Tag Archives: salmon

modeled modeling or mottled modeling?

the modeling "Rack"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

model blueprint...

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

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

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

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

e.g: “gee.. good to know…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Procrustes salmon modeling

continued contradictions and lost language: BP, DFO and Enbridge

This is brilliant thinking… and are you surprised the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is involved?

An article from the Canadian Press: “Arctic oil spill test is scrubbed

Ottawa has dropped plans to dump crude into northern waters next to a proposed ocean park to test new ways of cleaning up oil spills in the Arctic…

“This test will not proceed this year,” said an email from Nelson Kalil, a spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.”

Last Thursday, the department applied to a northern regulatory board for permission to dump up to 1,200 litres of oil into Lancaster Sound in the Northwest Passage this summer. The area is adjacent to a proposed national marine conservation area.

…the tests were planned for the same time as the annual migration of thousands of beluga whales.

brilliant… just brilliant.

See, when it comes time for the Conservatives or whatever other party in federal power to decide to start drilling for oil in the Arctic (or off the British Columbia coast), we’ll be serenaded with endless stories about how we have “world-class technologies” and “unparalleled safety standards” and oil companies are “fantastic neighbors” and “incredible community contributors”.

The situation in the Gulf of Mexico will have retreated into news article archives; news headlines taken over by more MPs in Ottawa (or Provincial Premiers) being charged for drunk driving, engaging in unethical and immoral behavior, and day-to-day sandbox-like bickering — or the latest headlines from the stock market.

Look at media headlines now and it’s already happening.

(sheez, I’m cynical sometimes…)

The application to the Nunavut Impact Review Board said that increased accessibility in the Arctic is also increasing the risk of oil spills. It said current cleanup techniques are of limited use in ice-choked water and new methods have to be tested.

If we can’t drill safely in the tropics even with “world-class” standards in place:

Clips from BP health and safety manual on website

And we can’t run tankers safely through northern inlets (e.g. Prince William Sound);

And we have passenger ferries running into islands (Queen of the North) even though BC Ferries webpage states:

Our Safety and Environmental Policy

Safety of life, prevention of injury to passengers and employees, protection of the environment, and environmental stewardship shall be given the highest priority in the operation of our vessels and terminals.”

Should drilling in the Arctic even be an option? Should ocean drilling at all – be an option?

(hold on I have to go fill-up my car… I go full serve though so that I can support local jobs and “sustain” my community…)

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Salmon, salmon guy… what about the salmon? you might ask…

If you’re familiar with energy company Enbridge and its proposal to build an oil pipeline (Gateway Project) from Alberta to Kitimat, on the British Columbia coast then you might see where I’m going with this.

Yesterday (May 29th) Enbridge filed for regulatory review with the National Energy Board.

proposed Gateway route

Oddly enough, yesterday in our mailbox here in Prince George, BC we received our usual array of junk mail; one of the pieces was a nicely laid out little book:

Enbridge: “We’re Building More than Pipelines”.

I’ve made a few additions to the cover to better portray some truth:

Enbridge Propaganda: what's our real legacy?

If you’re not able to make it out, I used paper for my captions that better represents what this pamphlet should be used for… (hint: it’s initials are t.p. and I got it from the part of the house where I do my best reading)


If you remember from an earlier post I inserted this little-bit-crude but effective thought from Hugh Macleod’s weblog: Gaping Void.

This Enbridge propaganda is no different.

Open to the first few pages, and my disgust only grows…

Apparently Enbridge is “building Canada, bringing growth to the north“.

Oh yeah, I know. Growth of trees and such as they move up mountainsides and further north onto the tundra due to global warming — and growth of rip-rap barricades on places like Haida Gwaii (formerly referred to as Queen Charlotte Is.) as they further “armor” the coastline highway from rising sea levels and more intense storm fronts.

Yup… “Growth”.

Last time I checked, the reason a significant amount of people live in the “north” is because it’s a slower pace, smaller communities, and not so much “growth”  (but maybe that’s just me). Maybe ask the folks in Kelowna or other Okanagan communities how they feel about “growth” of their communities…

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Enbridge is also apparently: “building sustainable communities…”

What the #@^% is a “sustainable” community?

Is this a community that sticks around for awhile…?

Well, Enbridge, Ft. St. James, Vanderhoof, Burns Lake, and otherwise have been around a little while, the First Nation communities nearby — much, much, much longer. Plus I’m not so sure 525,000 barrels of oil per day and 193,000 barrels of condensate flowing past these communities on a daily basis is really going to “sustain” these communities for the longer haul.

(and what about when the oil runs out?)

Language is important — it’s largely how we all communicate with each other. I have been known to spout off emphatically on a few occasions “say what you mean, and mean what you say”.

Sustainable means “capable of being sustained.”


Sustained has several definitions. One definition: “To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for.”… Well, we can’t eat oil or condensate. So that’s not it.

Another definition means: “To support the spirits, vitality, or resolution of; encourage.” Well… maybe for a little bit when some folks have some construction jobs for a couple of years — after that? not much.

Maybe as all that oil gets shipped to Asia (approximately 200-300 oil tankers a year), it might support spirits, vitality, or resolution of; and encourage folks there.

It’ll also add to the climate change issue and spewing CO2, which affects all of us…

Another definition of sustain means: “To experience or suffer” as in sustain an injury.

Maybe I’m getting closer…

Stay tuned for more contradictions and lost language… you’ve probably heard the saying: “same shit, different pile”.

Emphasizing the “F” in DFO.

Pacific salmon range

Many can ponder the “F”… however in this case it’s for the old standard “Fail”. As in the Department of Failing Objectives. Or Disappearing Fish in the Oceans… Or Denial Forever-On…

Jest aside; one of my hopes as I started this website and blog was to try and hilight positives; tell good stories; maybe add some humor to some dismal stories (ghad knows we have enough negative media, lowest common denominator television, and ranting blogs…). I thought maybe I’d run along the fringes of some new ideas, new approaches, maybe laud new bureaucratic systems to looking after natural resources.

