Tag Archives: Wild Salmon Policy

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

New e-book on Maximum Sustainable Yield

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

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

Here is a sample from page 1…

Page 1: How (not) to “manage” fish…

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

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

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

And stay tuned for more e-books coming soon.

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

Dead sockeye -- Flickr "Watershed_Watch"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black bear cub with sockeye -- Flickr: Gillfoto

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

We simply… just don’t know.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _



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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

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

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

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

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

Well… what are we making?

An ecosystem?

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

The article continues:

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

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

Gee. Maybe Mr. Leadem has seen my cartoon:

Salmon... death of a thousands cuts

I sense a certain frustration or defeatism in that comment…

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Article continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _

The article:

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

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

No… no game plan indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

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

What is that… a ‘relationship’?

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

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

What does connected mean?

Joined or linked together;

Related by family.


And curiously, even in mathematics it means:

Not decomposable into two disjoint nonempty open sets.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Salmon and people are both concepts and objects…

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

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

We’ve been more on the taking end…

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

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

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

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

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

The article concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making salmon zoos …

There is no mystery folks — when it comes to salmon declines.


death of a thousand cuts

If we stopped putting these endless amount of efforts into “research” and trying to find an apparent ‘smoking gun’ in why salmon are declining… and simply looked at history — it might be so much more revealing.

Salmon have suffered massive declines throughout their range because of inaction, lack of political will, and far too many reports documenting the issues with no one ensuring “recommendations” are actually implemented, monitored, evaluated, and improved (if need be).

A federal government policy intended to ensure there is “no net loss” of fish habitat in Canada is failing to achieve its goal, a panel of experts from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has testified.

This the opening to Mr. Hume’s article today in the Globe and Mail.

Fisheries habitat being steadily eroded, panel told

In 1986, the government established a habitat management plan that stipulates that when fish habitat is damaged by development, then an equal or greater amount of habitat should be created or restored nearby, as compensation.

But three DFO experts appearing Monday at a judicial inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River all agreed fisheries habitat is being steadily eroded, because the habitat provided in compensation often doesn’t match in size or productivity the habitat that has been lost to development.

Patrice LeBlanc, director of Habitat Policies and Practices, from DFO’s headquarters in Ottawa, said it is hard to know exactly what the overall net loss is.

“We do lose some habitat,” he said in responding to questions from Brock Martland, associate commission counsel. “I’m not sure if it’s 10 per cent or 50 per cent – we have no true way to measure.”

_ _ _ _ _

This is not new news. (no offence intended to Mr. Hume, however, I think he well knows this from his reporting over the years. And like other articles glad to see salmon getting so much mainstream press these days…)

Lower Fraser River -- Vancouver Sun article 2009 (click photo to read)

The Auditor General of Canada pretty much said the same thing a few years ago in the release of another damaging report on DFO and Environment Canada:

Efforts to protect fish habitat have been inadequate

Ottawa, 12 May 2009—Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada cannot demonstrate that they are adequately protecting fish habitat as the Fisheries Act requires them to do, says Scott Vaughan, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his Report tabled today in the House of Commons. His Report notes that in the 23 years since the Habitat Policy was adopted, many parts of it have been not been implemented by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

The audit found that there is limited information on the state of fish habitat across Canada. Fisheries and Oceans Canada does not know whether its actions are achieving a net gain in habitat, the long-term objective of the Habitat Policy.

“The Fisheries Act is among the most important laws of the federal government intended to promote environmental protection and conservation,” said Mr. Vaughan. “I am concerned that many of the issues identified in our audit have been raised repeatedly over many years, and they are still unresolved.”

And well… the list goes on and on and on…

In 1997, the Auditor General of Canada pretty much wrote the same thing.

Chapter 28—Fisheries and Oceans Canada—Pacific Salmon: Sustainability of the Resource Base

Main Points

28.1 Canada’s ability to sustain the Pacific salmon resource at the present level and diversity is questionable given the various factors influencing salmon survival, many of which are beyond its control. While Fisheries and Oceans has built up major salmon stocks, others are declining and many are considered threatened. There is evidence that habitat loss is contributing to these declines. However, no overall status report on salmon habitat is available to assess the impact of habitat loss on the resource.

The physical habitat base is being eroded

28.23 While the overall number of salmon returning to B.C. waters is increasing and some major stocks are rebuilding to higher and sometimes record numbers, the numbers and strengths of some individual stocks are declining and are cause for concern. The causes for these declines are complex and include natural processes, such as cyclic changes in ocean productivity and marine survival, alterations of freshwater productivity, both natural and man-made, and human influences, such as fishing and habitat alteration.

