Tag Archives: salmon stories

Carrying Capacity & Salmon fishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Godin, suggests in his post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly as Godin suggests:

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

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

There is not room for rough estimates that suggest:

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


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

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

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

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

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

when change is in the winds…and wings.

In the 1990s, Fisheries and Oceans Canada had to start making drastic changes. One of the big reasons was the Sparrow decision in 1990. The case involved a Musqueam fishermen in the Vancouver area who was charged for using a net that was longer than regulations permitted. The case weaved its way through the Supreme Court of BC, the Court of Appeals and on to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In essence, the final decision in Sparrow stated that First Nations have the aboriginal right to fish for “food, social and ceremonial purposes”. This right took priority before any other fishing. Thus the principles of conservation first, then aboriginal fisheries, then commercial and sport fisheries that guides fisheries policy now — and sets the basis for the Wild Salmon Policy.

Fisheries and Oceans had to fundamentally change the way they “managed” fish and fisheries. Annual budgets were shifted dramatically, various departments had to change their operating procedures, and a shift in general corporate-bureaucratic operation. From the decision flowed the Aboriginal Fishing Strategy in 1992, which tried to change the way Fisheries and Oceans dealt with and negotiated with First Nation communities.

Also in the late 1990s was the Marshall decision on the east coast of Canada. In that decision the Court “affirmed a treaty right to fish in pursuit of a moderate livelihood under treaties signed with the British in 1760-61.” One of the crazy aspects of this case is that it involved two Mi’kmaq fellows catching eels and selling them for $787.

Following this case, a negotiation process of over five years began with 34 Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations affected by the decision. The Court suggested that negotiation, as opposed to litigation was the way to move forward. A common direction given repeatedly by the courts in decisions involving aboriginal rights and title.

(There is a brief from 2006, describing DFO’s response to the Sparrow and Marshall decisions on their website.)

A glance at Reports on Plans and Priorities (Treasury Board of Canada) from 2006-2007 shows that forecast spending for that year on the Aboriginal Fisheries Program was over $30 million. Other programs related to this are $16 million for the Aboriginal Aquatic Resources and Ocean Management Program (started in 2004). And, the Fisheries Access Program which focuses on retiring commercial licenses and giving them to communal holders in First Nation communities. This program was initially forecast at over $350 million in 2001 and was forecast to spend over $57 million in 2006-2007 with ongoing commitments for years to come.

The Nuu-chah-nulth case from this past November (of which there are posts from earlier this week) — found that regardless of these DFO efforts this still did not change the conclusion of Madame Justice  Garson:

[791]     I conclude that the plaintiffs [Nuu-chah-nulth] have proved that Canada’s fisheries regulatory regime prima facie infringes their aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish by their preferred means, both legislatively and operationally.

There appears to be some parallels between the Nuu-chah-nulth and their aboriginal rights to sell by fish — and the conclusion of the Marshall decision that concluded those nations actually had treaty rights to sell fish.

Are the 140 Nations or so — and over 80 inland Nations — that rely on Fraser River salmon now going to have to litigate individually to confirm that “Canada’s fisheries regulatory regime prima facie infringes on their aboriginal rights to sell by fish by their preferred means”?

(This will be really cost effective for all involved…)

Or, will their be more fundamental changes to the operation of Fisheries and Oceans? And more spending of millions on programs that aren’t achieving basic legal principles?

Or, could some of the negotiation regarding fisheries be taken up in the British Columbia Treaty process that involves tri-lateral negotiation between Canada, BC and individual First Nations?

Umm, No.

…because federal Fisheries Minister Shea issued a press release a few days ago stating that all fisheries components of the B.C. Treaty process were off the table until Justice Cohen releases his report on the inquiry into declines of sockeye on the Fraser River. Not due until May of next year.

(on one note… nothing like another 15-month delay on the BC Treaty process that has been ongoing since 1993 — nothing like a 17-year multi, multi million dollar negotiation process… showing little, if no, progress in the majority of cases. Granted there has been one or two treaties negotiated in that time)


Seth Godin, marketing guru and author, has a fitting post today related to this:

The Wordperfect Axiom

When the platform changes, the leaders change.

Wordperfect had a virtual monopoly on word processing in big firms that used DOS. Then Windows arrived and the folks at Wordperfect didn’t feel the need to hurry in porting themselves to the new platform. They had achieved lock-in after all, and why support Microsoft?

In less than a year, they were toast.

When the game machine platform of choice switches from Sony to xBox to Nintendo, etc., the list of bestselling games change and new companies become dominant.

When the platform for music shifted from record stores to iTunes, the power shifted too, and many labels were crushed.

Again and again the same rules apply. In fact, they always do. When the platform changes, the deck gets shuffled.

Think this only applies to software?

The platform for healthcare changed from independent doctor’s offices and small practices to hospitals and hmos.

The platform for TV changed from airwaves to wires (so HBO and ESPN win, NBC loses).

The platform for cars is changing from gas engines to alternatives.


(I’ll follow up with some thoughts in a later post.)

when fan blades are jammed with poop… pull the plug.

Yesterday, I posted on deafening silence vs. nattering nothingness — largely in relation to the outcomes of the Supreme Court of British Columbia decision Ahousaht Indian Band and Nation v. Canada (Attorney General) or Nuu-chah-nulth decision regarding fisheries rights. In essence, the courts ruled that the Nuu-chah-nulth have an aboriginal right to sell fish commercially – which flies in the face of limiting First Nation fisheries to strictly “food, ceremonial and social purposes.”

Not only do the Nuu-chah-Nulth have the right to sell fish commercially — that the federal Fisheries Act infringes on their rights at an operational and legislative level. Madame Justice Garson found that many of the avenues for the federal Fisheries Minister to make unilateral decisions were flawed and unfounded. The ruling gave the parties two years to negotiate terms for how this would change.

As mentioned yesterday, the resounding silence from the federal government and Fisheries Minister following the decision — was impressive. The decision came down in early November 2009, not until the second week of February 2010 did the Fisheries Minister actually send a letter to the Nuu-chah-nulth (after multiple letters from Nuu-chah-nulth leadership); a letter that sounds like it was blathering nothingness suggesting the Fisheries ministry had not figured out how to move forward on the issue.