And, maybe — just maybe — tell a positive story that could be etched in some annal of my life; that I could tell my (currently) three young kids.

When I was about four — same age as my daughter now I spent a lot of time on the river fishing. A lot…

fishing the Tlell River late 1970s

Right on the very gravel bar, almost in the very spot I’m standing in the picture above — I caught my first coho. A memory imprinted on my brain.

As one older and wiser reading this blog, you could imagine that with three young kids, I’m not that old. And yet, my memory of coho returns is quite vivid. Not the: “walk on their backs across the river”- type memories — however, still substantial runs that presented a kid growing up — with no shortage of thrills.

These days… not quite. The chances of my kids hauling in a 20+ pound coho from a dark, murky, slow-moving, river?


For me… I don’t see it as rocket science. The causes of salmon declines along the Pacific Coast of North America are not difficult to pinpoint.

  • One — look in a mirror.
  • Two — look at and feel our rivers.
  • Three — look upstream.

So when I read a letter released today by DFO (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) titled:

Management Measures for Fraser River Spring Chinook

that suggests we will “protect and conserve Spring 42 Chinook” by going fishing:

The intention of this objective is to substantially reduce fishery exploitation rates to effectively protect and conserve Spring 42 Chinook.

…I can see that the demands of folks today are sacrificing what folks of my kids generation will require. The demands of today will continue to reduce opportunities for the future — especially when it comes to wild salmon.

The sport fishery in Juan de Fuca, and other areas, will remain open with a limit of two Chinook per day (with  size restrictions demonstrated to be ineffective). Some commercial troll fisheries will close; however some along west coast Vancouver Island will be open with restrictions. And at the mouth of the Fraser — catch-and-release sport fisheries (exactly what First Nations have repeatedly asked not to allow).

And if you saw yesterday’s post — the Chinook “whopsee factor” — DFO failed miserably on reducing exploitation last year as outlined in their “management plans”. Exploitation actually grew from years previous.  This “whoopsee” factors is OK when you spill milk (you know, the don’t cry over… part); Not so good when you’re responsible for looking after salmon populations in a death spiral.

And here’s the part that always floor me…:

In addition to the proposed fishery management actions for 2010, the Department recognizes that there are likely significant extenuating factors, including the effects of climate change on salmon ecosystems, which may be affecting the survival of southern BC chinook.

“There are likely”…? Come on Ms. Farlinger (Regional Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture DFO Pacific) and author of the letter.

As my kids say: “oh mannnn….”

I’m guessing that maybe Ms. Farlinger – or here Chief letter writer didn’t check into the actual meaning of “extenuating”… One online dictionary suggests:

“serving or tending to reduce the severity of guilt or blameworthiness; as, extenuating circumstances.”

So, who’s feeling they need to reduce the severity of guilt or blameworthiness?

With the current governing party, I’m not holding my CO2 – laden breath. Not only will salmon need as much diversity as possible in coming years as river temperatures increase. However, as Conservative MP wrote in a Montreal paper last month:

In a letter this month to Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier expressed skepticism that human activity even is the leading cause of warming.

“What is certain,” he wrote, “is that it would be irresponsible to spend billions of dollars and to impose unnecessarily stringent regulations to solve a problem whose gravity we still are not certain about.”

Irresponsible… indeed.

I can hear it right now…wait for it:      “oh mannn….”

I am taking faith though, in one of the most bureaucratic bafflegab (a.k.a. bullshit bumpf) laden paragraphs I’ve read… well… since I was on DFO’s website… yesterday:

The Department is working on a comprehensive, multi-faceted management framework for conserving southern BC chinook conservation units, including Fraser Spring 42 chinook, which addresses harvest, habitat, enhancement and research priorities over the long term.

If you haven’t read my post from yesterday… the Wild Salmon Policy is now becoming a teenager; it was born in the late 1990s. And if there’s one thing I know from many years of coaching sport and contracts as a youth worker… I don’t tell teenagers about my “comprehensive, multi-faceted management framework” for dealing with their hormonal imbalances, clutziness, and general raging attraction towards members of the opposite sex.

It’s much easier to… just do shit.

I’m already tired of my DFO-absurdity rants… I think I’m going to have to go in search of new salmon topics. Unfortunately, when it comes to folks trying to do what’s best for wild salmon, it’s hard to escape that big giant bureaucratic silo that is supposed to be conserving wild salmon as it’s number one priority… and engaging in ecosystem-based planning.

Next week I am driving to Portland, Oregon for a multi-day international conference: Ecological Interactions between Wild and Hatchery Salmon — hosted by the State of the Salmon Consortium. Maybe there will be some interesting stories there?

Maybe I’ll hear stories of folks making hard choices now, to ensure things like healthy salmon runs for the next generation?

Recipe for: Fisheries and Oceans Non-confidence cake

I think there might be a cake in the works (I’ve included a mold to bake it in). Some evidence of this can be seen in Alexandra Morton’s current walk to Victoria to protest the impact of salmon farming on BC’s wild salmon, recent court cases that have found Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is failing in their responsibilities, and a variety of other factors.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on the current denial stage surrounding B.C. wild salmon, and the post from Saturday: Is it time for a vote of non-confidence in Fisheries and Oceans Canada which was a follow-up post to early March: Is Fisheries and Oceans Canada breaking laws? — I am curious whether a non-confidence vote is brewing?


This idea is not a new idea. In early 2001 on Haida Gwaii (formerly referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) close to 20% of the adult population of the islands marched on to the British Columbia Ministry of Forests office and filed a vote of non-confidence. Over 600 ballots were cast that day and marched to the doors of the Ministry. (click the picture to read story).

[If you can’t read the placard it states: “MOF You’ve taken everything but the Kitchen Sink“]

The red stumps are part of the “Red Stump Brigade” which can still be found stuck into the ground near various Haida Gwaii driveways.

