Tag Archives: salmon research

NEW E-BOOK… 1 Fish, 2 Fish: Do you really want to know about Maximum Sustainable Yield

New e-book on Maximum Sustainable Yield

Today is the release date for the first e-book on this site. It’s not a long one, however, maybe informative.

1 Fish, 2 Fish: Do you really want to know about Maximum Sustainable Yield

Here is a sample from page 1…

Page 1: How (not) to “manage” fish…

Please share this document with anyone — or send folks to this site to download. (Please comment at will.)

And please consider making a contribution to support this site, and future publications — look along the right hand side of this page for the PayPal link.

Maximum Sustainable Yield — A sure Recipe for Wild Salmon Extinction.

And stay tuned for more e-books coming soon.

Cohen Commission: “No data means no answers, sockeye inquiry told”

Dead sockeye -- Flickr "Watershed_Watch"

That’s the headline on Hume’s article today in the Globe & Mail.

The lack of hard data on the ocean environment has become an important issue to a federal commission investigating the collapse of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River.

Repeatedly, scientists testifying at the Cohen Commission have said they don’t really know what happens to salmon once they have left fresh water and headed out into the “black box” of the Pacific Ocean. They have complained about a shortage of data, or no data at all, and have said there are limited funds available for research.

Well… it’s not just the ocean environment that has a lack of data. Pretty much every life stage of Fraser sockeye has big black boxes of little to no data. (hard or soft…)

Sure some life stages and critical habitat have been studied more than others, and some folks think they know — but then of course they don’t know what they don’t know, and sometimes they think they know what they don’t know… and so on…

The cold hard reality that Justice Cohen is going to be faced with — or is already faced with — is that we just don’t know. For example, we don’t know how many sockeye juveniles leave the Fraser every year, we don’t even know how many juvenile sockeye leave the majority of the 150 rearing areas where they spend some time as babies.

(DFO only looks at two rearing lakes in any detail… or depth.)

What we know of the population dynamics of Fraser sockeye — and wild salmon in general — is limited to about the simple fact that we know they swim in water… when compared to all of what we don’t know.

No amount of systems theory, chaos theory, or computer modelling is going to shed much more light on things either.

Not only do we not know much about sockeye we know very little about the rest of the dynamics surrounding them. Just as the article suggests:

One of the papers filed with the commission identifies a “hotspot” in Queen Charlotte Sound, for example, where more than 10,000 sharks gather on a main salmon migration route – but nobody knows why the sharks are there, how long they are there, or what they are feeding on.

Black bear cub with sockeye -- Flickr: Gillfoto

Gee… this sounds like grizzly bear research in BC. Or black bear research. Or eagle research. Or coastal wolves research. Or mink research. Or osprey research… or… or…

We simply… just don’t know.

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If we can’t even predict our own brain patterns, then why do we think we can predict behavior and nature of wild salmon runs?

(for example, does anyone have an explanation on what the heck happened last year? — with 30 million or so returning sockeye to the Fraser. We’ll never know…)

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We call it ecosystem-based planning or ecosystem-based management… but we don’t know shit about the ecosystem…

Management is defined as: “The process of dealing with or controlling things or people”.

News flash… we can’t control wild salmon… but we sure as hell can control people if need be… (look at the great federal Conservative crime plans…)

Planning is defined as: “The process of making plans for something” .

Well… what are we making?

An ecosystem?

(well… that’s what the engineers of things like “no-net less to habitat” policies would have us think… we can just “re-create” ecosystems better than Mother Nature did in the first place over millenia…)

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One of the definitions of plan suggests: “A systematic arrangement of elements or important parts; a configuration or outline” .

Hmmm… so what are the “important parts”…? And what are we trying to “configure”? And how can we know what we’re trying to configure if we don’t really know much about things in the first place (e.g. the “black box” of the North Pacific)?

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The article continues:

The knowledge gap caused Tim Leadem, a lawyer representing a coalition of conservation groups, to wonder out loud Thursday if the Cohen Commission will ever get a definitive answer on what caused the Fraser River sockeye population to collapse. The commission was appointed in 2009 after only one million salmon returned to spawn instead of the 10 million expected.

“What was the cause of the 2009 decline?” Mr. Leadem asked a panel of scientists testifying about the impact of predators on salmon. “I expect at the end of the day … [it will be an inconclusive] death by 1,000 cuts.”

Gee. Maybe Mr. Leadem has seen my cartoon:

Salmon... death of a thousands cuts

I sense a certain frustration or defeatism in that comment…

Yes, Mr. Leadem it is a thousands cuts or so… but the worst ones, the mortal ones for some sockeye runs — have been inflicted by us.

Through direct action (harvest)… or inaction (how’s that enforcement of the Fisheries Act going?)

Pick your killer; our knives are sharp. We’ve filleted Fraser sockeye runs faster than the old terribly named: “Iron Chink” used in salmon canneries.

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Article continues:

Mr. Leadem noted most of the science teams that have presented papers to the Cohen Commission have concluded by saying more research is needed.

“This is perplexing,” he said. “If we are depending on science [for guidance], where are we going to find the funding? And who’s going to be pulling the strings and saying what science goes forward?”

Mr. Leadem said it appears scientists “are in a world where you are scrambling for dollars” while facing a growing list of questions.

“Yeah, we are scrambling for research funding and it is going to be the nature of science that there are always more questions that need answering,” said Andrew Trites, a professor and director at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre.

EXACTLY MY FRIGGING POINT!! (thank-you Dr. Trites).

We don’t have to depend on just science for the “answers” — because it won’t have any.

It might be able to provide gentle guidance, or thoughts, or an ‘answer’ here or there — however, at its fundamental core answering one question through science only opens up two more questions. It’s like the mythical beast Hydra — cut off one head, and two more pop up to replace it.

And so, when it comes to “fisheries” science,  it is not really a practice of “truths” and “facts” — and cannot provide all the “answers”. At its heart it is a practice of questions and theories… and analysis of things that we will never understand (e.g. the ocean).

We don’t have all the answers for how our brain works, yet we still function on a day-to-day basis. We still design teaching curricula for our children and send them off to school. And, amazingly, we can actually function and “think” on a day-to-day basis without knowing everything about our brains…

We don’t know the “answers” for the magic of how a child comes into being in the meeting between sperm and egg… We don’t know the “answers” about how we develop a soul, or even the magic occurring between our brains, hearts, lungs and every other organ working in unison. It’s a true magic mystery…

Yet we still carry on day-in and day-out…

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The article:

Mr. Justice Bruce Cohen, the B.C. Supreme Court judge who is heading the hearings, asked if there is an overall strategy for addressing the many unanswered questions about the ocean environment. “Within DFO and within the larger community of science … is there an overarching body that does a macro analysis of all the science that’s taking place? Who’s going to draw the agenda? Is this a scrambled situation … or is there actually a game plane here?” he asked.

