Tag Archives: salmon fishing

apparently not the only one questioning the “precautionary approach” of DFO in opening commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye

This is a note from “Watershed Talk” a weekly update from the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat (FRAFS).

Watershed Talk august 6 2010

It is prepared by technical staff to provide updates to folks throughout the watershed. Here’s the note on the recent decision by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to open commercial fisheries on Fraser Sockeye — specifically on one of the four “groups” of sockeye.

The Fraser River Panel has confirmed that the Early Summer Run stock group is returning in numbers much greater than the preseason forecast (783,000). At the time of writing this (Friday August 6) the Pacific Salmon Commission has recommended to the Fraser Panel to set an in-season run size estimate of 1,600,000 fish for this group.

This season the Department has heard the serious concerns about population levels for the “Early Miscellaneous” stocks of Early Summer Run sockeye. These stocks include the Bowron [east of Prince George], Nadina [far upper reaches of Fraser River soueast of Houston, BC], and Taseko [west of Williams Lake] sockeye. The Department is trying to actively manage these stocks to avoid exceeding an Exploitation Rate (ER) limit of 25%. [set in pre-season planning to protect vulnerable stocks within this group]

It remains to be seen if they will be successful; current estimates put the ER at or very close to the 25% ER limit now. The rather aggressive fishery openings that have been and will be occurring may end up exceeding the 25% ER level as some fi sh from these stocks are still showing in marine areas as commercial fi sheries get underway.

Also, predictions continue to be made that in-river temperatures may exceed 20 degrees C over the next little while. If this occurs, the Management Adjustment (MA) for the entire Early Summer Run aggregate would be significantly increased, meaning that available harvestable surplus (Total Allowable Catch, or TAC) may be reduced significantly to allow for high en route and pre-spawning mortality as well as sufficient fish for the spawning grounds.

Because of multiple uncertainties (temperature/flow conditions, and run timing) managers are being warned that the MA may be as high as 0.9, meaning that almost half of the numbers entering the Fraser could die before spawning. If this does indeed happen it is conceivable that spawning escapement targets for Early Summer Run stocks might not be met despite the increased abundance of these fish – given that fisheries have been opened in an optimistic manner despite the weather and water temperature outlooks.

And better yet, DFO decided to open even more fisheries on Fraser Sockeye in the last few days. Some improved run size forecasts and all of a sudden it’s “go time”…

This despite the fact that the Fraser River is running temperatures over 19 degrees C and even the Pacific Salmon Commission press release from yesterday (Aug. 6) states:

Pacific Salmon Commission Aug. 6 Press Release

Is it “good news”, or, are we jumping the gun?

Link to an article out of Oregon:

Record Columbia River sockeye run is a bounty for Northwest fishermen

Apparently this year’s sockeye run on the Columbia is one of the best in quite some time, edging towards 330,000:

from Oregonian article

This is pretty decent news, and good for folks to be able to secure some income from selling fish.

However, there is a pretty key sentence that should keep things in perspective:

Before dams were built on the Columbia and Snake rivers, sockeye run estimates reached 3 million fish.

That was only about a human generation ago. In the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Similar story as the Fraser River sockeye. Estimates from the Fraser River suggest sockeye runs peaking at 160 million  in the 1800s, and runs approaching 100 million in the early 1900s.

Last year… 1.3 million or so.

Before everyone starts getting too ecstatic, maybe numbers should be put in perspective. Department of Fisheries and Oceans also likes to put out graphs of Fraser sockeye populations that only go back as far as the 1940s as well.

A gentle reminder may need to accompany those numbers: in the 1940s world population was also only about 2.3 billion… it’s just under 7 billion now according to United Nations estimates in 2008.

The population of Oregon was a little over 1 million in the 1940s; it’s now about 4 million. Washington State was about 1.7 million; it’s about 6.7 million now. Seattle and metro areas were well under 1 million in the 1940s, they’re now approaching 3.5 million.

Vancouver, B.C. and metro area has grown from a few hundred thousand in the 1940s to over 2 million now.

_ _ _ _ _

Is there not a trend here?

is this familiar?

