Tag Archives: salmon stories

Once upon a salmon… in Oregon… (what we knew then…)

The other day I had a post: Once upon a salmon… in Oregon.


In that post, I highlighted some information from a 1950s report: Some Factors Influencing the Trends of Salmon Populations in Oregon.

The report focuses on coho runs in certain Oregon streams:

Oregon streams








The trend of salmon populations and specifically of salmon catches within commercial fisheries was rather familiar… dwindling fast.

The report looked at commercial fisheries catches in Oregon from the mid-1920s on to the late 1940s.

It was clear in the report that fisheries were having an impact… (seems like a bit of a no-brainer…).

The report also looked at: Other Potential causes such as:

Pollution?, Hatcheries?, Logging?, Waterflow?

Remember this report is from 1950.

Factors dismissed: Pollution and Hatcheries (most were still quite small at this point).

Factors implicated:

Negative factors

_ _ _ _ _ _

The report paints a pretty clear picture of the impacts of overfishing and logging — and in turn the impact of logging on waterflows.

Logging impacts... "disturbance of ecological balance"

“… resultant erratic flow patterns, silting, increased water temperatures, and general disturbance of the ecological balance…”

Remember this was 1950…

For those in BC who know some of the fisheries history — this was well before the Fish Forest Interaction Program (FFIP) of the 1980s… this was well before studies began in earnest in Carnation Creek on west coast Vancouver Island… that was well before the BC Forest Practices Code arrived in the 1990s. This was before Greenpeace was even ‘Green’ and the “peace” movement was not yet active.

This was when David Suzuki was probably still in grade school… and David Bower hadn’t yet started his rage against dams and facilitating growth of the Sierra Club in the U.S.

John Muir was probably about the only prevalent “conservationist” “tree-hugger”… and he’d been dead awhile…

Here is chart comparing the trends in salmon catch  to the production of lumber board feet in Coos Bay, Oregon through the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

lumber production to salmon populations

I’m sure someone will want to argue that this is coincidence and that correlation is not causation and so on…

And well… folks did argue against this report. There is transcribed conversation at the end of the report, that really is quite revealing.


I guess Mr. A.C. Taft from California didn’t understand that part about: “… resultant erratic flow patterns, silting, increased water temperatures, and general disturbance of the ecological balance…”

Logging companies

So Mr. Riddell is fronting the age-old argument… “you can’t really tell us here that overfishing could in fact be an impact…? there must be other factors…”

Then Mr. Glover from California… “do you think changing logging practices would make a difference…?”

Ummm, gee, there’s that curious part about: “… resultant erratic flow patterns, silting, increased water temperatures, and general disturbance of the ecological balance…” again…

Hard bit of info to pick up…

Then there’s the question by Mr. H. D. Fry, Jr. “hey… could you explain that point to me again about how intensive clearcut logging and increased water flows are related…?”


Same answer many folks have provided for generations…

Trees are giant sponges. An average tree, especially an old-growth Douglas Fir absorbs and retains an incredible amount of water that falls from the sky. That water is then retained from suffering the full effects of gravity and raging down hillsides through the point of lowest resistance — stream channels. More water running down hillsides means erosion, mudslides, raging debris torrents, etc.

Trees hold hillsides up and stream channels up.

Take the trees off hillsides and very little is holding all that soil on that hillside. Add in 5-9 metres of rainfall, snow, melting snow, and the worse rain-on-snow events, and what happens?


just "natural"


west coast of Vancouver Island near Brooks Peninsula

more Seattle Times photos -- 2009 (...salmon stream...?)

I think the point is clear…

The main point of all this is that for well over 60 years we have known what impacts salmon populations.

In Oregon, folks knew in the 1950s that overfishing and logging were decimating salmon populations and in turn decimating salmon fisheries and in turn decimating coastal communities.

Unfortunately, overfishing and overlogging carried on in the Coos Bay area for quite some time after this rather clearly worded report.

Have you been to Coos Bay, Oregon lately?

It’s a nice area, however last time I was through the downtown was gutted with more “for lease” signs then business signs.

The population peaked around 15,000 people in the 1970s and hasn’t changed much since.

Is the story of Coos Bay and salmon and logging — all that different then say any Eureka, California or Port Angeles, Washington or Port Alberni, BC or Port Hardy, BC or Port Clements, BC… or Port Edward, BC… or… or… or….

And yet it doesn’t seem to matter what local knowledge says in these communities. Folks have been sitting there ringing alarm bells saying: “this is not sustainable, this pace cannot be maintained, our communities won’t survive this…”

“This is boom-and-bust…”

“We are upsetting the ecological balance…”

And the response is: “sit down and shut-up you darn tree hugger…”

“don’t rock the boat…”

“if we stop now we will impact the economy…”

and so on, and so on, and so on…

_ _ _ _ _ _

Well… where’s that booming fishing industry now…? Where’s that booming logging economy?

Where are those things that apparently “built BC…”?

And… where the heck are the salmon?

_ _ _ _ _ _

The response… (and no offence to the hard workers involved)… in British Columbia… is another multi-million dollar public inquiry involving lawyers, scientists, and know-it-alls sitting there asking the same questions… looking for the same magic bullet that is not us… some magical coincidence of ocean conditions or climate impact…

And on the other side of the equation, a slew of panels of experts, saying the same thing… “we just can’t say for sure”… “we just don’t know”… “it’s just all so uncertain”…

And the same people and institutions that were on deck to watch the sinking of the wild salmon ship… testify, trying to prove that they didn’t know what ‘sinking’ looked like… or that they believed ramming harder into the iceberg was going to right the ship… not sink it…

No one will admit that they didn’t know how to bail… or simply didn’t want to…

And anyone that suggests: “well, look at this… we harvested the crap out of them [salmon] for close to a hundred years with no respect for small or weak stocks or other species (e.g. mixed stock fisheries)… we nuked the crap out of their freshwater habitat… we are still dumping sewage and all manner of synthetic drugs and compounds into the key areas where they make their adjustments to saltwater as juveniles and freshwater as adults…

…and we’ve systematically changed the climate within a generation, which changes water flows, speeds up glacial melt, and assists in devastating habitat impacts through beetle infestations and otherwise…

and anytime any population demonstrates any sort of population blip to the positive we insist on returning to the old habit of harvesting the shit out them…

Would we treat our households this way?