“My perception as an academic . . . in terms of fisheries management … I don’t feel there is a game plan,” replied Dr. Trites, who appeared on a panel with John Ford, head of cetacean research in the Pacific for Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and Peter Olesiuk, DFO’s head of pinniped research.

No… no game plan indeed.

There never has been — and never will be (with all due respect).

And even if there was… what difference would it make?

“Salmon management”… “fisheries management” is a game of politics — not science.

Science can provide some gentle guidance — however it is certainly not the game plan.

(Just like “science” isn’t the game plan in the Vancouver Canucks’ current run at the Stanley Cup — it assists, but is not the plan).

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Our relationship with wild salmon is simply that… A Relationship.

What is that… a ‘relationship’?

Well… dictionary.com suggests: “The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.”

Just like the relationship between our hearts, minds, and lungs… the relationship between white blood cells and our immune system (our most ancient of systems)… the relationship between children and parents… the relationship between dogs and owners…

What does connected mean?

Joined or linked together;

Related by family.

Hmmmm…..

And curiously, even in mathematics it means:

Not decomposable into two disjoint nonempty open sets.

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Salmon and people are both concepts and objects…

And… well… here along the Pacific Rim — we are connected. We are in a relationship.

And unfortunately, this is not a balanced relationship. This is not an equal give-and-take relationship.

We’ve been more on the taking end…

take, take, take... over 80% for 100-years or so...

When people get married, or make commitments, or talk about their relationship — they don’t look to science, nor even tout the latest studies or research, or engage in a peer-review process…

If you talk to a couple that’s been married for 60 years, they don’t tell you about how the marvels of science kept them together.

No… they generally talk about the hard work… the commitments… a knowing… and call it cheesy, or hairy-fairy… but there’s also (as the song says) “a whole lotta love…”

If salmon are as important as certain surveys suggest (e.g. more important to BC’ers as French is to Quebecers) — not that we need surveys to tell us this — then why this great reliance on science… on data… on research…?

The article concludes:

Lara Tessaro, junior commission counsel, later asked the witnesses to name the DFO managers who are directing scientific research in the Pacific, a line of questioning that suggested the issue may be revisited as the hearings continue.

I think most of us know the answer to that question… (and unfortunately, from what it says in the recent Commission status update, we won’t be getting  Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

(which was to include an analysis, including an economic analysis, of DFO activities in Fraser River sockeye management since 1985;  DFO science and research expenditures related to Fraser sockeye; and  an analysis to evaluate DFO’s ability to meet its stated management objectives relative to Fraser sockeye since 1985).

The great department of Oceans sails a rudderless ship… and will it be exposed as to just how rudderless?

I’m curious to hear the answers to this and who’s at the helm (or not, or will it be like the story of the Queen of the North..? including the stifling of the truth…) — Yet, I sure hope that in the multiple thousands of pages that are being produced by the Cohen Commission that a little more time gets spent on plain language to describe our relationship with wild salmon.

Our connectedness… and how the relationship needs to improve… drastically.  And “data” is not the answer… it’s simply a tool, one piece of the equation… one piece of the relationship… one piece of the connectedness.

slippery secret salmon science society

is this the secret?

Announcement: the Slippery Secret Salmon Science Society (S5) is hosting Seance Saturday (S2)…

It’s called S5 + S2 = ??

If you can answer the question you win a new neutron microscope…

(remember your secret spawning salmon handshake…)

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As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been reviewing various kernels of information on the Cohen Commission. One can surf through the Executive Summaries of some of the technical reports — only one of the reports is available to download (Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon).

Some others are hidden in transcripts as “evidence”. Others are not available yet. And one — Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management — is apparently not going to be done. At least according to the most recently posted status report:

Commission counsel have decided not to present project 11, Fraser River Sockeye SalmonStatus of DFO Science and Management, into evidence. The financial information requested by the commission’s researcher for project 11 could not be obtained in the time frame needed to complete the intended analyses.

Further, the Commissioner has heard or will hear direct evidence on the issues covered in the technical report. In particular, the Commissioner will hear evidence directly from DFO witnesses on these issues during the final hearing topic, “DFO Priorities & Summary.”

Hmmm… the report that would most likely shine the light on the biggest culprit in Fraser sockeye declines slinks off into oblivion.

Might some surmise this is because the small world of salmon scientists didn’t want to open the can of worms and potentially affect their chances of securing contracts with the only show going out there — the Department of Fisheries and Oceans?

(I wouldn’t want to be so cynical… however, some may not find it a huge stretch…)

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A couple of curious things I’ve noticed in reading the Technical Reports:

1. Each report has two reviewers — comments and responses from reviewers and report authors are recorded at the end of the documents.

Now, one should probably conclude that this is meant as a quasi-peer review process — the great leveler of scientific literature. Oddly, though, many of the reviewers are some of the authors of other Commission technical reports. And more oddly, some of the reviewers are co-authors of other papers with the authors of the technical reports that they are reviewing.

Is this really a transparent, open method of reviewing and providing critical feedback?

Or, is this the ‘secret’ society of salmon scientists…?

Is the world of salmon experts really so small that something as important as the science review for the Cohen Commission resembles a tight-knit Conservative Party climate change fundraiser in Calgary (the heart of oil and gas co. headquarters)?

Even reading through one of the better technical reports — Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon — one reads about the past in-depth research done by these two researchers paid for bythe Pacific Salmon Commission and DFO

Did you read in yesterday’s post how a “seance” is sometimes known simply as a: “sitting of a society”?

Is this “scientific” work simply a seance of a salmon society?

2. The bulk of the reports appear to simply be literature reviews. Some go so far as to hypothesize qualitative matrices (“the matrix”) and so on that organize literature reviews into some sort of quasi-scientific view of the salmon world.

And, there is a whole lot of: “due to limited data…” and “lack of data…” and “lack of data limited testing for cause and effect…” and “Due to our inability to rigorously test for cause effect relationships…”

And so on, and so on…

And take a guess at what the bulk of the recommendations are…?

We need more research…”

We highly recommend research priorities focus on…”

more research…” “More Research…” and (you got it) “MORE RESEARCH…”

Is this not akin to police doing investigations on themselves and concluding no wrong-doing…or… more investigations required?

Or, politicians recommending their own raises and increases to expense accounts…or increased terms?

Ok… maybe a bit of a stretch… and not necessarily similar — simply intended to make a point… there is some irony in scientific researchers saying they need to do more research — when that’s what brings home the bacon.