Part of the problem (at least south of Alaska – however I won’t mention the preponderance of salmon ranching to support Alaskan salmon fisheries) is that the moment that salmon runs demonstrate a glimmer… a glint… a smidgen of positive news, government management institutions and lobby groups exclaim:


And yet, many folks seem to have lost track of the historical – or just choose to ignore it. Not all that often do government reports, scientific research, or bureaucratic brethren draw the link between the trend lines I sketched above. At best, it gets passing mention…

And isn’t there another trend in here?

shit to salmon

I recognize “shit” is not a very technical term… in this case it captures a wide classification including: shit-shit and the increases of which a much larger population excretes into waterways; prozac/ estrogen/cialis and other endocrine disruptors showing up in alarmingly increasing amounts in sewage treatment plants; “shit” in a figurative sense; and so on…

_ _ _ _

If salmon habitats (e.g. ocean and freshwater) are displaying lower productivity than in the past, for example, look at the Fraser River estimates of sockeye productivity (from the Pacific Salmon Commission and part of the late 2009 Salmon Think Tank statement):

Salmon Think Tank -- Fraser River sockey productivity estimates

Remember that for a population of almost anything… there must be at least two reproductive adults per “spawner” reaching sexual maturity — ideally one female and one male — to allow any critter to simply maintain a population, let alone provide for ‘growth’.

It might be suggested that at present productivity even a “record” sockeye run would not even reproduce the same size run in four years — even if left entirely alone.

For example, if 15 million sockeye showed up in the Fraser River this year, at a productivity of less than 1 adult returning per spawner — the run four years from now would not even be the same size; it would be smaller. And this… even if we leave the runs entirely alone (i.e. no fishing).

And thus on the Columbia, a “record” run of over 300,000 (despite recent historical runs over 3 million) and everyone wants to go fishing. I’ll quietly put in here that the cost of that 300,000+ return is massive… hatcheries, barging baby salmon past dams, habitat restoration, controlling dam flows, dismantling dams, and so on, and so on…

Will we see the same on the Fraser River this year?

Early indications suggest some higher than predicted run sizes, or at least in the lower probability range (as DFO likes to call it). Will there be a push to go fishing?

There is on the Skeena River (northwestern B.C.) right now… Skeena Fisheries Blog. Nothing like “harvestable surplus”…

Stop me if you’ve heard this one…(it involves more air pie)

This is my graphic representation of fish populations (e.g. wild salmon) that have been industrially exploited…

I suppose there’s one line missing on this graph, a relatively flat steady line running across the last half of the time series that represents the number of politicians responsible for these issues. (however, then we would need to graph their salaries – e.g. MP earns base salary of around $150,000 plus Ministers can earn another $70,000 or so, on top of that)

There’s an article related to this idea by Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail today —

Cod in Newfoundland: Already seen that drama

A very bad movie has returned to Newfoundland. The script is well-known; the actors have not changed; the plot never alters; and the commercial results are always disappointing. Yet the movie keeps coming back for another rendition.

The plot revolves around what used to be a mainstay industry for Newfoundland: the cod fishery. It has been in decline for decades, during which scientific advice about the precariousness of the cod stocks was usually ignored.

There were too many parties, and too many politicians, with vested interests in ignoring science, or playing it down, or claiming that the results were biased. They are still around, and vocal.

Cue the current reel of the old movie. Once again, scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are providing the data on which the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada makes recommendations to the federal government. Once again, the committee has recommended that Atlantic cod be designated an endangered species. And once again, all the usual suspects are dumping on the science, discrediting the recommendation of the scientists.

Fishermen are irate. The provincial Fisheries Minister says stocks are improving, thereby justifying the existing levels of fishing. And the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union calls the committee report “political science,” “misleading,” and “nonsense.”…

We’re well along the way of writing a similar story for Pacific salmon here on the west coast…

Dalhousie University fisheries biologist Jeff Hutchings [suggests]…northern cod stocks are 4 per cent of their levels of the 1960s and 10 per cent of their 1980s levels… The replacement rate of cod is far less than half of what would be required just to maintain the stock at existing levels.


Have you seen my hand drawn graph for Fraser River sockeye? (yeah that’s over 160 million in the 1800s to about 1 million last year):

And the replacement rate (productivity) — from the “Salmon Think Tank” statement of early December 2009:

A rate of less than 2 adult returns per spawner means that runs are not even replacing themselves. Two (one male, one female ideally) per reproductive adult is the bare minimum for any population of anything to maintain itself.

Here’s my “favorite” part (as in sad) of Simpson’s article:

In the United States, legislation mandates the federal government to regulate fishing of [cod] stocks at the level of long-term renewal, rather than seeing them depleted and then perhaps built up later. In Canada, no such legislation exists. There are no targets or rebuilding strategies, just a series of one-off, yearly assessments ultimately left in the all-powerful hands of the federal minister of fisheries.

…Long-term stock recovery gives way almost every time to short-term job and profit considerations. When Ms. Shea responded to the endangered-wildlife committee’s report by saying she would “study it,” we know what will come next. Nothing.

And if you aren’t familiar with Ms. Shea, the current federal Fisheries Minister she had a long illustrious career with Revenue Canada before being elected a Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for PEI.