As John Vaillant suggests in his good read of a book: “The Golden Spruce: A True story of Myth, Madness, and Greed“:

“Out in Haida Gwaii, the rain keeps most fires at bay and coastal timber is far less susceptible to bug infestations that are devastating the interior. It is humans and things they carry with them that remain the greatest threat to the islands. A terrible irony is that, philosophically, Hadwin was in sync with much of the local population: in December 2000 an interracial group of islanders staged a protest — essentially, a no-confidence vote — against the Ministry of Forest’s handling of logging in the islands. There hadn’t been a demonstration of that kind in a decade, and this one was the biggest ever: 20 percent of the islands’ adult population participated. Since then there have been some striking changes not just in the way logging is practiced but in the status of the islands themselves.”

The irony that Vaillant is referring to is that “Hadwin” — Grant Hadwin — is the individual who cut down the revered Golden Spruce (an incredibly rare tree, the only one of its kind on Haida Gwaii)  in early 1997. He was trying to make a statement against industrial logging. Hadwin disappeared off the coast of BC not long after the incident.

It was a twisted approach to protest…however… is it all that different than suggesting that farming salmon in open-net pens on wild salmon migration routes is a good way to protect wild salmon?

Here ares some ingredients that might be proposed for a:

DFO Non-confidence Cake:

1. One half cup of not knowing one’s percentages very well.

The 2009 DFO Integrated Salmon Management Plan – last season – listed Fraser River early-timed Chinook as a “stock of concern” with the following conservation objective:  “to implement management actions that will reduce the exploitation rate approximately 50% relative to the 2006 [33.9%] to 2007 [54.4%] period.”  This means the objective was to reduce exploitation to approximately 22% (half of  average [44.2%] of 06 and 07).

  • Estimates just out from DFO suggest exploitation rate last year (2009) on early-timed Chinook were 48.7%. Not only did they not reduce by half — exploitation was actually almost 5% higher than the average.

(Disclaimer: this might actually be one cup, as opposed to 50% of one cup, or it might be two cups – hard to know when percentages are so confusing and which Ministry is measuring)

2. One overflowing cup of very effective lobby efforts in Ottawa

DFO’s own numbers suggest that exploitation rates on early-timed Chinook need to be 8-11% during times of low productivity like we are experiencing right now, and have seen for at least the last four years. Last year, the ocean sport fishery in Juan de Fuca alone — is estimated to have caught almost 12% of the Chinook destined for the Nicola river. This means this particular sport fishery alone is catching what DFO deems sustainable for the entire population.

  • Local estimates suggest that on peak fishing days there are well over 500 (maybe closer to 800) sport fishing boats in Juan de Fuca (from Victoria, B.C. up the Vancouver Island coast to Port Renfrew).
  • The Chinook sport fishery is open coast-wide in BC right now, despite terrible forecasts for this coming year and terrible returns of early-timed Chinook over the last four years.

3. Two cups of not being able to follow your own “recipe”

DFO’s Wild Salmon Policy explicitly defines what is meant by Conservation — the primary goal of salmon management:

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

This definition identifies the primacy of conservation over use, and separates issues associated with constraints on use from allocation and priority amongst users.

Yet, when it comes to Fraser early-timed Chinook there are no conservation goals — only percentages attached to ‘constraints on use‘ as demonstrated in the statement:  “to implement management actions that will reduce the exploitation rate approximately 50% relative to 2006 to 2007.”  This is not a conservation goal, this is a constraint on use – which, coincidentally, was failed upon miserably; placing Nicola River Chinook (i.e. early-timed Chinook) on extinction watch.

4. A good dose of completely flawed computer simulation model based on less than 10% of a population.

See posts regarding Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI). FRSSI simulates Fraser River sockeye populations based on information from only 19 stocks — despite there being over 200 separate Fraser sockeye stocks.

This model is like trying to make a cake and only using 10% of the ingredients and then wondering why the heck the cake didn’t turn out as expected — or collapsed like a rusty lawn chair…

5. Three litres of very flawed economics, budget planning, and misuse of funds.

See post: $2 for one wild salmon… do you see a problem?

Further evidence? I was at a meeting late last week of approximately 50-60 people discussing DFO’s pre-season planning. When it came time to give DFO feedback they showed up at the meeting with 13 staff. That’s right, 13 staff when 2-3 would have sufficed. Many of these staff had taken at least two flights to get to the meeting, rented cars, and were there for two days staying in some hotel. What’s the estimated cost of that type of frivolous spending?

Directions for Mixing and Baking:

Bake these ingredients in a bureaucratic malaise of about 10,000 employees, an east coast Minister with a distinguished career in Revenue Canada, and decades of Royal Commissions, public inquiries, and Auditor General reports.

Suggested icing?

Lemon-Inaction Glaze (for enhanced tartness)

(Future recipes to come…)

cognitive compromise… huh?

In the 1950s, social psychologist Solomon Asch conducted some experiments into the ‘relativizing effect of conversation’.

A small group of individuals was put in a room. All except one of them — the ‘victim’  — in each experimental group were told beforehand about the nature of the experiment. When the group gathered, the ‘victim’ was first shown an object — say a stick — and asked to estimate its length. Let’s say this stick is 24 inches  (two feet), and the ‘victim’ estimates close to the correct length.

Each of the other individuals (in the know) in the group were then asked the same question and as previously instructed, would come up with a ridiculous estimate — like 48 inches or four feet.

The experimenter then returns to the ‘victim’ and says something like: “It seems that you have a very different opinion from everyone else here. Why don’t you have another look at the stick and see if you might want to change your mind about your first estimate.”

Almost every ‘victim’ did revise, typically saying something like: “Well, maybe I did underestimate, maybe it isn’t 24 inches. Maybe it’s closer to 35-40 inches?” In other words, the ‘victim’ was pulled towards the ‘group norm’ or majority.

Curiously, if there were two ‘victims’ instead of one: the two would then huddle together and defend their (of course, perfectly reasonable) original estimate. If ‘victims’ and ‘non-victims’ were evenly divided, a vigorous bargaining process  typically ensued, leading to a cognitive compromise — that is a new “group norm.”