Some of this should potentially be taken with a big truckload of salt… we can research EVERYTHING further… or summarize research further, or review research, or identify gaps, or… or…

The other danger of this approach is that it makes implementing real change — rather difficult.

Why implement change when “we just don’t know… we’re not sure… the apparent evidence is not conclusive.”?

It’s not all that different… than say… cancelling elections and simply basing governments on poll results. Or, waiting until Inuvik, NWT experiences green Christmases before implementing real climate change policy…

Watching election coverage last night, Elizabeth May the Green Party leader and first elected North American Green Party candidate quipped: “the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic was built by professionals…”

Granted, that apparently god was directing Noah’s building plans… however, the Titanic was most definitely deemed unsinkable by the pros…

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Now, I recognize these technical reports for the Cohen Commission are meant for the privilege of Justice Cohen himself.

The commission established a scientific research program to enhance the Commissioner’s understanding of the science behind the decline of Fraser River sockeye. The commission contracted with qualified and experienced external scientific researchers to study a wide range of technical and scientific issues designed to address potential causes for the decline. (from Apr. 27 Status Report)

My quick look-up of the definition of “enhancement” suggests: “To make greater, as in value, beauty, or effectiveness; augment.” So I’m guessing the Commissioner might have augmented knowledge, or more effective knowledge, or even beautiful knowledge of salmon science… or… errrr… ummm… the apparent incredible “lack of data”… “limited data” … and the mass of opinions in the slippery salmon science society suggesting “more research required” .

Let’s hope that this augmented knowledge sees past the slippery secret society to suggest real meaningful change — because if real change is to be dictated by scientists… then we’re going to be waiting a lot longer than the great bovine herd return… (errr… homecoming of the cows…)

Plus isn’t science supposed to be “objective”… e.g. “presented factually”… and how do we do that if we don’t have ALL the data? all the “facts”? the “truth”?

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I recognize this is a little tough on the scientific institution… there is a valuable place for science, and I’m prone as the next wild salmon guy to quote my gumboot biology textbook… however, healthy wild salmon runs aren’t really about SCIENCE… They’re about politics and political will.

There are a heck of a lot more scientists involved in stating that climate change is here, here to stay, and one of the greatest threats to humankind… there are scientist declarations… scientists warnings… scientists sit-ins… scientist hunger strikes — stating that climate change is here, and it could be devastating.

But show me the life altering policy changes at the political level… show me a current sitting politician (not a previous politician flying hundreds of thousands of kms a year touting the dangers of climate change…) that is making the hard decisions to stem the tide…

Even this Cohen Commission report #11 states:

Overall, the weight of the evidence on the adverse effects of recent warming on survival of some individual life stages, as well as its possible cumulative effects across life stages, suggest that climate change has been a possible contributor to the observed declining trend in abundance and productivity of Fraser River sockeye salmon over the past 20 years.

And so if climate change is having a negative effect… what difference do any other changes make, if most world governments refuse to make changes to the things causing climate change?

So where is the research reports for the Cohen Commission on political decision-making? — a literature review of all the political decisions that have endangered salmon runs (or cod… or sturgeon… or whales… etc.)?

Science plays a part… yes… but politics rule the game…

And how are you salmon folks feeling about the new majority rule here in Canada (put in with about 40% of the popular vote)? Think it’s going to get better for wild salmon out there?

Once upon a salmon… in Oregon

random finds

Another random find online:

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

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

 

Table of Contents

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And here’s a summary of content:

Some factors...?

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

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

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

So we can see the trend of the population:

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

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

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

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

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

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Section 2: Possible Causes of Decline

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

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The report focuses on Coho in the following Oregon rivers:

Oregon streams

 

 

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

trends of commercial Coho catch -- Oregon 1923 to 1949

Hmmm… similar trend… downwards.

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

unrestricted troll fishery

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

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

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

Annual landings of Coho on Coquille 1923 - 1946

 

Annual landings of Coho on Stiletz 1923 - 194

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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Other Potential causes outlined in the report:

Pollution?, Hatcheries?, Logging?, Waterflow?

Remember this report is from 1950.

To be continued…

When salmon folk lose touch…

You can't be serious...?

Sometimes when one is doing research on wild salmon, salmon ‘management’, salmon conservation, salmon rehabilitation, and the like… one may come across things that bring pause, and an occasional head shake…

Today, I was searching around for information on Chinook salmon. My path led me to the Pacific Salmon Commission; a place I often land in my salmon searches. Specifically, my search led me to a report titled:

Development of the Technical Basis for a Chinook Salmon Total Mortality Management Regime for the PSC AABM Fisheries. February 2011

(It’s down the right hand column of the home page… and only 218 pages).

I tend to be someone who often advocates for “meaning what you say and saying what you mean“. I have varying degrees of success at this, but always looking to improve.

One of my intentions for this website/weblog is to try and present a variety of views on salmon — specifically wild salmon and our rather tenuous relationship with them.

And so when I read a title that suggests that we are looking for a ‘technical basis’ to manage Chinook based on “total mortality”… it does leave me puzzling. Did we manage based on ‘partial’ mortality before?

Well… we based on AABM… which translates to “Aggregate Abundance Based Management“. I won’t get it into it now, but in essence, the AABM means we fish less when Chinook stocks are in trouble and more when they are in good shape.

I know… rocket science.

Part of the problem is that it is done by “aggregate” meaning based on groups of Chinook stocks up and down the coast (Alaska, BC and Washington) that have potential spawners counted through various methods… various methods of accuracy…

There is also ISBM, which is “individual stock-based management” where information from individual stocks is considered when making fisheries decisions.

The move to TM based fisheries… and no that’s not “trademark” as in:

“this is our fishery management regime… TM“.

It’s “total mortality”.

From what I can see it means that Chinook catch numbers will now also include undersize Chinook or otherwise that may incidentally die in fisheries. Some types of fisheries are permitted to keep undersize or otherwise fish (e.g. some net fisheries) — other aren’t (e.g. sport fisheries) and thus undersize or oversize have to be released.

Or in the case of sport fisheries, when there is an imposed limit — say 2 Chinook a day — one person in a boat may ‘limit out’ first, yet keep fishing. If they catch a bigger fish then the two their keeping for their limit, the smaller one goes overboard “for the seals”.

(this isn’t the case with all rec fishers, however, as one myself, I’ve certainly seen it happen often enough)

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As the Commission report describes it:

The TM management regime would estimate catch and the associated incidental mortality (IM) in a fishery, and constrain the fisheries based on defined limits to TM rather than LC [Landed Catch].

