out… words like scientists, advocacy, policy… enough to garner a solid pounding of the “SNOOZE” button for many… or… in this case a gentle mouse click ‘navigating’ your way to much more interesting seas…

Yet, this a pretty important issue (oops, is that: advocating?)… and… flawed method of thinking that pollutes the towers of academia…

…worse then a school of dead spawned out humpies (pink salmon) rotting on a riverbank in the noon-day August sun.

This also relates directly to recent posts, such as fisheries biologist Otto Langer sounding the whistle on Conservative/Reform government plans to potentially sneak in far-ranging changes to the Fisheries Act.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I must preface these comments with a gentle warning that it must be challenging at times to read these posts in such a way as to understand when some things are said ‘tongue-in-cheek’ (what a curious expression…) and some are meant in more seriousness…

Furthermore, in as much as I highlight one specific ‘scientist’ in this post, this particular issue of ‘academic’ highfalutin, narrow-sighted, elitism… well… (my advocacy in itself) … is a seriously misguided enterprise.

Maybe, right up there with Columbus’ arrival on the shores of the ‘Americas’ thinking he had arrived in ‘India’…

I do, though, attempt to highlight this issue meaning no disrespect to individuals that have spent a good part of their adult lives living with this perspective, including Dr. Lackey.

Try to be hard on the problem, not on the people…

The intention is to highlight an issue, instigate discussion, debate, commentary, as well as take a rather ‘critical’ opposite perspective.

…well… maybe not even an opposite perspective, as I tend to try and operate in a both/and atmosphere… the ‘on this hand’ argument, yet ‘on this hand’ counter-argument…

through that, maybe getting to something in the middle, or somewhere between the hands… like… closer to the heart maybe?…

….that resonates and sits well with my own intuition, socialization, culture, values, etc.

…and the sheer ambiguity and fluffiness, and even danger, that those four terms (and related terms) embody — implicitly and explicitly.

(warning: this might also take several posts – if not a book – to shine a light way up to the top of some of those ‘towers’…)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

At the University of Northern BC (UNBC) this afternoon, distinguished fisheries scientist Dr. Robert Lackey is giving a presentation as part of the UNBC Research Colloquium Series.

Here is the poster for the presentation and a summary of his argument to be presented (as sent to me by Dr. Lackey himself):

sorry for the fuzziness, however, it fits the argument...


As I read this summary and then started to dive into the wide variety of academic papers that Dr. Lackey (and others) have produced on this topic, I became unsure of where to start…

As in:

‘hey salmonguy what issues do you foresee with this argument (thesis)?’

“uggggh… where do i start…?”

Not that these types of things are necessarily bad things or negative… they should just be stated and put right up front.

Nothing is certain. Certainty is nothing.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

So, let me take you on this little exploration journey, of the issues, contradictions, and circularity of this argument…

First, let’s start with the immediate questions that come to mind:

What is ‘advocacy‘?

What is ‘policy‘?

What is a ‘value‘?

What is ‘policy advocacy‘?

And, ummm, isn’t stating:

… values that reflect forms of policy advocacy should not be permitted to prejudice scientific information…

Isn’t that ‘advocacy’?

… advocating a position?

But then… maybe… the audience for this little summary is not ‘policy-makers’, decision-makers… and the like…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

There are a variety of definitions for ‘advocate‘ … one can probably safely assume that in this context, it is referring to the verb: “to advocate” which has dictionary definitions such as:

to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly.

In the noun sense:

one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal.


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

The etymology (the roots) of the word: advocate… as one might guess… has similar roots as vocal, and voice, and so on. There’s a convoluted history, however, the Latin word vocem is the common root which means: “voice, sound, utterance, cry, call, speech, sentence, language, word.”

Put the “ad” on the front, which means: “to” and essentially, to advocate means to give voice‘ .

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

So, now we have the beginning of a circular argument (can you hear the dog chasing its tail… or is the tail chasing the dog…?),

how is salmon escape-ment to happen?

… as the act of simply saying ‘scientists should not‘ do this or do that, is in essence advocating one position over another.

But then maybe other scientists… or young University students (or old for that fact)… are also not “policy makers” or ‘decision-makers’…

But they might be one day…?

(and really, what is a policy-maker? are they related to the boiler-maker? or the candlestick maker? Or, was it Colonel Mustard in the kitchen…?)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Let’s add a little further philosophical pondering into this… (pontificate… some might suggest…)

Dr. Lackey suggests that ‘scientific information’ should not be ‘prejudiced‘…

…or more precisely that: “values that reflect forms of policy advocacy should not be permitted to prejudice scientific information.”

Aside from the whole slew of questions that surface for me: ‘what values?, who’s values?, what’s a value?’ and:

‘how do we separate values that reflect forms of policy advocacy from the ones that don’t?

(is this like separating the wheat from the chaff… the men from the boys… the good from the bad… let alone the ugly… where does beauty lie again?…)

And “prejudice scientific information”… this makes it sound like ‘scientific information’ is some sort of holy grail that should not be soiled by the hands of mortal men… or women… or children… and most definitely not dying rotting humpies…

Or that ‘scientific information‘ exists on its own, like some entity… like a ‘corporation’, which is essentially a person, without being a person…

It is said as if ‘scientific’ information, exists different as ‘information’ in the National Enquirer, or other tabloid…?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Prejudice: 1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

Yet what is “information”?

(please stick with me, i recognize we’re caught in a bit of a worm hole here… just take the red pill and hold on a bit longer…)

1. knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance; news: information concerning a crime.
2. knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.; factual data: His wealth of general information is amazing.
3. the act or fact of informing.

What is knowledge?

Well… as the old saying goes: “knowledge is power”.

And that’s what essentially we are dealing with here:


Now we’re getting closer to the heart of the issue.

Information can be: “the act or fact of informing.”

And just as Dr. Lackey suggests in his summary: “the scientific enterprise is not free of values…”

Thus, values influence the information that is produced by science, and the ‘scientific enterprise’, which means that the information has been affected by “any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.

Right… that’s the definition of prejudice…

Someone had to decide what “information” was going to be collected in the first place…

(an issue to be discussed in future posts… when companies like Enbridge, Cenovus, RioTinto Alcan and others can “sponsor” University Research Chair positions… such as the Encana Research Chair in Water, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Alberta).