Revenue Canada… fish science… revenue canada… fish science…. hmmm.

And let me know if you’ve seen Fisheries and Ocean’s Canada (DFO’s) long-term rebuilding plan for Fraser Sockeye… uh, yeah… it’s called air pie. (if you haven’t heard about air pie… growing up in our household, it was our least favorite answer to: “what’s for desert” —- “air pie”.)

Oh no… wait… we are “studying” that too — it’s called the $15-$20 million Cohen Commission. At least the studying has become a whole lot easier as there were only 1 million last year as opposed to well over 100 million a little over 100 years ago.

My hope is that the Cohen Commission doesn’t become “air pie” — like the $5 million British Columbia Pacific Salmon Forum for example, or, the multitude of other public inquiries into salmon that were not acted upon…

If not now; when? (Supplement)

As a supplement to my earlier post today — If not now; when?

(And a post from late Jan. The Interventionist Solution?)

These graphs are from a report on the Salmon Enhancement Advisory Board (SEHAB) website completed by Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in the early 2000s.

Pacific Salmon Hatcheries in British Columbia

And yet, in 2003, major hatcheries in BC released over 12 million coho fry. Plus another 2.5 million from community development programs. And another 3.8 million fry from Public Involvement Programs.

Great return on investment… catch has edged back up to over 200,000 in recent years; however all from the north.

Over 41 million Chinook fry released from major hatcheries. Almost 7.5 million from Community Development Projects and over 4 million from Public Involvement Programs.

If you’re curious, since 1999, the total catch of Chinook has continued to dwindle with less than 130,000 caught last year commercially and over half of those from the North Coast and further north.

Does anyone see a problem here?

Let me guess… we will continue with the line that overfishing is not the problem…?

Or maybe it’s more complex — we didn’t slow down our fishing when productivity started to tank?

This is otherwise known as sacrificing the future for the demands of today…

I ask again: If not now; when?

Carrying Capacity & Salmon fishing

Sharing the river. Should I be smiling...?

Seth Godin, marketing guru and general ponderer, has a fitting post today on carrying capacity — and many folks might consider pondering the message. Here are a couple key points:

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs…

Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market’s ability to pay.

Yesterday, my website was picked up by a British Columbia Sport Fishing discussion forum that is focusing on the issue of potential sport fishing closures to protect the Fraser River early-timed Chinook (the 4-2’s). If you haven’t seen earlier posts on my site here, or seen the numbers, this particular population of Fraser Chinook is on a death spiral and has been for several years (over four years by Fisheries and Oceans own estimates).

Right now, these Chinook are also migrating from the North Pacific to the Fraser River. At this moment, they are migrating right past the BC capital city of Victoria through the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And, yet Fisheries and Oceans Canada has deemed that Chinook stocks around British Columbia are healthy enough to support coast-wide sport fishing openings on the ocean — from Haida Gwaii to the mouth of the Fraser River.

However, First Nations and others are asking for a complete fishing closure  to allow these early-timed Chinook through to the spawning grounds of which basically every last fish of these runs needs to finish their life. Scarier yet, there is even a major hatchery (Spius Creek) that support this early-timed Chinook run — and the run is still in deep trouble.

Reading through the particular Sport Fishing discussion forum — one can see that many individuals are taking serious issue with the fact that sport fishing openings that they rely on for their businesses may have to be closed — and should be closed based on the early-timed Chinook numbers. Angry individuals are lashing out at targets for their blame — and fair enough, many of these folks have probably run thriving businesses for several years based on a finite resource.

One thing is clear… numbers and statistics coming out of Fisheries and Oceans are unreliable, full of holes, and dependent on various computer models and equations. DFO’s own numbers suggest that early-timed Chinook can only sustain an exploitation rate of 8-11% while productivity remains as low as it has been for over four years. Last year (2009), DFO numbers just released suggest that 50% of the run was killed (with 30% of that attributed to two marine sport fishery areas).

(It should be pointed out that the south-east Alaska commercial fishery is allocated a certain percentage of Chinook as part of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Of course, DFO maintains that all of these early-timed Chinook migrate along the continental shelf before coming inland and thus don’t impact Fraser Chinook)

(oh yeah, that’s out where the Pacific Hake trawl fleet is busy, along with other industrial trawl fisheries… just fish for thought).

Varying levels of accuracy or not — 50% of the run killed is absolutely unacceptable. It doesn’t even matter at this point who caught what percentage. The bottom line is that DFO is failing miserably in protecting a vital public resource that countless individuals (and other critters) depend on.

