Tag Archives: salmon fishing

‘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.

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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’…

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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).

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

Salmon History 101

Came across this 1991 news article: “Wild Salmon need more help” from the Spokesman Review regarding an agreement of the day for Japan to stop using their “curtains of death” — the multiple-miles long drift nets that caught anything that swam into them.

There are several other similar articles in various newspapers around the same time — including the New York Times.

A fitting quote from the top of the second column:

As the region struggles to restore wild salmon runs it will consider many tactics, but one that has not received enough serious attention, due to an excessive preoccupation with dams, is controlling fish harvest.


1991 article

And more fitting to the posts of this past week…


Just as drift nets cannot distinguish between dolpins and squid… gill nets cannot distinguish between hatchery raised salmon… and the far less numerous wild salmon in need of protection [or small endangered stocks vs. larger healthy stocks migrating at similar times]. The nets kill both. And when gill nets are out, they remove fish from the river at an extremely efficient rate.

Some salmon runs are small enough, that a few seasons of unluckily timed gill netting could eradicate them.

Want proof?

Ask folks in the Skeena River where 90% of the Skeena sockeye run now comes from the enhanced, man-made spawning channels of the Babine run.

Or, ask on the Fraser River, where DFO only has enough information to track nineteen sockeye stocks — when estimates suggest there were once over two hundred different distinct Fraser sockeye stocks.

Or, ask around Rivers Inlet. Where did those darned sockeye go…?

Wild salmon needed more help in 1991… Now 20 years later, they need more help then ever before. They haven’t seen threats like they do now, since about…

…the last Ice Age…

Fraser Chinook — “Recipe for Extinction” website

Saturday’s Globe and Mail had the following advertisement on page 2 of the B.C. section:

The accompanying website is here.

Recipe for Extinction

3 cups of Department of Fisheries & Oceans inaction.

1 cup of refusing to close marine sport fisheries impacting Fraser River early-timed Chinook.

1 cup of lowest amt of spawners since 1975 (in 2007, parents of this year’s run, less than 2000 Chinook returned).

1 cup of only 500 spawners the 2009 returns to Nicola River & tributaries (estimates suggest there needs to be 20,000 spawners to sustain any harvest).

1 cup of chasing the last fish…

Mix vigorously with lack of political will to protect habitat and enforce the Fisheries Act.

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Can’t say I disagree… this is a Recipe for Extinction. Here is a graph from a Department of Fisheries ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentation last year.

Fraser early-timed Chinook survival and exploitation rate

Chinook 4-2 refers to a group of Chinook stocks that spawn largely in the Thompson River, most in the Nicola River watershed. The “4” means these Chinook are 4 years old when they return. The small “2”, refers to how many years these fish spend in fresh water as juveniles.

The graph above shows the estimated exploitation rate of these Chinook (% of total estimated run size — this is the percentage on the right hand side) overlaid on the estimated survival of these Chinook (% of adults returning — this is the percentage on the left).

The boxes in the graph represent the survival rate. You can see that the survival rate is decent in the mid to late 1990s and then it becomes a train-wreck

With the exception of 2004, the survival rate has generally been less than 1%.

But do you see a problem?

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That dark black line is the exploitation rate of these populations. In 1998, the rate is way down, somewhere around 20% — most likely due to the heavy coho protection that year (e.g. 0% Coho exploitation — 0% mortality).

But after that, the exploitation rate more than doubles. And in fact missing from this graph is 2009 — exploitation rate: 53%.

An almost tripling of exploitation rates in just over ten years.

But wait… do you see the survival rates?

They fell by 8 – 9 times.

So survival falls by multiples of 8 to 9… and exploitation rates triple

…and this on populations that are already in deep trouble. Even DFO numbers suggest that this population needs at least 20,000 fish to sustain any exploitation… those sorts of numbers haven’t been seen in decades.