Would we treat our household finances this way? (oh wait, some do… but then there’s this thing called bankruptcy…)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

And worse yet, the institutions mandated to ensure the future of species like salmon and all of the individual runs — is basing decisions on decades old information.

For example, the numbers that guide how many Chinook should be reaching the spawning grounds in the Fraser River is based on numbers devised in the 1980s. Things have changed a little since then… there may be a few more challenges for those fish to face, so should we maybe not be getting more fish onto the spawning grounds…?

If I planned to run my household on a 1980s reality… would that make sense?

If Jack Layton of the New Democrat Party (NDP)  in the current Canadian federal election ran on the same platform of as NDP leader Ed Broadbent of the 1980s — would something not seem a little off… or fishy?

_ _ _ _ _ _

Fundamental changes are required in our relationship with wild salmon…

And not one based on: how many can we catch?

The story that starts: Once upon a salmon

…finishes with the predictable ending of a fairy tale… its just that this one isn’t a positive fairy tale ending… and it’s not a very good fish-story… more of a grim Grimm’s tale…

It generally ends in:

when I was a kid I can remember walking across that river on the backs of salmon… there were soooo many fish, the river was alive with the sound of slapping tails and slithery, fishy movement…

And now, we’re lucky to see a pair of spawners

What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?

If you live in British Columbia, you’ve probably seen the somewhat annoying commercial of a former CBC radio personality singing the praises of the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). This is largely an example of evidence-based marketing with testimonials from the tribe.

It’s not all that far off from well-known athletes selling the praises of some sugary sport drink, or milk, or underwear. Somewhere in the brain folks think — “hey, if it’s good for them, just imagine what it’ll do for me…”

To a certain degree, the ongoing (apparent) bcsalmonfacts salmon farming campaign has also engaged some of these tactics on their website… Testimonials from various dr.’s, community folks and the like… ‘evidence-based marketing’… look how great our industry is.

I’ve also noticed recently that the Federal government has begun a new round of “look how great our economic action plan is”. Staged actors looking happy and smiley as government bailouts fattens wallets of party supporters and friends.

Cynicism aside… it is curious to see governments launching into apparent ‘evidence-based marketing’ and ‘testimonials’ from the average jill and joe.

Seth Godin has a pretty good related post over at his site:

The limits of evidence-based marketing

That’s what most of us do. We present facts and proof and expect a rational consumer/voter/follower/peer to make an intelligent decision on what’s better.

That’s how science works. Thesis, test, evidence, conclusion. All testable and rational.

Here’s the conversation that needs to happen before we invest a lot of time in evidence-based marketing in the face of skepticism: “What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind?”

If the honest answer is, “well, actually, there’s nothing you could show me that would change my mind,” you’ve just saved everyone a lot of time. Please don’t bother having endless fact-based discussions.

[Apple tried to use evidence to persuade IT execs and big companies to adopt the Mac during the 80s. They tried ads and studies that proved the Mac was easier and cheaper to support. They failed. It was only the gentle persistence of storytelling and the elevation of evangelists that turned the tide.]

What would you have to show someone who believes men never walked on the moon? What evidence would you have to proffer in order to change the mind of someone who is certain the Earth is only 5,000 years old? If they’re being truthful with you, there’s nothing they haven’t been exposed to that would do the trick. I was talking to someone who has a body of artistic work I respect a great deal. He explained to me his notion that the polio vaccine was a net negative, that it didn’t really work and that more people have been hurt by it than helped.

I tried evidence. I showed him detailed reports from the Gates Foundation and from the WHO and from other sources. No, he said, that’s all faked, promoted by the pharma business. There was no evidence that would change his mind.

Of course, evidence isn’t the only marketing tactic that is effective. In fact, it’s often not the best tactic. What would change his mind, what would change the mind of many people resistant to evidence is a series of eager testimonials from other tribe members who have changed their minds.

When people who are respected in a social or professional circle clearly and loudly proclaim that they’ve changed their minds, a ripple effect starts. First, peer pressure tries to repress these flip-flopping outliers. But if they persist in their new mindset, over time others may come along. Soon, the majority flips. It’s not easy or fast, but it happens.

That’s why it’s hard to find people who believe the earth is flat. That’s why political parties change their stripes now and then. It wasn’t that the majority reviewed the facts and made a shift. It’s because people they respected sold them on a new faith, a new opinion.

_ _ _ _ _ _

What evidence would you need to see in order to change your mind about the Department of Fisheries & Oceans?

What evidence would you need to see in order to believe that DFO is meeting its #1 objective: “conservation”?

Would this government department have a hell of a time trying to find some ‘tribe’ members to do positive testimonials? (other than its own staff)

Seems DFO is under attack from many fronts… yet, again (or as always)… largely due to dwindling fish stocks, and our continued fishing down the food chain, and fishing down the size restrictions of various types of fish.

is this the nature of government departments? Or, does this mean it’s time for a fundamental restructuring?

Could somebody show me the testimonials? the evidence-based marketing? the every-supportive ‘tribe’?

Maybe read that part about Mac again:

Apple tried to use evidence to persuade IT execs and big companies to adopt the Mac during the 80s. They tried ads and studies that proved the Mac was easier and cheaper to support. They failed. It was only the gentle persistence of storytelling and the elevation of evangelists that turned the tide.

Starving eagles, starving streams, hurting communities… disappearing salmon

Seems like almost every group involved in salmon — in some form or another — is not happy with how the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is operating. There is a significant pissing match going on surrounding halibut allocations these days with many folks calling foul.

And there is the building pressure for another season of salmon returns to BC streams — and the pre-season forecasts don’t paint a pretty picture.