… [Total mortality] is the sum of the landed catch and the associated incidental mortalities from fishing…

Hey, now that makes sense, less try and account for all the fish killed in fisheries as opposed to just what shows up at the dock (e.g. canneries or otherwise)…

In other words, it’s sort of like a full accounting for what military folks like to call “collateral damage”… or that other innocuous fisheries term “by-catch”.

Almost all fisheries have size restrictions, so one can imagine the number of undersized fish caught, for example, in commericial troll fisheries… and by the time an undersize fish has been swinging around on troll gear for a awhile, it’s probably not going to do too well when it’s “released”…

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For your pondering:

In 2009, the total commercial troll Chinook catch in Southeast Alaska alone was almost 176,000

Seine Chinook catch was over 54,000 and

Sport Chinook catch was over 69,000

With a total Chinook catch in Southeast Alaska just under 300,000

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In northern BCover 75,000 Chinook caught in commercial troll fishing.

34,000 in sport fisheries.

On West Coast Vancouver Is. … commercial troll over 58,000 Chinook caught.

Sport fishery over 66,000 Chinook.

So throw in another 230,000 Chinook caught (or so).

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Not included here is the Juan de Fuca, Salish Sea/Georgia Strait, or Fraser River mouth catch numbers. Not much going on their commercially, but lots of sports fisheries.

Total 2009 Chinook catch numbers — on what the Commission calls ISBM fisheries — was almost 205,000 with over half of those caught by sport fisheries (approx. 116,000) and First Nation (approx. 53,000) the rest was test fisheries and commercial.

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The estimated “Incidental Mortality” (IM) — e.g. numbers not included in these numbers — appears to be estimated at close to 10%.  (…coincidentally, about the same approximate percentage of Chinook catch in BC, by First Nations…e.g. 12% as compared to the approximate 50% caught by sport fishers )

(And remember, much of these number are based on raging estimates)

Sport fisheries are only covered by creel surveys (e.g. interviews with fisherfolks) and estimates suggest about 10% coverage, as well as fly overs to count boats…

Ever dwindling though, due to funding cuts to Fisheries and Oceans monitoring and enforcement budgets.

So throw in another 70,000 (at least) dead Chinook into the equation.

(that’s almost the entire Fraser River Chinook run in some years…)

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So some of this “Incidental Mortality” stuff begins to make sense once the glaze is peeled back from one’s eyes in trying to read mulit-hundred page documents that have an executive summary that reads like this…

Pacific Salmon Commission Chinook Tech docs

I think I spent more time scrolling back to the Acronym guide… and my new ‘techno-bumpf’ translation app.

However, here’s my favorite part:

The CTC also formed a Total Mortality Work Group (TMWG) in 2003 to develop the technical analyses and approaches necessary to implement total mortality regimes. The TMWG made substantial progress on methods for translating the relationship between nominal landed catch and the abundance indexes (AIs) for AABM fisheries into TM units, but was not able to complete the work due to lack of consensus on the interpretation of the TM language in the Agreement.

The “CTC” is the Chinook Technical Committee within the Pacific Salmon Commission… of which there are 32 people.   I’m not sure how many of those reached “total mortality” to become part of that working group…

Maybe another name might be appropriate…?

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However, this incredible depth of scientific analysis, techncical committees of over 30 people for one species of salmon, and so on… certainly makes one start to ponder “what is being spent on total mortality working groups…” which largely guide “fisheries”?

As opposed to trying to design: “how do we get as many fish onto the spawning grounds as possible — working groups

how do we avoid having to go to capital expensive, concrete-laden, long-term expensive hatchery options… which often do more damage then good — Working Group

And… “how do we make sure those fish have healthy habitat — Working Group

Salmon for the Future: test tube babies — more interventionist solutions?

Salmon for the future?

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Another salmon article from Mark Hume last week in the Globe and Mail:

Bold experiment hopes to boost salmon population in B.C. waters

Carol Schmitt got up early for the move because she had a lot to pack – 48,500 live salmon to be exact.

Luckily she had rented a semi-trailer tanker truck the night before, sterilizing it so the fish could safely be transported from the Omega Pacific Hatchery, near Port Alberni, to the Sarita River, on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The fish – precious not only because Chinook are endangered in many places in British Columbia, but also because they are part of a bold experiment – had to be handled with care.

Unlike millions of salmon that are being released from Department of Fisheries and Oceans hatcheries in B.C. this spring, Ms. Schmitt’s fish have been held almost one year longer and grown more slowly, to mimic conditions in nature.

“Mimic conditions in nature”… hmmmmm….

Here’s the photo that accompanies the online story:

Globe and Mail photo

So are the two people in the photo mimicking trees?

Or, are they mimicking the kingfishers in the trees that love to eat baby Chinook?

Or the multitude of other birds that love baby salmon?

from Flickr -- caspian tern

 

No disrespect intended towards Ms. Schmitt or others involved in the article… I can understand the excitement of the project…

However, let’s just keep things in perspective.

I’m sure many folks out there remember the time when the forest industry sold clearcuts as simply “mimicking natural disturbances”…

Like this clearcut on west coast Vancouver Island:

 

"mimicking nature"?

Just like nature makes it… (this isn’t all that far from the areas where these test-tube Chinook are to be released on west-coast Vancouver Island in this “bold experiment”)

Or this string of photos from a Seattle Times article a few years ago. This is the great logging empire Weyerhaueser mimicking nature…

"mimicking nature" -- Seattle Times photos

And no worries, I’m sure that’s not a salmon stream at the bottom.

 

 

more Seattle Times photos -- 2009

And this from a story out of the Everett, WA newspaper in 2008 when the Chehalis River flooded in epic proportions. (don’t worry probably not a salmon stream either… anymore…)

 

just "natural"

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

The Globe and Mail article continues:

DFO releases Chinook from hatcheries at eight months of age. The fish are known as S-0s, because they are smolts, with less than one year in freshwater. Ms. Schmitt’s approach, perfected over decades growing salmon for B.C. salmon farms, is to keep the fish for 17 months, raising them in water as cold as the native stream from which their brood stock originated. And she restricts feed, so the fish mature more slowly. Those fish are known as S-1s and she believes such “stream type Chinook” are the key to the restoration of wild salmon populations in B.C.

“If you raise them in warmer water and feed them lots, as DFO does, they grow bigger and faster, but you trigger ‘smoltification’ too soon,” Ms. Schmitt said.

Smoltification is when young salmon undergo dramatic physiological changes, turning from fry into smolts, as they adapt for the move from freshwater to salt water.

DFO’s Chinook look ready when they are released, but their immune systems aren’t fully evolved, she said – and most will die from vibriosis, a bacterial disease that attacks fish in salt or brackish water.