I am speculating here, but maybe it was because Fisheries Minister Shea was too busy in China in early January promoting the seal industry, and meeting with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters because they are an “important stakeholder and partner with whom we currently work together on many initiatives relating to fish and fish habitat in Ontario” (yeah, Ontario a  hotbed of salmon activity), and the various announcements in relation to Canada’s economic action plan.

In actuality, I think it is because there is so much shit in the fan at Fisheries and Oceans Canada these days that the air circulation for its 10,000 plus staff might be a little stagnant.

Fisheries and Oceans often find themselves with fecal matter flying towards the proverbial fan — it’s a darn difficult set of tasks, complex issues, and heated stakeholders and rights-holders involved in many aspects of the resources they are tasked to look after. In other words — they’re a big target. However, governing parties of the day have little long-term view. What’s the point? — especially in these days of minority governments.

Sadly, though the myopic or short-sighted view seems to be a plague upon the federal Ministry — that and the fact that they seem to lose good staff as if jumping from a sinking ocean-liner, and have an aging workforce that is set to cause attrition faster than avian flu in a Fraser Valley chicken farm. As, really, what’s the point of studying fisheries management these days and hoping for a lifetime career in a government ministry that’s about as seaworthy as a bathtub right now.

In February last year, the British Columbia Supreme Court issued a ruling in regards to the legislation that guides salmon farming in British Columbia: Morton v. British Columbia (Agriculture and Lands). Morton being Alexanda Morton the marine biologist who lives in the Broughton Archipelago between Vancouver Island and the mainland — where a significant concentration of salmon farms have developed over the last decade to two. Also plaintiffs in the case along with Ms. Morton were:

  • the Wilderness Tourism Association,
  • Area E Gillnetters Association, and
  • Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association of BC.

The issue at hand was that Ms. Morton and other plaintiffs were claiming that the Province of British Columbia — specifically the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands — does not have the jurisdiction to manage finfish (salmon) aquaculture in B.C. waters.

See, in 1988, the federal government (Fisheries and Oceans) and the Province of BC concocted an agreement handing over management of salmon farms from Fisheries and Oceans to the Province. The Province of BC maintains that its “farming” and thus the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture.


This case had to go right back to the Constitution Act of 1867 (formerly known as the British North America Act). The Constitution Act divided powers between the Federal Parliament and Provincial governments with Sections 91 and 92. As Justice Hinkson said in his ruling for this case:

[107]        The respective powers of Parliament and the provincial legislatures are set out in ss. 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Neither Parliament nor a provincial legislature can expand its jurisdiction over the classes of subjects in ss. 91 or 92 by passing legislation which purports to do so.

So the feds and province screwed up royally back in 1988 — basically they broke constitutional law from what I can see. The problem is that, as you may have read in posts over the last month to two, salmon farming has grown astronomically in BC waters since then — anywhere from 500-2000%. All of this guided by legislation that is not valid.

[193]        … Given the specific enumeration of the management and protection of the fisheries in s. 91(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the national resource of the fisheries in not a matter that should or can be left to a level of government other than Parliament.

Justice Hinkson was left in a jam. He found the current provincial legislation invalid; and that the federal government had no legislation to guide salmon farming; it was:

[188]… constitutionally invalid…

[198]        The absence of sufficient legislation to regulate fish farms could well be more harmful to the public than the perpetuation of the impugned legislation.

His only choice was to give the federal government a year to develop adequate legislation — meaning that it should have had this legislation since 1988. In the meantime, the status-quo would hold otherwise there would be no legislation (i.e. “more harmful to the public).

In a follow-up appeal process in January of this year, Justice Hinkson ruled that there would be a one-year ban on any new salmon farm licenses until the federal government (Fisheries and Oceans) could develop adequate legislation. The federal government didn’t even participate in the first court case.

(there are some other really curious aspects to this case surrounding “public” and “private” fisheries and the argument over what constitutes “standing” (e.g. see Cohen Commission and lack of definition — I’ll save these for another post, this one will already be long enough)

This instigated brown stained blades on the DFO fans… that was last spring.

Then this summer the complete blown forecast on Fraser sockeye by Fisheries and Oceans. In early November, the Prime Minister’s office announced a public inquiry into the issue:

“The Government is establishing a public inquiry to take all feasible steps to identify the reasons for the decline of the Fraser River sockeye salmon population,” said the Prime Minister.  “It is in the public interest to investigate this matter and determine the longer-term prospects for sockeye salmon stocks.”

I find some of this rather disturbing. On one hand it is good that a public inquiry has been a launched — however, how the hell is a Supreme Court Justice and a team of lawyers supposed to determine “the reasons for the decline”?

Isn’t that the job of Fisheries and Oceans? Isn’t that why they have an over $200 million budget for fisheries management and another $100 million or so for research?

The “longer term prospects”?

They’re not good Mr. P.M.

It has been determined that this year’s run was so small it won’t be able to produce a similar size run for the future. This is called a death-spiral….

Stockwell Day also informed us in the press release:

“This is a significant and important issue for BC fisheries industry,” said Minister Day.  “Our government is deeply concerned about the low returns of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River and the implications for the fishery.”

Well, Mr. Day, granted you actually represent a BC constituency, I’m rather appalled.

There is no fishery. There has been no fishery for three years on Fraser sockeye. The “implications” are: No damn fishery for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a “significant issue” — this is a flippin disaster.

One individual in the BC interior – Priscilla Judd –  has taken it upon herself to distribute canned salmon to impoverished interior First Nation communities (see Georgia Straight article). Communities that have depended on the yearly return of salmon for thousands of years. Some estimates suggest that pre-European contact, First Nation individuals on the Fraser were consuming over 500 kg of salmon every year. Now that’s healthy.

Now, it’s 0 kg in many cases. There is no fishery. That’s devastating.

Unfortunately, the Terms of Reference for the public inquiry – the Cohen Commission –  are clearly laid out:

…conduct the Inquiry without seeking to find fault on the part of any individual, community or organization, and with the overall aim of respecting conservation of the sockeye salmon stock and encouraging broad cooperation among stakeholders.