Is this not a classic scenario — dwindling resource; bickering user groups?

The bottom line is that — even with the big return of sockeye last year — wild salmon have disappeared coastwide in BC. The Cohen Commission is solely focused on sockeye in the Fraser.

But what about the utter collapse of the sockeye in Rivers Inlet, or the collapse of sockeye in Vancouver Island streams, or the fact that 90% of the sockeye in the Skeena River come from “enhanced” stocks?

Mark Hume writing in the Globe and Mail the other day:

Salmon-catch system ‘broken,’ commercial fisherman say

A panel of veteran commercial fishermen, some from families that trace their fishing heritage back to 1918, has urged a federal judicial inquiry to change the way salmon catches are allocated on the West Coast.

“The system is broken,” Ryan McEachern, a fourth-generation fisherman, told the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River.

Mr. McEachern, treasurer of the Area D Salmon Gillnetters Association, said the system for allocating the salmon catch was designed when fishermen could go anywhere they wanted off British Columbia’s coast.

But starting in the early 1990s, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans switched from a coast-wide to an area licensing system, restricting boats to designated areas, regardless of how strong the runs are in that area. The result, Mr. McEachern said, is that a fair distribution of the catch across the entire fleet is almost impossible because, from season to season, some boats are restricted to areas with few fish, while others are in areas where fish are plentiful.

“You cannot make what you’ve got work,” agreed Peter Sakich, president of the Gulf Trollers Association, whose family has been fishing for salmon in B.C. for more than 90 years.

Dennis Brown, a former organizer for the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union, said another problem is that the allocation process has become “politicized.”

He said the salmon catch is being allocated more to achieve policy goals, handed down from Ottawa, than by a desire to properly manage the resource.

Mr. Brown argued that DFO is allocating fish away from commercial fishermen, in order to redistribute the catch to First Nations, so as to promote its aboriginal fishing strategy.

The aboriginal fishing strategy has encouraged the development of a controversial, commercial, native-only fishery on the Fraser.

Mr. Brown said DFO is also allocating fish away from the commercial fleet because of a poorly thought out weak stock policy, which has been blamed in recent years for closing the sockeye fishery on the Fraser, when big runs of fish were coming in.

In order to protect weak stocks, which often intermingle with much larger runs of salmon, DFO shuts the fishery down when the weak runs enter the river.

But Mr. Brown said DFO has been overzealous in pursuing that goal, and over the past several years millions of sockeye that could have been harvested have been allowed to swim upstream, in order to protect a few weak runs.

“There is no fair allocation now … because of a whole number of political policies that have been introduced since the 90s,” he said.

“In recent years, allocation of the resource … has become almost dysfunctional,” Mr. Brown said. “There are all kinds of nice sounding formulas [for allocating the catch]. . .but the end result . . . is an absolute catastrophe.”

In allocating the catch, DFO first estimates the number of salmon returning to key rivers, such as the Fraser, then calculates how many need to be allowed upstream to spawn, in order to hit conservation targets. The remaining number of fish constitutes the total allowable catch, which is then divided among First Nations, commercial fishermen and sports anglers. Every year each group asks for a larger share, while conservationists argue that more fish should be allowed upstream to spawn.

The commission, which is under the direction of B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in late 2009 after the sockeye run in the Fraser River collapsed.

Hearings are currently under way in Vancouver. A final report is due by June 30, 2012.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

There is some irony in Mr. McEachern’s comments surrounding the move from coast-wide licensing to area-licensing — As the sport fishery in BC has coast-wide freedom, and some sport fishing lodge operators take full advantage of this by having fully-mobile lodges (e.g. large boats that act as mother ships essentially).

On another note… there appears to be a common misunderstanding suggested in Mr. Hume’s writing (or maybe it’s just semantics?):

In allocating the catch, DFO first estimates the number of salmon returning to key rivers, such as the Fraser, then calculates how many need to be allowed upstream to spawn, in order to hit conservation targets. The remaining number of fish constitutes the total allowable catch, which is then divided among First Nations, commercial fishermen and sports anglers. Every year each group asks for a larger share, while conservationists argue that more fish should be allowed upstream to spawn.

The problem with “dividing” the ‘total available catch’ (which is determined through a process of voodoo science — the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative for sockeye) — is that this seems to miss the point of Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution and court cases such as the Sparrow decision.

The way the systems is supposed to operate is that DFO must ensure that:

  • Conservation is met first;
  • First Nations food, social and ceremonial (FSC) needs are met second; and then, and not until then,
  • allocate catch to commercial and sport fisheries.

So of course every year, every group is going to ask for a larger share (of a dwindling resource) — however, it seems that the point that is missed here is that First Nation communities are the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population, by far. The ‘formulas’ originally used to allocate FSC catch are significantly outdated; they have not been changed to reflect a growing First Nation population in the Fraser watershed and other areas.

And now… with absolute wild salmon declines across the Province, who is ensuring that the Conservation needs are met — The Conservatives? (hmmm).

_ _ _ _ _

Mr Brown asks:

“In recent years, allocation of the resource … has become almost dysfunctional,”… “There are all kinds of nice sounding formulas [for allocating the catch]. . .but the end result . . . is an absolute catastrophe.”

Exactly right — it is an absolute catastrophe. I would suggest it has not become “almost dysfunctional”… it is dysfunctional.


Because we’re playing catch-up.

For 50 years we harvested between 70-80% of the Fraser sockeye run — and probably even more than that in the 50 years before that.

And now we wonder why the red line on the bottom graph (productivity) looks like the EKG line of a dying heart attack victim.

Some estimates suggest that pre-contact the Fraser sockeye run was probably well over 100 million and maybe even as high as 150 million.

Archaeological evidence suggests that many First Nation communities and individuals got over 90% of their protein intake from salmon.

Research in the 1930s found the same thing with grizzly bears over 1000 km up the Columbia River.

If you read Mr. Hume’s Globe article from yesterday on starving eagles (yesterday’s post on this site — read it below) or the CBC article on the same issue (Starving eagles swarm to dumps)– the impacts of broken fisheries policies for the last 100 years are showing themselves more and more.