[This is also a good example of how you use graphs to skew data – the black line looks so innocuous in comparison to the boxes]

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Do you see the last bullet point circled in pencil?

Sustainable exploitation rates currently estimated at 8 – 11% range for low survival period; populations declining at current exploitation rates.

Worse yet, in 2007 — the parents of this year’s returns — were some of the lowest returns seen since the mid-1970s with less than 2000 spawners…

And yet… and yet… just like last year, marine sport fisheries for Chinook have been open 24-7.

Pre-season forecasts for Chinook 4-2s this year are brutal; and there won’t even be confirmation of approximate run sizes until the Albion test fishery starts this month. Meanwhile, coastal-marine sport fisheries have been open for months while these fish arrive from their ocean migration and head up to the Thompson River.

(First Nations on the Fraser voluntarily closed Chinook fisheries last year, and are again this year — even though DFO insists on keeping those fisheries open as well…)

Hmmm… I think maybe this is why it’s called a Recipe for Extinction.

The website has a “Take Action” page…

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Once upon a salmon… in Oregon

random finds

Another random find online:

Some Factors Influencing the trends of salmon population in Oregon” from 1950








The ‘table of contents’ probably couldn’t be much simpler, nor paint such a clear picture:


Table of Contents


And here’s a summary of content:

Some factors...?

So there we are with the terra nullius assumption in the graph (e.g. Chinook catch was zero prior to 1870…) — however at least not in the text:

Explorers coming into the region… reported intensive fishing by the large Indian population at natural barriers.

(Granted, it’s odd language… were the Indian populations at the natural barriers or was that where the intensive fishing occurred?).

So we can see the trend of the population:

Around the mid-1880s over 40 million pounds of (just) Chinook salmon were landed on the Columbia River in commercial fisheries

Let’s just say a rough average of these Chinook being 15 pounds each… That’s almost 2.7 million Chinook alone landed in the Columbia by the commercial fleet!

And yet, no idea of sport catch… Or, no idea of what was captured by Native fisheries prior to that — or during that… (so all graphs suggest “0”…)

Regardless, we can see the trend… it’s a common one in fisheries catch statistics around the world — starts high on graph left and trends downwards as we move right towards the present day on the x-axis of the graph.

(At least in regards to looking at fisheries statistics on certain ‘economically’ valuable fish species… the trend in total fisheries catch trends up as human populations explode; however, the fish populations exploited are coming from further and further down the food chain).

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Section 2: Possible Causes of Decline

This section of the report concentrates on Coho — or ‘silver salmon’.


The report focuses on Coho in the following Oregon rivers:

Oregon streams



Here is the Coho catch trends over a 26-year period:

trends of commercial Coho catch -- Oregon 1923 to 1949

Hmmm… similar trend… downwards.

The concerning thing with downward trending commercial catches is that these are not necessarily representative of populations — especially when the troll fisheries for coho were largely unrestricted until 1948.

unrestricted troll fishery

There is certainly ‘trends’ in actual fish populations that can be picked up in declining commercial catches — however they’re very worrying — as an unrestricted fishing fleet is not going to reduce efforts when they see declining catch numbers… they’re going to increase efforts, improve technology, and so on to ensure that the catches from the years previous are matched or improved upon.

(you know… no different then the standard corporate modus operandi… constant, and ever-present “growth” in revenues and profits).

And so declining commercial catches — in the face of ever-improving technology and knowledge — is a very worrisome trend for the actual fish populations (especially over a 26-year time frame… that’s not much time in fish populations — e.g. 6 – 8 life cycles).

Annual landings of Coho on Coquille 1923 - 1946


Annual landings of Coho on Stiletz 1923 - 194









Other Potential causes outlined in the report:

Pollution?, Hatcheries?, Logging?, Waterflow?

Remember this report is from 1950.

To be continued…

Figure this one out… DFO at its finest.

Some interesting salmon articles over the last few days.