In Asch’s experiment, the dispute was about a matter that could easily be resolved by using a tape measure — although the experimenter denied this — and yet the cognitive power of conversation still led to compromise. In other words, conversation had a relativizing effect even on the perception of a physical object, the length of which could, in principle, be decided by using a measuring device.

When it comes to an individual’s views about certain realities that can’t be subjected to scrutiny by way of sense perception — such as religious or political views — there are no commonly agreed upon measuring devices. It follows that the power of conversation will be that much greater in those cases. What’s plausible, and what’s not plausible, will be largely determined by the nature of the conversation about it (i.e. shifting the “group norm”).

Sociology of knowledge suggests this phenomenon is a “plausibility structure.” This is the social context within which any particular definition of reality is suggested to be ‘plausible’ or ‘realistic’.

If you’re not familiar with the current fraud charges against U.S. banking and financial institution Goldman Sachs — which flows from flawed financial derivatives such as the sub-prime mortgage fiasco — check into it and you can see the power of ‘group norms’ and flawed ‘plausibility structures’ at work. Even former U.S. President Bill Clinton was quoted in media today apologizing for deregulating financial markets that largely led to the disaster of the last few years. (Curiously, one of Clinton’s main financial advisers at the time was a former Goldman Sachs executive.)

Thus… one might suggest that when Fisheries and Oceans convened (in 2003 and 2004) a group of “fisheries experts” to begin designing a computer simulation model to attempt to better look after sockeye salmon in the Fraser River — that ‘group norms’; ‘plausibility structure’ determined by conversation, and plain common sense might all be impacted.

The Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) has evolved from frequent gatherings of fisheries scientists (within and outside of Fisheries and Oceans) over the last eight years (see earlier posts Free Money – Part I and Free Money – Part II). It’s a computer simulation model that’s supposed to give the Canadian public confidence that Fisheries and Oceans is best managing wild sockeye according to:

  1. Conservation  (i.e. not causing sockeye runs and stocks to go extinct and ensuring salmon support ecosystems)
  2. First Nation food, social, and ceremonial purposes (enshrined in Canadian Constitution and Supreme Court decisions)
  3. Well-managed commercial and sport fisheries

Unfortunately, maybe too many fisheries focussed scientists (and DFO bureaucrats) are now trying to suggest that maybe regular folks should simply shift to their 48-inch stick view — even though it’s quite clear the 48-inch estimates are significantly flawed.

Unfortunately, we can’t even have a discussion about it, because apparently the calculations that went into reaching the 48-inch stick estimate are so complex that us mere 24-inch stick seers will never understand. And thus, there is no ‘nature of conversation that might shift plausibility.’

“Just accept that we are right… we do not need any cognitive compromise.”

Sadly, the only measuring device we have to determine whether an 8-year, significantly flawed, computer simulation model for determining fishing options (even though there has been no Fraser sockeye fishery for 3 years) is the actual long-term health of the Fraser sockeye runs themselves over the coming sockeye generations.

Simple as that.

Therefore, for something as crucial as avoiding Fraser sockeye stock extinctions, do we want to be measuring by guesstimate built upon guesstimate, built upon silicon microprocessors to determine when “we’re going fishing”?

Or, do we want to base our measurements upon the health of rebuilding Fraser sockeye runs to somewhere between the 165 million sockeye of the peak cycle years of the 1800s — and the 15 million or so average of the late 1900s?

(Last year saw about 1 million return)

Rather than determining ‘fishing options’ should we maybe focus more on rebuilding and precaution?

Rather than 8 years and countless millions of dollars on staff/consultant time and computer hardware; maybe put countless million of dollars into habitat restoration and conservation?

Rather than spending more money trying to convince everyone a computer simulation model is the answer and to accept this as the group norm — why not demonstrate some actual measures of what a rebuilt Fraser sockeye run might look like, should look like, once looked like, could look like…?

Free money – Part I

I have a proposition for you. I have a fail-proof investment scheme that is guaranteed free money. And trust me… some folks suggest there is no such thing as a “free lunch”. Yet, I’ve got it right here.

It’s called my: Free Lunch/Investment Return Tool (FLIRT). Here’s the concept:

You have some money; principal, let’s call it… say $1000. This FLIRT is so good that I guarantee if you take 80% of your principal every year ($800), the 20% ($200) that’s left in the account will be sufficient to bring back $1000 the next year and thus financial returns large enough so that you can take 80% again the next year, and the next year, and the next year. Take 80%, and 100% of the original principal returns year after year.

This tool is so damn good — FLIRTing let’s call it — that we don’t even have to worry about all that other crap out there like: stock markets, surrounding business environment, or even what your neighbour is doing. It is so simple that we only have to ensure we grab that 80% surplus every year (this is the Free Lunch – FL). In fact, you actually have to take the 80% every year because if you take less than that — like say 60% — this will result in less return the next year.  You must be vigilant in taking your 80% – and actually if you accidentally take 90% – FLIRT will still produce; maybe even better.

The reason we must be vigilant — i.e. take our free lunch: 80% return annually —  is that if we let the remaining annual principal  ($200) get any bigger, all that extra free lunch (i.e. returns) will just get stale, moldy, and impact our future returns (i.e. free lunches). We only have so much carrying capacity in our accounts — we don’t want to use that all up, overcrowd it, and so on. Say for example, we lose our FLIRTing vigilance and we only take 60% on an annual basis — leaving $400 every year in our account — the returns the next year just won’t be as robust. Too much free lunch is a bad thing and ensures we’ll get a worse lunch the next year, and so on.

my sketching

FLIRTing ensures that every year we generate the “maximum sustainable yield”; year in and year out.

Yet, the reality is that taking 80% ever year is flirting with disaster, too many free lunches, and a downward spiral is underway for all involved.

Ok, so do you want to FLIRT? Sound ridiculous?

It is.

However, this is how salmon, and many other fisheries, have been managed for over 50 years. The concept of “maximum sustainable yield” came out of some hallowed educational institutions in the 1930s. It took over salmon management in the late 1940s and 50s and is still part of the current Wild Salmon Policy adopted in 2005.