“I feel 85 to 90 per cent of federal S-0s are dead within four to six months,” Ms. Schmitt said.

The statistics appear to bear that out, as DFO typically gets only about 1 per cent of its hatchery salmon back as adults. On the Sarita River, only 500 Chinook spawners returned last year – 0.1 per cent of the fish DFO had released as S-0s four years earlier.

Ms. Schmitt, with whom DFO is working on an experimental trial of S-1s on three Vancouver Island rivers, said she is expecting returns of up to 10 per cent.

“If you ship those fish out as S-0s you are accelerating the decline of the river,” she said. “If you release them as proper S-1s, you will get three to ten times as many fish back.”

Ms. Schmitt said in Alaska, releases of S-1 Chinook have resulted in returns as high as 22 per cent.

“Can you imagine what returns like that would mean in B.C.?” she asked. “That would be incredible. It’s pretty exciting stuff.”

With funding support from DFO and four fish farm companies (Mainstream Canada, Marine Harvest Canada, Creative Salmon and Grieg Seafood), Ms. Schmitt is doing trial releases this week of about 100,000 salmon in the Sarita, Phillips and Nahmint Rivers. The first release was Wednesday.

She said it has been tough to get to this point, because DFO has been resistant to change. “Getting DFO to allow us to participate in enhancement has and continues to be a challenge.”

DFO was unable to provide a spokesman to talk about the Omega project.

_ _ _ _ _ _

There are so many things that strike me about this project and article… many of them striking a bit of a sour cord. Maybe this initiative will bear results… however the experiment of “salmon enhancement” for the last many decades has few ‘success’ stories. (the thing with interventions, is they generally become permanent…)

As you can probably already tell by the pounce on “mimicking nature” … Without knowing a lot more about this specific project… yet, about the only natural mimicking I can see is that the water is colder…

The rest truly is an “experiment”… and really how have our experiments with nature gone?

_ _ _ _ _

The ‘companies’ are having some difficulties getting acceptance. Yeah… well… there could be some ethical and other considerations that may need to be considered here.

When private companies start investing in producing fish; could they not rightly express some “ownership” of these fish when they return to spawn?

Or do these fish simply enter the common pool and become lead actors in that famous Shakespearean play “Tragedy of the Commons”…?

Not that I don’t doubt that companies can’t do altruistic, well-intentioned things; however, it does run against the flow of the corporate modus operandi… profit.

But then of course there is some social capital and goodwill gained in this type of effort… isn’t there?

And, don’t you know it… salmon farming companies need some good press these days; and not the kind that gets purchased in multi-million $$ PR campaigns…

_ _ _ _ _

Test-tube salmon “are the key to the restoration of wild salmon populations in B.C.“?

Last time I checked, ‘restoration‘ meant something like:

The return of something to a former owner, place, or condition.

This is about as much “restoration” as lipsosuction and a face lift is “restoration” to one’s youth…

It’s pretty tough to “restore” these sorts of things once they’re gone:

slide from my presentation to Cohen Commission

Or this:

We really need to be careful when we start batting around terms like “restoration”…

It’s important to ‘mean what we say and say what we mean’…

Hatchery interventions can be used to assist in rehabilitation of some areas… however, they can’t be a permanent solution.

Let’s for example look at some of the numbers quoted in the success of DFO’s enhancement efforts.

If they’re getting 0.1% return on investment… does that sound like a sound strategy? That’s worse returns then the common chequing account these days…

But then the initial goals of the Salmon Enhancement Program were:

The Salmonid Enhancement Program (SEP) was established in 1977 with objective of restoring stocks of salmon to their historic levels of abundance.

How’s that going?

_ _ _ _ _ _

Making comparisons to Alaskan returns, just isn’t going to cut it.

Different practices (e.g. ocean ranching); different migration patterns; different investments; different priorities.

Seems its convenient in situations like test-tube salmon babies to forget the issues in the ocean — e.g. lower productivity, etc. — but when it comes to judicial inquiries, fisheries ‘management’, etc. then all of a sudden the discussion of poor ocean conditions and the like become prevalent.

(is that because it makes easier… rather than looking in a mirror… and at history)

At some point we need to make a choice on what the issues are…

For example, what’s the point of spending millions of dollars to send test-tube babies out to the ocean if productivity remains low…?

what’s the point of sending test-tube babies out to the wild if the streams they have to return to are largely clearcut to the banks…?

Go down to the Lower 48 and see what sort of success they’ve had at spending upwards of a billion $$ on salmon habitat rehab and hatcheries… ask how many fish they’re catching?

_ _ _ _ _

We are far past the point of “restoring” salmon.

Are we all that far off from basically preserving zoo populations and setting up kids fishing ponds…?

Salmon fishing derbies of the future?

Rather than fumbling around trying to do better what nature already does perfectly (for millions of years) why don’t we clean up the mess we made in the first place?

The problem with salmon isn’t that they need “help” reproducing… they been doing that well before we came along. It’s more that if we’re all to co-exist; then we need to look after the neighborhoods that we co-exist in… for example: watersheds, rivers, lakes, and so on.

With the rapid changes coming due to climate change (less cold water, ocean acidification, water shortages, etc.)… wild salmon are going to need a lot of help making sure their neighborhoods are fit for spawning, dieing, and reproducing in.

Just like your neighborhood… pretty hard to spawn in a mudslide isn’t it?

(fun to wrestle in maybe… not so much fun after that…)

What happened to Rivers Inlet sockeye?

So let me ask you this: What happened to Rivers Inlet sockeye?

Rivers Inlet is a large inlet located on mainland BC a little ways north of Port Hardy off the northern end of Vancouver Island.

do you see the irony in this map?

Here’s a slide from a presentation by Rick Routledge at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver:

Rivers Inlet — once #2 in BC sockeye catch

Yeah, Rivers Inlet used to be #2 in BC sockeye catch. Although there was a time in the early 1900s when the Skeena was higher… but those runs zonked sooner than Rivers and Smith Inlets.

In the same presentation, Routledge has this slide:

Rivers Inlet

I do find it curious that since there was no data for “escapement” (potential spawners that reach the river) prior to 1951 — and as such we still call this a sockeye “returns” graph. But then, I suppose, a sockeye caught at the mouth of the inlet is still a “return”…

Key message here… a lot of fish were caught in Rivers Inlet in the early 1900s.