There is one organization, and one organization only, tasked with making sure that wild salmon are well looked after. That organization is Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

If the Prime Minister says all “feasible steps”; is not one of those steps potentially the fact that Fisheries and Oceans dropped the ball? Not just dropped the ball, but utterly and completely mismanaged how the ball was even in the game in the first place… or was counting the wrong score; or plain and simply at the wrong game.

In the Nuu-chah-nulth case the Madam Justice had no problems “finding fault”.

In the Morton case, the Justice had no problem “finding fault” and suggesting it get fixed tout de suite.

There is a history of courts of law finding fault with the approach of Fisheries and Oceans Canada — as well as inquiries, Attorney Generals, and Royal Commissions. Some that in the 1990s were even officially called: “Here We go Again”.

The other day, March 2, federal Fisheries Minister Shea issued a quiet press release stating that all fisheries negotiations as part of treaty negotiations in British Columbia would be deferred until the Cohen Commission into the Fraser River sockeye declines is complete:

“The Government of Canada is deferring the negotiation of fisheries components at treaty tables in British Columbia that involve salmon, pending the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River. The deferral of fisheries related negotiations will allow for treaty negotiations to be staged so that fish chapters in treaties can be informed by the findings and recommendations of the Inquiry.”

I’m not sure if Minister Shea has looked at the geography of B.C. or of treaty negotiations. First off, I can’t imagine there isn’t anything more fundamental to treaty negotiations in most BC First Nation communities than fisheries. Secondly, not every Nation of the over 200 First Nations in BC is located on the Fraser River.

Why would the Gitsxan, or Tahltan, or Tsay Keh Dene be affected by the Commission’s ruling on Fraser sockeye? (Tsay Keh isn’t even in a Pacific drainage, it’s in the Arctic drainage.)

Even the Terms of Reference for Cohen Commission repeatedly state, for example:

B. …to consider the policies and practices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (the “Department”) with respect to the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River.

C. to investigate and make independent findings of fact regarding:

i.  the causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon…

And really, if the Cohen Commission finds that the “current state of Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks and the long term projections for those stocks” is absolutely dismal — what would some communities have left to negotiate? (I understand there are other important components, however my experience has been fish are central)

Even the BC Treaty Commission frames the fisheries issue as such:

Fishing Issues
Integral to First Nations’ Culture
First Nations have for thousands of years sustained vibrant and rich cultural identities profoundly linked to BC’s land and waters. It is said that the Nisga’a, people of the mighty river, are so connected to fish that their bones are made of salmon. Living in balance with the land and the water is an integral part of First Nations’ cultures, and fishing is regulated by longstanding cultural laws around conservation and preservation for future generations.

Justice Hinkson in the Morton case has a great observation:

[109] … the very functioning of Canada’s federal system must be continually be reassessed in light of the fundamental values it was designed to serve.

Sadly, it appears that the “fundamental values” of the federal fisheries system are lost. The complete destruction of North-Atlantic Cod was one of the first indicators.

That same federal system is arguing in courts of laws, denying in courts of law — the highest courts of the land — that coastal First Nation societies were not fish-based cultures, didn’t trade with other Nations, and have no commercial interests in fish or salmon.

It appears that maybe the “light” in the hallowed halls of the federal Fisheries ministry is being filtered through brown excrement… excrement that has been hitting fan blades and spraying across windows.

This is more than just shit hitting the fan. This is a full on shit storm.

In times of vastly shrinking public service budgets, red-numbered federal and provincial budgets, and court cases that are slapping a Ministry upside the head… the thought of a public inquiry headed by a judge starting to poke and prod into:

the policies and practices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to the sockeye salmon fishery in the Fraser River – including the Department’s scientific advice, its fisheries policies and programs, its risk management strategies, its allocation of Departmental resources and its fisheries management practices and procedures, including monitoring, counting of stocks, forecasting and enforcement,

… has got to have some senior Fisheries bureaucrats seriously considering early retirement.

I will not be surprised to see an exodus from that Ministry faster than a cat hitting water. There is a fundamental shift afoot — and the shift is going to hit the fan real soon.

I might suggest that rather than carrying on this constant legal wrangling based on the act of ‘deny, deny, deny’ — why isn’t there a serious investigation into how First Nation societies up and down the Fraser River co-existed and co-managed salmon resources?

It was also done on the Columbia, the Yukon, the Stikine, and so on. Ground-breaking new approaches and management systems that actually work will not be coming out of bureaucratic behemoths.

Bureaucratic behemoths appear to need a serious slapping from the highest courts before they institute change — and even then, as demonstrated by Minister Shea’s silence on the Nuu-chah-nulth case… legal facts still don’t spur meaningful action.

deafening silence vs. nattering nothingness

Yesterday I had a post regarding another landmark legal ruling flowing out of the Supreme Court of British Columbia related to aboriginal rights and title in Canada. The Nuu-chah-nulth decision came down in November 2009 and the resounding thud heard in the hallways of many a government bureaucracy must have made the clock in the Peace Tower of Parliament skip a tick or tock or two — even more so throughout the federal ministries that have a fishy scent to them:

[791]     I conclude that the plaintiffs have proved that Canada’s fisheries regulatory regime prima facie [a fact presumed to be true] infringes their aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish by their preferred means, both legislatively and operationally.

This, the ruling of Honorable Madam Justice Garson. The honorable justice also gave the Nuu-chah-nulth and Fisheries and Oceans Canada two years to: “consult and negotiate the manner in which the plaintiffs’ aboriginal rights to fish and to sell fish can be accommodated and exercised…”

As I mentioned in my post yesterday — their is a federal government mandate to deny, deny, and deny aboriginal rights and title. It is an impressive two faced policy when compared to the glossy pictures of federal ministers ‘celebrating’ the aboriginal heritage of Canada (especially at Olympic time) — and the importance of:

“modernizing land management regimes and enhancing the value of Aboriginal assets by addressing legislative and regulatory barriers that hinder economic development.”

This quote directly from an Indian and Northern Affairs Canada press release from just a few months ago.