And worse yet, this massive federal bureaucracy with over one hundred people responsible for looking after wild salmon maintains ignorance:

  • “we don’t know what it is…”
  • “ocean productivity is down… it’s not us.”
  • “it’s definitely not salmon farms…”

It is, thus, unfortunate, to read various discussion postings, comments on media stories and so on, that point fingers at First Nation fisheries as the culprit — or carry on about equal access for all, or “one fishery for all” as the federal Conservatives call it.

Quick numbers: historically the commercial fishery is responsible for over 90% of salmon catch in BC, sport fishery 3-5% and First Nation fisheries 3-5%.

As Godin, suggests in his post:

An organization with eight people in it might be happy, profitable and growing. The same business with twenty might be on the way to bankruptcy.

I draw an analogy with the U.S. banking sector and what has happened over the last few years. For many years the banking sector was ‘happy, profitable and growing’. Then it got carried away and when that particular business sector reached “twenty” — bankruptcies ensued en-masse.

The difference with wild salmon… there are no “Tarps”.

Troubled Asset Relief Programs (TARP). And even if there was — interventions are incredibly expensive; just ask the Alaskan or Japanese salmon ranching programs…

Over the last decade or two, the sport fishing sector has grown on a scale similar to fish farming — somewhere around 2000%. (Actually, fish farming since the 80s is probably closer to a 2,000,000% growth rate.)

When I was a kid growing up on Haida Gwaii (once referred to as the Queen Charlotte Is.) sport fishing as a business was a tiny sector. It’s not to say that lots of folks weren’t sport fishing. I was on a river or on the “chuck” (ocean) basically every weekend from the age of 3 to late teens — mainly fishing for coho.

Sport fishing lodges and the like were just not a huge business — yet.

Now… sport fishing lodges on the west coast of Canada are booming businesses — dotting the BC coast like the salmon canneries and whale stations of old. Or, the logging camps of past decades. (do you sense a pattern?)

Along with this corporate consolidation, tonnes of small mom-and-pop sport fishing businesses; eking out a living on a seasonal sport fishing clientele.

Curiously, it seems to be a similar tract as the commercial fishing industry (or whaling industry before that) — which has largely gone the way of the U.S. banking sector. Only the big and ‘vertically-horizontally integrated/ corporately consolidated‘ have survived. Most of the mom-and-pop operations (i.e. like small regional banks) driven out of existence.

Exactly as Godin suggests:

Ideas, markets, niches and causes have a natural scale. If you get it right, you can thrive for a long time. Overdo it and you stress the inputs…

Sport fishing and sport fishing businesses relying on wild salmon (or hatchery salmon) also have a natural scale — just as commercial fisheries do. There may be room for several businesses built upon the backs of wild salmon; however there is not room for corporate concentration and consolidation.

There is not room for rough estimates that suggest:

  • a peak day off the west coast of Haida Gwaii with 400-500 sport fishing boats in the water;
  • off the Northwest Coast, West Coast, and southwest coast of Vancouver Island with maybe 1000 (?) sport fishing boats in the water;
  • Johnston Strait and Georgia Strait with 200-400 (?) boats;
  • Central BC Coast with ?? hundred;
  • allocations of Chinook to the Southeast Alaska commercial fishery; and so on.


Your industry might have room for six or seven well-paid consultants, but when you try to scale up to 30 or 40 people on your team, you discover that it stresses the market’s ability to pay.

I would hope then — and as an avid sport fisherman myself — that maybe the sport fishing business sector and associations might enter those tough discussions about “scale”…. about how many ‘businesses’, along with how many ‘food fishers’ (my general focus for sport fishing) can be supported by current salmon runs in B.C.

Maybe go have some discussions with sport fishers and sport fishing business-owners along the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California who haven’t seen an opening in a little while… with any openings almost entirely focussed on hatchery runs.

We all need to remember that we’re basically after the same thing: salmon. Sadly, of which, are declining at rapid rates and have been for at least my generation.

And, of which, we’re not the only ones that depend on them — as demonstrated in my picture above.

Free money — Part II

Yesterday was a post on finding free money through my “FLIRT model” (Free Lunch/Investment Return Tool). (Note: I’ve resorted to pen and paper to start drawing some of this stuff out — computers often get kind of limiting in this sense…)

Today, I’d like to introduce my latest investment strategy model; it’s called Formulating Really Super Strategic Investments (FRSSI) – we’ll call it “frizzy”… to keep it fun.  This frizzy model is so great.  It takes information from a stock market — let’s call it the Fraser Market, for simplicity sake.

Approximately 200 separate stocks

In the Fraser Market are approximately 200 individual stocks. Some of these stocks are big; some of these stocks are medium size; some are small. However, all of these stock are individually unique; distinct; diverse.

