Tag Archives: salmon research

Eureka: It was Colonel Mustard in the ocean with a net… practicing mixed stock fisheries.

Cohen Commisson: new winter clothing line


Earlier this year I introduced you to the new corporate sponsor for the Cohen Commission:


Cross off “summer” in the illustration above and put in “Winter”… as we move into the close of ‘hearings’ for the Cohen Commission and the short daylight hours, and long winter nights of Justice Cohen and his staff forging through testimony, upwards of a million pages of ‘data’, bumpf out the ying-yang, job-protecting bureaucrat testimony, and so on.

In my somewhat cursory review of the technical reports completed for the Commission — at least those available for review, let me give you a few of my salmonguy summary notes:

(1) very few scientists want to come out and actually take a hard line on something… (all protect the almighty god of Objectivity)

(2) there are many scientists lining themselves up for an ambitious and aggressive research agenda… (i’ve lost count of the “recommendations for research” in the technical reports). And one doesn’t do well on that front by having ‘opinions’ contrary to the funding agencies…

(3) I’m starting a list of how many ways one can say “limited data” or “data gaps. There are more ways to say it then there are ways to count a sockeye…

I’m hard pressed to believe we actually know anything more about Fraser sockeye then they swim downstream go to the ocean, come back, swim upstream, spawn… and… wait for it…


_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Let me give you a little taste:

Technical Report #1: Diseases and parasites

…There are certainly many pathogens that occur in wild sockeye salmon, but their precise impacts on survival in these stocks are poorly understood...

The absence of data on pathogens and diseases in wild salmon in British Columbia is a reflection of the historical research focus on fish diseases, in both the Province and other regions. Most research on salmonid diseases has been directed toward those afflicting captive fish, either in government hatcheries or private fish farms.

As with many scientific issues, more research is needed to elucidate the impacts of pathogens on Fraser River sockeye salmon…

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Technical Report #1A: Hatchery Disease Impact Assessment

…The disease impacts of salmon enhancement facilities on Fraser River sockeye salmon are largely unexplored in the literature. The published literature failed to provide sufficient direct or indirect evidence to fulfill standard criteria for causation.

The literature was unable to provide sufficient information to determine the likelihood of salmonid enhancement-associated diseases impacting Fraser River sockeye salmon, the magnitude of the hypothetical impacts, or the ability of enhancement facilities to prevent or mitigate the risks…

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Technical Report #2: Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

…Many other substances in the Inventory of Aquatic Contaminants have the potential to adversely affect Fraser River sockeye salmon, including organometals, cyanides, monoaromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated and non-chlorinated phenolic compounds, resin and fatty acids, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, hormone mimicking substances, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, wood preservation chemicals and nanoparticles.

However, insufficient information was available to evaluate the hazards posed to sockeye salmon in the Fraser River associated with exposure to these contaminants…

(now that’s comforting — if I can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not good for me… or sockeye)

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

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

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

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

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Project 4 – Marine ecology

Quite satisfingly, doesn’t carry on about all the data limitation — just the time constraints of pulling the report together:

A major objective that was achieved in this report was to assemble, within an eight week period, as comprehensive a summary as was possible of what is known about Fraser River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) in the ocean. While much of this effort involved summarizing information published in data/technical reports and the primary literature, where necessary, original data have been re-examined and new analyses conducted to fulfill the terms of the Statement of Work.

However, it was more an exercise of regurgitating information already out there… (appreciate the honesty).

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Project 5A – Summary of Information for Evaluating Impacts of Salmon Farms on Survival of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon

Inferences from statistical analyses that correlate trends in abundance or survival of Fraser River sockeye with trends in pathogens found in salmon farms will be extremely limited by the number of years of available data. There are only 3-5 years of overlapping Fraser River sockeye survival and salmon farm data available for statistical evaluation.

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Project 5B – Examination of relationships between salmon aquaculture and sockeye salmon population dynamics

The analyses in the first part of this report are based on short time series of aquaculture variables, beginning no earlier than 2003, with low statistical power to detect relationships should they truly exist.

(nothing like only 7-8 years of data to do ‘analysis’…)

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Project 5C – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon: Results of the Noakes investigation

(No points about limited data, more about how other ‘scientists’ are not looking at the right data…)

Some of the publications are highly speculative for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the absence of data from government and industry as well as assumptions used by the researchers. In some cases, the publications were deficient to the point that they were neither objective nor scientific and they generally lack credibility.