The assumption is based on an old fisheries concept called stock recruitment. (Remember that military analogy from the other day?). Now I mean no disrespect to the individuals that created these concepts, they were cutting edge in their time — but so were PCBS, and asbestos, and atomic bombs. Just because they were cutting edge at one time does not mean blades remain razor sharp, or, even rust-free for that matter.

The stock/recruitment (S/R) relationship theory suggests a certain amount of spawning fish (stock) reproduce a certain amount of baby fish that return as adults at the end of the life cycle (recruits). The theory suggests that in a natural state, the number of babies (and eventual recruits) produced by a salmon run begins to level off and even drop as the number of spawners increase — otherwise growth would continue indefinitely.

The graph is assumed to demonstrate a “dome-like” relationship, as shown in the sketch graph above.

There are comparisons with the classic salt curve or taxes curve. A little is good and effective up to a point, once the tipping point is reached though; too much quickly becomes very bad — for our health, for society, for everyone.

Fisheries science suggests that too many spawners is actually bad — overcrowding, disease sets in, spawners dig up each others’ eggs, and so on. Thus, the theory holds that a certain amount of spawners may be harvested without necessarily having a detrimental impact on the overall population. And in fact, in most cases harvesting fish may actually make the reproduction of babies ( and eventual recruits) more productive. More recruits means a higher harvestable surplus when spawners return. The theory being that if we find that magical point on the upswing of the “dome”, we can actually make spawning that much more effective (i.e. free lunch).

The theory suggests further… we need to determine the sweet spot where free lunches grow on trees; the sweet spot at which a certain amount of spawners produces the optimal amount of recruits. Once we know that sweet-spot number of spawners (optimal escapement or benchmark) required to produce the optimal number of recruits that can be harvested and theoretically reproduce the same size run four years down the road (i.e. typical salmon life cycle) — we have then apparently determined the Maximum Sustainable Yield.

When it comes to Fraser River sockeye, for close to 50 years the Maximum Sustainable Yield has apparently been 80% of the run. Fisheries science, and the institutions that “manage” salmon, figured that catching 80% of the Fraser sockeye population and expecting 20% of the run to reproduce the same size run four years down the road was a good idea, was sustainable, and was optimal for the health of the salmon.

Here’s the graph showing harvest levels on Fraser River sockeye over the last 50 years.

Statement from Think Tank of Scientists 2009

Remember that mention of the invention of bombs… MSY has turned out to be a bomb for salmon populations — especially Fraser River sockeye.

Of course, this is my humble, un-Dr’ed. opinion.

I’ll also add that many individuals much smarter than I, look at this blue line graph and the red line graph below demonstrating levels of Fraser sockeye productivity — and suggest there isn’t really a relationship. That we need more research, we need a “smoking gun”, we need conclusive evidence, it must be out there in the ocean…

Statement from Think Tank of Scientists 2009

I guess maybe I subscribe more to the less rigorous approach of a “balance of probabilities” as opposed to “beyond a reasonable doubt” when we start considering evidence.

One of the relationships between these two graphs appears to be the sad failure of stock-recruitment analysis in considering productivity of an ecosystem. Stock-recruitment accounts for nothing more than one relationship — the relationship between recruits and spawners.

The S/R model assumes a static ecosystem. This many spawners, results in this many babies, which results in this many ‘recruits’ — end of story. Yet, the red line graph shows a disturbing trend in Fraser salmon productivity. A ‘train wreck’. As other individuals suggest, the slowest train wreck you’ll ever see… but a train wreck nonetheless.

S/R analysis has no way of recognizing train wrecks in productivity. It only looks at two things: spawners and recruits a few years later…

Still want to FLIRT for free-money?

the curious thing about science…

Vancouver Sun

A curious two days at the Summit on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future. Nine speakers panels over the two days – in essence tracing sockeye from the time they rise out of the gravel, through their various life stages until they return back to the Fraser. The “Summit” was also a follow-up to the “Salmon Think Tank” hosted in early Dec. 2009. From that think tank came a press statement.

Adapting to Change: Managing Fraser sockeye in the face of declining productivity and increasing uncertainty. I have commented on this press statement in some of the first posts on this site.

One of the points I made on earlier posts, which I still maintain is something that we can demonstrate in another “graph”:

This is from Jessica Hagy’s blog Indexed.

I’m not sure, though, that when it comes to salmon when we might have reached the bottom of the curve where confusion was the least — maybe prior to European contact…?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this Summit was largely a scientific exercise — and fair enough, it was hosted by Simon Fraser University Centre for Coastal Studies. The folks there did a nice job of pulling this together and have continued to do a nice job over many years hosting the Speaking for the Salmon series of events.

However, it was also not all scientists in the over 100 folks attending, and yesterday — day two — shifted a little more into some curious discussions such as “putting a value on salmon”, “what actions can be taken?”, “what tools do we have?”, and “how do we move forward?”. In these sessions, the voices of some commercial fishermen and community activists started to surface more — and some strong messages that parallel my post from yesterday: managing fish, especially salmon, is not really a scientific exercise; it’s a political exercise.

This is evident around the world in the decline of fisheries. One does not have to look much further than the iconic Bluefin Tuna and the challenges of protecting this species in the face of serious declines.

As I lay in bed trying to fall asleep last night I pondered the many perspectives that surfaced ranging along a spectrum of opinion about what happens next. That’s probably a book in itself… however, one of the strong notions that continues to surface in my mind is that “fisheries science” also ranges along a spectrum of opinion. Sure it’s opinion backed by a lot of charts and graphs, and various letters behind people’s name, and empirical methods and so on — however, as was made clear on the first day of this summit there are as many “models” for attempting to predict fish populations and patterns (especially salmon) as there are models in a Sears Christmas Wishbook or Victoria Secret catalogue.

Now, I mean no offence to learn-ed individuals that have spent years in hallowed institutions counting, measuring, tagging, and chasing fish. Many of these individuals make valuable contributions to the discussion.

Yet, in my mind, after looking at so many differing charts and graphs and hearing that salmon scientists have their own meetings where they have “salmon pools” — like  a hockey pool. One presentation explained how various “salmon scientists” met this past year and a bottle of wine was wagered for the person who had the most accurate salmon forecasting model.