A similar slide to a DFO report in 1998 by McKinnell and company: The collapse of the Rivers Inlet Sockeye Fishery – The Case against a freshwater cause. (here we are looking for a “cause” again… separate from ourselves)

The numbers don’t really seem to match up between the slides… For example, the big catch year in 1926 shows almost 2 million fish caught in Routledge’s graph and maybe about 1.7 million in the DFO produced graph…

Graph comparison

But gee whiz… what’s 200,000 to 300,000 fish caught in the heyday anyways…?

(or maybe it’s just the skewing due to scale…)

But why was there never a judicial inquiry into the collapse of Rivers Inlet sockeye — once the #2 commercial sockeye producing area?

And might those two huge years of catch in the 1970s have anything to do with the crash?

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Hmmm…

so what do we have here?

Well… let’s consider a couple of things…

Firstly, if we take both of these graphs back far enough into the 1800s we would see a trend like this:

familiar trend?

And I think this may look familiar to many people.

It’s sort of a similar trend to many industrial fisheries around the world over the last 100-years or so…

For the economists out there it also sort of resembles the tax curve…

e.g. taxes are good for awhile but eventually they start to have negative returns and we  see this classic mound shape…

Or for the cooks out there: the salt curve… A bit of salt is good, better to a point, then there are quickly dwindling returns on the taste front…

Or salmon cannery production… one cannery is decent, production goes up, profit goes up…

Rivers Inlet cannery (early 1900s?)

…throw in a couple more canneries

another Rivers Inlet cannery

…and eventually things plateau, populations start declining, production declines, profits decline… and CRASH!…

Was it worth it?

(and unfortunately, we can’t cut the costs of production by outsourcing to a place like China or otherwise… the classic economic solution)

_ _ _ _ _ _

 

Secondly, there is a classic western-science based assumption in all of this…

The idea that no one else was harvesting fish — commercially or otherwise — prior to the mid-1800s.

The common colonial concept of: Terra nullius the Latin expression for “no man’s land”; nobody here – nobody there.

Terra nullius & Mare nullius

Mare nullius is the ocean equivalent — “nobody was using the ocean…”

Almost every graph one looks at in the ‘science’ world shows this bizarre assumption that no salmon were being harvested prior to contact.

Why is that?

We know that entire cultures harvested millions upon millions of salmon. The bulk of First Nation cultures of BC are basically built upon the backs of salmon.

Some research suggests that the First Nation harvests of salmon pre-contact may actually have been higher than average commercial catches in previous decades.

So, why is there no big research agenda directed at finding just how many salmon were being harvested pre-contact? (appears it was done sustainably as the cultures thrived…)

Or how many salmon were being harvested by First Nation communities at the same time as the cannery boom? (granted most communities were forced from their fishing grounds and through this process basically formed the present landscape of the First Nation reserve system…)

Why is this not on the Cohen Commission research agenda?

Oh right… because we’re only looking at the 2009 Fraser River sockeye crash and nobody wants to admit that overfishing is one of the biggest culprits… because that would mean it’s our fault, us humans… much easier to blame ocean conditions, climate change, and so on and so on.

Sort of like the insurance industry that has outs with ‘acts of god’… for things like building on the floodplain of huge rivers and having dikes fail that were built to withstand the 1 in 100 flood year. (certainly wasn’t our fault for building in the floodplain in the first place… because really, how much comfort is there building in a place called “delta”?)

_ _ _ _ _ _

A key point here is that people are an intimate component of the salmon cycle — pretty much always have been; always will be.

And yet, when it comes to research agendas… judicial inquiries… salmon think tanks… and otherwise — we so often want to focus on the other ‘reasons’ for declines: ocean conditions, marine survival, juvenile migration, gravel condition, nursery lakes, etc.

(oddly enough though, we often don’t even focus on some of these basic components…e.g. DFO only really looks at 2 sockeye nursery lakes in the entire Fraser system)

Seems, we just don’t want to look in a mirror… and look back.

Might a look in the mirror clearly demonstrate the reason why Rivers Inlet sockeye have gone the way of the North Atlantic Cod?

Or why so many other BC sockeye and other salmon populations are on a similar path, or already well down that path…?

(Pretty much the only reason the Skeena River has sockeye anymore is because of massive enhancement and human-made spawning channels in the Babine system — which accounts for approximately 90% of the total Skeena return)

Is there an example of any wild animal population anywhere that is subject to industrial economic models over the last 100 years that has survived to tell a tell of plenitude and plenty and true long-term sustainability?

If we know that the decaying carcasses of spawned out adult salmon are key food for future generations of salmon; are key ingredients for the health of the surrounding environment (e.g. forest); and are key to the health of us-humans — then why do we continue to follow the route that we do?

Rivers Inlet canned salmon

All the fish in these cans means that consumption of nutrients is largely limited to humans in places a long ways away from the salmon’s natal stream… and what percentage of the sockeye runs to Rivers Inlet are represented in these cans — 80%, 90%, 98.5%…?

This means less nutrients for everything around and in the stream… which in turn means a dwindling cycle…

Why are we so damn blind to the impacts of the last 125 years (approx. 30 salmon life cycles)?

Doesn’t really matter where you look, the population trends of wild fish and humans over the last 150 years or so… tend to be on disparate angles.

humans and fish

I’m just not so sure the mystery is all that great…

Yet we continue to spend small fortunes on “research agendas” and “action plans” and “inquiries” to prove something we probably already know… e.g., we took far too many fish in the heyday, and now we’re paying the price.

The cod story is not a mystery… so why is the sockeye story expected to be much different?

And now the question is how many ‘interventions’ are we going to continue to muddle with? (stay tuned for next post)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Update from April 14th.

Related… came across this in one of Raincoast’s reports:

Salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest

page 15

what mystery?

So we’ve only known this for how long?

the Great Cycles

Salmon are a cycle.

They come and go like seasons;

like tides;

like the weather.

Or… as is happening in the north right now — like birds.

The other day I saw the first few robins starting to brave the several feet of snow still in our yard in BC’s central interior. I also saw the first hawk of the year a few days ago.

Yesterday afternoon, in a stop at the grocery story my daughter spotted something like this, way above us:

the cycles of spring

Canada Geese on their way north.

And so what else comes with spring?

salmonberry bush in the spring

Well… on the coast, salmonberry bushes will start to blossom.

Some folks suggest the bush got its name because First Nations folks ate salmon with the berries… others suggest its because the berries look like small clusters of eggs.

salmonberry

Growing up on Haida Gwaii, I had it suggested to me that the link was that when the berries started to ripen it meant it was time to go fishing for sockeye…

(I also learned — the hard way (on several occasions) — that gorging on salmonberries can lead to some gastric distress… kind of like some of the debates surrounding salmon…)

_ _ _ _ _ _

And then last week the media jumped on the story about scientists “proving” the deep-reaching links of the salmon cycle… This story out of the Ottawa Citizen, of all places:

Fish nutrients fertilize soil

Salmon may live in the water, but a new study shows they help shape the forest.