Carrying capacity? (Victoria, BC circa 1977)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising temperature in Fraser River affecting Salmon population

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring back maximum sustainable yield…!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tyee has also ran a related article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This is an important point:

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

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

And what does this mean?

More precaution. Give the wild salmon a chance…

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


Why count salmon? Getting the numbers straight — going back to 1933

Contributions to the Life History of the Sockeye Salmon by Wilbert Clemens 1933

As mentioned last week, I had the good fortune of coming across some pretty old reports on British Columbia Sockeye at a used book store.

This is the cover from the “British Columbia Fisheries Department 1933” report titled “Contributions to the Life History of the Sockeye Salmon. (Paper 19)” by William A. Clemens. It’s reprinted from the:

Report of the British Columbia Commissioner of Fisheries, 1933

These reports review the runs of sockeye on four of BC’s large sockeye-producing systems: the Skeena, the Nass, Rivers Inlet, and the Fraser.

The “Introduction” to this 1933 report seems to point to a common issue. In the fifth paragraph it states:

"Introduction" to Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries 1933

The history of the sockeye-fishery on the Fraser River is illustrated in Fig. 1 [below]. The enormous packs of the years 1897, 1901, 1905, 1909, and 1913 are conspicuous. While the calamitous rock-slide in the canyon at and above Hell’s Gate in 1913 was a factor in the elimination of this extraordinary cyclic run, it is evident that there has been a steady decline in the runs of the other three cyclic-years, and there is no reason to doubt that overfishing has been a most important factor in the decline of Fraser as a sockeye-producing area in all cycle-years. [my emphasis]

And here’s the part of this report I find quite interesting: Figure 1. “Packs of sockeye salmon on the Fraser River from 1895 to 1933, in thousands of cases. The continuous line represents the actual packs and the broken line the trend.

Figure 1. Packs of sockeye salmon on the Fraser River from 1895 to 1933

What this graph shows is that in 1913 there were almost 2.4 million cases of canned sockeye salmon. Approximately 1.7 million of these were done in Washington but still based on Fraser River sockeye.

If you haven’t had a chance to read earlier posts on this topic — I recommend: Once upon a salmon… and Somebody get the Fraser sockeye story straight, please…

Those two posts point to a serious discrepancy in the Fraser sockeye story.

The Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye presented in its earliest material a chart like this one below (i’ve added the numbers and question marks):

This graph, originally printed in a publication on the Mekong River in Asia, suggests that Fraser Sockeye only numbered about 25 million total run size in 1901 and about 37 million in 1913.

And if you’ve read all the various news stories from this past summer — many pundits were comparing this past year’s Fraser sockeye run to the 1913 run.

But there seems to be a problem…

See a 1902 Fisheries report  “Thirty-fifth Annual Report: Department of Marine and Fisheries 1902” states:

… the total pack of Fraser river sockeye for this year [1901] reaches a total of 2,081,554 cases. [as demonstrated in Figure 1 graph from 1933 report above]

Large as this amount is, representing a total of 30,000,000 fish, it could have been largely increased, possibly doubled, had the canneries had capacity enough to have handled all the fish available during the run.

On Fraser river, the canners placed 200 as the maximum number of fish they would guarantee to take from each boat and for 12 days, from 6th to 17th August this limit was enforced.  The fishermen could consequently during this period fish only for a short time each day. During the height of the run they dare not put more thati a small length of their net in the water.  In some cases nets were sunk and lost from the weight of fish.

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And so… if just under 2.1 million cases represent approximately 30,000,000 sockeye canned (a case is 48 lb) and reports suggest another 30 million were available to be canned what does this suggest about total run size? —

And… what does the 2.4 million cases of 1913 represent?

Well… the math would suggest approximately 36 million sockeye were canned in 1913. And, so what was the total run size?

The graph that the Cohen Commission is working with, suggests that we’re estimating the 1913 sockeye run solely by what ended out in cans.