(interesting… absence of data can in turn make someone have a non-objective nor scientific opinion and therefore lack credibility? that’s a rather bold subjective statement in itself to be made in a “scientific” investigation– is it not?)

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Project 5D – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon: Results of the Dill investigation

(And in a complete about face from the above report…)

Unfortunately, it turned out that the data provided by Provincial government (BCMAL) and the BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) were insufficient in both quantity and quality to allow a rigorous analyses capable of answering these questions with certainty. The biggest problem was the very short length of the time series available for analysis, basically only 4-5 year classes.

(these darn scientists, why can’t they just all get along…seems like reports 5C and 5D are a little pissing match between each other)

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Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

The final section of our report provides recommendations which address important data gaps and known deficiencies in the fisheries management system

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Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Naming the predators of sockeye salmon should not be a difficult task given that everyone likely loves sockeye—but scientifically supported ecosystem-level information about predator species (numbers, diets, trends, and distributions) is sparse throughout the sockeye salmon range.

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Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon

…There has been little research examining cumulative impacts, both across multiple stressors (e.g. fisheries capture, temperature, pollutants) or life history stages (i.e. carry-over effects), and/or among generations (i.e. intergenerational effects). These information gaps are critical to fill to begin to understand current trends in sockeye salmon productivity and abundance

(ummm… so… what has been the purpose of the Cohen Commission then…? to simply identify data gaps and recommend a big research agenda? Or… was it to try and answer some questions around current trends in salmon productivity and abundance, e.g. 2009 collapse).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Further research is required to draw definitive conclusions about the relative influence of such large-scale versus more local processes.


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Project 12 – Fraser River Sockeye Habitat Use in the Lower Fraser and Strait of Georgia

Although the effectiveness of habitat compensation projects in the Fraser River appears to be improving, the need for an improved habitat science, monitoring and data management framework is clear and aspects of this need are consistent with recommendations made by others over the past decade or two. In our view, some efforts have been made in this direction, but these have not been adequate and are even less likely to be adequate into the future…

Research in habitat ecology to evaluate alternative approaches to those prevailing today will be needed to adequately evaluate habitat compensation projects.

Programs and management initiatives used to examine and understand the quantitative parameters of habitats, potential losses and gains, habitat quality types and the dynamics of habitat productivity do not appear to be sufficient for keeping track of the current and future status of habitats used by sockeye and potential links and associations to variations in sockeye productivity.

However, one of my favorite lines comes early in the Executive Summary for this report:

Salmon are often viewed as a living barometer of the conditions in the environment and their habitat state and stock status could reflect potential impacts from human activities.

Yet… sadly… for crying out loud… we’ve got that little legal disclaimer in there…

“POTENTIAL” impacts.

ghad forbid, we say there’s actually been an impact of humans on salmon…

(that wouldn’t be objectively peer-reviewed…)

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Now, I suppose the question is whether or not, Justice Cohen will rely upon his legal training to come to some sort of conclusion on this rather expensive exercise.

Will he decide the issues on a matter of facts…?

Or will it be in the objective test of a reasonable person?

The sad thing is… that the objective test of a reasonable person means someone acting prudently… and in this case it could potentially be a professional person acting prudently.

And thus, will Justice Cohen be adopting the prudent, objective viewpoint of a fisheries scientist to review this information? or a policy maker?

ghad help the salmon if he is. Save yourselves little oncorhynchuses

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I can safely say I do not envy his work over coming months…

and here’s to hoping that more fisheries scientist could actually come out with an informed “opinion”.

This whole “objective” science thing is BS anyways… go read the old philosophers to find out how realistic it is to sit on the throne of objectivity and not have an opinion.

It’s not possible, and it sure as hell doesn’t do wild salmon any good.

We might as well all just run around with our tail between our legs, babbling on madly about how we don’t have “enough data”… if we could just get “more data”… “then we’d understand”… “then it’d be easy”.

We’ll never have enough data!

And how is it that catching and killing over 80% of the Fraser sockeye runs for over 50 years is not an impact!

A devastating one…

It’s the same story the world over… it’s why fisheries stocks around the world are in deep shit.

We catch them and eat them. All my empirical objective data says so… (as does the United Nations…)

We can keep looking for our keys under the streetlight because that’s where the light is, or we can look for them near where we dropped them… in the dark alley.