A study of 50 watersheds in the Great Bear Rainforest on British Columbia’s central coast says bears, fish-catching wolves and other predators haul huge amounts of salmon into the forest that provide a potent “nutrient subsidy” that drives plant growth in the surrounding forest.

Nitrogen released by the fish favours some plants – such as the aptly named salmonberry -while pushing out other species, researchers from Simon Fraser University published in the journal Science’s Friday edition.

“Salmon are important to us not just because of their value in fisheries and for food, but they also can be having quite significant impacts on our surroundings,” says biologist John Reynolds, co-author of the four-year study.

Salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest are so plentiful that the region’s wolves have specialized to catch the fish live as they swim through shallow waters on their way to spawning streams, says Reynolds.

The wolves, like the bears, leave a lot of the fish behind.

“The wolves typically eat only the head or the brain,” he says.

Working with the Heiltsuk First Nation the researchers counted how many salmon migrated up different streams -and found “thousands” of fish spawning in some of the coastal streams, many which had not been surveyed before, says Reynolds.

Bears, wolves and other predators “can transfer more than 50 per cent of the salmon to the forest,” they report. The rest of the fish, which die after spawning, either rot along the stream banks or are washed downstream.

To assess the impact, they looked at stream chemistry and what grew in surrounding forests.

“We looked at all plants that we encountered, from lichens to shrubs,” says Reynolds.

They found species, such as salmonberry and stink currant, thriving along streams with plenty of salmon. Plants such as blueberry and false azalea prefer nutrient poor soils and were less common.

_ _ _ _ _ _

As I pointed out in a post last week… it’s great to see some of these sorts of things hitting the mainstream media. However, it should be remembered that this sort of thing has been ‘known’ for a long, long, long time throughout the range of Pacific salmon… Not “hidden” as the article suggests… (maybe hidden to those that understand natural cycles… or those that isolate things into little categories… kind of like government departments that separate “managing” bears from “managing” salmon…)

State of the Salmon: Salmon Atlas -- Original Pacific salmon distribution

.

As a more recent example, in their 1999 paper: Pacific salmon carcasses: Essential Contributions of Nutrients and Energy for Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecosystems. Jeff Cederholm and colleagues state:

Pacific salmon also have been considered important vectors for returning significant amounts of nutrients from the northern Pacific Ocean back to land, representing a unique way to move nutrients upstream. This subject has attracted attention from scientists and economists throughout the Pacific Rim.

Consider Japan’s Edo era (1603-1867), when people believed that a streamside forest could provide fish with numerous benefits such as cover, nutrients, and food. This belief remained in the minds of people living near waterfronts or forests after the Meiji Restoration (1868).

When the first forest act of Japan was introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century, it contained an article ordering conservation of uo-tsuki-rin, literally “fish attracting forest.” Using anecdotal information, Sibatani (1996) suggested that uo-tsuki-rin may operate in the opposite direction: “The land near rivers is well fertilized by the ocean nutrients brought by ascending (spawning) salmon, which causes the forests to thrive.

_ _ _ _ _ _

So let’s think about this for a few seconds…

the great salmon cycle

We have this great cycle that has gone on for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

Salmon spawn then die, babies are born in the spring, head to the ocean, cycle through the North Pacific, head home, spawn, die.

The death feeds everything around — including the babies, and the cycle begins again.

And so on, and so on, and so on….

But then in the late 1800s, a new factor enters the equation… a cycle of another kind: an economic cycle with largely one sole purpose. Profit.

And so the equation is something akin to this:

Salmon equation through late 1800s and entire 1900s

.

So in sticking with the analogies from the beginning… (and this isn’t very “scientific”)…

What would happen in the north if we removed 75% of the seasons?

 

Seasons captured?

Would we expect the “Fall” to keep producing the same amount of things we have come to expect? 

_ _ _ _ _

What about the geese?

captured geese?

If we captured 80 – 100% would we expect the few remaining to keep producing the same numbers?

(granted some folks aren’t big fans of geese and suggest they are killing salmon…)

_ _ _ _ _

.

.

.

So this is the part that gets me…

There’s some apparent great “mystery” out there on why salmon populations are crashing…

There’s even a $15 – $20 million judicial inquiry going on right now over one year (2009) of crashed sockeye populations in the Fraser River: the Cohen Commission.

Within the Commission is a whole ream of scientists scrambling to find the ‘smoking gun’… (made all the more bizarre with the monster return of Fraser sockeye last year — 2010).

_ _ _ _ _ _

If we know it’s a cycle and over the last 125 years or so we’ve done our best to obliterate the cycle — not just through overfishing — then why are fish populations, with industrial fisheries focused upon them, so “mysterious” when they collapse?

What happens if I take 75% of the gas out of your car?

What happens if take 75% of the money out of your bank account?

What happens if I cut the value of interest collected on your investments by 75%?

Or, for that fact, cut your investments by 75%? (as experienced by a few folks in the last few years).

What if we interrupted the water cycle — and harvested 75% of the rain fall in the Okanagan over the next 50 years?

A cycle is a cycle is a cycle.

If we humans decide to interrupt naturally occurring cycles by “harvesting” or “consuming” for ourselves– we’re going to have an impact.

No one puzzled all that greatly on what happened to Cod… no on puzzled all that greatly on what happened to the variety of over-harvested whales… no one is puzzling all that greatly on what’s happening to the world’s tuna populations… or even BC’s Coho populations for that fact.

And the starving grizzly bear’s of Rivers Inlet on BC’s coast?

Well… if you went to a restaurant and they only served you 25% of what you ordered — what would be the impact? (And then you had to fight all the other restaurant goers for your share of what used to be enough)

What if every time you go to the grocery store and you were only able to buy 25% of what you normally do?

I think you probably get my point…. still a mystery?

 

DFO stifling research… ‘deja vu all over again’?

Politicians and bureaucrats and bureaucracy stifling scientists…

…say it ain’t so…

DFO-related politicians and DFO bureaucrats and DFO bureaucracy stifling scientists…

…stop the shock…

Is anyone really all that surprised?

Mr. Hume in Globe and Mail again:

DFO’s stifling of research a case of déjà vu

When a federal commission investigating the collapse of Fraser River sockeye stocks heard recently that a Fisheries and Oceans scientist who has done groundbreaking research was being silenced, it gave Jeffrey Hutchings a bad case of déjà vu.