Upon further analysis, and the introduction of some new legislation in 2005 — the Winking Stock Policy (WSP) determined that in actual fact, these 200 separate stocks are not entirely unique — there are some shared similarities and many of these stocks could be grouped together into common Conservation Units (CUs).

Some scientific analysis, several consultations,  Peer Review (PR) and countless meetings later; it is determined that these 200 stocks can actually be grouped into a little over 40 separate CUs.

Approximately 40 CUs

Some of these CUs have five or six similar stocks; some only have one or two stocks; and some stocks were left out of the mix because they just didn’t fit the mold.

However, for our FRSSI simulation Free money forecasting tool, we actually decided not to use the 40+ CUs in the investment forecasting.

We recognize that there is some other planning and consultation going on in relation to the CUs, but we’ve actually come up with a better plan — we’re only going to use information from 19 stocks in our forecasting simulations. We’re only using the 19 stocks because these are the bigger stocks — the more productive stocks that are going to ensure our annual returns (and Free Money). By concentrating on these bigger stocks we won’t waste our time on those smaller stocks that bring fewer returns — the bigger stocks are much better at guaranteeing we can harvest some of our returns every year.

We don’t have good information on the other 20 or more CUs and other 180 individual stocks — those are small stocks so we don’t worry about them in our simulations. We focus on the nineteen big fellas…

By focusing on the nineteen big returning stocks and using information from the past, we can actually extrapolate results and forecast for the entire 200 stocks anyways and thus the entire Fraser Market.

Now… to further simplify our FRSSI calculations we have further grouped our 19 stocks (some are also CUs) into four aggregates — or groups — for “management purposes”. Based on timing within the Fraser Market and when the market produces returns, we have named these four aggregates: Early Stuart, Early Summer, Summer, and Late Summer.

200+ stocks into 40+ CUs into 4 Aggregates

It’s an incredibly, forward-thinking, forecasting model for Free Money.

The computer model takes information from the past on these 19 of 200 stocks (~10%). These have then been broken down into four groups. This information then simulates returns for the future.

Based on the simulated returns for each of the 19 stocks, various options for how we want to harvest our returns are presented — these are based on forecasting out for the next 48 years and how that will impact our investments.

It’s truly remarkable. We have successfully designed a method for securing Free Money, when we only have patchy information on 19 of 200 stocks. We have then made four groups out of those 19 stocks; we then forecast your free money returns based on simulations that don’t even need to consider any outside influences.

It’s brilliant, simple, and….


Screeeeech!! (sound of needle across record…)

Is this sounding a little ridiculous? It is.

However, this is how Fisheries and Oceans Canada has designed a computer simulation forecasting model for managing Fraser River sockeye. The acronym is FRSSI — frizzy — the Fraser River Sockeye Spawning Initiative.

This computer simulation program has been developed over the last eight years at a cost of countless million of dollars and staff time. FRSSI is supposed to be a “Pilot Study” within the Wild Salmon Policy; however it appears that it is becoming an official planning tool.

One of the fundamental principles of the computer simulation model is the theory of stock-recruitment analysis (see yesterday’s post). Stock-recruitment (S/R) analysis is built upon some fundamental assumptions. One being, that it only considers the relationship between number of spawners (stock) that reach spawning grounds and the number of returns four years later to the same spawning grounds (recruits).

It does not consider productivity of the freshwater environment, the ocean, predators, and so on, and so on.

Just “STOCK”……….. and……….”RECRUITS”.

A further problem, beyond it’s very narrow considerations, is that it takes over four years to get one data point to then put on a graph. For example, this many spawners (stock) this year….. four years later this many spawners (recruits) = one data point. Fisheries and Oceans has only really been keeping track of some stocks (generally the bigger returns) since 1948, or so. If it takes two separate years to get one data point to graph – this means in the last 60 years of collecting information, we only have 30 data points to graph.

Is this enough points on a graph to determine trends?

Let’s add another serious hiccup into this strategy…

Counting fish is hard stuff. Sockeye swim in schools, they swim deep in a river, shallow, middle, side and so on. They also spawn in rivers where it can be tough to see anything in the water (every visited the Chilcotin River in the Interior — it runs glacial blue-green with huge loads of silt).

Thus, various methods have been devised to count fish. On smaller runs, it’s often simple visual counts. Sometimes this is done on foot, sometimes this is done from a helicopter, sometimes its done by counting carcasses on gravel bars. On larger runs, there’s sonar counts, DIDSON, catch-per-unit of effort in test fisheries, and mark-recapture methods.