The lights are on folks, and just like a good Shakespearean drama, the spotlight is on us.

We did it. It was Colonel Mustard in the ocean with a net… practicing mixed stock fisheries.

Rocket science vs. Salmon science… (come on, let’s get a grip)

fish mysteries?


I’ve begun reading through some of the penultimate Cohen Commission report: Technical Report #6: Data Synthesis and Cumulative Impacts.

The objective of this report as listed on the Commission website:

The researcher will synthesize information contained in the other contractors’ technical reports, to address cumulative effects and to evaluate possible causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon.

Quite early in the report, after a discussion trying to define what “cumulative effects” and “cumulative impacts” are is the rather common analogy utilized these days in the discussions of ‘fisheries’ science — the good old

rocket science vs. fisheries science.

Seems that many in the ‘fisheries’ science establishment and practice have become a little defensive about comments from various sources suggesting that fisheries science is not rocket science.

And so there is this quip from the authors of this report:

Rocket science is commonly used as a benchmark when describing the relative difficulty of other subjects (e.g., “It isn’t rocket science.”).

Fisheries science also isn’t rocket science, but it is nonetheless very challenging.

Rocket scientists rely on repeatable laws of physics, whereas ecological interactions are much more variable over time and space, and much less understood. If a rocket scientist had equivalent challenges to a fisheries scientist, s/he would be launching and landing rockets with all the key variables determining outcomes (gravity, atmospheric pressure, temperature, solar radiation, fuel quality, cosmic rays) radically changing from year to year and place to place, with little ability to monitor this variation, and considerable uncertainty about the basic theory behind each of these variables and their interactions.

And so we have a couple of highlights here: (1) considerable uncertainty about the basic theories behind… “fisheries science”…

(2) rocket scientists rely on repeatable laws of physics.

So, then let me add this variable into the equation, or beg this question:

If rocket scientists had to contend with the fact that they were going to lose approximately 80% of their rockets on a yearly basis — would they maybe approach things a little differently?

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This is the fundamental challenge I have with this entire process…

And it is summed up well here, within the report:

“Given all of the above challenges, what can fisheries science achieve that is helpful to both the Cohen Commission and fisheries managers?

First, science can test hypotheses, rejecting those that are unlikely or false. Even with considerable gaps in data and understanding, and mostly indirect evidence, contrasts over space and time in both salmon stock productivity and the potential stressors allow us to judge certain stressors to be unlikely to have been the primary factors causing declines in sockeye productivity or abundance.

The second challenge is gaps in basic knowledge or understanding. We generally do not know how, where or when sockeye die.

Well…ummm… I’ve got a pretty good idea.

It’s called US. (no, not the United States… us, humans, people).

We know from fisheries records that in the range of  80% of the entire returning adults coming back to the Fraser River on a yearly basis were caught by industrial fisheries.

take, take, take --- 80% take

So we do know where Fraser sockeye die — prior to them reaching spawning grounds… in nets set by humans.

So, in fact aren’t what we talking about here within the Cohen Commission — since no one wants to look at the simple numbers and simply hypothesis — that we are looking for some miraculous smoking gun theory, which is really based on the progeny (babies) produced by only 20-30% of the total adult run that was returning?

Remember, the 80% killed in fisheries before reaching spawning grounds — for over 50 years — is just the reported amount caught in industrial fisheries. This does not include unreported catch on the high seas of the North Pacific, bycatch in other fisheries, Alaskan fisheries, or unreported catch from in-river.

Plus, really, in the glory days of the BC coast sockeye fishery can we really suggest with any accuracy that we know exactly what was caught?

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So, essentially, what we could have is a $25 million paper exercise (e.g. the Cohen Commission) that is looking for a smoking gun to explain why we don’t understand that if we kill 80% of the returning adults for decades, that 20% is unable to produce the same size run four years down the road.

This is a $25 million exercise that is only looking at 20% of the Fraser sockeye — essentially.

We’ll just pretend we don’t see that 80% of the run, dead in the boats — for over 50 years.

And we won’t talk about the more than 80% of the Fraser sockeye runs caught prior to 1950.

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Does this not beg another question?:

If we call it “fisheries” science… does this not suggest that this is science based on: “fisheries”.