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And then, even despite the devastating rock slide, there were still over 500,000 cases of sockeye canned in 1917 [see Fig. 1 graph above from 1933 report] — the next big year of this cycle (1897, 1901, 1905, 1909, 1913…2010). That’s still approximately 7,500,000 sockeye: canned.

But I thought that the 1913 run was decimated by the rock slide? — apparently fish still got through, because there was still enough sockeye four years later to can over 7 million — 500,000 48-lb cases.

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Could it not maybe be that the main problem is as exactly pointed out in the 1933 report above:

there is no reason to doubt that overfishing has been a most important factor in the decline of Fraser as a sockeye-producing area in all cycle-years.

And so if we were being warned of overfishing in the first half of the 1900s, is it all that advisable that we were taking 80% of the total sockeye runs in commercial fisheries from the 1950s on?

Salmon Think Tank

Do we not learn lessons from the past?

How is it that you spell “cod” again?

Oh right… “E” … “X” …”T” … “I” … “N” … “C” … “T” …

(at least commercially, and largely ‘functionally’ — why?

overfishing and mismanagement and lack of political will and too much bickering).

Hold Ottawa accountable…? Unreasonable…?

Here’s a curious view from two pretty different places:

Seth Godin, marketing maven has a post on his blog today:


It’s unreasonable to get out of bed on a snow day, when school has been canceled, and turn the downtime into six hours of work on an extra credit physics lab.

It’s unreasonable to launch a technology product that jumps the development curve by nine months, bringing the next generation out much earlier than more reasonable competitors.

It’s unreasonable for a trucking company to answer the phone on the first ring.

It’s unreasonable to start a new company without the reassurance venture money can bring.

It’s unreasonable to expect a doctor’s office to have a pleasant and helpful front desk staff.

It’s unreasonable to walk away from a good gig in today’s economy, even if you want to do something brave and original.

It’s unreasonable for teachers to expect that we can enable disadvantaged inner city kids to do well in high school.

It’s unreasonable to treat your colleagues and competitors with respect given the pressure you’re under.

It’s unreasonable to expect that anyone but a great woman, someone with both drive and advantages, could do anything important in a world where the deck is stacked against ordinary folks.

It’s unreasonable to devote years of your life making a product that most people will never appreciate.

Fortunately, the world is filled with unreasonable people…

_ _ _ _ _ _

Is it then unreasonable for the federal government to then, be held accountable for certain decisions?

Such as, for example, this article from Justine Hunter in the Globe and Mail today:

Hold Ottawa accountable for salmon probe delay, B.C. treaty commission head says

The federal government should be on the hook for the hidden cost of its decision to grant the Cohen commission on Fraser River sockeye another year to complete its work, says the head of the BC Treaty Commission.

At least seven first nations communities are in treaty limbo, their debts mounting while they wait for a verdict from the salmon inquiry before they can move ahead with settling their claims.

“The Cohen inquiry should not continue to be used as an excuse not to get on with business at the treaty table,” said Sophie Pierre, chief commissioner for the BC Treaty Commission.

…“We need some accountability here from the federal government,” she said. “They are really big on demanding accountability from first nations, but that shoe goes on both feet. We need accountability from them too.”

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And yet through all of this DFO continues to fund and participate in at least two different processes in BC with First Nations which are discussing co-management and/or joint management of salmon fisheries.

The article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed the Cohen commission to investigate what happened on the Fraser River in 2009, when only about one million sockeye returned in a run that was supposed to number more than 10 million.

Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, later announced the federal government would defer negotiating fisheries issues at treaty tables in B.C. until the Cohen commission reports out. At that time, the Cohen report was due by May 1, 2011. It now has until June, 2012 to complete its investigation into the cause of the decline of the Fraser River sockeye runs.

“Defer” negotiating fisheries issues at BC treaty tables?

Well… what First Nation in BC living in areas that drain to the Pacific, with salmon present — doesn’t have fisheries as central components of their culture and communities?