(One of the really curious pieces of this court case is that the Province of BC dropped out of the case mid-stream. They were employing their even more adamant practice of denying aboriginal rights and title… then kablooey — gone. Curiously, this was around the time that they were trying to introduce an Inherent Rights Recognition Act or something to that effect. Apparently the federal government was not pleased with either the proposed Act, or the Province’s complete switcheroo on aboriginal rights and title)

The stunning part for me is that the Nuu-chah-nulth are not looking to take over the fishing industry on the west coast of Vancouver Island, or demanding all non-aboriginal licenses be handed over, or that they should get all the salmon, or all the halibut, or all the herring, or all the clams, or all the crabs…

In actual fact in the very first paragraph of Madame Justice Garson’s ruling it states:

“The plaintiffs do not seek rights to fish free from government regulation, but say such regulation must recognize their aboriginal rights, which at the moment it fails to do.”

The Nuu-chah-nulth are simply claiming:

that prior to and at contact, the Nuu-chah-nulth were a fishing people whose way of life was characterized by trade, including trade in fish.  They submit that these pre-contact practices translate into modern aboriginal rights, which they plead as follows:

a.   To harvest all species of fisheries resources from within their territories, or portions thereof, and, in the alternative, one or more of those species;

b.    To harvest those fisheries resources for any purposes including for food purposes, social purposes, ceremonial purposes, trade purposes, purposes of exchange for money or other goods, commercial purposes, purposes of sustaining the plaintiff communities, or one or more of those purposes; and

c.     To sell, trade or exchange those fisheries resources:

i.  on a commercial scale; or

ii.  in the alternative, to sustain their communities; or

iii. in the further alternative, for money or other goods.

Now maybe I am editorializing a little here — however this sounds to me like: “modernizing land (and water) management regimes and enhancing the value of Aboriginal assets by addressing legislative and regulatory barriers that hinder economic development.”

Gee, you mean assets like over five thousand years of living beside and on the ocean?

And what better economic development on the isolated west coast of Vancouver Island then fisheries? What better time to start taking a real hard look at fisheries ‘management regimes’ that could “enhance the value of Aboriginal assets”? What better time at looking how to include and empower coastal communities in the fishing industry?

The response from Canada?:

[16]      Canada further submits that none of the plaintiffs have established that they possess aboriginal rights to harvest, for any of the reasons they assert, all species of fisheries resources in their respective territories.  They have also failed to establish aboriginal rights to sell any species of fisheries resources harvested in their respective territories, whether on a commercial scale, for the purposes of sustaining their communities, or in exchange for money or other goods.

Canada contends that these rights cannot be proven because no such practices existed at the time of contact; alternatively, any such practices were not integral to the distinctive cultures of the plaintiffs; or, in the further alternative, there is no continuity between the pre-contact fishing practices of the aboriginal peoples of the WCVI [west coast Vancouver Island] and the modern activities alleged to be the modern iteration of those practices.

So what does “Canada” think then?

Someone in the great Federal halls of all-knowing please inform… Someone please step out of the Parliamentary sandbox and fill Canadians in on this.

I searched through Fisheries and Oceans media releases, and pages and pages of Google and whatever other search.

A big fat resounding….    Nothing.

Go to the “media room” of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for the end of 2009 and there’s press releases on how Canada is investing in small boats for enforcement, groundfish ice fishing in Quebec, a new office in Europe to make sure we can export more of our resources, and other piddly stories and nattering nothingness.

It seems even though Madame Justice Garson gave very clear and concise direction and timelines on coming to a negotiated agreement in two years — Fisheries and Oceans Canada is carrying on as if nothing happened. The Nuu-chah-nulth haven’t heard much more than a peep.

In early February, the Nuu-chah-nulth produced Newspaper Haa-Shilth-Sa reported that leadership, despite sending three letters to the Fisheries Minister, one to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and two to Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Regional Director General, had still not heard a peep.

Just as the paper went to press a letter was received by fax from the Fisheries Minister stating:

“The Ahousaht decision is an important and complex ruling that requires Canada to seriously evaluate its implications. The analysis of the ruling is not yet complete.”

In other words PFO — we are going to appeal the decision, and we will drag this through the courts to the highest level. (In other words our Economic Action Plan for Canada does not include supporting fisheries communities — it’s about giving a lot more money to lawyers and anthropological experts.)

(Very little oral history or testimony was given in this court case).

Yet, Madam Justice was quite clear in stating something akin to “hey DFO, get your shit together.”

[758]…I do conclude, as the plaintiffs submit, that the Fisheries Act and regulations impart to the Minister [of Fisheries] an unstructured discretion that risks infringing the plaintiffs’ aboriginal rights.  With respect to the second inquiry, DFO policies do not presently recognize aboriginal fishing rights outside the context of an FSC [food, ceremonial and social] fishery.  It obviously follows that the Minister’s discretion to issue licences accommodating aboriginal fishing rights, other than for FSC purposes, is unstructured and unconstrained by legislation. (my emphasis)

In other words, the federal Fisheries Minister can basically make decisions on a whim. Considering that the current Fisheries Minister is a rookie, and had a long career with Revenue Canada prior to being voted a Member of Parliament — I can’t say I’m too comfortable with “unstructured and unconstrained” decision-making.

[763]     As well, Canada endorses an integrated commercial fishery model, as summarized in a July 2007 policy document tellingly entitled “One Fishery For All of Us”.  As that policy document explains, “Achieving a fair, sustainable, integrated commercial fishery on Canada’s west coast, in which all commercial participants fish under common and transparent rules, is an important priority of Canada’s new Government …”.

The current Integrated Fisheries Management Plan with respect to salmon, for instance, indicates that the share of fish harvested by First Nations economic opportunity fisheries must be “fully mitigated” over time by the retirement of commercial salmon licenses from the commercial fishery.  Fisheries Manager, Mr. Ryall explained that one of the primary objectives of this approach was to avoid negative impacts on established fishers. 

Thus, Canada’s stated policy of encouraging economic opportunity in the fisheries for First Nations is constrained by its view that any such commercial fishing opportunities not be at the expense of non-aboriginal fishers. (my emphasis)

OK, I think I’m getting the picture here — Canada’s “new government” has decided that no opportunities can be given to aboriginal fisherfolks because that means that something would have to be taken away from non-aboriginal fisherfolk and/or coastal communities.

Now that would create a national shit-storm wouldn’t it?

If you’ve ever read the comments attached to mainstream media stories involving salmon — there is a large, loud, strong voice that enjoys pointing bulky fingers at aboriginal fishing as the cause of the salmon declines. These accusations with no regard to the actual catch numbers:  over the last several decades the commercial fishery is responsible for over ninety percent of the catch of salmon, aboriginal fisheries less than five percent, recreational fisheries less than five percent.