Where has the breakdown been in allocating the resource?

To the place that needs it more than humans — the ecosystem.

The evidence has been their in plain sight for years — starving bears showing up in communities and at garbage dumps and thus shot, similarly with eagles, collapsing productivity in rivers all over the place as a key nutrient source (salmon carcasses) dwindle — and a key indicator in the human system: many folks bickering for more allocation (tragedy of the commons).

And yet… we actually do have policies in place that could potentially rebuild the resource, or at least stabilize the declines. It’s right there starting with “C” and and ending in “N”… it’s called “conservation”.

_ _ _ _ _

With absolute respect to the long time settler fishing families quoted in the article — they have vital knowledge that is important to this whole discussion. However, this same story has been repeated the world over… go ask the long-time settler fisher families in Newfoundland as they watched their livelihoods disappear. Or the Baltic Sea… Or, coastlines around the world that have seen inshore fisheries disappear…

This issue is certainly not unique to the BC coast — nor is it unique to the history of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Unfortunately, how we all collectively deal with it… is not that unique. It follows a common pattern… dwindling resource and bickering about shares.

How does the analogy go…? it’s like arguing over the best deck chair on the Titanic as it’s going under…

Is it possible to write a different story about BC’s wild salmon?

Salmon farmers hire PR firms: “It’s about time the real story was told,” says the industry..

Small little press release running in the media yesterday:

Sure, your cheque is in the mail. Really.

An Initiative of the BC Salmon Farmers Association Invites the Public to Get the Straight Facts on Salmon Farming at their New web site, www.BCSalmonFacts.ca

“If it wasn’t so sad, it would almost be funny,” says Mary Ellen Walling, Executive Director of the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association. “Many people are being fed a diet of misinformation and that’s exactly why our members have launched www.BCSalmonFacts.ca, a new web site where we will separate myths from fact and set the record straight.”

In addition to the new website, members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association are also launching a television and print media advertising campaign urging viewers and readers not to believe everything they hear about farmed salmon without first checking the facts.

“At BCSalmonFacts.ca people will be able to separate fact from fiction,” says Clare Backman, Director of Environmental Compliance and Community Relations at Marine Harvest Canada, a member of the BCSFA. “It’s about time the real story was told.”

There are video clips and forums on the site with links to articles of interest. On the forums people can post questions and get straight answers. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.

So I suppose Backman figures that the general public won’t catch the bias involved in this initiative? Or the peculiar coincidence that the salmon farmers are under considerable pressure in the current Cohen Commission?

I tend to get a little chuckle out when I hear some company or industry association carry on about how they’re going to: “set the record straight.”

It’s a downward spiral. You are basically saying, hey general public you’re stupid, you’ve been duped, you don’t know how to do your own research and come to your own beliefs. You need to be spoon fed our farmed spin to really understand the issues.

BCSalmonFacts.ca is an initiative of three major salmon farming companies and two feed suppliers: Marine Harvest Canada, Mainstream Canada, Grieg Seafood, EWOS and Skretting, all members of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.

This isn’t all that different then say… the non-stick cookware folks launching a campaign to explain how “healthy” using their products is…

Or, those toy manufacturers that use lead paint on their products launching a PR campaign.

It’s called: SPIN. How can we spin this issue so people get muddled up on the truth…

Other case in point: Prime Minister Harper and new Environment Minister Peter Kent setting out on a campaign to “clean-up” the image of the tar sands. (coincidence, I suppose that Mr. Kent is a former TV anchor and reporter…?)

Peter Kent’s green agenda: Clean up oil sands’ dirty reputation

The oil sands have a new defender: freshly minted Environment Minister Peter Kent, who calls Canada’s tarry resource an “ethical” source of energy that should take priority in the U.S over foreign producers with poor democratic track records.

OK, great.

Rather than concentrate on actual environmental consequences: water use, incredible amounts of natural gas being burnt, greenhouse gas release coming out the ying yang,  immense pipelines, and so on and so on…

Let’s concentrate on the “ethical” component, on the “perception” and “reputation” of the tar sands… instead of the actual frigging impacts.

That’s right the “ethics”.


_ _ _ _ _ _

The BCSFA is the voice of British Columbia’s environmentally sustainable farmed salmon industry.

Farmed salmon is the province’s largest agricultural export and is recognized around the world as a naturally healthy and environmentally responsible product.

Ok, this is spin at its finest. Any of you out there who teach media communications, or Public Relations (PR), or professional spin mongering… this is good.

“Naturally healthy”… yeah, like McDonald’s Big Mac made from naturally healthy beef.

“Environmentally responsible”… yeah, I’m sure that catching food/forage fish off the coast of South America, grinding it into fish meal and shipping it to the BC coast is about as “enviro responsible” as it comes.

_ _ _ _ _

I suppose the one positive about this slick PR initiative launched largely by publicly traded corporations — its that it mirrors the great old cigarette company campaigns. Rumour has it that the Salmon Farmers Association and its associated companies have hired PR firms that have actually launched some of those old campaigns.

They are pulling out all the stops on this one: a slick website, newspaper articles and social media. It’s almost out of a textbook.

Oh right, it is.

Companies take huge PR hit due to poor product, or industrial accident, or other negative company consequence (BP anyone? and I don’t mean Boston Pizza — listeria (hysteria) meat — Mad Cow — avian flu — etc. ) … what to do?

(p.s. did you see a pattern there… industrial feedlots, not good)

Launch counter-spin PR campaign, hire slick spokespeople and get the word out that your product is “fine”, “responsible” and “ethical”… and even “environmentally responsible”. (yeah, well shitting in the woods is also environmentally responsible… as long as you bury it… just becomes a problem when a couple million folks start shitting in the woods)

Why are those pesky, panicky, illogical naysayers attacking our products, shouting their ills, and simply putting good blue collar folks out of work?