Rocket science is largely science based on “rockets” or many of the verbs surrounding rockets: launching, flying, landing, etc.– along with the variables that affect rockets and the verbs closely associated with them.

And thus would not ‘fisheries’ science then largely be concerned with the verbs that surround “fisheries”: catching, selling, landing, intercepting, and so on?

Where is the ‘science’ for the good of the fish themselves…?

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Do we expect 20% of humans to reproduce the same size population — if 80% of our human population died before it even had a chance to reproduce, could 20% maintain our species at the same size?

“Cumulative impacts” at Cohen Commission this week


scientific research agenda?

This week, things start wrapping up at the Cohen Commission hearings. And what a fitting note… apparently it is all about “cumulative impacts”… with a brief 363 page report to summarize.

Here is a fitting illustration to get us started: The illustrated guide to a PhD.  Over at Matt Might’s site.

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Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge: [or human knowledge about salmon]

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little: [e.g. salmon in the classroom]

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty: [e.g. fisheries… or statistics… or…]

A master’s degree deepens that specialty: [e.g., fisheries biology… and phalluses…]

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge: [e.g. or reading technical report…]

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now: [or it looks like a nipple…]

So, don’t forget the bigger picture:


Keep pushing.

(Matt’s illustration is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License so use as you wish, just make sure to give him credit and a link).

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I took a little glance at the brief 363 page: Cohen Commission Technical Report #6 Fraser River sockeye salmon: data synthesis and cumulative impacts.

First, I wasn’t surprised to find that several of the authors of the report have done work for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or research, or past contracts… (been a familiar theme at the Commission).

Second, my surprise was also not raised at the usual comment — From the Executive Summary:

Section 5.2 of this report describes 23 recommended research and monitoring activities

And so yet another major (or minor) environmental consulting firm submitting information to the Cohen Commission is suggesting: more research, more research, and… more research.

I can understand the fact that more research may be required… however, what is that going to change in the immediate or near term?

Sure… the North Atlantic Cod also needed “more research” while it was collapsing, as I’m sure the currently collapsed eulachon (oolichan, hooligan) populations on the BC coast also needed “more research.”

Doesn’t there… at some point in time… need to be accountability for the research that has been done, decisions made, research agendas planned, and so on?

At a basic fundamental level, we could always use more research… on everything.

I could use more research to assist me in raising children, or being married, or making day-to-day decisions… Yet… day in and day out, I still have to make decisions, and be accountable to those decisions.

I’m not sure this approach would go over all that well:

“well… my banker… I need to do more research on that overdraft this month, and determine how I won’t go into overdraft next month — so if we could just leave that overdraft sitting there in the red, that would be great…”

NO… I’m thinking my banker ain’t going to go for that…

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When the ‘rate of return’ isn’t sufficient to support you withdrawing money, your financial planner does not come back to you and say “I need to do more research…”

… and please pay me more to do that research”

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As the illustration above depicts… when it comes to human knowledge about things (e.g. wild salmon)… “experts” “more research” “more statistical analyses”, etc. is not going to change things.

Just as a recent cartoon on this site depicted, the old adage that if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.

The institution that is DFO is an unwieldy pig. It’s mandate is wrapped up in it’s original mandate of the 1940s and 50s — support industrial domestic fisheries.

But what happens when your domestic fisheries become drained… well, ask Japan, or other international organizations that rely upon distant-water fleets to supply their internal and export demand.

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More research, and requests for “more research” by firms that specialize in research, seems to me, to be a rather endless cyclical spinning of despair…

And what good is any research… if it’s not followed up by “ACTION”?

It’s akin to movies or books… a director, writer, actor, etc. can ‘research’ until the cows come home… but at some point in time decisions need to be made, and action ensues, Seth Godin (marketing guru) calls it “shipping”.

At some point we all need to ‘ship’…

It would be absolute sham, if the main thing to come out of the Cohen Commission is a $25 million bill for a plan that simply suggests: “MORE RESEARCH”…

Even my early readings of the apparent “cumulative” impacts on wild Fraser sockeye, is big ongaps” and “more research“…

Well… news flash… there will always be ‘gaps’ and need, on some level, for “more research”…

What’s that old saying about lemons and lemon-aid…?


“The Salmon Doctors: Condition Critical”

Darwin's theory at work -- apparently we humans walked out of the water...