Even if that ‘information’ was collected by the ‘scientist’ themselves… it was still tainted by ‘values’… let alone the simple fact that a scientist speaks, or writes a language — such as English — for example, means that they communicate information in such a way that is laced by social, cultural, economic, and multiple other factors.

Lastly… for now… information is a noun, a thing.

It is a created thing.

A thing embodied and brought into creation by the mind that thought it, ‘found’ it, created it. Or simply read it off the Excel spreadsheet, or data-graphing program, or interpreted the way a salmon swam through the ‘counting gate’… etc.

It was interpreted.

Both in the sense that one does when they translate another language — e.g. interpret — and as in the dictionary, literal meaning: “explain the meaning of (information, words, or actions): ‘interpret the evidence‘.”

Interpreting, is never value-free.

And in ‘science’ — especially as practiced in the Western tradition — interpretation has everything to do with POWER.

And a lot of Power come from those that hold the ‘information’ AND those that create the information in the first place. And especially those that decide what to do with information.

‘Information’ comes to hold value in various ways and multiple ways in which one can define the word value… including cultural values… (more to come on that).

A wonderful quote from the other day in reference to archaeology and criticism of some ‘status-quo’ thinking in that ‘field’ especially the deep “Western-think” roots of that field:

“the past is thought up, not dug up”…

so is scientific information — which means it too, is Subjective… just as much as deciding what color tie one should wear to grandma’s birthday…

‘Scientific objectivity’ is just one more of those terms related to: marketing is everything and everything is marketing…

More to come… welcome to the worm hole…

‘absence of evidence must be evidence of absence’… when it comes to ancient knowledge of fisheries?

Ancient 'British' rock fish trap dating to approx. 1000


Over the last two days I’ve had the good fortune to listen to Dr. Charles Menzies (Associate Professor in Anthropology at UBC) speak in Prince George on two different topics – yet intimately related…

On the UBC website it lists Charles research interests as such:

My primary research interests are the production of anthropological films, natural resource management (primarily fisheries related), political economy, contemporary First Nations’ issues, maritime anthropology and the archaeology of north coast BC.

I have conducted field research in, and have produced films concerning, north coastal BC, Canada (including archaeological research); Brittany, France; and Donegal, Ireland.

Last night, at Art Space within Prince George’s independent book store Books & Company, Menzies delivered a presentation called:

Abalone, Pipelines, and Aboriginal Rights – Making Sense of Coastal Opposition to the Northern Gateway Project.

Found it to be quite a fascinating subject, quite enjoyed Menzies taking some pointed shots at academia and some ‘status-quo’ theories of some academics. Stirring the pot a little… (wooden spoon anyone?)

Namely, taking shots at some archaeologists that have adopted some rather faulty views of what folks on the coast may, or may not have been doing pre-contact.

You know at the apparent “discovery” of North America… and especially coastal northwestern North America.

In the research that informed Menzies’ presentation he visited ancient (and contemporary) Gitxaała village sites.

Gitxaała (Kitkatla) territory is south down the coast from Prince Rupert, BC and in the general vicinity south of the Skeena River mouth. As I understand it, Dr. Menzies’ family comes from that area, and he himself grew up in Prince Rupert.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

He explained that his research was quite purposely directed to do some investigation of community-known ancient village sites (and still contemporary used areas) which are along the proposed Enbridge oil super-tanker route, which would be used if Enbridge and Harper get their way in ramming a TarSands oil pipeline (Northern Exit-way) down the throats of north-central, north-coastal BC people’s throat.

(that last bit being my editorializing…).

He explained that the ‘status-quo’ archaeological ‘investigations’ and theories of this particular area suggest that people of this area did not harvest many abalone.

Community members most clearly say otherwise…

But archaeological theory continued to deny otherwise… look at our evidence, they say…

good old: ‘absence of evidence must be evidence of absence’…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Dr. Menzies and his crew, through low impact archaeological investigation and community elder direction to sites, sort of blew that proverbial misguided boat out of the water.

Or… i suppose… put the bilhaa (abalone) back in the water… one might say…

Menzies’ and crew found, what one might characterize, as no shortage of evidence of abalone use by ancients. Some dating back further than 4,000 years.

Menzies has an interesting paper at his publications page documenting the ancient Gitxaała connection to abalone  — bilhaa.

Menzies_ Abalone_2010

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

There’s a fitting quote early in the paper, which also relates to recent posts on this site regarding the federal government’s apparent ‘modernization of Canada’s commercial fisheries’:

The future of Canada’s schizophrenic Fisheries Ministry… called into question. (And DFO gets another new name.)

Menzies suggests:

The development of the non-aboriginal commercial dive fishery in British Columbia is a classic example of competitive greed combining with ineffectual resource management to decimate a resource.

The story of the collapse of abalone (bilhaa ) up and down the coast, is a common story, caught quite well by Menzies:

Bilhaa is one of a set of Gitxaała cultural keystone species. Cultural keystone species are species that “play a unique role in shaping and characterizing the identity of the people who rely on them.

These are species that become embedded in a people’s cultural traditions and narratives, their ceremonies, dances, songs, and discourse”. Until the late 20th century, Gitxaała people were unhindered in the harvesting of bilhaa within the traditional territory and in accord with longstanding systems of indigenous authority and jurisdiction.

However, the rapid expansion of a non-aboriginal commercial dive fishery through the 1970s-1980s brought bilhaa stocks perilously close to extinction. The DFO responded to this non-aboriginal induced crisis by closing the total bilhaa fishery. DFO made no apparent effort to accommodate indigenous interests.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Abalone (bilhaa), was most certainly not just limited to the BC coast.

In a recent research project I’ve been involved in… here is an image from old Father Morice’s journals (e.g. namesake for Moricetown, Morice Lake, etc.) from Dakelh (Carrier) people in the now Ft. St. James area in late 1800s.

abalone ornament from Dakelh people of BC interior

These types of ornaments would have traveled in on the oolichan grease trails and other various trade routes including dentalia shells, and other items, with prized hides of various sorts and soapberry traveling to the coast.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

In today’s presentation at UNBC Charles spoke about his research into artisanal fisheries on the coast of France — in other words small family, or community owned fisheries…

…and the impact of globalization on these fisheries and fisherfolks.