It just doesn’t make sense folks… look how ethical we are, look how responsible we are, look we put $$ into this local kids park… our practices are responsible, why can’t you just understand this…

“oh I know,” says CEO, President, top cheese… “let’s launch a PR campaign to clean up our reputation… Somebody get on the blower and find me a PR expert.”

_ _ _ _ _

My analogy: why is it that the companies and it’s PR-spin Association have to undertake these spin campaigns?

Would it be all that different than most folks resumes? …because I’m sure that everyone’s resume is exactly true.

Customer service as a teenager becomes: “customer experience engineer.”

Mens wear associate becomes: “Product line supervisor.”

Cashier at a grocery store, becomes “Financial exchange controller.”

Is it lying? No, it’s SPIN.

If “it’s time the real story is told” or spun, you know, like a good yarn — then what about the peer-reviewed scientific articles worldwide, coming from areas where salmon are farmed, that suggest: if you’re going to farm salmon, don’t do in open-pen feedlots — Or, absolutely do not farm salmon in areas where wild salmon populations might interact. What are those stories? Fairy tales, Dr. Seuss rhymes…

When an industry goes into full spin mode; it generally means a downward spiral of despair and insecure feelings that they are seriously threatened (if not, then why launch?). Once you have to go public, selling how great you are — as a person, or as a company — you’re on a very slippery, well-waxed, downward slope that is subject to one of the other things that is certain on this planet like death and taxes… and that’s gravity.

You can try and fight it… like plastic surgery or ‘augmentation’ for example… but it’s inevitable.

“B.C.’s salmon wars about ownership, not race”

Globe and Mail image

A decent article from the Globe and Mail today:

B.C.’s salmon wars about ownership, not race


Setting this story against the recent history of salmon declines (except for the unexplained cornucopia of 2010 along the Fraser) may illustrate what happens when over-generous licensing and ever-better fish predation technologies collide with climate change.

Whatever the source, we have a lot of unhappy people chasing generally fewer salmon each year. Even trickier, the largest and most aggrieved group, the non-native commercial fishers, adds the least value to the provincial economy per fish.

A fine salmon sliced, steamed and canned is worth a few dollars a pound at most. When caught by a sports angler, it may cost several hundred dollars a pound. Economic rationality would suggest that, beyond the needs of conservation and the constitutionally guaranteed Indian fishery, the entire commercial fishery should give way to serving those vast hordes of fellows who spend like sheikhs on boats, guides, lures, gear, accommodations, and even, it has been hinted, potable fluids – to the considerable enrichment of all in the province. An equitable buy-out could increase jobs and income for all.

_ _ _ _ _

Certainly a curious conclusion — over and above the constitutionally guaranteed First Nation fishery, make everything else a sport fishery.

I’m not so sure that making everything a sport fishery would “increase jobs and income for all” — however it would certainly be a different picture. And… it may not be that far off. Some sport fishing outfits have been looking to buy commercial-type quotas so that they have more fish to catch with their clients.

Unfortunately, one of the issues with some of the sport fishing industry is places like Haida Gwaii where much of the industry is controlled by companies located a longgg ways from the islands. Many of the sport fishing clients never even see a local community or local person, as they’re flown straight to their west coast lodge or mothership.

Very little local benefit, and in some cases very little B.C. benefit.

Yet, salmon sport fisheries — no question — add much more value to fish caught then the commercial salmon fishery. In some ways the commercial salmon fishery seems a relic from the Industrial Age — as are the institutional arrangements that ‘manage’ it, and folks that continue to lobby government hard for its continued existence.

A similar story has been written in the B.C. logging industry. An industrial age relic had to undergo massive changes over the last two decades — add more value and be much more aware of ecological impacts. The age of turning 800 year old, 200 ft high old growth Sitka Spruce — into 2 x 4s which were then exported, has largely gone the way of the BC coast ship building industry.

Change is not such a bad thing — however, resistance to that change is inevitable.

“No shit Sherlock”

Salmon, Science, and Reciprocity on the NW Coast - Bruce Johnson



At the Cohen Commission, an “ambitious science research program” was undertaken in late August. Twelve research priorities were named:





Project 1 – Diseases and parasites

Project 2 – Effects of contaminants on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 3 – Fraser River freshwater ecology and status of sockeye salmon Conservation Units

Project 4 – Marine ecology

Project 5 – Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 6 – Data synthesis and cumulative impact analysis

Project 7 – Fraser River sockeye fisheries and fisheries management

Project 8 – Effects of predators on Fraser River sockeye salmon

Project 9 – Effects of climate change on Fraser River sockeye salmon: literature compilation and analysis

Project 10 – Fraser River sockeye salmon production dynamics

Project 11 – Fraser River sockeye salmon: status of DFO science and management

Project 12 – Sockeye habitat analysis in the Lower Fraser River and the Strait of Georgia

One could probably safely assume that these projects are underway. I’ve heard some rumblings here and there; however, there has been no announcement of whether this is the case or not — nor, who the researchers are that have been hired to undertake the work.

Might one further assume then, that some of the researchers hired were most likely some of the disbanded “pre-eminent Scientific Advisory Panel”?

The Panel was disbanded for whatever reasons (it was only formed in April) — there was no press release to explain why. However Dr. Carl Walters from UBC, one of the folks named to the  Scientific Advisory Panel, suggested on CBC Radio that the many criticisms and suggestions of conflict of interest were a big part of the disbanding. Many of the criticisms were well founded in that several of the Panel members had, or do, receive funding from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or had worked for the ministry in the past — the same government ministry that is being investigated by the Commission (or at least its policy, procedures, and practices).

Conflict of interest is one of those often slippery, but sometimes frippery, squishy, gray areas (…not to be confused with brain matter…). Yet, adding to the slippery – like a fresh caught sockeye – element of the potential for conflict of interest was the fact that some members of the Panel may be called as witnesses during the Commission. One resigned — Dr. Brian Riddell.