And sadly, a substantial portion of the commercial fishing sector is now dominated by Jimmy Pattison’s Canfisco (the Gold Seal label so prevalent in Pattison’s Save On Foods) — especially the seine fleet which has the ability to catch crap loads of fish in very little time.

There is an absurdity ringing so loudly here; it’s worse than the: “whoop, whoop, reinkk, reinkk, deedoo, deedoo, bweep, bweep, bweep, whoop, whoop, reink reink, deedoo deedoo…!!” car alarm at 3 a.m. just under your bedroom window that has been going off for half an hour — or 150 years….

I’ll expand on this in my next post.

too many inquiries… too few fish?

A pretty good article in the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper today.

Endless cycle of Fraser salmon inquiries

So far the storyline is a familiar one for most Canadians. A problem emerges. Perplexed government orders inquiry. Wise men gather to ponder the issue. Citizens await their deliberations.

But what’s striking is that this is the fifth time in 18 years some kind of urgent study has been commissioned by the government in response to a salmon emergency.

Not only that, it’s the fifth study of one specific run: The Fraser sockeye.

That’s a remarkable number of studies into the same problem.

– In 1992 about a half-million sockeye disappeared en route to Fraser spawning grounds. Then fisheries minister John Crosbie named two eminent scientists to investigate.

– In 1994, 1.3 million sockeye went missing. Then minister Brian Tobin appointed a panel to investigate and make recommendations.

– In 2002, sockeye conservation was challenged by a threefold increase in estimates of abundance, uncertainty over mortality rates and a huge fight over allocation. Then minister Robert Thibault named a panel to investigate and make recommendations.

– In 2004, 1.3 million sockeye went missing again, so then minister Gerald Regan named former judge Bryan Williams to head an investigatory panel.

Williams was struck by how much time has been spent investigating the problem. “The rather disturbing frequency of Fraser sockeye management reviews prompts numerous questions. Perhaps the most obvious one…. Why so many?”

…Peter Pearse’s royal commission into the fishing industry, where the phrase “too many boats chasing too few fish” gained currency. Substitute “inquiries” for “boats” and you’re right up to date.

throw out the baby fish with the bath water?

Seth Godin has got a couple of great posts this last few days. Short, to the point, and leaving me pondering. Godin is generally referred to as a marketing guy – and he is – but really what aspect of our lives isn’t marketing, or affected by marketing…?  Godin is also more than just marketing; he’s a thinker and now with his last few books running along the edge of motivational speaker.

Today’s post TEDThink refers to the TED Talks which are quite the thing – as the tagline to the talks suggests “Ideas worth spreading”.  If you get a chance many of the talks are quite fascinating.

Godin’s post today starts with an algebraic equation and he highlights that during our school-age education we were being taught to “play with numbers in our head. Abstract numerical thought is an important skill among educated people.”

However, as Godin suggests listen to the TED talks and try to get ahead of the speaker….

basically, it’s similar to a quadratic equation. If you need the other person to slow down and explain every little bit, you’ve missed the point. The point is to do abstract conceptual thought. To get in practice taking the accepted status quo and questioning it, at least for a little while, at least this or that part of it.

I think this is a skill, a rare one. The ability to be facile in the manipulation of ideas, both theoretical and established, is a valuable one…

…The trick is to be able to leap to, “if we did A and B, would that get us C? Would C be a good thing? Is it possible to do A and B if we really commit?” and then move on to the next one. And that takes practice. Why wouldn’t it?

So let me throw this equation into the mix:

The simplest way to model harvesting is to modify the logistic equation so that a certain number of individuals is continuously removed:

 \frac{dN}{dt} = rN(1-\frac{N}{K}) - H

Where H represents the number of individuals being removed from the population – that is, the harvesting rate.

This is one of the model equations for Maximum Sustainable Yield from Wikipedia. Personally, looking at this stuff makes me feel like… well… smashing my laptop screen down repeatedly on my fingers until I’m down a digit or two…

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is the dominant “concept” worldwide for “managing” fish populations and fisheries. It is even in United Nations documents and guidelines – and still in Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy.

Although it is widely practiced by state and federal government agencies regulating wildlife, forests, and fishing, MSY has come under heavy criticism … from both theoretical and practical reasons. The concept of maximum sustainable yield is not always easy to apply in practice. Estimation problems arise due to poor assumptions in some models and lack of reliability of the data . Biologists, for example, do not always have enough data to make a clear determination of the population’s size and growth rate. Calculating the point at which a population begins to slow from competition is also very difficult…

Biologists do no always have enough data to make clear determination of the population’s size” – I restate this as this is key when it comes to wild salmon. There is a lot of water in the historical range of Pacific salmon. There are a lot of streams in the salmon range.

No fisheries management institution can  – and ever has – physically counted all salmon that reach spawning grounds. Plus if you’ve ever seen a huge salmon run, there is no “counting” – it is all estimation. And let’s remember “estimation” means an opinion, or a rough calculation, or a “judgment based on one’s impressions”. This is not exact science.

As a management goal, the static interpretation of MSY (i.e., MSY as a fixed catch that can be taken year after year) is generally not appropriate because it ignores the fact that fish populations undergo natural fluctuations (i.e., MSY treats the environment as unvarying) in abundance and will usually ultimately become severely depleted under a constant-catch strategy. (Wikipedia)

Here’s a graph from the “Adapting to Change…” press release from the Salmon “Think Tank” in December at Simon Fraser University.

The graph shows the percentage of the Fraser River sockeye harvested over the last 50+ years. From the 50s to the 90s that percentage was in the range of 75-85% of the run.

Most numbers suggest that 90% of that is commercially harvested, 4-5% is First Nations harvest, and a small percentage is caught in sport fisheries.

Here’s a problem (or two).

A press release in relation to the Think Tank gathering:

More research and action is needed in the case of declining Fraser River sockeye stocks, according to a think-tank led by Burnaby academics. (my emphasis)

Well… if you buy into Godin’s line of thinking maybe that’s part of the problem? – too much abstract numerical thought and not enough abstract conceptual thought.

Here’s an equation to consider based upon Godin’s:

if we did A (fish the crap out of salmon runs for 50 years – as in take 80% of the population) and B (log, mine, throw pesticides in, draw water from for agriculture, urbanize the river mouth, etc. in salmon fresh water habitat) would that get us C (blown forecasts and potentially the lowest sockeye run in the history of the Fraser River) ?

Would C be a good thing?

And yet good respectable folks (many of which I have met and think highly of) are suggesting:

According to the think-tank, overfishing is not the reason productivity is declining.

So someone answer me this… how is it that a sockeye run of greater than 60 million in the early 1900s went to less than 1 million in a little over 100 years?

How is it that a population of First Nations anywhere between 2 million to 6 million prior to European contact throughout the Fraser River watershed (one of the most densely populated areas of North America prior to contact) was able to harvest anywhere between 10 million to 50 million salmon (approximately 8 fish per person) for a darn long time – sustainably?

No offense intended to those of you who have slaved on these issues for years – however, sometimes the thought processes that got us into a pickle need to be tossed out (sorry, recycled).

Maximum Sustainable Yield is a “concept” created in a time when smoking cigarettes was considered healthy, fireproof suits were made from asbestos, and dropping atomic bombs was considered an act of peace.

Time for new concepts.

And maybe it is time to blow the entire salmon discussion up? Maybe a lot less numerical thought and a lot more conceptual thought? Fewer scientists and “fish managers” and academics and a lot more local community folks, entrepreneurs, marketers, conflict resolution and facilitation experts, streamkeepers, artists and fishers, and definitely a lot more women, mothers, and creative thinkers.

Fishery disasters and brave, brave decisions….

“Disaster Declared: Alaska’s Yukon River Chinook Salmon Run Fails

That’s the headline from a few weeks ago: Jan. 18, 2010 out of Washington, D.C.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke made the announcement:

“Communities in Alaska along the Yukon River depend heavily on Chinook salmon for commercial fishing, jobs and food,” said Locke on Friday. “I have determined that a fishery disaster has occurred due to consecutive years of low Chinook salmon returns. Alaska fishermen and their families are struggling with a substantial loss in income and revenues.”

The Yukon River once hosted the largest migrating Chinook, chum, and coho Pacific salmon stocks in the world.

Two days ago a headline from the Vancouver Sun reads: “Alaska imposes restrictions on Yukon River chinook” .

As a follow-up to the “fishery disaster” announcement:

Alaska has imposed controversial restrictions on gillnets [one inch smaller net size] to give the biggest salmon a better chance to reach their traditional spawning grounds on the Canadian side of the river.

Maybe I’m just extra cynical today – but holy cow (or holy net) in this case. The bravery involved in this decision is remarkable!

Reduce nets by one inch in size so bigger fish can get through. Wow, this will “save the salmon”.

I wonder if policy and decision-makers recognize that the biggest fish of zero fish – is still zero?

The decision, which has sparked complaints from some Alaskans for whom the annual chinook catch is an economic staple, follows years of concern in both countries that the resource was being fished out of existence in the U.S. before the species could replenish itself in Canadian waters east of the Alaska-Yukon border.

So how bad is it?

Well there was no commercial fishery for Chinook  in 2009 on the Yukon. In 2008 the fishery was 89% lower than the five year average. Plus subsistence harvests were also limited. Yes, that’s subsistence as in the word defined as: “A means of subsisting, especially means barely sufficient to maintain life.”

US Geological Survey

Salmon are vital to people living on the over 3200 km long Yukon River. There are over ninety First Nation and Inuit communities on the Yukon River, and numerous settler communities and families that also rely on the yearly return of salmon. And, yet, there are not a lot of salmon migrating up the Yukon as compared to more southerly salmon rivers.

It is also complicated on the Yukon River as the river crosses international boundaries. In my work for a Yukon First Nation in the early 2000s I learned a lot about the complexities of looking after salmon throughout the watershed. Estimates suggest close to 80% of the salmon on the Yukon, spawn in Canada, yet for decades through the 1960s through 90s a huge proportion of salmon runs were caught in the U.S. in Alaska or in Bering Sea fisheries.

In 2001, while working in the Yukon between Leg 1 and Leg 2 of  The Wild Salmon Cycle, I wrote an article for the Yukon News “Starving Streams are part of a Vicious Cycle“. In my research for that article I looked at salmon catch data for the Yukon River:

The total Alaskan and Canadian catch of Yukon River Chinook, chum and coho salmon from 1973 to 1997 (when conservation and salmon declines became a major issue) was 1,559,342 salmon per year. That includes a high of 2,514,977 salmon in 1988.

In 2000 the total catch of salmon was 183,000 salmon, and yet only 12,000 Chinook salmon made it to the spawning grounds.

Gee, only 12,000 Chinook to the spawning grounds in 2000 – could there possibly be a link to the low numbers eight and nine years later – and hence a “fishery disaster” ?

I don’t know – I’m not a fisheries scientist… more like a gumboot biologist. However, I think I can count.

one opinion becoming everyone’s opinion?

MEMORY STICK NO. 3 (Series 1 - 12) twig, wire, jute, paper tag, ink by Simon Davies

The tag on this piece “Memory Stick No. 3” reads:

Collected from a pine tree on the high bog plain at Naikoon – 10/17/04. This stick holds 250 years of data in its cell structure – north pacific weather, cosmological events, supernatural occurrences, insect and animal movement – human history.

The high bog plain area of Naikoon – Northeastern Haida Gwaii – is a truly remarkable place. This area remained ice free during the last glacial advances – ice age. As such, there are various plant species there that exist nowhere else on the planet.

The trees in the bog are stunted, tangled, twisted little things. Some of the trees are head high and yet hundreds of years old. The muskeg is almost all pillowy moss where each step sinks knee deep in peat and sphagnum.

To access the bog plains, hike up a forest trail from the gravel road that parallels North Beach. The trail starts at the mouth of Klikkidamen – or White Creek. From the upper bog plains, on a clear day, one can easily see Southeast Alaska across the colonial named Dixon Entrance.

In years past – such as 250 years ago when cells from this twig were starting their first metabolizing – Haida people would paddle their 50+ foot cedar canoes across the Dixon Entrance to friends and family and communities on the islands to the north – now separated by an imaginary border, a barrier of political process.