Pretty interesting articles over at the Tyee — a two part series: “The Salmon Doctors: Condition Critical

The second: “Sockeye Feel the Heat” (By Jude Isabella, 24 Aug 2011, TheTyee.ca):

“Global warming cranks up stress on salmon. Scientists are scrambling to identify what the heat’s unleashed.”

…What [Scott] Hinch [University of BC-based researcher] worries about most when it comes to salmon are two horsemen of the environmental apocalypse: warming temperatures and pathogens.

The Fraser River is close to 2 C warmer than it was just 50 years ago for cold-blooded salmon. That’s a problem.

“Warmer temperatures are going to be a big influence on disease proliferation so I’m very interested and concerned about that angle and we know so little,” he said. “The research hasn’t been done.”

All sorts of circumstances drive pathogens — infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and prions (a cause of the fatal brain disease BSE) — to morph or spread. Crowded fish farms in Chile, for example, hastened the spread of the infectious salmon anaemia virus. And climate change is a big player in pathogen behaviour. So given the almost slam-dunk certainty that Earth will be warmer in our lifetime, what can sockeye expect?

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One of the more telling parts of the story:

The inescapable human factor

So how would you fix declining sockeye runs in British Columbia, I asked one population geneticist. His answer was simple.Probably just fix their habitats and leave them alone.

Unfortunately for salmon, especially the sockeye in the Fraser River watershed, habitat is more than a scientific concern. It’s a commodity, which means people are not likely to leave them alone. The Fraser River is home to over 100 sockeye populations with a commercial worth of over $1 billion annually, on average.

Canada’s commercial relationship with the fish is older than the scientific relationship. Since the Hudson Bay Company began exporting salted salmon in cedar barrels from Fort Langley on the Fraser River in the 1840s, the numbers of people invested in sockeye has climbed, while sockeye numbers have declined.

It seems a curious slip, or maybe it was not a slip…

…put the end of one sentence onto the beginning of the next:

habitat is more than a scientific concern. It’s a commodity

The second sentence goes on to explain how salmon are a commodity and folks are heavily invested in catching and selling them. Yet both are exactly right.

Salmon habitat is a commodity (especially along all corridors in the lower mainland and southern areas of BC), and so are the salmon themselves. As is much of the other stuff that grows on the landbase, or was deposited within the landbase, or flows through the landscape.

Water is the most precious commodity… er…um… habitat that salmon depend on and yet it most certainly isn’t treated that way.

These are all a problem.

salmon commodity cycle

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One of the most telling and truthful elements of the article is a quote from Dr. Hinch:

“We all know, from the cod collapse on the East Coast, that even some of the best science can be ignored.”

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And one of the fundamental points that I keep making and will continue to make:

Unearthing answers will take cooperation between scientific disciplines — a real challenge when it comes to combining biology and anthropology. They generally tend to have different mindsets.

Added to this “cooperation between scientific disciplines” is the ‘non-scientific’ disciplines as well.

Local knowledge. Community knowledge.

I would further add, as I have often, the “answers” will most likely NOT be found by “science” alone. There probably are no “answers” — JUST CHOICES.

Choices made by local communities and citizens, and choices  resulting in & inspiring political will.

Because just as the scientists well know; even the best science is often ignored by politicians — and public relations folks can and will spin things any which way they want (or are directed… by Prime Minister’s offices, Assistant Deputy Ministers, or otherwise).

Or, one scientist is pitted against another, one scientific ‘study’ is glorified at the expense of another.

Just as many of the comments on this site will demonstrate… there are a range of answers… er… um… opinions, on what should be done.

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More to come on this…

“DFO scientist says Privy Council silenced her”

Canadian Press story:

DFO scientist says Privy Council silenced her

A fisheries scientist says she believes senior officials close to the prime minister prevented her from talking to the media about her research into the 2009 sockeye salmon collapse in B.C. …

Miller testified she believes it would have been useful to speak to the media after the article’s publication to let them know what scientists knew and didn’t know and she found it frustrating to see the direction some news stories went.

The federal government did not dispute Miller’s suggestion that it was the Privy Council Office, which serves the prime minister, that refused to allow Miller to talk to media.