The most entertaining aspect of this idea is how the hell does anyone confirm who was right; who wins the bottle of wine?

To accurately “forecast” salmon returns, one would need an accurate count of how many salmon actually returned to confirm the forecast.You know, like weather… when we forecast rain, and it doesn’t rain; forecast was wrong. Not that this ever happens…

To count how many salmon actually return is a highly variable exercise — especially in the Fraser River. Counting salmon that actually reach spawning grounds is barely even guess work at best. Some rivers are flown by helicopter or otherwise over a period of a few days, some rivers use mark-recapture methods to extrapolate (i.e. estimate) over the whole run, other streams are walked every few days, and many streams are not even looked at because of sheer numbers of streams and large geographic area.

I’m thinking maybe that bottle of wine should be put in someone’s cellar and opened in a hundred years. The bottom line is that when it comes to wild salmon — the “science” when it comes to numbers, is largely guess-work; estimates; opinions.

It is one part endless charts and graphs, one part chasing rainbows, and another part endless computer modeling. Throw in a dash of guess-timate, a dollop of estimate, and a whole lot of mystery.

After seeing how many different “models” exist out there to try and estimate salmon returns and estimate salmon populations from the time they leave the gravel, migrate through the North Pacific, and return to their home streams I was reminded of the story I’ve heard about how salmon arrived on Haida Gwaii (sometimes referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is).

Haida Raven Decal - Billy Bedard

As I’ve heard the story, Raven brought salmon to Haida Gwaii. On a visit to the mainland, Raven in his trickster ways managed to roll up rivers, lakes and streams and the salmon they contained — into his beak — fly back over the Hecate Strait and drop them onto the islands. (the story is so much more interesting then my short paraphrase)

Throughout the historic range of wild salmon are aboriginal stories of how salmon came to be in those lands. Often these stories aren’t too far separated from the stories of human creation — they often involve Raven or Coyote or other supernatural creator beings.

I find more solace in those stories than I do in the “scientific” method. It seems that those stories guided humans for thousands of years in how they co-existed and co-evolved with wild salmon. It seems that those stories guided a sustainable relationship — sure there were some hard times; however, those stories are generally few and far between.

Yet, in a mere hundred years or so, “scientific” methods of “fisheries management” have taken us down a road of fisheries declines and collapses the world over. And, not just science — but worse yet, the political decisions on top of the science.

Curiously, I looked up the definition of science on Wikipedia and this is what it states:

Science (from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is, in its broadest sense, any systematic knowledge-base or prescriptive practice that is capable of resulting in a correct prediction, or reliably-predictable type of outcome. In this sense, science may refer to a highly skilled technique, technology, or practice, from which a good deal of randomness in outcome has been removed.

When it comes to science and wild salmon… we have not, and most likely will never, remove randomness in outcome. Yes, there are systematic knowledge based practices, even some prescriptive practices — however often resulting in poor predictions, and far from reliably predicted outcomes.

Once we can get past the thought that “science” is going to solve this one for us; once we stop saying “let’s delay action until we do more studies”; once we get past wavering politicians with the inability to make brave decisions on wild salmon; once we get past looking for the “smoking gun”; once we get past the largely useless exercise of expensive public inquiries that keep saying the same thing — then maybe we can take more fricking action.

Taking action is an individual choice — not a scientific one.

$2 for one wild salmon… do you see a problem?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has a webpage listing the summaries of commercial fishing statistics by year. My post earlier today — lobbying for goats and lawnmowers… — highlighted landed value of wild salmon this past season (2009) at only $20 million. Compare this at almost $60 million in 2006, and over $100 million in 1996.

Generally, between the early 1970s through to the early 1990s the landed value of salmon in B.C. has hovered between $200 million and $400 million (in 2001 dollars). And between 60,000 and 90,000 tonnes landed. (A Policy Analysis of the BC Salmon Fishery, 2003).

Open the DFO 2009 page; across the bottom of the page are various breakdowns of the salmon catch such as: where (district) the salmon were caught, by weight, by week, etc. The other key breakdown is the innocuous term “pieces”. Pieces is number of fish caught.

Calling them “pieces” keeps it more friendly sounding… it’s parallel with the term “collateral damage” used to refer to innocent people killed in war zones. Or calling it “harvest” rather than killing salmon. All, curious little shifts of language to avoid calling things what they actually are.

The stunning ‘piece’ of information I found: this past season a little over 10.5 million salmon were caught. This means that salmon this past year were worth less than $2 a fish.

Those 10.5 million salmon translated into 18.2 million kg – or 18,200 tonnes. At $20 million landed valued – this means salmon were worth just over $1 per kilogram or less than 50 cents a pound.

This includes almost 200,000 sockeye from northern B.C. fisheries and 130,000 Chinook – generally the much higher value species. (It’s the 9 million+ Pink salmon that keep the price down).

A quick comparison…?

In 1996, only 4 million more salmon were caught (over 14 million for the year) — however landed value that year was over $100 million. That year the total weight was almost double this past year at 35,200 tonnes — largely because there were over 450,000 Chinook caught that year, as compared to only 130,000 this past year. Chinook are the biggest salmon and can get as big as 100 pounds as compared to the average pink salmon in the 3-5 pound range.

The economics of wild salmon are a disaster — almost worst than actual salmon “management”. Earlier posts have commented on some of the factors; the main factor being that the huge glut of farmed salmon on the market has driven prices down. Add in players such as Wal-Mart chasing down Alaskan sockeye — and we have a recipe for crappy economics.

So this past year is the worst commercial salmon fishery year on record — in other words the last 140 years or so. (Industrial salmon fisheries fired up on the Fraser and other BC rivers around the 1870s.)

This got me to thinking about the investment that taxpayers make in federal fisheries management programs… Especially, as over the last two-three weeks I have sat in multiple-day meetings with numerous staff from the Canada’s federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).