The world of salmon researchers and “scientists” in BC, and beyond — is relatively small. Finding folks that haven’t worked for, or conducted research for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans at some time is probably quite difficult. If one is not working for the main employer in this line of work, then they’re probably working somewhat in opposition to DFO, or at least regularly criticizing and critiquing — e.g. enviro group, First Nations, commercial fishing unions or outfits. With this, then comes criticisms of bias and agendas.

Oh… what happened to the ideal of objective science…??

No simple solutions…

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One gaping void within the Cohen Commission ambitious science research program — traditional, local, community knowledge in relation to looking after salmon.

For example, the picture at the beginning of this post is from a paper: Salmon, Science, and Reciprocity on the Northwest Coast from the journal Ecology and Society:

Severe depletion of many genetically distinct Pacific salmon populations has spawned a contentious debate over causation and the efficacy of proposed solutions. No doubt the precipitating factor was overharvesting of the commons beginning along the Northwest Coast around 1860. Yet, for millenia before that, a relatively dense population of Indian tribes managed salmon stocks that have since been characterized as “superabundant.”

This study investigates how they avoided a tragedy of the commons, where in recent history, commercial ocean fishers guided by scientifically informed regulators, have repeatedly failed. Unlike commercial fishers, the tribes enjoyed exclusive rights to terminal fisheries enforced through rigorous reciprocity relations. The available evidence is compelling that they actively husbanded their salmon stocks for sustained abundance.

Or, Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California from the University of California eScholarship.

Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California - Swezey and Heizer


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Over the last lit bit I’ve been taking a course out of general interest: Issues in Science and Society.

The most recent unit explored societal influences on science; things such as influences of religion, politics, gender, race, other scientists — and the ability of pseudoscience to throw a thick stick into the bike spokes.

One of the folks quoted in the section on racial bias was former scientist and author Stephen J. Gould. He suggested:

Scientists, are not objective and can never be, because they are human beings rooted in cultural traditions of shared belief.

I’d have to agree with that statement.

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And so why is there so little research and scholarship provided to looking at the systems of looking after salmon in the thousands of years prior to “fisheries science” arriving on the scene within the last eye blink of time (50-75 years)?

Why are there continued “Summits” and “scientific synthesis” and “salmon think tanks” and “pre-eminent scientific advisory panels” and “ambitious science research programs” that refuse to look further back then the last 50-100 years?

Could one not suggest a significant bias — maybe one related to color, or maybe gender, or maybe political — that continues to ignore systems of management that existed for a long, long, long time prior to Mr. Vancouver, or Mr. Juan de Fuca, or Mr. Valdez or other colonial sailor arrived on the west coast of N. America planting a flag in the name of some distant monarch, under the guise of European national pissing matches and territorial expansion and resource revenues?

Instead we get science research programs that continue to suggest that no one thing is responsible for salmon declines, and that no one “smoking gun” factor can simply be fixed and we’re all good… how does that old saying go…

…oh yeah right…

“no shit Sherlock”.

Some more good questions

Got a great comment and question on a recent August post: In-season Fraser sockeye forecasting… making it up as we go

I concluded that post by suggesting:

Spawner estimates is a wonderful example of more — exactly as it says — “estimates”. There’s mark-recapture, counting fences, stream walks, helicopter overflights, and other wonderful estimating tools.

As much as many folks suggest this whole salmon thing is a very precise practice… it is far from it.

It is simply fancy tools that “kick-out” fancy estimates.

There are lots of good folks working hard at these estimates — however they’re still fancy estimates with absolutely no method to truly “confirm” that the models, scale sampling, test fishing, and so on are “accurate”.

Then throw in terms like “ecosystem-based management” — ever present in the Wild Salmon Policy — and I tend to call ‘bullshit’.

We simply don’t know… we’re trying hard to estimate; but really… we’re making it up as we go along… and that’s OK; it’s the defensiveness and insistence by those involved that we do know what’s going on…

well… i think this year is a fine example that we definitely do not know.

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Bob recently responded with this comment on the post:

As someone who made run size estimates for years, got a better idea? Perhaps we should just leave them alone, in the river, and wait until they have all spawned. Then we can concentrate all the effort on a carcass census and get (a much better estimate of) the real number of fish in the run. Of course that would mean no fishing.

Then, after all is said and done, we still wouldn’t have much of an idea as to what resulted in those numbers; spawning escapement of the parents, juvenile river/lake survival, outmigrant survival, ocean survival, poor/good fishing conditions for returning adults, etc.

Right back were we started……
Any good ideas?

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Really appreciate the comment, and here’s my response (with a picture):

I don’t know if i have good ideas, I’ll leave that for others [as some have certainly taken issue with some of the comments and posts]; however, my point on a few posts has been that I see very little – if any – effort in research on traditional salmon-human relationships… I hesitate to call it enumeration.. or counting methods.

In my travels through salmon territory I’ve heard various stories and methods. Most of these combined selectivity and analysis of run-size and health. One of the most common was the use of fish weirs (this being limited to river sizes where this can work), as well as fish traps. There are some fantastic pictures of these in the BC Archives and sketches in Hilary Stewart’s book on salmon, as well as “Cedar”.

For example, in the Yukon near the town of the Dawson City is the “Klondike” River. It, as I have had it explained to me, was once one of the greatest producers of Chinook salmon on the entire 3000 km long Yukon River. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people for eons caught Chinook on the river. And as I understand it Tr’ondek is the proper pronunciation — “Klondike” is the anglicized version of the word. The meaning of Tr’ondëk in the Gwichin language of the area is something to the effect of “the sound of stakes being pounded into the river bed.”

Tr'ondek Hwech'in Cultural Centre

If you have, or do visit Dawson City, just downstream of the junction of the Klondike and Yukon is a cultural centre built in the 1990s. The centre was built in such a way as to represent a salmon trap or weir, with elements of fish drying racks. It’s a beautiful building.

The point of this — and I’ve heard this from many different First Nations folks — is that weirs and fish traps were a method of capturing salmon alive and being able to selectively harvest by species, size, and sex – as well as get a good idea of the size and health of runs. There were also the political aspects to these weirs, in that downstream folks could have a big impact on upstream folks by not allowing fish through.