The story is remarkably similar to the story of agriculture throughout Canada, and other areas. The move from family-owned plots of land and specialized crops, to monoculture, highly centralized and controlled institutions and corporations that control much of the flow.

As Menzies suggested, when fish prices change in Brazil it affects fisherfolks in Canada… the impact of globalization (and maybe one might suggest: ‘systems theory’…)

Similar with wheat, barley, rye, and so on…

The fish market of the globe is largely controlled by only a handful of organizations. Fishing gear is largely down to only two or three companies.

Gee, does this sound like Monsanto or other mega multinational corporations controlling agriculture worldwide…?

The benefits of this, largely benefiting only a few, and the implications and drawbacks having devastating consequences on the small players of the world — you know… the little players like community members and families.

… those same “families” that all politicians seem to be soooo concerned about…

…from BC’s current un-elected premier Clark to the highest fed levels in Canada and even current Republican blather flooding Canadian airways these days as they try and select a presidential candidate.

(gee… one might almost feel bad for all those “singles” out there… hey?)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

The great thing about sitting at the ‘back’ during presentations such as Dr. Menzies’ is that one can watch the various academics squirm and frown with mere mention of ideas that might challenge the status-quo economic theories or otherwise that are currently being jammed down the whole medley of ‘students’ out there.

All the more sad as they riddle themselves with debt (students that is) the size of a small European nation and learning tired and worn out theories — such as the “invisible hand of the market” and other ‘strength of privatization’-bumpf flying around like the old passenger pigeon of old

(or running around like a dodo bird with its head cut off).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Not unlike the current Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ bumpf-filled, fluffy, blather around ‘modernizing’ Canada’s fisheries.

(yeah, sure… go for it… modernize the ‘fishery’… but I think i can safely say that the fish themselves are not all that interested in ‘modernizing’

… think it’s called barely surviving…

…fish populations around the world are on death-row, which means the fleet can be as modern as it wants to be, but an empty fish net, is an empty fish net

…even if it’s the latest carbon-fiber, titanium-lined, indestructible twine net, with GPS-spotter plane, fuel efficient, carbon credit, carbon neutral, double-hulled, long-distance trawl, Marine Stewardship Council-certified, boat and fairly-paid, union-represented crew.


empty is empty…

(net… river… ocean… shoreline that once had abalone…)

or we… simply… just keep fishing down the food chain until bullheads start looking pretty tasty at the latest and greatest restaurants…

_ _ _ _ _ _

Great finish to this, from Menzies (and colleague Caroline Butler) paper: “Returning to Selective Fishing through Indigenous Fisheries Knowledge”:

The historical abundance of salmon along the west coast of North America has been significantly reduced during the last two centuries of industrial harvest. Commercial fisheries from California to Alaska and points in between have faced clearly documented restrictions on fishing effort and collapse of specific salmon runs.

Even while salmon runs on some large river systems remain (i.e., the Fraser and Skeena rivers), many smaller runs have all but disappeared. The life histories of many twentieth-century fisheries have been depressingly similar: initial coexistence with indigenous fisheries; emergence of large-scale industrial expansion followed by resource collapse; introduction of limited restrictions on fishing effort, which become increasingly severe, making it hard for fishing communities to survive and to reproduce themselves.

Yet for nearly two millennia prior to the industrial extraction of salmon, indigenous peoples maintained active harvests of salmon, which are estimated to have been at or near median industrial harvests during the twentieth century.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Menzies raised this point in the discussion part of his presentation today at UNBC.

It’s one of my favorite points, which I’ve used in many presentations over the years.

In simple terms…

…the level of pre-contact salmon fisheries is estimated to actually be higher than the average annual industrial harvest of salmon over the last century.

Wow, I think I felt the flinch in the room today from a few academics…

And then the excuses and questions and qualifiers start flying when some folks realize that the pedestal that academic keeps trying to stand on is jussssst a little bit shaky.

Maybe not even shaky… it’s simply an imagined pedestal.

Just picture the classic Wiley Coyote running off the cliff chasing Road Runner then realizing there’s nothing under him…

Menzies and Butler conclude their paper on selective harvesting:

Scant attention has been paid to traditional fishing techniques and technologies and the ways in which they might contribute to sustainable harvesting and species conservation, and indeed, provide an alternative to current practices.

Traditional knowledge of salmon production may be of significant value in the current search for successful selective fishing techniques for the British Columbian salmon fisheries.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

See that anywhere in DFO’s plans…?

The image at the beginning of this post is from a British newspaper story:

Google Earth reveals fish trap made from rocks 1,000 years ago off British coast

For a millennium it has lain undisturbed beneath the waves a stone’s throw from one of Britain’s best-loved beaches.

But now modern technology has revealed this ancient fish trap, used at the time of the Norman Conquest.

Stretching more than 280 yards along the sea bed, the V-shaped structure was used to catch fish without the need for a boat or rod. Scientists believe it is one of the biggest of its kind. [Menzies might argue this as he’s found kilometres of these along the northwest BC coast]

The trap close to Poppit Sands on the Teifi Estuary in Dyfed was discovered by archaeologists studying aerial photographs of the West Wales coast. [love that term “discovered”]

It was designed to act like a rock pool, trapping fish behind its stone walls as the tide flowed out.

At its point is a gap where fisherman would have placed nets to catch fish. They could also have blocked up the gap, and then scooped up fish trapped in the shallows.

ancient British fish trap

What a concept… so my ancestors in Wales and other areas were using similar selective fishing community-based technology… hmmm.

Pop this into the old search engine ‘ancient rock fish traps’ and you will find examples from around the world: the Arctic, Australia, Hawaii, Indonesia, Mediterranean, and so on…

What a concept, local knowledge being put to use to ‘manage’ a local resource. (and ensuring that resource survives for many human generations…)

I think they call that ‘rocket science’… or is it ‘not’…

science that is… it’s just knowledge… and… ummmm… COMMON SENSE.

“Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control?”

Pretty good piece by Dr. Gordon Hartman, former Department of Fisheries and Oceans, posted at “The Common Sense Canadian”. As quoted on the website:

Dr. Gordon F. Hartman has consulted on fisheries issues in a number of foreign countries to help them contribute to the well being of that resource. Leading fishery scientists all over the world will attest to his knowledge and ability. Dr Hartman, long a premier scientist and manager with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, was one of the “dissident scientists”, as Alcan referred to them – a sobriquet he wears with pride – who helped mightily in the fight to cancel the Kemano Completion Program proposal for the Nechako system.