Since St. Patrick’s day, I’ve been wading through the 264-page “Integrated Fisheries Management Plan for 2010” for the South Coast of BC — and a 124-pages for the North Coast — and a 36-page “Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010“.

On the South Coast plan there are over sixty DFO staff contacts listed — there’s some of the same Vancouver-based staff plus another eighteen on the North Coast Plan. Area Directors to Aboriginal Liaisons to Regional Managers to Biologists. A proverbial work mill… churning out plans, doing consultations, attending meetings

Ironically, far more people in DFO and independent consultants have been involved in developing a 2010 Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy — than have actually commercially fished for sockeye on the Fraser River in the last three years.

If one looks a little deeper… The Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy is built entirely around a new “Pilot” initiative on the Fraser River called the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative (FRSSI – commonly referred to as ‘frizzy’). As pointed out in the 2010 Strategy – ‘frizzy‘ has been a “multi-year collaborative planning process”… multi-year is six years.

As outlined in a PPoint presentation online — over a dozen workshops; somewhere between 20-40 outside consultants. It was first used in the 2006 season.

Ironically, 3 out of 4 possible years that this model has been in place to manage sockeye “fisheries” there have been basically no commercial fisheries on Fraser sockeye. So, again, more people involved in developing a computer modeling program for managing salmon fisheries than actually fishing.

Hmmm… seems like money well spent.

Let’s take a look at this story over the last few years. 2009 brought in $20 million in landed salmon value. 2008 was the same. 2007: just over $30 million. 2006 just over $60 million. 2005: just over $34 million.

How much does almost 100 DFO staff solely focussed on salmon cost to produce almost 400 pages of  Integrated Fisheries Management Plans for just this year alone? (let alone implement the Wild Salmon Policy that came out in 2005)

Might it be fair to say that 100 staff members in a federal bureaucracy might be worth, on the low end, an average of $100,000/year (including pension, medical, employer contributions, etc.). That’s a simple $10 million right there. Add in all the travel, multiple consultations with commercial fisherfolks, sportfishers, First Nations, and so on. Are we at $20 million yet?

Cost to develop a computer modeling program to manage commercial fisheries for one species of salmon (sockeye) on one River — 20-40 outside consultants, numerous workshops, countless consultations, ongoing updates… and oh yeah, little prospect for a fishery for years yet.

And let’s not forget the estimated $20 million to $30 million public inquiry (Cohen Commission) into One species on One river.

I’ll put this picture in again, just for thought…

lobbying for goats and lawnmowers…

Yesterday, I was wandering the local library. One of the books I picked up was “End of the Line by Charles Clover. This coming week I am at the two day Summit on Fraser River Sockeye Salmon: Understanding Stock Declines and Prospects for the Future hosted by Simon Fraser University at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue in downtown Vancouver.

Clover’s book has now been turned into a documentary, which will be shown at the SFU session on Tuesday. From flipping through the book, and watching the trailer; maybe having many of the science-types at the conference watching this film will snap them out of the “we need more research” paradigm — and the “government better do something” disease — that seems to dominate the discussion.

This two-day session is the third part of the “Salmon Think Tank” that released a statement in Dec. 09. See one of my earlier posts for comments on the statement.

One of the comments in Clover’s book that got me thinking was something to the effect of comparing values of fisheries in the United Kingdom with lawnmower manufacturing  — Economically, apparently, they are worth similar values. He asks — how different would things be if lawn mower manufacturers have the same lobbying power as commercial fishing sectors?

It’s laughable — I snickered at least…

But, it’s also sad. I have an earlier post on the true ‘economic’ value of world fisheries: one fish, two fish…  in the red debt fish.

I decided to take a look at some numbers — just for comparison sake.

  • In 2000, total value of greenhouse tomato production in BC was $73.6 million.
  • In 2001, the value of potatoes produced in BC was approximately $28.5 million.
  • In 2002, BC produced 36.7 million pounds of blueberries at a value of $44.2 million. By 2008, blueberries were worth over $120 million.
  • In 2001, the value of goats in BC was approximately $5 million. Estimated number of goats in BC: under 20,000.

Last year the total landed value of wild salmon in BC was less than $20 million.

This was just over 18,000 tonnes landed, approximately 10.5 million salmon – mostly pink and chum — basically 0 Fraser sockeye.

  • In 2008 it was $20.3 million. (5, 100 tonnes — high % of northern sockeye, basically no Fraser sockeye)
  • In 2007 it was $30.7 million.(20,100 tonnes — high % of pink and chum, basically no Fraser sockeye)
  • In 2006 it was $60.9 million. (24,300 tonnes — over 50% of total is sockeye, thus higher value)

Let’s jump a little further back:

  • In 1997 it was $109.4 million (48,600 tonnes)
  • In 1996 it was $99.2 million (34,600 tonnes)
  • In 1995 it was $85.8 million (48,500 tonnes)
  • In 1994 it was $257.3 million (65,800 tonnes)
  • In 1993 it was $201.0 million (85,000 tonnes)

Wait… I think I see a trend…

It’s not tough to see the years when sockeye make up a larger proportion of the catch on the strong sockeye cycle years. For example, 1994 compared to 1993. There were 20,000 less tonnes (somewhere around 10 million salmon)  landed in 1994, yet $56 million more valuable at landing.

The wholesale value — value added manufacturing like canned, smoked, dressed, etc. — in those years has gone from a high of $466.8 million in 1993; dropping to $135.2 million in 2008. Canned salmon generally makes up between 30-45% of this “value-added” wholesale value.

It would seem some folks finally got a little smarter about value-added manufacturing in the 1990s — kind of like the logging and lumber industry (gee, maybe shipping raw logs to Japan is not the most efficient use of resources).  Landed salmon value in 1993 was $201 million on 85,000 tonnes caught with a final wholesale value of $466.8 million.

In 2006, salmon landed value was $60.9 million on 24,300 tonnes and yet wholesale value was almost $226 million. One might suggest that folks are finding almost 4-times the value in salmon now — as opposed to the early 90s.  Granted these are not always simple comparisons because of the stock composition each year. Some years are big pink and chum years (much less value) and other years are big sockeye years (much more value).