“Dr. Miller’s testimony was thorough, extensive and speaks for itself,” Dimitri Soudas, communications director at the Prime Minister’s Office, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

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Globe and Mail story:

Privy Council blocked scientist’s access to media, Cohen probe told

The top bureaucratic arm of the federal government decided a fisheries scientist who published a paper on a virus that could explain the decline of Fraser River sockeye would not be allowed to speak to the media, even though her department had no objection, an inquiry has heard.

Further complicating matters is the fact that funding for Dr. Miller’s program is in jeopardy due to a shift in policy for paying staff.

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Nothing to be concerned about though… will be the comments flowing in from some of those that leave comments on this site…

Why did the Privy Council Office feel it had to intervene?

And what about the continued flow of ‘outside’ funding to keep DFO scientists afloat? … and now in jeopardy of being cut-off…?

curious stuff…


“Is Scientific Inquiry Incompatible with Government Information Control?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G.F. Hartman, Ph.D.,

August 2011

_ _ _ _ _ _

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And the pressure builds… “silences and lies” and DFO and the feds…

Thanks to some other folks that are hilighting these articles. The mainstream media seems to be on to this bandwagon now…

New York Times article:

Norwegians Concede a Role in Chilean Salmon Virus

By   Published: July 27, 2011

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A virus that has killed millions of salmon in Chile and ravaged the fish farming industry there was probably brought over from Norway, a major salmon producer has acknowledged.

Cermaq, a state-controlled Norwegian aquaculture company that has become one of the principal exporters of salmon from Chile, has endorsed a scientific study concluding that salmon eggs shipped from Norway to Chile are the “likely reason” for the outbreak of the virus in 2007, according to Lise Bergan, a company spokeswoman.

But, she argued, “the report didn’t pinpoint any company” as the culprit. [gee, thank goodness for that...]

The virus, infectious salmon anaemia, or I.S.A., was first reported at a Chilean salmon farm owned by Marine Harvest, another Norwegian company [which also has a large amount of operations on the B.C. coast].

It quickly spread through southern Chile, wracking a fishing business that had become one of the country’s biggest exporters during the past 15 years. The Chilean industry, whose major clients include the United States and Brazil, suffered more than $2 billion in losses, saw its production of Atlantic salmon fall by half and had to lay off 26,000 workers.

The outbreak in Chile also revealed structural problems within the industry, including overcrowding in pens that environmentalists say probably helped speed the spread of the virus. Since then, the industry and the Chilean government have instituted a wide range of reforms to try to contain outbreaks, but despite extensive efforts to rein it in the virus continues to spread.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Victoria Times Colonist

Muzzling scientists wrong

Taxpayers paid for Kristi Miller’s important research on why West Coast salmon stocks have been crashing.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, for which she works, wanted the information made public.

There is great public concern about the future of salmon.

And when Science, a leading research journal, published the findings in January, it notified 7,400 journalists worldwide and advised them how to seek interviews with Miller, who leads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

Then the Privy Council Office in Ottawa – the top bureaucrats – stepped in and muzzled Miller, Postmedia News reported this week. She was ordered not to talk to journalists or speak publicly about her team’s research.

Those in control in Ottawa also ordered the Fisheries Department not to issue a news release about the study, saying that it “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect.” (The research identified a genetic marker associated with increased death rates for Fraser sockeye and “raises the possibility” that a viral infection might be to blame.)

The gag order remains in effect more than six months later.

_ _ _ _ _ _

From UPI.com:

Canada said to be silencing scientists

OTTAWA, July 27 (UPI) — A leading fisheries scientist studying why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast has been muzzled by a government department, documents show.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the prime minister’s office, stopped Kristi Miller, who heads a $6 million salmon genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island, from talking about her work published in the research journal Science, Postmedia News reported.

The journal notified journalists worldwide and encouraged Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.”

Documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act show major media outlets were making arrangements to speak with Miller but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The office also blocked a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” the documents show.

The Harper government has been reining in federal scientists whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest, Postmedia said.

Researchers are now required to submit to a process that includes “media lines” approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa, Postmedia said.

The government’s control over communication is “really poisoning the science environment within government,” said Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“When the lead author of a paper in Science is not permitted to speak about her work, that is suppression,” he said. “There is simply no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Don’t think this story sounds familiar… go back and read the various accounts of the collapse of North Atlantic Cod. Here’s a decent little summary I found online, from the peer reviewed Canadian Journal of Communication.