This title is quoted from a publication by Jeffry Hutchings, Carl Walters and Richard Haedrich, back in May of 1987. Their paper dealt with government control of science information in regard to the cod fish crisis in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Kemano Completion issue in B.C.  Now, almost 25 years later, their title question is still appropriate when we consider the control of public communication by Dr. Kristina Miller, a DFO scientist at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. The control is in regard to her public discussion of her (and co-author’s) highly technical paper on genomic signature and mortality of migrating Sockeye salmon (Science, pages 214-217, Vol. 331, 14 January, 2011). The muzzling of this scientist originates primarily in the office of the Prime Minister of Canada, far more than in the DFO bureaucracy.

I have read the paper and it is unclear to me why there should be any reluctance on the part of government, at any level, to having such research discussed with the public. It is even less clear to me why Dr. Miller is constrained from discussing such work until after she appears before the Cohen Inquiry in late August. Her work is already open to the scientific community through publication in the prestigious journal, Science. To the extent that Dr. Miller and co-author’s work on wild salmon in the Fraser River may provide help in sustaining them, it should be open to the public now. Science should not be used for playing political games.

When one considers the behavior and record of governments, over the years and at the  very “top end”, there is cause to wonder what the real commitment is, deep down, in regard to sustaining wild salmon. The bitter history of issues such as Alcan/Kemano, salmon farming, and Fraser River gravel mining underlie such concern. In each case there appears to be an unspoken policy of business and industry first, and wild salmon and their environments second. Salmon-friendly measures such as the “wild salmon” policy and “no-net-loss” principle are positive, however, they seem to have less weight than they should when big business is involved.

Such doubt and concern has “big roots” as far back as the mid 1980s in the Kemano completion issue. A major element of debate involved the allocation of adequate flows in the Nechako River for the Chinook salmon population that reproduced there. Full review of this unfortunate part of history is not possible in a limited space. A listing of the chronology of events is given in my paper in the publication (GeoJournal, October 1996, Volume 40, nos. 1 & 2, page147 – 164).

A deeper and harsher indication of the misuse of scientists and their work is given in the Brief to the B.C. Utilities Commission Review Panel by Dr. J.H. Mundie (The Kemano Completion Project: An Example of Science in Government, 50 pages, February 1994).

  • Dr. Mundie tells of the Schouwenburg report, the joint year-long work of about ten scientists, being buried. This report contained the best advice the scientists could offer regarding required flows for salmon in the Nechako River.
  • He reviews how DFO scientists and managers were told that the minister accepted Alcan’s prescribed flows as adequate.
  • He reviews how a group of DFO people and Alcan consultants, over a four day weekend period, came up with a program to make Alcan’s dictated flow regime work.
  • He testifies to his being pushed, unsuccessfully, to change his expert witness document regarding flows required for salmon.
  • He quotes the minister’s statement in regard to scientists who were concerned about the Alcan/Nechako River process, they should either agree with him, or “take their game and play elsewhere.”

Except for the need for brevity, the experiences of other scientists could be added to this section. This history is not presented to re-acquaint people with the whole controversial history of the Alcan/Nechako episode. It is touched on to indicate that little has changed during about the last 25 years in the way governments manage science and scientists.

Organizations like DFO contain many very talented and dedicated people. The public does not gain the full benefit that they might offer in the present politicized and bureaucratized system. Both the public and the public servants deserve better.

As for the Fraser River salmon, they face a difficult and uncertain future even if only the freshwater environment is considered. It is a future marked by change and complexity. The complexity involves interaction of climate, flow regimes, thermal and forest cover changes. Added to these are, expanding human populations, water abstraction, pollution, and competing demands for catch.

There is urgent need for a structure that can focus on these major challenges now and into the years ahead. Such complex and expanding challenges cannot be dealt with without scientific knowledge. Whatever the Cohen Inquiry might do, it is not a substitute for science now, and into the future.

Beyond the provision of knowledge, we need a structure that allows the public to know what the scientific findings and advice are. We need a structure that permits thoughtful public response and feed-back to such information.

If political people must over-ride science for reasons of “greater societal good”, which they have every right of do, let them do so openly. Then let them also explain it openly, rather than trying to shape and manipulate science, through the bureaucracy, to serve political or business ends.

G.F. Hartman, Ph.D.,

August 2011

_ _ _ _ _ _

The underlined part goes back to this idea I’ve put out there frequently, something akin to a Citizen’s Assembly on how we coexist with wild salmon.

As I’ve also mentioned frequently on this site, it’s not just up to the ‘scientists’; however, science does play an important part.

(and this is made clear by the Prime Minister’s Office interference on this particular issue of muzzling scientists)

Unfortunately, though, just as the East Coast Cod collapse, and issues such as massive dam construction, and so on — it doesn’t really matter what the “scientists” say or what their ‘science’ says; it’s the economists and politicians opinions that win. And thus a “scientific inquiry” — which is essentially what the Cohen Commission has become — won’t answer many questions…

One scientist says that, another says this… and so goes the merry-go-round.

Or the famous beast known as Hydra arrives, and that’s the thing with “science” and natural systems — just when you think you have the answer, you realize you have two more questions that need be answered. Chop of another head, two more pop up.

These are issues of political will and political decision-making — whether it be in the Prime Minister’s office or the DFO office… and yet the Cohen Commission is not to find fault with any people or branches of government. And thus, what sort of “answers” to folks expect?

And, like it or not, media plays a role in near everything. The bigger change in recent years that many of the 40% of older work force in institutions like the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans (and older range of MPs and long time bureaucrats) may not have have  full grasp upon — the power of social media.

Marketing is everything and everything is marketing — plain and simple.


And salmon survey says…

Article in Globe & Mail by Mark Hume yesterday evening on a salmon survey recently conducted in B.C.

B.C. residents consider salmon a cultural touchstone, survey finds

Wild salmon are as culturally important to British Columbians “as the French language is to the people of Quebec,” according to a new poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion.