In a sense… counting fences provide some of this same effect — however, there are the excuses of (wo)man-power to operate the fences.

Dip netting is also a non-lethal method of counting. And then there’s the work of LGL and their fish wheels. Much more use of fish wheels could allow non-lethal methods of enumeration — as well as harvest.

And then there’s just good old stream walks [have sure enjoyed my time in the past doing this].

My issues isn’t necessarily with some of the enumeration methods — just the lethal ones, like test fishing, it’s not required. My issue is with the way in which enumeration methods are held up as gospel, and their effect on harvest strategies, and the connection back to computer modeling and simulations. For example, this year, DFO set out to harvest only 25% of the Early Summer group of Fraser sockeye. This is in exception to their goals of 60% on other groups (Summer and Late Summer). The reason for the reduced harvest was to try and limit impacts on endangered stocks such as the Bowron and others in the upper Nechako that really are on a death spiral. There were many concerns brought forward during pre-season planning by upper Fraser First Nations. And some credit needs to be given to DFO on setting that goal with conservation concerns in mind.

Looking at in-season info it looks like the harvest rate on Early Summers will be about 23-25% or so… However, this won’t be known for sure until there is confirmation of in-river spawner counts which will be bounced back over test fishing, commercial catch, and the various computer models. All of those methods are generally regarded as akin to gospel. And thus, much frustration when in meetings with fisheries officials and they start tossing around these numbers as if we actually “know”.

We don’t… as is being made very clear by the fish this year.

If anything, I think – and hope – that most scientists looking at these issues are being greatly humbled by how much we don’t know (and some are, from what I hear and have heard). As the saying goes, the more we know, the more we learn we don’t know. I use the analogy of the old Greek (or Roman) monster Hydra — cut off one head and two pop up in it’s place… it’s the same with questions about salmon.

Lastly, one of the more common suggestions I’ve heard from many folks this year (First Nations and non)… leave the Fraser sockeye alone for a life cycle or two (4 to 8 years). Then there wouldn’t need to be all of this tension between folks looking to harvest them. As well as, there wouldn’t be all of this finger pointing and searching for one “smoking gun” (as referenced by folks at the Fraser Sockeye Forum in late March of this year). As well as pretty unproductive comments about black market sales, un-reported catches and so on.

[we’re already spending $12-$15 million on a public inquiry Cohen Commission (it’ll probably cost more), however much $$ on the Pacific Salmon Commission hosting forums to look into the Fraser sockeye issue, and the other 5 or so public inquiries over the last two decades — what did that cost?… why not re-direct those $$ to a bail-out of sorts… the commercial salmon fishery in BC last year was only $20 million landed value anyways. Not a popular prospect… but neither was losing the entire North Atlantic Cod fishery for coming on 2 decades now…what has that cost in Employment Insurance and re-training?]

just a few ideas… for what they are worth.

I appreciate the questions, comments and discussion — that was my whole purpose for setting up and maintaining this weblog… There has to be a different way; the history of methods we use in the present day; and this insistence by scientists that ‘answers’ lie in science — I find somewhat naive. There are hundreds of thousands of people throughout salmon country that have intimate knowledge… call it community knowledge, local knowledge, traditional knowledge, or maybe just… knowledge.Other ways of knowing.

I just don’t think the issue is going to be solved by intricate equations and computer models. That’s the same method that brought us financial derivatives, and we know where that got us… e.g. sub-prime mortgage.

The latest episode of “Lost” … lost sockeye that is…

In the spirit of ridiculous media articles (see posts from this weekend) and rants of pre-eminent scientists suggesting we should be hammering the crap out of the large and surprising Fraser sockeye run this year (e.g. harvest 80-90%)– I had to return to the drawing board.

This is the quote from Gary Mason’s Globe and Mail article that has me so inpsired:

B.C. fishermen probably should have harvested about 80 to 90 per cent of the current 30-million-plus salmon run. Yet, because of the DFO’s reluctance to open the fishery until it could verify the run size, 10 million fish are estimated to have been lost.

Rather then send out a search party to find the “lost” sockeye maybe this will assist.

First we need a map… here’s a sketch map of the Fraser watershed:

Fraser watershed sketch map

Hilighted in blue is the community of Williams Lake roughly the half-way point of the Fraser River between source and sea.

And just last week, 1 of Mason’s 10 million lost sockeye was sighted:

"Lost" sockeye finding its way


The whole suggestion is absurd — here’s the new view of “ecosystem-based management” purported by the “over-escapement” pundits…

by the way that's a racoon and a bird of prey...

Apologies… as mentioned in caption… that’s supposed to be a racoon, or martin, or mink, or ermine, or rat, or lynx, or other small critter. And, initially that was supposed to be an eagle… I think you know what the big fella is… (at least I hope).

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Now come on folks, this is utterly ridiculous. About as ridiculous as my ability to draw a small critter or bear or bird for that fact…

Salmon that swim upstream are not “lost”… get a grip.

I can see it now at the next Cohen Commission public session; someone will ask DFO to give this presentation:

in someone's silly dream world...

is this a rebound relationship? — Sockeye and the media

Unfortunately the media is not all that helpful sometimes when it comes to salmon runs. The other day I was listening to CBC Radio and commentators were mentioning how great the Fraser sockeye run is going to be this year. And a few days ago the Globe and Mail reported how sockeye were “rebounding”.

First forecasts are for sockeye rebound

It’s early yet, but the first forecast of the season indicates that sockeye salmon will return this summer in healthy numbers to British Columbia’s Fraser River.

About 11.4 million sockeye are expected to swim up the river this summer, analysts at the Pacific Salmon Commission say. Around two-thirds of those – more than seven million – will be heading to the fabled Adams River spawning grounds in south central B.C., about 60 kilometres east of Kamloops.

Firstly, there are over 200 unique sockeye populations in the Fraser River.