So by “deferring” these negotiations that have been underway since 1992 for many Nations within the BC Treaty Process — how does this benefit any one, or any process?

But then I suppose, It’s unreasonable to expect a government based in Ottawa, a Minister originally from PEI, and a federal department also based in Ottawa to actually understand fisheries issues and to act with some sort of accountability and sense?

I don’t know if it’s chronic or not — however it seems the bureaucratic behemoth that is DFO is a little lost on the path… some money here, some money there… here some money, there some money… there a bureaucrat, here a bureaucrat, everywhere a bureaucrat… with a bling, bling here, a bling, bling there… here a bling… there a bling… everywhere a bling, bling…

(and I’m not so sure the Cohen Commission into Fraser River sockeye declines is going to make the map any more clear… or magically create a solution to a 150 year old issue in BC: access to fish and fisheries; access which was there for time immemorial before…)

Who’s accountable for all this?

‘everything I need to know about fisheries management I learned in Kindergarten’

Mark Hume reports today in the Globe and Mail:

Funding for test fisheries to expire

There is no funding agreement in place to continue test fisheries on the West Coast, a key program that allows managers to calculate how many salmon are returning to the Fraser River each year, a federal judicial inquiry has learned.

Jim Cave, head of stock monitoring for the Pacific Salmon Commission, and Paul Ryall, a senior Department of Fisheries and Oceans official, both testified Monday that test fishing is crucial in providing stock estimates, so managers can determine how many fish can be caught.

But the two officials told the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River that a five-year funding program for test fishing is coming to an end this year, and it’s not clear yet how test fishing will be paid for after it expires.

“I’m not aware there’s an agreed-upon solution,” said Mr. Ryall, in response to questions from Wendy Baker, associate counsel for the commission headed by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen.

Mr. Ryall, who was head of DFO’s salmon team until becoming co-ordinator of his department’s involvement with the Cohen commission, said funding for test fishing became a problem after the Federal Court ruled, in 2006, that the government could not finance any activities by granting a licence to fish, then selling the catch.

Until that ruling, DFO had financed test fisheries by allowing the contractor to sell the fish or crabs that were taken in the tests. Across Canada, DFO spends about $12-million annually doing test fisheries, with half of that spent on the Pacific Coast.

In the wake of the Federal Court ruling, DFO approved a five-year funding program to cover the cost of test fisheries while a long-term solution was worked out.

Mr. Ryall said one proposal called for the Fisheries Act to be amended, so that paying for test fishing with the proceeds of the catch would be legal. But the legislative changes suggested were never made. Nor did a proposal to have industry pick up the costs come to fruition.

“This will be the last year [of funding]. … I don’t know what options are contemplated at this point,” Mr. Ryall said.

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There’s a rather terse response in one of the few comments to the online article:

geez, DFO only had 5 years to figure something out!?….that’s not nearly enough time for thousands of bureaucrats to come to any decision…

DFO couldn’t manage its way out of a wet paper bag….embarrassing and calls for a complete overhaul of this bankrupt ( morally, fiscally, etc etc) department

I’m not generally one for such a comment… but… really… Is the comment all that far off?

Five years and no one of the 70+ DFO staff listed on annual Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs), and other 100+ in other departments within the Department were unable to see this coming?

The article continues:

The data collected in the test fisheries is compared with the results that have been gathered on similar tests over the past 50 years, the size of the salmon run is estimated, and commercial catch limits are set. As the salmon run approaches the river, more data is gathered and catch limits can be adjusted in-season.

“Without that information we don’t have the information to manage the fisheries,” Mr. Ryall said. “We need those test fisheries to properly manage.”

_ _ _ _ _ _

Say that again…

“Without that information we don’t have the information to manage the fisheries,” Mr. Ryall said. “We need those test fisheries to properly manage.”

Oh, that’s what I thought you said… “we need those test fisheries to properly manage…” and in five years no one has devised a $6 million solution to the problem?