“Your recent articles on DFO’s muzzling of Dr. Kristi Miller remind me of similar attempts by DFO to stifle the imparting of science from government scientists to other scientists and to the Canadian public,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Prof. Hutchings, a widely respected fisheries scientist, holds the Canada Research Chair in Marine Conservation & Biodiversity at Dalhousie University, in Halifax. In 1997, he, Carl Walters from the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia and Richard Haedrich, Department of Biology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, set off a media firestorm with a paper that ripped DFO for suppressing controversial science.

Writing in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, they outlined two cases – the collapse of Atlantic cod stocks and the diversion of the Nechako River, in B.C. – in which they maintained research was stifled because it didn’t conform to political agendas.

They argued that, on the East Coast, DFO silenced scientists who warned Atlantic cod stocks had been devastated not by seal predation, but from overfishing. And, in the West, they stated that DFO rejected research that showed an Alcan plan to divert the Nechako River would damage Chinook stocks.

In both cases, they wrote, hard-working scientists had their findings suppressed by DFO managers who didn’t want to see research that clashed with political goals.

“We contend that political and bureaucratic interference in government fisheries science compromises the DFO’s efforts to sustain fish stocks,” Mr. Hutchings and his colleagues wrote.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Sadly, just like politics and business don’t mix so well… neither do science and politics; especially science that paints a picture of decisions needing to be made that aren’t popular with various industries (which, not coincidentally, often have high powered lobbies and political contribution campaigns — or simply have been granted access to something that they begin to figure is a ‘right’… not a privilege).

Hard decisions are called that for a reason… they’re “hard”.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) muzzling scientists?

So the previous post here: marketing is everything; everything is marketing… (even at DFO) quoted a Mark Hume Globe and Mail article and his coverage of the Cohen Commission into declines of Fraser sockeye. At the Commission recently was Dr. Laura Richards, Pacific Regional Director of Science for DFO.

“Do you think it’s a role of DFO scientists to develop speeches for parliamentarians?” asked Bruce Wallace, senior commission counsel.

The role of science is really to provide factual information, and that’s what we do,” replied Dr. Richards.

_ _ _ _ _ _

I’m a fan of the power of contradictions; they are often a source of power… of tension between opposing views… however, maybe not so much in testimony in a quasi-legal process.

Mark Hume writing in yesterday’s Globe:

Researcher suggests ‘salmon leukemia’ is to blame for decline of Fraser sockeye

Of all the theories heard so far by the Cohen Commission, the most intriguing involves new research by a molecular scientist who is pointing to the possibility of an epidemic of salmon leukemia.

Kristi Miller hasn’t been called to testify on her research yet, but her work is already causing a buzz at the inquiry, in part because it seems an effort has been made to keep it under wraps.

Dr. Miller has not been available for media interviews, even though she recently published a paper in the prestigious journal Science. Usually, Fisheries and Oceans Canada promotes interviews when one of their researchers gains an international profile for groundbreaking work. But when Dr. Miller’s paper came out earlier this year, all requests for interviews were denied.

When Laura Richards, Pacific regional director of science for DFO, testified last week, he asked her about a series of e-mails that suggested Dr. Miller was being muzzled.

In a Nov. 2009 e-mail to Mark Saunders, manager of salmon and freshwater ecosystems division, Dr. Miller said she was being kept away from a science forum.

“Laura [Richards] does not want me to attend any of the sockeye salmon workshops that are not run by DFO for fear that we will not be able to control the way the disease issue could be construed in the press. I worry that this approach of saying nothing will backfire,” she wrote. “Laura also clearly does not want to indicate … that the disease research is of strategic importance.”

Dr. Richards testified that Dr. Miller had somehow misinterpreted things, and that there was no intent to silence her.

Dr. Miller won’t testify for months yet and she remains banned from giving any media interviews. But her research, which could explain why up to three million salmon a year are dying in the Fraser, is already reverberating at the Cohen Commission.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Research is suggesting that this ‘salmon leukemia’ virus is killing up to 70% of Fraser sockeye in some years. And this isn’t just any old research, it has been published in the prestigious journal Science.

The response from DFO to one of their scientists being published?

“…she remains banned from giving any media interviews.”

But don’t forget:

“The role of science is really to provide factual information, and that’s what we do,” says Dr. Richards – the Pacific Regional Director of Science for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

… except, it appears, when it really should be widely communicated and distributed.

_ _ _ _ _ _

If you’d like to read other accounts of Dr. Richards enlightening testimony visit the Cohen Inquiry Notes blog by Elena Edwards who writes frequently about testimony at the Commission:

 

Inquiry into the Art of Avoidance

In a stunning display of ‘uh’s and um’s’ Dr. Richards responses to the line of questioning by Gregory McDade for the Aquaculture Coalition was nothing short of disappointing with many heads shaking in disbelief.

An example of the mind boggling testimony ;

McDade; “[At] the conference that saw Dr. Miller present her hypothesis that the disease agent is intercellular, possibly a virus? Do you remember that?”

Richards; “Uh, there was certainly a presentation that she made at that meeting and I, uh, I can’t recall specifically exactly what she said, but I have to assume that the abstract is an accurate representation.”

McDade points out, “Well, you in fact attended that meeting as co chair of the committee on scientific co operation…”

“That’s correct.”

“…and ultimately prepared a summary of these proceedings.”

Richards; “Uh, yes. That’s correct. Well, a very short summary that was sort of based on this.”

McDade; “Dr. Hinch sent you a copy of the very document we’re looking at.”

Richards; “Well I didn’t review the…, I can’t say that I honestly read every single line in this document but I did skim it, yes.”

_ _ _ _ _

McDade asks the impossible question; “Do you not know what vertical transmission even means?”

Dr. Richards; “Uh, I’m not uh…I have a general sense of that but I’m not going to give you a specific definition. I think that really needs to be done with the experts.”

McDade; “Well, Dr Richards, I’m not looking for a highly technical definition here, I’m looking for your understanding about this.”

Silence settles over the room as everyone waits with baited breath for the intelligent response they all know is coming. And come it does as Dr. Richards replies;

Well we are talking, uh…I, I… look, I’m just, uh, I’m just, um … sorry, I’m sorry, I just, my brain has gone fuzzy on that particular point right now so I would rather not give you an answer that’s wrong.”

McDade, seeking clarity, asks; “Doesn’t it simply mean that you can transmit from the parents stock through the eggs to the next generation?”

Dr. Richards; “Uh, it, I think that’s what it is, but I would like to… as I said , this is not my area and I just want to be very careful  of to not give incorrect  evidence.”

Now imagine an entire day of such non answers to a very serious matter indeed, and perhaps we can begin to understand that if this is the type of management offered by DFO, we should be most concerned for the future of the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon!