Tag Archives: west coast salmon

salmon pool – like a hockey pool…

These last few days I’ve been working on the last section of my upcoming book. The book is about the “why?” As in: why did I set out on a 10,000 km bicycle trip between Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada and Los Angeles, California, USA (via Alaska) in 2001?

Inuvik to LA represents the historical range of Pacific salmon in North America. The trip was called The Wild Salmon Cycle.

Some of the “why?” is about my own history – growing up on Haida Gwaii off the British Columbia coast, working for several years on salmon habitat rehabilitation projects and stream surveys, and so on.

Some of the “why?” is about salmon stories that I have learned over the years. Stories of salmon as nutrients. Stories of human migrations; and human creations – as in: a lot of First Nations throughout B.C. have stories of local origin – not stories of running across some land-sea bridge water lapping at their heels… And some of the nice salmon stories that “science” has formulated for us.

The last section of the book is a challenging one. So often, books of this nature start proposing “solutions”. I don’t have any solutions, however, I do have some suggestions – but mostly I have questions.

Here is a ‘map’ that I am using as a guide for the book – and will be included in the book introduction.

Here’s the gist of what has come to me over the last few weeks…

Salmon can recolonize streams after volcanoes – the Pacific Rim is also known as the “Rim of Fire”.

Salmon can recolonize streams after a kilometre of ice has receded from the landscape (for example 10,000 to 18,000 years ago).

Salmon have lived with great success in streams and rivers that get over nine metres (approx. 30 ft) of rain per year – west coast Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island, and Alaskan panhandle.

Salmon and people have co-existed and co-evolved with landscapes for somewhere around 50,000 years.

So what the hell has happened over the last blink of an eye in time (say 150 years)?

Maybe it’s that dirty climate change thing – as many government ministries and Ministers suggest?

Yeah, sure, but I think there have been a few significant climate change “events” before – sort of like when those ice sheets melted.

I don’t think the clues for answering the question are tough. It’s not like asking someone the square root of 391,423 (without a calculator).

I’m a hockey fan – like a few other Canadians. Sometimes I even enter hockey pools. A group of people get together and pick players for their list or pool. The points that the players amass through a season, or playoff, are the total points for the hockey pool participant. Most points win.

There are a few factors in hockey pool success.  Look at who each player might play with over the season (linemates) – are they top line or maybe third line? How much play time are they going to get? What’s their history of injuries?

Basically, past statistics are one of the biggest tools utilized.

So, if I was in a wild salmon pool – I’d be looking to past statistics to really guide my choices. I quoted some of those statistical components of the past (and present) above – volcanoes, ice ages, rainfall, and so on.

Unfortunately, for wild salmon now – it’s like they’re playing in the National Hockey League with bob skates on (you know the four bladed skates for kids that strap onto boots).

Or, it’s like sending a TimBits (6 or 7 years old) hockey team to the Olympics.

The history of wild salmon in, for example, the Baltic Sea, Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, England, New England, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, and so on where there are mere remnants of past wild salmon runs. And now add in California, Oregon and Washington where declines over the last one hundred years are in the range of 90%-95%. (That’s like going from scoring champ with 100 points to 5 points in the next season – the hockey poolers worst nightmare)

Fervent hockey poolers buy magazines, scour the Web, and listen to hockey pundits on Sports Channels. Some hockey pools are big money – and always big bragging rights. Forecasting for upcoming seasons is crucial – kind of like salmon fisheries.

You could imagine the disappointment – and even economic costs – when some pundits blow their forecasts. For example, forecasting 100 points and a player only gets 10 points. That’s a disaster. You know sort of like forecasting 10 million sockeye in the Fraser River this past season and only getting 1 million – a 90% miss.

Now, of course in B.C. throw in some performance-enhanced salmon into the league (farmed and hatchery salmon) and everything goes to shit. Throw in a few managers demanding “maximum sustainable yield” year after year after year –  and Houston we have a problem….

Another factor in this story. The other day – I searched and searched online for graphs that show historical sizes, or at least estimates, of Fraser River salmon runs over the last 150 years. I have been unable to find any. I searched through Fisheries and Oceans Canada website. No luck.

This is sort of like entering a hockey pool with little chances except luck and fluke.

Although I did find particular references – for example my post from the other day where the Fisheries Minister inn 1902 reported that over 30 million sockeye were canned and put in cases – and, that if cannery capacity could have handled it, they could have canned another 30 million sockeye as the run was massive enough to do so.

This is the best you've got!?

Surfing through various headlines, articles, riffs, and rants – some of which I am posting here – I came across this September 09 news release from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Now, I know this department is an easy target – however, this press release floored me.

On their website, DFO has all of their news releases from the past several months. In the past several months, the only press release I came across regarding West Coast salmon is:

DFO’s Commitment to the Conservation and Sustainability of West Coast Salmon

The press release states:

The lower than expected returns in certain West Coast salmon runs have generated significant interest and concern in the Department and among all Canadians. Questions have been raised about DFO’s commitment to funding research and sustainable fisheries, particularly the Fraser River sockeye.

The Department’s first priority is the conservation and long-term sustainability of sockeye in managing the fishery. Accordingly, the Department has annually invested significant funds to carry out vital scientific research and monitoring.

2002-2009 Annual Expenditures for West Coast Salmon Research

  • 2002-2003 $17.9M
  • 2003-2004 $16.8M
  • 2004-2005 $16.3M
  • 2005-2006 $16.1M
  • 2006-2007 $16.5M
  • 2007-2008 $15.9M
  • 2008-2009 $17.0M

Are you frigging kidding me!?

The West Coast of Canada experiences one of the worst years on record for actual fisheries and sees some of the largest population crashes on record (e.g. Fraser sockeye: over 10 million forecast; just over 1 million return) – and the best the federal department, responsible for ensuring salmon populations are healthy, can send out is a press release stating ‘look at the money we’re spending on research’.

Again, are you frigging kidding me?

This is like me telling my kids in twenty years; what do you mean I don’t care about you look at all the money I spent on you over the last five years: $10,000 for hockey; $5,000 for dance lessons; $20,000 in dad’s taxi services…

NO, no and no – commitment is not assessed by spending $$.

This is like the Mastercard commercials:

  • phone calls from Prime Minister’s office to boycott December SFU salmon think-tank: $105
  • rookie DFO Minister recent BC travel costs to skip meeting with anyone: $100,000
  • new DFO research vessel to park in Victoria harbour: $2.5 million
  • DFO policy of empty press releases, stating and doing nothing: PRICELESS

Maybe a few comparisons to some other areas of federal research funds may shed some further light? For example, how much is the federal government spending on tar sands research; or the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, or….?

As I recently heard an NHL hockey coach suggest between hockey periods: “we need to pull our heads out of our proverbial butts….”