The poll, commissioned by two B.C. conservation organizations, measured the concerns of British Columbia on a broad range of environmental issues, with a focus on wild salmon, which are in decline on the West Coast.

The survey of more than 800 randomly selected adults found that 70 per cent agreed with a statement that maintaining and restoring salmon runs in B.C. is as important to British Columbians as protecting French is to Quebeckers.

That’s pretty impressive.

Now what I’m wondering is — what federal Party is campaigning on this message for the upcoming election?

About the only salmon-related info I’ve seen seems to be coming from the New Democrat Party (NDP) with folks like Finn Donnelly the NDP incumbent in the Vancouver area running a solid campaign. (but maybe there’s others…?)

…Only 52 per cent agreed that higher taxes would be justified, “if that was necessary to protect wild-salmon habitat,” but 69 per cent said the federal government should maintain its policy of no net loss of salmon habitat, even if that meant restricting growth and development…

…In some rivers, small runs of wild salmon return at the same time as much larger populations of hatchery enhanced stocks. When the Department of Fisheries and Oceans allows commercial harvests on so-called “mixed stock fisheries,” fish from the small runs can inadvertently get killed.

A large majority, 77 per cent of those polled, disagreed with the statement that “the extinction of small salmon runs is acceptable as a tradeoff to maintain the commercial fishing industry’s current practices.”

The poll also showed that the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs (72 per cent), contamination of soil and water by toxic wastes (68 per cent), air pollution and the depletion of fish stocks (both at 66 per cent) are the top environmental concerns for British Columbians.

The Angus Reid survey was done online with 806 randomly selected British Columbians, on April 19-20, from a sample that is considered representative of the entire adult population. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 per cent. The poll was released Monday.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Would seem this could be pretty decent market research for politicians looking to get elected. Come to BC and campaign on a salmon platform…

Starving eagles, starving streams, hurting communities… disappearing salmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salmon-catch system ‘broken,’ commercial fisherman say

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _

Mr Brown asks:

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

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


Because we’re playing catch-up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where has the breakdown been in allocating the resource?

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _

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

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

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

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

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

Open source salmon?

Mama Grizzly and 3 cubs - Babine River counting fence: Open Source Salmon


How about this for 2011…? The Pacific Salmon Commission opens their ‘science’ to anyone that’s interested. They put a call out for a contest to anyone to devise a better system of in-season salmon management.

They base this system on initiatives such as Proctor and Gamble’s “Connect and Develop” initiative, which is tagged as an “open innovation strategy”. Rather than relying only on internal research and development, P&G has opened up their product development to any outsider that’s interested.

Also in 2011, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) starts an initiative called: WikiSalmon.

What is it?

Well… in an incredible turn of events, DFO opens their process of “managing” salmon and in turn reduces the financial sucking noise emanating from their overly inflated ‘senior manager’ salaried workforce based in Ottawa (that real hotbed of salmon spawning and migration).

Throughout the range of Pacific salmon, impassioned folks (referred to as the Gumboot Army) are setting out across thousands of cricks, creeks, streams, and lakes looking at salmon habitat, counting salmon, evaluating inputs and outputs from salmon ecosystems — and entering all of this information onto their computer, and in turn onto the worldwide web — similar to Wikipedia (one of the more impressive open source projects online).

As opposed to a $15 million+, legal-heavy, DFO-heavy, paper-producing, ‘fisheries science’-heavy, preeminent expert-laden process of an ‘inquiry’ — the B.C. and Canadian government, the states of Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, and the US federal government fund a: Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon.

The Assembly utilizes technology as much as possible cutting down on travel (teleconference, etc.) and has dedicated teams in each state and province that travel to as many small communities as possible to let people know about the Assembly and get information from average everyday folks about salmon in their area. (citizen science at work)

This info-gathering process utilizes a ‘wiki’-like format, rarely utilizes “panel-like” processes where public speaking and presentations is a must. (did you know that public speaking ranks higher than the fear of death for the majority of folks in the western world?).

Instead, more encouraging formats such as World Cafe, or Open Space, or my absolute favorite: sitting at the kitchen table… are the most-relied upon for gathering info.

About this point, some folks reading this may be wondering what was in my Christmas shortbread cookies or holiday brownies…

_ _ _ _ _

If you haven’t heard the term “open source” or aren’t too sure what it means — it doesn’t really matter… What I can guarantee you though, is that this term will continue to become much more familiar to many in the near future.

Many already are — especially with the current fuss over WikiLeaks.

If you’ve been reading any of the multitude of books emanating from the ‘business’ section at the bookstore, or Amazon, or the library — “open source” is probably quite a familiar term, as are success stories of this approach.

Open source

Furthermore, if you’re reading this blog post you are benefiting — well… utilizing — open source software. WordPress has been an immensely successful open source project. As has Wikipedia.


If you’re using Firefox as your web browser: open source.

Pretty good chance that when you’re at work the computer servers are running on Linux: more open source. (Linux is the poster child for open source).

Or, web servers running on Apache: it’s been developed open source.

If you don’t want to get sucked into buying Microsoft crap, go with OpenOffice. It’s been out for ten years now.

_ _ _ _ _ _

mass collaboration

Think it’s just a technology thing then read about Canadian gold miner Goldcorp (or companies like Proctor & Gamble and others). These stories are told at length in the very successful book: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

There’s a shorter version from a 2007 BusinessWeek article by the authors of the book:

A few years back, Toronto-based gold mining company Goldcorp was in trouble. Besieged by strikes, lingering debts, and an exceedingly high cost of production, the company had terminated mining operations.

Conditions in the marketplace were hardly favorable. The gold market was contracting, and most analysts assumed that the company’s fifty-year old mine in Red Lake, Ontario, was dying. Without evidence of substantial new gold deposits, Goldcorp was likely to fold.

Chief Executive Officer Rob McEwen needed a miracle. Frustrated that his in-house geologists couldn’t reliably estimate the value and location of the gold on his property, McEwen did something unheard of in his industry: He published his geological data on the Web for all to see and challenged the world to do the prospecting.

The “Goldcorp Challenge” made a total of $575,000 in prize money available to participants who submitted the best methods and estimates.

Every scrap of information (some 400 megabytes worth) about the 55,000 acre property was revealed on Goldcorp’s Web site. News of the contest spread quickly around the Internet and more than 1,000 virtual prospectors from 50 countries got busy crunching the data.