What is this… “everything I need to know about fisheries management I learned in Kindergarten”?

…”I don’t know what options are contemplated at this point,” Mr. Ryall said.

Five years… no contemplated options… wow.

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Parallel link to this story… consider the post from the other day: wow, shocking… Commission extension & DFO fighting court cases rather than protecting salmon.

In that post I outlined how DFO lost a court challenge with a decision handed down in mid-Dec. 2010.

In that decision Justice Russell declared that:

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans erred in law in determining that the critical habitat of the Resident Killer Whales was already legally protected by existing laws of Canada;

… Ministerial discretion does not legally protect critical habitat within the meaning of section 58 of SARA [Species At Risk Act], and it was unlawful for the Minister to have cited discretionary provisions of the Fisheries Act in the Protection Statement.

In essence, DFO is failing in protecting critical food (Fraser Chinook salmon) for endangered orcas in the Salish Sea. The judge was pretty clear — DFO made errors and better clean up their act (sort of like the Aquaculture decision).

But now… DFO is actually going to appeal the orca decision. Rather than actually protect an endangered species, and act now, they would rather mount more legal action — costing what?

There was also in that same post, an explanation of how the Cohen Commission has been granted an approximately one year extension and another $11 million. And DFO actually has dedicated senior managers strictly tasked with managing the Cohen Commission process [Ryall quote above]. What’s this cost?

If someone can’t come up with a funding plan in five years for something (test fisheries) that is apparently central to fisheries management — then what the hell are they doing over there in the hallowed halls of the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans?

I recognize unwieldy, ineffective, bureaucratic behemoths are an easy target… but come on… can someone figure this one out?

from Langley Advance

A pretty decent editorial coming out of the South Delta Leader newspaper… nice to see a balanced perspective on this issue.

Also curious why a federal government MP thinks its OK to break the law — yet be a member of a governing party that is coming down “tough on crime”?

It’s a curious message really… as government MPs and MLAs often have little issue with standing on their soap box screaming about “illegal blockades” that First Nations often have to erect to get their point across. And government reps shouting about how “renegades” and “criminals” must be prosecuted…

EDITORIAL—Focus wrong on fisheries protest

Commercial fishermen who fished illegally to protest the rules governing separate aboriginal fisheries should pay their fines and move on.

More than 40 fishermen were fined $200, including Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins, for illegal fishing in 2001 and 2002, and B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition spokesperson Phil Eidsvik has said it’s a conviction they will appeal.

Yes, enforcement has been lax when it comes to policing aboriginal fisheries on the Fraser River, and that needs to change. Many contend First Nations’ food fish catches are sold on the black market (something many aboriginal fisherman would argue should not be illegal), and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans needs to step up to help alleviate some of the friction.

But Eidsvik and others argue the separate fishery for aboriginal people is, basically, racist.

“A number of them (fishermen) have come to me and said, ‘I’m not going to pay a fine because I’m the wrong race,'” Eidsvik said earlier this week. “We have here a prosecution and enforcement policy based on race.”

Yes, First Nations fishermen who participate in a separate fishery are a different race than other fishermen, but that is not why First Nations have been granted the constitutionally protected right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes ahead of other users.

The purpose is to restore something which had been stolen or, at least, severely curtailed for more than a century.

First Nations’ pre-existing right to fish the river was curbed by colonialism. A fishery they’d enjoyed for hundreds—or thousands—of years was restricted through policies of assimilation and subordination. Access to fish was cut as far back as the 1860s, and tightened further in the early 1900s. At one point aboriginal people were not classified as Canadian citizens and therefore not allowed to have commercial fishing licences unless they gave up aboriginal status.

Today, the limitation of access—an historic wrong—is corrected, to some extent, through legislation and treaty.

Having said that, each First Nation has its own history. Not all aboriginal people can be lumped together as a group. As treaties are negotiated, fishing rights are determined on a case-by-case basis based on each nation’s claim to a place.