Note: DFO has ‘decent-enough’ information on only 19 (some rather spotty info on those); and has identified approximately 36 separate Conservation Units (CUs); yet only manages to four separate sub-groups (Early Stuart, Early Summer, Summer, and Late Summer)

Yea… bit confusing, and ridiculous… gets worse the deeper one goes in trying to understand the rhyme and reason.

(when it comes to managing salmon… coho starts to rhyme with sockeye and chinook with pink… at least in the world of fisheries management institutions)

So when only one run (Adams River) will potentially represent almost three-quarters of the total Fraser sockeye run — there’s a problem; or at least serious potential for one.

Plus, we really, really need to look at history… and not the history that DFO likes to sell. Here’s a graph presented by Mike Lapointe, Chief Biologist for the Pacific Salmon Commission at the Simon Fraser University Fraser Sockeye Summit in late March 2010. (proceedings available online – graph on page 5):

selective truth?

(The green box is meant to highlight how “big” the 1993 run was comparatively)

actual written history

Here’s my problem…(and this is not meant as criticism of Mike, he seems like a good guy who brought some humour to a dire subject these days) —

…how could the 1901 total sockeye run be noted as less than 30 million by Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Pacific Salmon Commission when a 1902 Fisheries report to Ottawa outlines how 30 million Fraser sockeye alone were canned that year by canneries in the Vancouver area? (go to British Columbia section)…

And better yet… that 30 million more could have been canned if there had been enough cans and capacity at the canneries.


















(apologies for the small print – link to the report to read – Appendix 4 page 102)

Over 2.1 million cases of sockeye… almost all sockeye destined for Fraser River. (Ironic, hey? There were more cases of sockeye canned in 1902 then there were total Fraser sockeye salmon last year. Note that a case includes 48 cans)

Here’s my technically advanced graph of estimated Fraser sockeye returns over the last 100+ years — based on various sources (I keep posting this, because its damn important that folks remember where we’ve come from):

Lest we forget!

And thus… headlines of “rebounds” really need to be kept in context — and not DFO’s context (maybe they should start seeing other people…rebound relationships are hard work).

“Healthy numbers”? I guess on who’s “health” we’re measuring. DFO’s sockeye health is like a 30-year smoker, red meat-eating, sedentary heavy drinker (their historical salmon estimates) as compared to a 70-yr old still running marathons (the true numbers).

“Rebounds”? I guess the rebound relationship depends on how high the bounce is measured. If 11 million is supposed to suggest a “rebound” to historical numbers…. ummm… that ball might be a bit flat.

….”that old grey mare, she ain’t like she used to be…”

Salmon culture, culturing salmon, and enculturation.

In some ways we can see the power of salmon culture in the conclusion to Alexandra Morton’s “Get out Migration” walk along Vancouver Island to protest open-net salmon farming. On Saturday the walk concluded in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. Estimates suggest about 4,000 people attended the conclusion to the 500-km walk, with over 8,000 signatures collected on a petition to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to move salmon farming to land-based closed contained systems to protect wild salmon from sea lice and various diseases.

With some irony, it is the ability to culture salmon that has led to salmon farming practices. Furthermore, culturing salmon in hatcheries has been done in North America since the 1800s; and it has now become huge business with over 5-billion baby salmon pumped into the North Pacific every year from hatchery operations around the Pacific Rim. Almost all of these started with the goal of increasing harvests…

This past week at the State of the Salmon 2010 Conference: Ecological Interactions of between Wild & Hatchery Salmon in Portland, Oregon — culturing salmon in hatcheries was the topic of discussion.

The purpose of the conference was to bring an international crowd together to discuss potential interactions, and as suggested in the welcome letter in the conference program:

…step back and critically review what we know about the scale and magnitude of interactions between  wild and hatchery salmon…

Curiously though, an article came out in the Seattle Times on May 5th, the second day of the conference, discussing the gathering.

Oregon conference discusses protecting wild salmon

An international conference of scientists and fisheries managers meeting in Portland this week is looking at less-studied impacts of hatchery fish on wild salmon — disease, predation and competition for food — and how to overhaul a hatchery system that may hurt wild salmon more than it helps.

The article has a “hatcheries-are-bad” slant, which was certainly not the consensus at the conference. Here are some competing messages that I heard sitting in on various sessions:

  1. A Japanese scientist pointed out that hatchery salmon are a very important source of healthy seafood. (Somewhere between 90-95% of Japanese commercially caught salmon are from hatchery and salmon ranching efforts).
  2. The Russian government is sitting on over $2 billion ready to invest in substantially expanding hatchery operations in Russian portions of the North Pacific coast.
  3. Alaska takes a lot of pride in their over 2 billion baby salmon pumped into the North Pacific and places like Prince William Sound where 90-95% of the commercial catch is salmon ranching efforts. In Southeast Alaska, goals for spawning salmon are easily reached in most streams and yet large salmon hatchery and ranching operations continue.
  4. Canada is ramping down hatchery operations in many areas. (however, I know of several sport fishing proponents that would like to see hatchery operations ramped up significantly).
  5. Western U.S. states — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California — are having raging debates about ramping down or ramping up. “Conservation” hatcheries are apparently important components of trying to protect salmon runs listed under the Endangered Species Act. Representatives of tribal organizations highlighted the importance of hatchery operations to keeping salmon returning to their areas.

And, thus, some rather interesting discussions in various sessions. One principle hard at work was enculturation from the variety of cultures represented at the conference — from various countries’ cultures to regional cultures and differences (e.g. Alaska compared to lower 48).

Enculturation is defined as:

the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values.

Jonah Lehrer is a Rhodes scholar, contributing editor for Wired magazine, wrote the book Proust was a Neuroscientist, has a blog — Frontal Cortex — as part of scienceblogs.com (thanks for the forward Simon). He has a great post: Enculturation and Wall Street — the post starts:

The process of enculturation doesn’t just afflict middle-aged scientists, struggling to appreciate a new anomaly. It’s a problem for any collection of experts, from CIA analysts to Wall Street bankers.