But Goldcorp isn’t a dot-com kind of company. Mining is one of the world’s oldest industries, and it’s governed by some pretty conventional thinking. Take Industry Rule No. 1: Don’t share your proprietary data. The fact that McEwen went open-source was a stunning gamble. And even McEwen was surprised by how handsomely the gamble paid off.


The contestants identified 110 targets on the Red Lake property, more than 80% of which yielded substantial quantities of gold. In fact, since the challenge was initiated, an astounding 8 million ounces of gold have been found—worth well over $3 billion. Not a bad return on a half million dollar investment.

Today, Goldcorp is reaping the fruits of its radical approach to exploration. McEwen’s willingness to open-source the prospecting process not only yielded copious quantities of gold, it introduced Goldcorp to state-of-the-art technologies and exploration methodologies, including new drilling techniques, and data collection procedures, and more advanced approaches to geological modeling.

This catapulted his under-performing $100 million company into a $9 billion juggernaut while transforming a backwards mining site in Northern Ontario into one of the most innovative and profitable properties in the industry.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Hmmm… open source, innovation, and citizen science fully utilized to better look after wild salmon? Quite a thought.

Thousands of people reading open scientific articles, newspaper articles, and the like and then sharing these through various open source and social media venues. (sidenote: Facebook just passed Google as the number one most visited site in the world).

These days if average joe and jill want to read scientific articles… forget it. They are protected behind their peer-reviewed electronic walls, remaining the domain of the preeminents and annual subscription paying folks with various letters behind their names.

Want to access Fisheries and Oceans science or decision-making rationale… the ‘science’ and ‘decisions’ paid for by citizens… gotta go through “Freedom of Information” legislation.

Want to look at data from salmon farmers on the BC Coast,  practices that potentially endanger wild salmon (as they have anywhere else open-pen salmon farms have been operated), and that utilize First Nations traditional territories and public lands and waters — nope, got to go through legal challenges.

_ _ _ _ _

One of the biggest barriers?

In my humble opinion… demographics.

Much of the senior civil service is occupied by… well… more ‘senior’ individuals (many approaching retirement in coming months and years)

The demographics of Canadian politicians … well… more ‘senior’, with an average age of 55.

I recognize I dance a dangerous razor edge here… I don’t mean to be ‘age-ist’; more suggestive of diversity in looking to solutions.

At a “digital economy” conference in 2009, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore (part of the more ‘senior’ contingent) comments on this issue (in regards to digital copyright laws) and is a fitting conclusion to this post:

The average age of a Member of Parliament is 55…

And you’d be surprised the number of Members of Parliament who have never held an iPhone, who couldn’t tell you, functionally, how a Blackberry works and have no idea how these things integrate.

The old way of doing things is over. These things are all now one. And it’s great and it’s never been better and we need to be enthusiastic and embrace these things.

I point out the average age of a member of parliament because don’t assume that those who are making the decisions and who are driving the debate understand all the dynamics that are at play here. Don’t assume that everybody understands the opportunities that are at play here and how great this can be for Canada.

decolonizing salmon management?

a rather odd recent presentation by DFO to First Nations reps

As folks that read this blog from time to time have probably noticed, I often note Globe & Mail articles in my post. I was drawn to one today:

Who will pay for the environmental mess we’re in?

The article starts:

Cancun’s white beaches and resort hotels provide a fitting setting for a global argument over the rich world’s responsibility for damaging the Earth’s environment and the extent of its “climate debt” to poorer nations.

Divisions between the rich and poor – so apparent in such sunny vacation spots – have fueled bitter debates that threaten to block progress at the United Nations climate summit under way on the Mayan Riviera…

I don’t think I am the only one that finds some irony in the idea of hundreds, if not thousands of people, flying across the globe to attend a conference on climate change.

However, what peaked my attention a little more from this article:

The recognition of differing levels of responsibility between developed and developing countries has been embedded for decades in international agreements that deal with the growing climate crisis.

Based on 160 years of fossil-fueled economic growth, the industrialized world has emitted an estimated 75 per cent of the man-made greenhouse gases that remain trapped in the atmosphere.

Globally, energy-related emissions have climbed to 29 billion tonnes a year from 200 million tonnes in 1850 as the developed world relied on coal-fired electricity and oil-fueled transportation to deliver unprecedented prosperity to its citizens.

I heard a news report the other day that 2010 is shaping up to be the third hottest year globally, ever recorded in history… curious that.

The article continues:

Bolivian President Evo Morales has been leading the case for the prosecution, calling not only for reparations but also a “people’s tribunal” to impose monetary and criminal sanctions on offending rich-world governments and corporations.

Last April, Mr. Morales played host to the People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, which issued a manifesto calling on rich countries to finance the “decolonization of the atmosphere.” The Cochabamba Accord was endorsed by activist groups throughout the developed world.

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This idea of ‘decolonization‘ is certainly not a new one; however, it seems to be surfacing more in various areas. Here in northern BC, I started hearing the term more frequently in 2007 when Northwest Community College (based in Terrace, BC) started an institution-wide initiative called “Decolonizing Education“.

Since 2007, NWCC has hosted a conference called “Challenging the Paradigm” . In the invite to this years conference the letter states:

Northwest Community College is on a transformative journey to indigenize the culture and practice of how it provides education in Northwest British Columbia. This involves learning from Aboriginal values and needs, and taking direction from the communities. We base our approach on respect, relationships and responsibility.

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Yet, this idea is not just some small regional idea… the United Nations has had dedicated Committees for Decolonization since the 1960s and even a question and answer (Q & A) sheet. The UN also had two successive “International Decades for the eradication of Colonialism” . The second of which is just about to end in less than a month (2001-2010).

Going all the way back to 1960 the UN adopted Resolution 1514: also known as the “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” or simply “Declaration on Decolonization” .

It states that all people have a right to self-determination and proclaimed that colonialism should be brought to a speedy and unconditional end.

Now reading through this material, one might ask “hey salmonguy, the UN work is largely for countries working towards self determination in places like Africa and the Caribbean that were long under colonial rule… This isn’t really relevant in Canada…”

Maybe in parts of Canada where Treaties were negotiated with indigenous people… but, certainly not here in large sections of British Columbia where no Treaties exist — would be the response from salmonguy.

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Canada and British Columbia have exerted ownership and control over the lands, rivers, and coasts (out to 200 miles) of B.C. (and the critters that inhabit those) — e.g. the common belief that most every open space is “Crown Land” . Those powers are divided up in Canada through Sections 91 and 92 of Canada’s Constitution.

Yet, this is a great misconception.

British Columbia has been engaged in a Treaty Process with First Nations for about 18 years now. This, in simple terms, means that much of B.C. remains: disputed territory.

One could draw an analogy with the many disputes around the world over territory — places like the island recently shelled by North Korea… disputed territory. Or, the ongoing disputes between Israel and Palestine.. disputed territory.

Or… closer to my own heritage: the disputes over the Alsace-Lorraine area between France and Germany. Or, Ireland and England (e.g. Northern Ireland), Wales, Scotland… disputed territory.

Or right here in Canada with the discussions surrounding Quebec.

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Territorial disputes are complicated things… and in BC, the issue of Treaties with First Nations and the growing body of case law and policies on aboriginal rights and title  — is no exception.

Plus, in British Columbia, and the ongoing kangaroo court of a Treaty process, is stumbling, bumbling, and fumbling in reaching resolution of a complicated 150 years, or so, of history between colonial contactees and First Nations folks and communities.

The Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser River sockeye, commissioned a research paper on this issue: The Aboriginal and Treaty Rights Framework Underlying the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon Fishery. It’s a “simple” 66-page read…along with the 70 page read on International Law, and 15-page read on the Legislative Framework.

As explained at paragraph 145 of the Aboriginal and Treaty rights paper:

With relatively few historic treaties and even fewer concluded modern treaties, it appears that, in many cases, fisheries management decisions will require consideration of proven or unproven aboriginal rights and title as opposed to negotiated treaty rights.

Yet, as continued in the next paragraph… even if treaties were settled, this is not necessarily conclusive on the issue — paragraph 146:

Also, although treaties may be an important source of information in assessing the rights held by aboriginal peoples, they nevertheless cannot be taken as comprehensive. As articulated by the Court in Mikisew Cree, “[t]reaty making is an important stage in the long process of reconciliation, but it is only a stage” and as such, a treaty is “not the complete discharge of the duty arising from the honour of the Crown, but a rededication of it.”

What is central to the salmon issue from the colonial perspective — at least at this point in the history of BC and established case law,  is the “honour of the Crown” and “the Duty to consult.

Cohen Commission report, paragraph 159:

The “Crown’s assertion of sovereignty over an aboriginal people and the de facto control of land and resources that were formerly in the control of that people” is the foundation for the Crown‟s duty of honourable conduct. The honour of the Crown is always at stake in its dealings with aboriginal peoples and it is this honour that may give rise to a duty to consult aboriginal peoples in a process of fair dealing and reconciliation. (my emphasis)

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Reconciliation — at its core, means “to become compatible or consistent” .

At its root is ‘conciliate’: To make or attempt to make compatible.

The example sentence for ‘reconciliation’ from the Free Online Dictionary is a perfect one in this case:

reconcile my way of thinking with yours. (See Synonyms at “adapt”.)

So there you have it, there is ‘adaptation’ required on all sides of the equation; from all sides of this complexity.

There is a reconciliation required, which at its roots means that all sides must seek to find some compatibility.

Unfortunately, my experiences thus far in this work of salmon; in this long-stretching discussion about how we all look after salmon… is largely governed by dictation.

And I use that term in its multiple meanings.. for example: “to read aloud” — Or, to “prescribe with authority; impose.”

More unfortunate, is that many well-meaning folks within the institution that has been given responsibility for ensuring conservation of salmon, paragraph 156 of Cohen Commission report:

Conservation, in particular, is a responsibility that the Court has stated is shouldered by the federal government alone…

may not have a very good understanding of the history of First Nations people and communities in BC and their relationship with salmon — and most likely, have very little understanding of the atrocities, challenges, and highly-unbalanced political reality of the last 150 years (or so) of history. (Some folks may, however, most… not likely).

Add in the highly unbalanced financial and technical reality of participating meaningfully in decision-making, policy-making, and fisheries decisions regarding BC’s salmon — and I ask:

How is reconciliation achieved?

If to ‘conciliate’ suggests attempts to make thinking and cultural realities ‘compatible’…. and “reconciliation” means to: reconcile my way of thinking with yours…

How do we do that in the current reality, current climate, and current governing regime?

Yes, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, as part of the federal government, currently has the mandate to ensure “conservation” of salmon.

However, they also have a responsibility to act honorably and consult meaningfully with First Nations.

dominant DFO scientific paradigm

How is that done through the confines, paradigms, and mental models of the dominant colonial culture? How is that done through the overly-intense focus on science and statistics?

And how is that done through a court system that is composed of largely foreign laws in relation to indigenous communities?

Maybe, as Northwest Community College has indicated, this: “involves learning from Aboriginal values and needs, and taking direction from the communities. “?

And furthermore, maybe the key to the approach is respect, relationships and responsibility.

This is going to require some decolonizing of salmon management… so that the federal government’s way of thinking is reconciled with First Nation communities way of thinking… so that the scientific paradigm is reconciled with traditional and community knowledge… so that the understanding of settler cultures relationship with salmon is reconciled with indigenous cultures relationship with salmon.

Maybe even, so that our own human relationship is reconciled with salmon…

If… as so many people suggest… this is truly about the fish; about the salmon… then some serious reconciliation, understanding, and meeting with open hearts and minds — will be required.

Continued conflict, bickering, and narrow mental models will only make our relationship with salmon all the more strained — and thus our relationships with ourselves.

Cohen Commission buried in paper: and you’re surprised? How did Einstein define “insanity”?

Upper Fraser fall salmon rally

This article from Wednesday’s Globe and Mail:

Cohen commission: Sockeye inquiry swamped by documents

Lawyers representing participants in the federal Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River say they are being overwhelmed by an avalanche of information.

Nearly 130,000 documents are currently on a software management program known as Ringtail, and new material is being added almost daily – leading some of the 21 lawyers in attendance to call for a conference on how to deal with the work load.

My first response to this, as you might have guessed, is the subject line of this post.

Here we are with about six months to go in the Commission and folks are surprised by the paper load?