Silences and Lies: How the Industrial Fishery Constrained Voices of Ecological Conservation

by Carol Corbin — Vol 27, No 1 (2002)

…As the fishery industrialized over the course of the twentieth century, those who worked in the industry became increasingly segregated. Distinct discursive realms emerged, among them “fishers’ vernacular,” “scientific language,” “product talk,” and DFO’s “official word.”

There was little dialogue between the groups and little collective opposition to the overfishing. DFO’s “official word” claimed that the stocks were strong despite protestation to the contrary from several fishers’ groups and DFO’s own scientists.

The outcome for the region was economically and ecologically devastating.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

However, I suppose we should listen to the “official word” from the technocrats within some of these institutions that suggest all is good in the hood…

“Scientist muzzled over missing-salmon study”

Is this not deja vu all over again?

I am curious what the lengthy commenter “Brian” who apparently works for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has to say about this one…

The Province/Vancouver Sun, 26th July 2011

 Scientist muzzled over missing-salmon study

Privy Council Office gags B.C. biologist, dismisses her findings, blacks out documents

Margaret Munro (Postmedia News)

VANCOUVER — Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada’s West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.

Science, one of the world’s top research journals, published Miller’s findings in January. The journal considered the work so significant it notified “over 7,400” journalists worldwide about Miller’s “Suffering Salmon” study.

Science told Miller to “please feel free to speak with journalists.” It advised reporters to contact Diane Lake, a media officer with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Vancouver, “to set up interviews with Dr. Miller.”

Miller heads a $6-million salmon-genetics project at the federal Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island.

The documents show major media outlets were soon lining up to speak with Miller, but the Privy Council Office said no to the interviews.

The Privy Council Office also nixed a Fisheries Department news release about Miller’s study, saying the release “was not very good, focused on salmon dying and not on the new science aspect,” according to documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act.

Miller is still not allowed to speak publicly about her discovery, and the Privy Council Office and Fisheries Department defend the way she has been silenced.

But observers say it is indefensible and more evidence of the way the government is undermining its scientists.

“There is no question in my mind it’s muzzling,” said Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Halifax’s Dalhousie University.

“When the lead author of a paper in Science is not permitted to speak about her work, that is suppression,” he said. “There is simply no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

The Harper government has tightened the leash on federal scientists, whose work is financed by taxpayers and is often of significant public interest — be it about fish stocks, air pollution or food safety.

In one high-profile case reported by Postmedia News last year, Natural Resources Canada scientist Scott Dallimore had to wait for “pre-clearance” from political staff in the minister’s office in Ottawa to speak about a study on a colossal flood that swept across northern Canada at the end of the last ice age.

Researchers, who used to be free to discuss their science, are now required to follow a process that includes “media lines” approved by communications officers, strategists and ministerial staff in Ottawa. They vet media requests, demand reporters’ questions in advance and decide when and if researchers can give interviews.

Environment Canada now even has media officers in Ottawa tape-recording the interviews scientists are allowed to give.

Yet transparency as well as open communication and discussion are essential to science, Hutchings said, and Ottawa’s excessive control over communication is “really poisoning the science environment within government.”

“An iron curtain has been draped over communication of science in the last five to six years,” he said.

The Privy Council Office and the Fisheries Department said Miller has not been permitted to discuss her work because of the Cohen Commission, a judicial inquiry created by the prime minister to look into declines of the famed Fraser River sockeye salmon. She is expected to appear before the commission in late August.

The Privy Council Office has “management responsibility” for the commission and decided Miller should not give media interviews about her study because of the ongoing inquiry, said PCO spokesman Raymond Rivet.

“Fisheries and Oceans Canada is conscious of the requirement to ensure that our conduct does not influence, and is not perceived to be attempting to influence, the evidence or course of the inquiry,” department spokeswoman Melanie Carkner, said in a written statement.

Hutchings doesn’t buy it, saying he finds it “inconceivable that the Cohen Commission would have viewed the communication of brand new scientific information as somehow interfering with its proceedings.”

To Hutchings, the muzzling of Miller is “all about control — controlling the message and controlling communication.”

The government released 762 pages of documents relating to the Miller study to Postmedia News. Many passages and pages were blacked out before they were released.

The documents give a glimpse of the way media strategists, communication specialists and officials control and script what government scientists say — or, in Miller’s case, do not say —about their research.