Habitat loss is a major problem and, in fact, the Department estimates that loss of habitat probably accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the disappearance of small stocks of salmon in B.C. For example, the development of the City of Vancouver has resulted in 70 percent of the Fraser River estuary’s original wetland system being altered, mostly by diking and drainage projects, and approximately 50 percent of the estuary’s delta habitat being lost to development since 1880. Such changes have resulted in the documented destruction of streams and the subsequent loss of salmon.

_ _ _ _ _ _

I think my math is OK — 1997 is over a decade ago.

Where’s the report documenting the big changes that DFO made regarding these recommendations? And more importantly where’s the on-the-ground monitoring, evaluation, and improvement on these recommendations?

You know… feedback loops… those key components of any well-functioning system…

And so… if even DFO numbers (e.g. estimates) suggest that habitat loss could be accounting for 20-30% of the losses of small stocks (e.g. those key components of biodiversity) — why wasn’t drastic action taken?

In 1997 House of Commons (another “Standing Committee) reports it was suggested:

The pacific salmon is a valuable resource for the citizens and communities of British Columbia as well as for Canada as a whole. The commercial salmon fishery was worth $265 million annually during 1986 – 1995. A recent survey indicated that the recreational fishery generated more than $228 million in direct expenditures by anglers in 1990 alone. Many Canadians, especially the citizens and communities in British Columbia, have expressed a strong interest in, and commitment to, preserving this important resource for the use and enjoyment of generations to come.

And so the standard monetary-economic valuation is fronted, without mention of the value of salmon to First Nation communities (culturally, economically, etc.)… Regardless, the numbers stated still suggest a value of about $500 million or so between the commercial and sport sector for salmon fisheries.

Thus… if estimates suggested habitat loss was accounting for somewhere around 20-30% of small salmon stocks population loss — wouldn’t that suggest drastic action, simply with an economic impetus?


Instead… here we are in 2011; another multi-million dollar judicial inquiry which has the same things being reported that have been reported for the last 10 decades.

What is that?

Look after the salmon habitat for the salmon… and the salmon will look after you and the habitat.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Don’t overfish; and don’t destroy habitat.

Simple principle.

Worked for eons pre-contact…

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Operating under the assumption that we can do this:

"no net loss" of habitat? Vancouver Island Highway

See that giant red stump in the right of the top photo… hmmm. Kind of hard to restore that in a “no-net loss”-kinda-way.

Also kind of hard to restore this in a “no-net-loss” kinda-way:

Vancouver Sun

We’re probably better off simply setting up something like this for salmon — similar to the Oregon Zoo:

Salmon zoo

Because we sure as hell aren’t listening to all of the warnings that have been coming since the end of the 1800s. Stop destroying habitat and stop overfishing. This message was repeated from California all the way up the coast to Alaska and across the Pacific Rim.

Yes, ocean conditions, climate change and otherwise have an impact — are they the “culprit” though?

No, we are.

Would some politicians and bureaucrats within the ministry responsible for “conserving” salmon and their habitat please stand up and actually do something.

There are only so many more forests to produce the eco-green, forest stewardship certified, 100% recycled material paper that these report, after report, after testimony, after standing committee, after judicial inquiry, after congressional hearing, after auditor general report, after special committee, after enviro, after… after… after…



you can’t eat extinction

Pretty good string of articles from Mr. Hume these days — salmon are getting some mainstream press. Good to see…

Mark’s article today in the Globe, is based on an article by Elizabeth Pennisi in Science magazine:

Some Salmon Can Take the Heat

The Chilko sockeye is the Michael Phelps of salmon. Once a year, it swims 650 kilometers up British Columbia’s Fraser River, fighting rapids and strong currents, to reach a spot where it can lay and fertilize its eggs. New research reveals that the fish is well-adapted to this journey—it has a bigger, better heart and uses oxygen more efficiently than do other local salmon. And thanks to these attributes, the Chilko sockeye may be more likely than these other fish to survive a warming world.

Not all of the Fraser River’s salmon swim as far as the Chilko sockeye. Some stay relatively close to the coast; others swim a bit farther upstream to spawn. There are so many different migration distances that the fish have split into 100 distinct populations—one of which is the Chilko—with different swimming behaviors and body types.

Hot summers take a toll on these migrations. In 2004, for example, 80% of some salmon populations died of heat stress before reaching their spawning destinations. Water temperatures in the Fraser River have risen 2°C in the past 60 years, and, with global warming, researchers expect even bigger die-offs to come. Erika Eliason, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada, wanted to know whether different populations of Fraser River salmon were better than others at handling the heat.