Welcome to the land of bureaucratic behemoths.

(And as a side note… remember that time when the Information Age along with the digital age was touted as the great end to paper…?)

Many folks must have seen this coming… must have…

I would think that predictions on paper load prior to the Commission starting (you know… like… pre-Commission forecasts) would have been far more accurate than actual salmon pre-season forecasts. As I’ve pointed out before the “Integrated Fisheries Management Plans” (IFMP) are very wieldy, heavy, lengthy documents. In a recent post I commented on Conservative MP John Cummins’ comment on the actual weight of Justice Cohen’s interim report… well… DFO’s yearly salmon management plans outweigh Justice Cohen’s report by a good 2 to 1.

As pointed out in earlier posts as well, there are close to 100 people within DFO listed as contacts within the IFMPs. There is a 2010 South Coast and a North Coast Salmon IFMP and both weigh in at well over 200 pages. Added to this, just go look at DFO’s “2010 Consultation Calendar“. These are serious paper-producing-productions.

Add in the vast amount of emails, meeting minutes, reports and so on that serve as the backdrop to these plans… and eghad…

Now, add in the fact that Justice Cohen is looking at over 20 reports, reviews, inquiries, etc. over the last 20 years and all of the paper that surrounds those. And has asked for 12 internal reports from “experts”. Up to 300+ public submissions. Multiple public forums and site visits. Over 20 groups and individuals granted “standing” in the Commission.  And the tag line that this is the salmon inquiry to end all salmon inquiries…

Do you know that most-feared phrase shouted in the mountains:


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Maybe all of this was seen coming; however, I get the distinct impression it was not – otherwise why the panic now?

From the outside looking in, I could see the document avalanche coming as clearly as most folks know it rains on the BC coast. The part that bothers me… months into the process (and now officially a year since the Commission was formed), “some of the 21 lawyers in attendance … call for a conference on how to deal with the work load.”

What did folks expect?

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So now, this process — largely the realm of “pre-eminent experts”, scientists, lawyers, and administrators — is bogged down in paper; will most likely be asking for more time and resources and money; more lawyers; and more “experts”.


Pondering this, and shaking my head, I opened up a book by Canadian essayist, thinker, and writer John Ralston Saul. I remembered that he has written quite a bit on these issues.  I don’t agree with all of his ideas – however he has some pretty good points on our loss of common sense, intuition, imagination, ethics and so on.

In his 1995 Massey Lectures – The Unconscious Civilization — as summarized on the website and on the back of the book cover Ralston Saul suggests:

OUR SOCIETY […] is only superficially based on the individual and democracy. Increasingly it is conformist and corporatist, a society in which legitimacy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groups.

The paradox of our situation is that knowledge has not made us conscious. Instead, we have sought refuge in a world of illusion where language is cut off from reality.

That’s kind of been my fundamental point and criticism of the Commission — and “salmon management” in general. The Commission is largely the realm of experts, “pre-eminent scientists”, and lawyers. Sure there’s the opportunity for public submissions and individuals were given 10 minutes at public sessions — however, how are these ‘weighted’ in Justice Cohen’s process?

Thus far they are itemized and tallied in a spreadsheet — very corporate…

With the avalanche of documents, how is Justice Cohen or his team of lawyers (who are to ‘represent’ the public) going to investigate each individual citizen’s submission? And how do these play into the “findings of fact”?

Cohen’s terms of reference state that he must: “investigate and make independent findings of fact regarding… the causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon… and… the current state of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks and the long term projections for those stocks.”

At a fundamental level, “findings of fact” in the complex ecosystem that salmon inhabit is about as realistic as predicting earthquakes or the exact time and place where hurricanes will hit — a year ahead of time.

Justice Cohen, suggests in the recent interim report that:

The overall aim of this commission is to respect the conservation of the sockeye salmon stock and to encourage broad co-operation among the stakeholders.

And, thus, just as Ralston Saul suggests: “legitimacy lies with specialist or interest groups and decisions are made through constant negotiations between these groups”. Is this not, at its simplest, what the Cohen Commission is all about?

This is about “stakeholders” negotiating — e.g. the specialists (scientists, DFO managers, statisticians, lawyers etc.), interest groups (enviros, Rio Tinto, salmon farmers, fisherfolks granted “standing”) —  or as Justice Cohen suggests: “encouraging broad cooperation.”

I, personally, applied for ‘standing’ within the Cohen Commission — I was denied.

I was not surprised — it did, however, confirm my suspicions of the process, as well as its effectiveness and chances for success in the end (however the hell we, collectively, define success).

And so, returning to Ralston Saul’s suggestion that: “our society is only superficially based on the individual and democracy.” I might have to agree on various levels.

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Near the end of Ralston Saul’s 1995 lecture he suggests:

One of our greatest needs today is to find ways, even simple mechanisms, that will help us, the citizenry, to get into the public debate in such a manner as to duplicate the conscious understanding of the jury. We are not going to defeat or overthrow or even abandon the corporatist structure, in spite of its failures. This is a system that continually grows stronger while the society it controls grows weaker.

It is therefore a matter of inserting the citizen as citizen into the system in whatever way we can. And then letting the mechanisms of criticism combined with high levels of involvement take effect.

And, so, where does the everyday citizen get into salmon system and influence how we look after salmon?

As a volunteer, a steward, a streamkeeper, or otherwise.

Fall 2010 -- Upper Fraser River

And then when a process such as the Cohen Commission or twenty other or so processes over the last 25 years occurs — the citizen is relegated to writing a letter and maybe a 10-minute presentation (in limited locations through a limited time) — And… counting on a team of lawyers to represent citizens, as a group, interests and concerns. (not that I intend any disrespect to those folks tasked with this responsibility).

Back in January, I had a post — “Judicial inquiry? here we go again (Version 10.0)“. In that post, I suggested maybe a review of how we look after salmon on the west coast of North America should be done in a similar fashion as the BC Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform which completed its work in 2004. There was a process that empowered average joe and jills to effect change — not reams of specialists, lawyers, and corporately structured processes seeking to find “solutions”.

What number is this inquiry/investigation into salmon-related issues in the past two decades? Oh right… twenty-something; fifth inquiry of sorts (that’s on the same pace as Olympics).

Wasn’t it Einstein that suggested the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?