The documents show the Fisheries Department wanted to publicize Miller’s study, which raises the spectre of a mysterious virus killing huge numbers of Fraser River salmon before they reach their spawning grounds.

In November, two months before Miller’s findings were published in Science, Fisheries Department communications staff started preparing “media lines.”

The lines said Miller’s findings “demonstrate unequivocally that salmon are entering the river in a compromised state and that survivorship can be predicted based on gene expression more than 200 kilometres before salmon reach the river.”

Miller’s team has not yet identified a culprit, but her Science study said one possibility was a virus associated with leukemia, which can be transmitted from fish to fish.

Reporters from Postmedia News, CBC and many other media, including Time Magazine, asked to speak with Miller after receiving the Jan. 9 notice from Science.

The documents show DFO communications staff firing off a series of “URGENT” emails as they tried to get clearance from Ottawa for Miller’s “media lines” and the OK for her to speak with reporters.

They eventually got approval from DFO’s deputy minister and the federal fisheries minister’s office but then had to go “to PCO for sign off,” the documents say.

“You need to write a note for hot-button approval,” Rhonda Walker-Sisttie, director of DFO public affairs and strategic communications in Ottawa, told the Vancouver communications branch by email, advising them to use the “PCO template for media requests.”

As the reporters’ deadlines loomed, Terence Davis, DFO’s Pacific regional director of communications, implored Ottawa to clear Miller to talk.

“If we are unable to set up a technical briefing or interviews for later today, the opportunity for DFO to gain the profile we would like for Kristi’s work may be lost or very much diluted,” Davis said in one email.

“We are pushing hard,” Walker-Sisttie assured the Vancouver communications office.

Then, weeks after the department learned Miller’s findings were to be published in Science and several days after 7,400 journalists were notified about the study, the PCO decided not to let Miller talk about her findings and their significance.

“PCO has decided that we can only respond in writing,” Walker-Sisttie reported from Ottawa. Another explained: “Kristi was not approved to provide interviews.”

The reporters, who the documents show were baffled and miffed by DFO’s inability to get Miller on the phone or on camera for interviews, filed stories based on her highly technical Science report and interviews with some of Miller’s colleagues at the University of B.C.

Miller is still not allowed to speak about the Science report, which she wrote in a Nov. 12 memo “reflects only a fraction of what we know.”

But Miller will finally be able to discuss her work in late August, when she is scheduled to testify at the Cohen Commission.

Hutchings said government communication strategists are likely now busy telling Miller: “Here is what you can say. Here is what you can’t say. Here is what we want you to stick to. Don’t talkabout this.”

“I’d be amazed if she is not receiving such quote, unquote ‘advice,’ ” said Hutchings.


When is it that publicly funded institutions can start muzzling publicly funded civil employees from releasing information rather vital to the public interest?

upper Fraser River sockeye 2011: DFO Recipe for Extinction

adapted from Cohen Commission tech report #2

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

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

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

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

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


DFO 2011 "Recent Productivity" Fraser Sockeye Forecast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

Estimated Returns and Historical Productivity

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

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

Here are the numbers blown up from the above chart:

2011 Fraser sockeye forecast: Bowron and Nadina River runs.

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

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

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

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

estimated productivity of Bowron sockeye stocks

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

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

estimated productivity of Nadina sockeye

Sockeye salmon enhancement facility, Nadina River, British Columbia


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







_ _ _ _ _ _

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


Fraser sockeye forecast_2011 Estimated probabilities for Bowron & Nadina stocks

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

Recipe for Extinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

They are the Recipe for Extinction — Chapter 3.

“Fraser River sockeye face chemical soup of 200 contaminants”


Cohen Commisson: new summer clothing line

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

The Globe & Mail article:

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Who’s looking… mr(s) Data Gap?

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

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

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

And who is researching the impact of these chemicals mixing?

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

Endocrine Disrupt what…?

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

The Globe and Mail article continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cohen Commission technical report states (pg 100):

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

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

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

pg 102 of Technical Report #2


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

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

The Early Stuart run, Bowron, Nadina, etc.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

The Great Gap…

The Globe & Mail article continues:

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

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

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

Pg. 122 of the Cohen Commission report:

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

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

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

Worse yet:

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

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

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

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

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

Same place.

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

What befalls the sockeye… befalls us.

(not to mention lots of folks eat sockeye…)