Numerous studies have been done to test the accuracy of all these methods. Visual methods generally estimate salmon runs too small. Mark-recapture — utilized to count bigger runs — often over-estimate salmon run sizes. Bottom line is that getting an accurate count on the size of a spawning run (i.e. the number of returns) is a highly variable exercise — nothing more than guesstimates.

Thus, our stock-recruit graphs, with limited data, can have margins of error anywhere between 1% to say 80%. Fisheries scientists are then using this wide margin of error data, with limited data points, to put on a graph and then determine “trends”.

Worse yet — FRSSI is built upon the assumption of the dome-shaped relationship (yesterday’s post) on stock-recruit graphs. For example, the Chilko (tributary to Chilcotin River in BC Interior) run shows a classic dome-shaped relationship in the number of recruits per spawner from four years previous. So does the Quesnel River run that migrates into Quesnel Lake.

from DFO "Fraser Sockeye Escapment Strategy 2010"

This dome-shaped relationship suggests that the number of recruits produced by each spawner declines as spawner abundance increases. The theory is too many eggs and too many baby salmon reduces productivity. Thus to ensure maximum productivity in the ecosystem, humans have to harvest a bunch of salmon.

However, the Early Stuart sockeye run in the Fraser does not have this “dome-shaped relationship” in its stock-recruit graphs. That graph almost displays the complete opposite — an increase in “recruits” with an increase in spawners.

Early Stuart sockeye S/R plot

A colleague of mine the other day used the term “voodoo science”.

This computer simulation model for forecasting Fraser River sockeye returns is little more than voodoo science.

It is based upon data that are best-guesses (i.e. spawner counts and recruits). It only uses data from 19 sockeye stocks out of over 200. Then determines fisheries catch-levels for the entire Fraser River based on four aggregates of the 19 stocks.

The information on the 19 stocks is patchy and inconsistent and only goes as far back as the late 1940s. Worse yet, the 19 stocks don’t fit within the actual Conservation Units (CUs) that DFO has determined as part of the Wild Salmon Policy. Some of the individual stocks comprising the 19 are actual CUs, but some of the others are just stocks within a CU. It’s a patchwork quilt.

The forecasting model does not account for a train-wreck in productivity, climate change, high river temperatures, changing ocean conditions and so on.

If we wouldn’t trust an investment scheme designed this way (oh wait, we did, it’s called subprime mortgages and financial derivatives…) — then why should we “manage” an iconic species this way?

Yes, this is a somewhat simplified explanation of the tool — however, it does not take away from the fact that this forecasting model is built upon estimates; not exact science.

Would we construct a building this way, or a bridge? Would we sail along the west coast of Vancouver Island in a boat built upon simulated estimates? Would we put our kids on a plane built this way?

What if we took the money that was, and is continuing to be spent on this voodoo-science tool and put it into things we actually know we are having an impact on — like habitat damage, urban effluent issues at the mouth of the Fraser, water extraction from critical rivers, and so on?

What if we took the money that is being spent trying to “consult” on this tool that barely anybody understands — including a large portion of DFO staff, the Minister of Fisheries, and so on — and put it into community stewardship programs?

What if we took this colossal waste of money and put it into actually getting better counts of the number of spawners — rather than trying to simulate them in an office in Vancouver?

Aren’t we trying to get our kids off the Gameboys and computer simulation games and sending them outside to use their imagination and play in streams — why are we then wasting money, time and resources on designing computer simulation, voodoo-science tools to apparently do a better job of looking after wild salmon?

Instead of moving a mouse across a table, and our eyes across a computer screen, why not move our eyes across a stretch of river?

That’s exactly what I’m going to do right now…. off the computer and outside.

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?

Salmon and the military complex…?

Five Salmon by Simon Davies

When it comes to “managing” salmon — “escapement” is the term given to the total amount of salmon that “escape” various fisheries on their journey back to their spawning grounds. In normal language; escapement means an estimate of the number of spawning salmon in a river.

I don’t want to sound like a sappy, tree-hugging, nature freak carrying on about the beauty of the wild salmon cycle — yet… it really truly is an incredible thing. There’s a reason why programs such as “Salmon in the Classroom” have such success. Kids are no dummies — the wild salmon story is cool and fascinating.

It’s the same reason programs like “Stream of Dreams” (see link in blog roll on right) are so successful and appreciated. One reason is the great people involved traveling around to schools and getting kids and teachers interested; another reason is that kids can relate to the impressive salmon journey.

Jiinanga - "Government Creek" - Haida Gwaii

An impressive journey that ends in sure death… yet the death is what feeds the next generation. The carcasses of the parents are the magic elixir for the next generation of baby salmon — as well as everything else that depends on this annual return of nutrients: from trees to tree frogs.