In years past memory sticks were the stories and songs taken by canoe and given and received at potlatches – the central core institution to Haida society and many other Nations up and down the coast.

Now… a memory stick is a collection of silicone and microprocessors and computer chips that can carry stories and songs in a collection of 1’s and 0’s – binary code and the like. A memory stick is a small flat little piece of plastic that can carry thousands of images imprinted on its “memory” – images also full of stories and songs.

Now, instead of traveling hundreds of kilometres across stormy, choppy, current-filled Straits and Entrances – stories and songs in the form of 1’s and 0’s travel as fast as a memory-flash from Haida Gwaii to Hong Kong.

Now, urban and rural communities are beginning to be linked in one community – the online community. Several years ago the Canadian federal government began an initiative to ensure every community in Canada – no matter how isolated – has access to high-speed Internet. In some ways this has been happening.

I told a story in a post a few weeks ago about working in a northern BC First Nation community accessed by plane (landing on a gravel runway) or five hours by gravel roads from the nearest highway.This community has high-speed internet delivered through satellites. Sometimes the reception is a bit inconsistent and evenings can be really slow as kids get online to play video games with kids from Newfoundland or Florida or South Africa.

Today in the Globe and Mail newspaper there is an article about how the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is pressuring the telecom industry to improve their wireless and high-speed internet services to rural communities – rather than just focusing on urban communities.

I am also reading Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone is Connected. Connect Everyone to your Business. Joel has a blog on the topic. You can probably guess that this is connected to the idea of six degrees of separation.

In his ending to the first chapter, Joel states:

The big idea in a world of Six Pixels of Separation is to embrace community as the new currency. Understand and believe that your business and how it is perceived in the marketplace are going to get increasingly complex in the coming months. How you are positioned, how people see you, and how you speak back to them are going to be the global validation for your growth. In a world where we’re all connected, one opinion quickly turns into everyone’s opinion. How you build trust in your brand, your business, and yourself is going to be an important part of how your business is going to adapt and evolve. (author’s emphasis)

I don’t know if I fully agree with the sentiment of embracing community as the “new currency” – communities have, and always will have, currency, or “transmission from person to person” as one dictionary defines currency. However, I do agree with the idea that one opinion can turn into everyone’s opinion.

I hope that many organizations recognize this in a world becoming more and more connected (over 1.5 billion people now online) – for example, organizations that exist solely to provide consumers with tools to make more conscious decisions when purchasing, such as “eco-labelling” and “eco-certification”. Or organizations marketing certain products such as farmed salmon or wild salmon.

I was quite amazed the other day to look through Seth Godin’s blog – one of the most popular in North America with hundreds of thousands of followers and daily visitors. For example, he released a book last week Linchpin – it’s already on the New York Times bestseller list. Godin has suggested in a couple of blog posts to stay away from farmed salmon. He also highlighted – in his book All Marketers Are Liars – a story about a test conducted in New York which tested fresh whole salmon from various local markets labeled “wild”. Turns out a significant amount of the salmon – some sold at $29/lb – labeled “wild” were in fact farmed salmon.


Impressively, in comments on Godin’s posts were comments from farmed salmon associations with links to webpages and health “facts”. Seems maybe the salmon farming industry gets this new social media, this “community”. Not surprising when three quarters of the over 300,000 metric tonnes of salmon consumed in the U.S. is farmed.

the interventionist solution?

The other day I asked how do we define “wild salmon”? This following on the heels of the announcement by Target the huge US retail chain that it would now only carry “wild-caught” salmon as opposed to farmed salmon.

In the post I highlight the fact that around the Pacific Rim over 5 billion baby salmon are released by salmon ranching – salmon enhancement facilities. Hatcheries in other words.

Alaskan facilities release somewhere around 1.5 billion baby salmon every year – Canada releases approximately 600 million baby salmon every year. Japan releases over 2 billion – 95% of their commercially caught salmon are from salmon ranching facilities.

This is intervention at a grand scale.

There is often a lot of media surrounding Alaskan salmon fisheries. These fisheries have been “eco-certified” by the Marine Stewardship Council and they are often touted as healthy, sustainable, model fisheries.

Of course, some folks point to good ocean survival for Alaskan salmon as opposed to other stocks such as those in California, Oregon, and Washington. Other folks point to the fact that Alaska has legally mandated that fisheries can not catch over 50% of salmon runs – a more “sustainable” level than than the approximately 80% that Fisheries and Oceans Canada allows their fisheries to take from salmon runs (Maximum Sustainable Yield).

These factors may all contribute – however, I might point to a worrisome trend of more hatchery fish contributing to fisheries. This graph is from The Great Salmon Run by Gunnar Knapp, and Cathy Roheim and James Anderson:

Alaska has approximately 40 hatcheries. Canada- British Columbia has almost 200.

One of the concerns with hatcheries is that they reduce the genetic diversity of salmon runs. Genetic diversity in any species suggests a more hearty species able to withstand various threats and changes.

Alaska may be pumping out more baby salmon than BC – which requires immense amount of feed for those baby salmon while they are still in hatcheries – as well as eating natural feed in the North Pacific. However, Canada is pumping out baby salmon from way more facilities which might suggest a wider threat to genetic diversity over a wider geographic area.

In 2005, Xanthippe Augerot and the State of the Salmon Consortium produced an Atlas of Pacific Salmon: The First map based status assessment of Salmon in the North Pacific.

It’s a great book and a very affordable price for it’s coffee table book size and endless color maps.

One of the maps shows all of the hatcheries around the North Pacific (you can view a much larger version here):

That’s Japan leading the pack with 378.

British Columbia is second with 191.

And Washington with 88.

Hatcheries are not a new intervention. In the 1902 Canada Fisheries Report I quoted in an earlier post – Once Upon a Salmon – there is a report on the total amount of fish released from hatcheries across the country. Here is the B.C. summary:

Between 1885 and 1900 BC hatcheries sent out over 100 million baby salmon into the North Pacific.

If you had a chance to read the post – this full 430 page report also reported that Fraser River canneries canned over 30 million sockeye that year and could have canned another 30 million if the hatcheries had had more capacity.

So why the hell were governments spending money on hatcheries?