A pretty big question still remains — at least in my mind:

When tomatoes add more to the B.C. economy then wild salmon do we have a problem?

If goats surpass wild salmon — is it time for a fundamental house cleaning of government ministries responsible for looking after wild salmon?

Are we going to start giving goat farmers (no offense) the same lobbying power as commercial fisherfolks?

Wild salmon built this province — biologically, geographically, economically, and most importantly culturally (aboriginal and settler culture alike).

Tomatoes, potatoes, blueberries, and goats did not.

why count salmon?

one fish, two fish, red and green fish…

Most of us know the story. Dr. Suess wrote the book to help kids learning to read. A fun rhyming story. Although it was red fish, blue fish…

I haven’t seen the book in awhile; however, I don’t think there were any rhymes about “mark-recapture” sonar hydroacoustical  split-beam single-beam DIDSON data capturing salmon counting wonder tools.

See if Suess’ fish on the right were captured by one of these techno-gizmos utilized for counting salmon they’d show up as some grainy fuzzy blob resembling a baby ultrasound image.

The “advancement” of techno-tools intended to count salmon is a growth industry. There are in-stream tools for counting salmon utilizing sonar-like technology — and for the last decade or more there have been techno-tools such as radio telemetry utilized in the ocean. Little radio transponders are implanted in little baby salmon and  when they migrate out to ocean various radio receivers installed on the ocean floor pick up the signal. Scientists look at the “data” and try to form a picture of where and when those little salmon migrate around parts of the North Pacific.

The other day I saw a presentation on sonar-like device that is installed on a river bank. The device sends out sound waves into the stream, those waves come back to a computer as an image, like a video feed, that can be looked at. Little gray blobs in the shape of a fish moving by can then be counted. The apparent benefit for these types of tools is that they can be used in deeper, larger, maybe murkier streams where visual counting may be more difficult.

Curious enough project… the irony I see is that all of the wires and such from the device run up the stream bank, and are fed into a tiny little shed (basically windowless) situated away from the stream. The salmon “counters” sit in the little dark shed staring at a laptop screen counting gray blobs (I mean…salmon).

One of the problems, apparently, was that the “counters” could only count 20 minutes of data. If the sonar device ran for an hour, or 24/7  pumping out visual images the files would be way too big…

Of course, data capacity of computers is doubling about as fast as you can say “double-shot espresso. ” So, is there a time when a computer program could be written to count the gray blobs, the sonar device could run 24/7 and there would be no need for people? (just ask bank tellers and assembly line workers about how computers replace people rather efficiently).

This brings me to the question — why count salmon?

The basic purpose is to try and determine how many salmon are reaching the spawning grounds. Fisheries management and science calls this: “escapement”.

I have always found this such an odd term; troubling. It gives me memories of movies like “Escape from Alcatraz” and “The Fugitive“.

Escapement — refers to salmon that have “escaped” commercial fisheries and the multitude of predators and gauntlet of natural threats; for example elevated stream temperatures. For example, last year on the Fraser River was the hottest average river temperatures on record.  The average was close to 19 degrees Celsius with peaks nearing the mid-20s.

For salmon — that’s akin to sex in a hot, hot tub. Great for the first little bit, but taxing, exhausting, and dehydrating quickly. Salmon can’t hop out and roll in the snow for cool down…

If we run with this analogy — the whole salmon counting business is rather invasive. These “fugitives” are simply trying to get to the best spot for sex, which has been determined by eons of evolution. Trying to get to the ideal reproduction spot entails dodging nets, hooks, teeth, hot water, pollution, and whatever other dangers. Then around almost every bend of stream they get blitzed by sound waves, or swim into a fence that is directing where they need to swim so they can be counted.

And the purpose?

Simple really.

The entire purpose of counting salmon is to plug numbers into equations which then suggest humans can capture “x” number. That “x” number is apparently the “surplus”.

It’s piggy-bank economics. What’s the purpose of counting all your pennies?

To determine “how-much-you-got”.

Counting pennies is pretty easy. The cold, hard copper is right there in front of you. You know it’s a penny, you can read the year it was produced. You can make nice stacks and dream of all the 99-cent iTunes songs you can buy. You can stack the pennies on your elbow and flip down quickly to see how many you can catch before gravity takes over….

Salmon? not so much.

Counting salmon is tougher than laying on your back in the fall and counting all the Canada geese that fly over. Or, counting all the cars attached to a train going by.

Counting salmon is fraught with error: viewer error, counter error, species error, nighttime error, timing error. We simply can’t count all the salmon. And, hence, why counting salmon became pretty big business. With advancing technology, folks assume the better the technology, the more accurate our counting. The more accurate our counting, the better we can base our “harvesting” decisions.

The better we can base our “harvesting” decisions — the better we can “manage” the resource, the salmon.

Big problem.

If the initial numbers (“escapement” estimates) are fraught with error, assumptions, and estimates; then the worse those margins of error become the further we move down the equation.

What happens when you try to build a tower when one of the walls is slightly shorter? Eventually it comes down like a house of cards.

The original error becomes more and more emphasized the further along we go. Eventually… disaster.

The greatest irony of all this counting — it’s getting easier. It’s getting easier every year.

Why? Because, there are less and less salmon to count.

And soon enough — on our current route — there could potentially be few commercial fisheries. At that point; will there be any point in counting…?

And really, if the technology is fraught with error would we not be better off economically putting the millions of dollars pumped into technology — into people instead?

Could we not hire hundreds of people with the same amount of money to actually physically walk streams, snorkel sections of rivers, and get a good idea over years of observation? They could then potentially observe other things going on out there — like maybe starving bears…

Is there not a rich source of traditional knowledge that suggests how salmon were counted in the past when there was not the same techno-gizmos? How did downstream aboriginal communities make sure salmon got to upstream communities and spawning grounds?

Unfortunately, I can find reams and reams of techno-gizmo studies (that still only produce “estimates”) and basically zero studies that look beyond our techno-gizmo obsession.