Maybe one could compare the number of popular kids books that involve heroes traveling to far, far away lands returning home wiser, smarter, and maybe carrying the magic elixir. This isn’t just a kids thing — Joseph Campbell dedicated his life to studying this phenomenon in stories from around the world with books like: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces“.

It is an amazing thing — the wild salmon cycle. For hundreds of thousands of years, if not millions, wild salmon have done their thing. For a long, long, long time people and salmon have co-existed. So long is the relationship, that stories abound across western North America of a supernatural relationship between people and salmon. As I’ve quoted in other posts with information from the British Columbia Treaty Commission:

It is said that the Nisga’a, people of the mighty river, are so connected to fish that their bones are made of salmon.

And yet… And yet… here we are in the dawn of the 21st century having a real serious look at our relationships to wild salmon. In a matter of one hundred years, the practice of “fisheries management” has proved its worth. Somebody show me a population of fish that is actively “managed” by fisheries science that is on an upswing — or even maintaining.

Is it the ‘tragedy of the commons’ or simply the tragedy of stupidity?

The ‘tragedy of the commons’ seems to be a convenient term to describe European-based methods of trying to “manage” natural systems. When it comes to wild Pacific salmon, even up to a few hundred years ago the tragedy of the commons never existed in western North America. Salmon supported one of the densest populations of people in North America for many thousands of years.

What the hell happened?

Language happened… that’s what.

A little closer look at the language we use to describe our relationship with wild salmon — illuminates much. As I read through the endless documents relating to the upcoming salmon season — dictionary and bullshit-bumpf translator in hand — it begins to sound like a military exercise.

Start with the term escapement to refer to spawning salmon. Why don’t we label the most essential piece of propagating the species a fugitive?

Or, in commercial fisheries language, we don’t call actual salmon caught: “fish” or even “salmon”. We call them pieces. How many pieces did you catch? (this makes sense…)

These past few weeks I’ve been wading through documents describing a population computer model that Fisheries and Oceans is utilizing to design “Escapement Strategies” for Fraser River Sockeye. It’s called the Fraser River  Sockeye Spawning Initiative (referred to as FRSSI or ‘frizzy’).

So we’re designing strategies for fugitives.

The curious thing with the word “strategy” is that it evolves from military planning. The free online dictionary defines strategy as:

a. The science and art of using all the forces of a nation to execute approved plans as effectively as possible during peace or war.
b. The science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations.

The word comes from: “Greek stratēgiā, office of a general, from stratēgos, general”

So I suppose one might suggest, that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is at war with someone or something — or at least looking to exert military-like command over those damn salmon.

How about this language?

From the Guiding Principles of this year’s: “Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy 2010“:

Annual targets for each management group are based on escapement strategies that specify target levels of total mortality across different run sizes. Escapement strategies for each management group are designed to protect component stocks and stabilize total harvest across all sectors.

Now does this not sound like a line straight out of Operation Desert Storm?

Wild salmon are now part of management groups. Those groups are based on escapement strategies. The escapement strategies are based on target levels of total mortality. And.. what’s a component stock?

And, thank ghad we’re stabilizing harvest….

Oh wait… there hasn’t been a commercial fishery on Fraser River sockeye in three years…

Another guiding principle:

The exact shape of the escapement strategy for each management group […] is selected based on simulated performance and reviewed in public consultation.

Hmmm… so the plan for controlling fugitive spawning salmon that apparently signed up for one of the Board of Director sub-committees is chosen based on a print-out from a computer (i.e. simulated – and I’m guessing this is not like simulated bacon bits…). This print-out from a computer is then the subject of a political decision… oh wait, no, I mean: “public consultation”.

Take out the “l” in public… and we’re probably closer to the effectiveness of this process.

The great irony of all this “fisheries management” language straight out of military schools is that the military teaches a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI). I came across this idea in Chip and Dan Heath’s book: Made to Stick – Why some ideas survive and others die.

Every move an Army soldier makes is preceded by a staggering amount of planning, which can be traced to an original order from the president of the United States. The president orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to accomplish an objective, and the Joint Chiefs set the parameters of the operation. Then the orders and plans begin to cascade downward — from generals to colonels to captains.

The plans are quite thorough, specifying the ‘scheme of manuever’ and ‘concept of fires’ — what each unit will do, which equipment it will use, how it will replace its munitions, and so on. The orders snowball until they accumulate enough specificity to guide the actions of individual foot soldiers at particular moments in time.

The Army invests enormous energy in its planning, and its processes have been refined over many years. The system is a marvel of communication. There’s just one drawback: The plans often turn out to be useless.