Maybe these quotes from the report might shed some light:

Trout devour other species, and even make war upon each other. It is no doubt impossible in most salmon rivers to exterminate the trout, or prevent their inroads; but every means should be taken to keep their numbers down and successfully check their super-abundance.

This idea of “super-abundance” is still alive and well in fisheries management plans. There is a term in salmon management called “over-escapement”. Salmon that “escape” fisheries and reach the spawning grounds are called “escapement”  – rather than spawners.

As I have asked before are we managing for the fish – or are we managing for the fisheries?

This idea of over-escapement permeates institutions and has been adopted by many. If too many salmon are allowed to reach spawning grounds they will kill each other, dig each others eggs, rampant diseases will ensue – thus we better intervene and catch as many as possible.

Gee, as far as I know salmon have been around a few million years – they’ve done a pretty decent job of managing themselves. And funny enough, before western science and fisheries management and canneries and open ocean fisheries arrived – salmon and humans were doing pretty well together.

Maybe this quote from the 1902 report also still permeates salmon management:

While, of course, the department is competent to decide, more so, indeed, than any local authorities, such matters as these, on account of the extensive and varied means of information it possesses…

Yes, of course, indeed…. what the heck would local authorities and individuals know about salmon?

And, maybe this paragraph points to an attitude that still permeates institutional salmon management:

A salmon river should, as far as possible, be a river for salmon, and no step should be neglected to make it so. On the other hand a trout stream is not to be despised; but a trout stream should be a stream for trout, a stream that is to say, in which every encouragement for their increase and welfare, and every protection against injury and depletion is afforded them. It is justifiable in a good trout stream to exclude and destroy salmon for, as that most enthusiastic of trout culturists, the late Sir James Gibson Maitland once declared,—” trout are most destructive to salmon spawn”…

“the returning salmon knows of no ‘cure’ for the termination of his life”

The subject line is a quote from one of my all time favorite writers – Canadian Alistair MacLeod. The quote comes from MacLeod’s story “The Road to Rankin’s Point” which is in his book of short stories Island.

The full quote:

I have returned now, I think, almost as the diseased and polluted salmon, to swim for a brief time in the clear waters of my earlier stream. The returning salmon knows of no “cure” for the termination of his life.

The story is about a 26-year old man returning home to Cape Breton to try and convince his grandmother (on behalf of the rest of his family) to move to a nursing home. It turns out he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but does not tell anyone, until he tells his grandmother near the end of the story (sorry to let that out, if you haven’t read the story) – and most likely part of the reference to diseased and polluted returning home.

The story has a lot to do with death – and yet also life. The cycle.

This ties in with a book I picked up at the library yesterday What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay. The book has a bit of that “Chicken Little” element to it and can start to get a bit dour with too much reading.

However, here is a great tidbit from the first chapter:

The health of the land begins with shit, with dead bodies, with body parts that fall to the ground. It begins with death, decomposition, decay. It begins with eating, metabolizing, excreting. That’s how it has always been, since the beginning of life. You feed me, I feed the soil, the soil feeds everyone, the soil feeds me, I feed you, you feed the soil, and so on.

Here’s another way to look at it: I eat you, the soil eats me, everyone eats the soil, you eat me, the soil eats you.

It’s all the same.

This reminded me of learning about mortuary poles when, as a kid, I visited old Haida villages in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site on the south end of Haida Gwaii of the coast of British Columbia. In essence a mortuary pole is a pole with a ‘box’ on the top. In the box certain individuals were placed when they died. Eventually the wood of the box would decompose and the bones would eventually fall to the ground to return to the earth – just as eventually the pole itself would too.

In Gwaii Haanas, there have been hot debates about the old totem poles. Common practice was to allow totem poles to fall and return to the earth where they came from. With creation of the “reserve park” the poles became great tourist attractions – for example the old village on Skung Gwaii is considered a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Should the poles return to the earth as they used to for thousands of years, or should they be propped up to secure a longer life above earth?

When salmon return to spawn – they die and feed everything – including, and especially, the soil. In years past, while doing stream surveys or other projects, I walked coastal streams in fall months. On Haida Gwaii, for example, fall months are chum salmon time in many streams. Chum can be quite large, say 15 to 20 pounds. When they spawn and then die after their short lives, their bodies line stream banks and gravel bars putrefying and feeding; rotting and nourishing; crawling and breaking-down.

Some times a great rain storm will come through and flood streams. Walking streams afterward, chum carcasses  hang off stream-side branches and brush – flapping in the wind like national flags. Decayed carcasses wrap around logs like old gym socks. The skin, tougher than leather, can lay around on gravel bars for over a month – slipperier than the proverbial banana peel. Many carcasses flush out to estuaries feeding a myriad of critters there – crabs, clams, little fish, anemones, and so on.

Not only do salmon carcasses fertilize the forest like fish-meal in a garden – the shit of bears, eagles, and other critter feeds the soil, the trees, and everything else in the vicinity. Basic plant biology points out that plants need to get nitrogen (one of the building blocks for life) from different sources. There’s quite a bit of nitrogen in salmon carcasses – there’s even more nitrogen in bear pee after it eats salmon. Bear pee for plants is a good thing and a great source of nitrogen.

Salmon carcasses also feed the next generation of salmon. Various studies demonstrate that baby salmon hanging out in streams consume massive amounts of nutrients left by their parents decomposing bodies – either direct feeding on carcass remnants or eating insects that metamorphosized out of carcasses from the year previous. As high as 40-60% of stomach contents of some baby salmon are carcass derived. Continual declines in salmon carcasses in streams, means that baby salmon lose vital food sources.

This part of the story was lost when fisheries “management” over the last century suggested it was fine to take 50%-80% of salmon populations through various forms of fishing dictated by ensuring “Maximum Sustainable Yield”.

This stopped a lot of shitting in the forest. This stopped a lot of shit in the forest that was absorbed by everything in the vicinity.

Does a bear shit in the woods?

Sure does, especially when it’s eating a lot of salmon.

Here’s something to maybe make you smile – this is from Hugh MacLeod he keeps a website of great little pieces of art – he does them on the back of business cards. This is how I feel when I read the latest fisheries management approaches proposed by government ministries, and government Ministers suggest that salmon declines might be from “localized” impacts…