Because of today’s shortage of salmon and the difficulty making a living as a commercial fisherman, the tensions are understandable.

But it’s simplistic to put the spotlight on race when we talk about aboriginal fisheries.

When we talk about separate openings for First Nations on the river, let’s keep some context and history in mind.

_ _ _ _ _

It’s also important to consider the numbers on this issue. For the last 50+ years (with the exception of the last few years of severe dwindling of runs), the commercial salmon fishery has accounted for well over 90% of the total salmon catch in BC — closer to 95% most years.

The First Nation or aboriginal fishery has rarely been over 5%, probably closer to 3% with sport fisheries making up the other percentage.

So… really… if we’re going to talk about “policing” or at least monitoring the fisheries — maybe we should distribute the limited (and constantly dwindling) ‘compliance and enforcement’ budgets based on concentration/percentage of catch.

(Side note: the sport fishery is the least monitored of all the fisheries, with a growing percentage of the catch)

Fraser sockeye: “Recovering losses” of the last three years?

I heard a report on this issue yesterday on CBC Radio and today The Globe and Mail is reporting:

Dry B.C. summer puts fish stocks in jeopardy, government warns

“It’s the heat that is actually more critical sometimes than the low flows,” Dr. Allen said. Salmon are a greater concern than other species of fish. “I don’ t want to say they’re picky, but it’s a very narrow range they’re comfortable in,” she said.

“We are on the edge of the temperature at which salmon can get into real trouble,” said John Reynolds, a professor of ecology at Simon Fraser. So far this year, salmon have been counted in numbers higher than originally forecasted – a positive sign, Dr. Reynolds said. But the lower, warmer rivers, especially the Fraser, may negatively offset those gains.

“Climate change is happening, and I’m afraid that the future of the Fraser is a much warmer one,” he said.

The upper and middle Fraser River areas are at Drought Level 2, and expected to stay that way for the rest of the summer unless significant rainfall occurs. The ministry website is urging “voluntary conservation, as well as planning at the local level using tools such as drought management plans.”

_ _ _ _ _

Would this not suggest we should be putting as many darn salmon into BC’s rivers as possible and giving them the best odds of spawning as we can? — for example, Fraser River sockeye.

What are things going to look like in four years when this year’s sockeye progeny return to spawn?

I can hear the fisheries bureaucrat: “Well… gee…our models say…”

No, we really don’t know; however, based on the trend of increasing temperatures over the last couple of decades — chances are pretty damn good that salmon will be facing even hotter rivers.

What does this mean?

Good likelihood of lots more salmon, like Fraser sockeye, dieing en route.

What does that mean?

Gee, maybe this year we should probably just be a little more cautious.

_ _ _ _ _

I can fully appreciate that commercial fisheries have not been opened on Fraser sockeye in three years — however, this is not like a copper mine where no matter what issues affect production (e.g. a three year labour strike), a company can still ramp up production and “recover losses”.

Yet, this is how many media outlets and others are talking about the “better than forecast” returns of sockeye this year. Something to the effect of “recovering losses of the last three years…”. (CBC article Sat. Aug. 7th)

No, no and no.

We are not “recovering losses” from the last three years. The fish just weren’t there to support fisheries.

And isn’t the #1 goal of “salmon management”: CONSERVATION?

If the number one goal of a copper mine was to “conserve” copper — then there might be an issue with the mentality of “recovering losses” (this time might come…). But no, a copper mine has the #1 goal of making profits for its shareholders.

It is this sort of “corporate” mentality surrounding fisheries that suggests when East Coast Cod recover (if ever) that commercial fisheries will start up and will hammer the ^*#@ out of them to try and “recover losses” of the last two decades…

Or, when sea otter populations recover to some higher level that we’ll try and “recover losses” of the last couple centuries…

Yeah, that’s brilliant…