“The trite expression we always use is No plan survives contact with the enemy,” says Colonel Tom Kolditz, the head of behavioral sciences division at West Point. “You may start off trying to fight your plan, but… unpredictable things happen — the weather changes, a key asset is destroyed, the enemy responds in a way you don’t expect. Many armies fail because they put all their emphasis into creating a plan that becomes useless ten minutes into battle.”

(Sort of like spending 8 years – and countless millions of dollars – developing a computer model to pump out simulated bacon bits — I mean… “options” for fishing sockeye and then not having enough sockeye to fish… three years running.)

Colonel Kolditz says, “plans just don’t work on the battlefield.” Therefore the Army invented a concept called Commander’s Intent (CI).

CI is a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order, specifying the plan’s goal, the desired end-state of an operation… The CI never renders so much detail that it risks being rendered obsolete by unpredictable events. “You can lose the ability to execute the original plan, but you never lose the responsibility of executing the intent.”

The key to the CI is simplicity – as in finding the core of the idea.

So what is the core of the idea of the 2010 Fraser Sockeye Escapement Strategy? — a 36-page ‘plan’ that is “simulating the life cycle and harvest of Fraser sockeye”

Should we really be using military ‘strategy’ to guide our relationship with wild salmon?

Should we be basing our salmon relationship decisions on a computer simulation model?

Could we not develop simple, meaningful language to guide our salmon relationship — rather than empty, meaningless bumpf?

the latest disconnection notice.

In some February posts I discussed some disconnection notices that needed to be sent out — mainly to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) which apparently certifies “sustainable fisheries”. This includes a pending “eco-certification” of British Columbia sockeye fisheries. Yes, this is an “eco-certification” of a “sustainable” fishery, that on the Fraser River, hasn’t actually happened for the last three years.

There is another certifying body out there that the MSC apparently modeled their approach after — the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC eco-certifies wood and wood products from sustainable sources and logging practices. The certification is also a branding strategy that opens various markets for these products — specifically for more environmentally savvy consumers that are demanding “sustainable” consumer products. For example, some retail outlets suggest they will only sell wood and wood products that are FSC-certified.

This is now the case with seafood — with retailers like Wal-Mart apparently turning over a new “eco” leaf.

I tend to draw a comparison between the Marine Stewardship Council deeming Fraser River sockeye fisheries “sustainable” with the Forest Stewardship Council deciding that wood from massive clearcuts is “sustainable” — after the logging is already done (not that they’ve done this yet).

It’s warped thinking.

It’s “air pie” thinking; as I call it… as in:

“What’s for dessert?”

“Air pie”.  A nice way of saying: “nothing”.

Worse yet — the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans is fully complicit; they participated in the certification process and will play a big part in maintaining certification as they are the managing-body for the sockeye fishery. (That is, if current objections to the certification fall by the wayside, which is what has happened to every objection filed on the over 60 fisheries that the MSC has eco-certified worldwide to date.)

Thus… the federal department responsible for ensuring the future of wild salmon in British Columbia (the same federal department that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in salmon farming on the BC coast) is in full support and agreement that Fraser River sockeye fisheries are “sustainable” and should be “eco-certified“.

Maybe the multitude of folks that work within the federal department are just really hopeful?

Maybe the “air pie” sockeye fishery of the Fraser  – will no longer be “air pie”?

Maybe they are really hopeful that last year — when only 1 million sockeye returned to spawn in the Fraser River– was a “one-time only event“? (which is what I have heard on several occasions over the past few months from various DFO staff)

Look at this graph of productivity (from Pacific Salmon Commission biologists) — it’s the slowest train wreck ever seen. As I’ve mentioned with this graph before: the bare minimum for sockeye runs to replace themselves is two adult returns per spawner. In 2009 productivity is less than one adult return per spawner. This suggests that Fraser sockeye runs, on a whole, could be shrinking by half each life cycle.

I keep hearing folks talking of a “collapse” last year. Yeah, it’s a “collapse” like an old house collapses.

In the early 1990s cracks started showing in the foundation — but no one paid attention. By the end of the 1990s the foundation was crumbling, rafters were sagging, the roof past needing replacement, windows leaking….

By the early 2000s, doors falling off hinges, floors caving in, roof simply cosmetic, wind blowing through walls…

And then last year the entire house falls in a pile of splinters, rubble and dust.

“It collapsed!” people shout. “The house has collapsed!!”

Well… yeah… it’s been in a serious state of disrepair for almost 40 years. Twenty years ago it started showing signs of deterioration.

The curious thing is that government departments would have certified that house….

certified it: condemned.

$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…