I think this is called local adaptation and demonstrates the importance of biodiversity… not to mention the scary stat that 80% of some salmon populations die en route in the river. First, they dodge all the fisheries, seals, orcas, and pollution of the lower Fraser (not to mention years of the North Pacific…) — then they die en route, simply because the water gets too warm.

It will give those of you comfort to know that pre-season forecasts for this year are looking dismal; however, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is still floating around various potential scenarios that include harvesting up to 50% of some runs. The hearty Chilko run will most likely be one of those runs with targeted fisheries.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Mark Hume in the Globe today:

Sockeye salmon at risk of overheating due to climate change: study

Sockeye salmon in the Fraser River are facing such critically warm water in the summer that populations will either have to adapt or die as climate change pushes temperatures even higher, according to new research at the University of British Columbia [by Erika Eliason].

With oceans, lakes and rivers warming worldwide, the study holds a warning that fish stocks are facing increasingly dire environmental challenges…

…What Ms. Eliason found was that sockeye, which migrate up to 1,200 kilometers in the Fraser, are already “near their upper limit” for warm water and any further increases could lead to the disappearance of some populations.

Ms. Eliason said it isn’t known how long it takes a population to change physiologically to adapt to environmental conditions – and it might not be possible for any of the populations to change fast enough to survive in the long run.

“The current challenge is determining whether the rates and extents of physiological adaptation for Fraser River sockeye salmon will allow them to adapt quickly enough to cope with the current warming trend,” concludes the paper.

The Fraser has warmed by about two degrees over the past two decades and the trend is expected to continue. The river is usually over 19 degrees in the summer, and often hits highs of around 21.5 degrees.

“They are all near their upper limit. . . 21.5 degrees C is already higher than the optimal temperature for every single population in the Fraser,” she said. “There is not much room there, for anybody.”

_ _ _ _ _ _

But have no fear, the bumpf-ologists have this well under control… this is a quote from Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy (WSP); it has an entire section on the Precautionary Approach:

The definition fronted in the Policy suggests:

Precautionary approach. When used in an advisory context in support of decision-making by the Government of Canada, this term conveys the sense that the advice is provided in situations of high scientific uncertainty. It is
intended to promote actions that would result in a low probability of harm that is serious or difficult to reverse.

There’s the problem!

The precautionary approach “will be used in an advisory context in support of decision-making by the Government”…

That means that the precautionary approach and science are simply advising political decision.

What else guides political decisions?


Money in the form of campaign and party contributions and lobbying and that exact science of “economics”… (you know that field that the Prime Minister of last week has specialized in…).

Which ones do you think carry the most weight?

As as starting point, one could go ask the once busy cod fishermen of the East Coast…

The only problem is that you can’t eat extinction… and extinction certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

Salmon for the forests; forests for the salmon… shocking…

Globe and Mail image


Health of salmon run affects ecosystem of forest

I’m appreciative of the most recent Mark Hume article in the Globe and Mail.

However at the same time, it’s rather exhausting that these sorts of things come to light so slowly.

I tell the story often…

…when I was growing up on Haida Gwaii, I spent an immense amount of time fishing; largely for Pacific salmon. Coho, humpies, the odd Chum (Dog), and from time to time Chinook. Whenever we brought fish home, we had generally hiked them up the river on an alder branch broken off a tree nearby the closest “meathole”. Generally, we would clean the fish once we got home. Our mom told us for years to bury any heads and guts in the garden, but deep enough that some dog or cat wouldn’t dig them up.

Fertilizers of all sorts are generally made out of fishmeal — and in years gone by were a central component. Industrial fisheries in some far-away ocean grinding up some little fish on the ocean food chain to turn it into cheap fertilizer.

So if fishmeal, fish guts, and fish heads are good fertilizer in a garden — why they hell wouldn’t they be the same in the forest?

Indigenous cultures have been saying this for eons — “everything is connected.”

Ever look at a west coast totem pole… everything is connected.

Ever look at west coast, or even interior art… (you guessed it… everything is connected).

_ _ _ _ _ _

So says the article:

When bears, wolves and other animals drag salmon carcasses from spawning streams they cause an intricate chain reaction that changes the nature of the surrounding forest, according to new research from Simon Fraser University.

Plant species that efficiently take up nitrogen from the decomposing bodies of salmon flourish – and soon there are more song birds, drawn by the dense growths of wild berry bushes and prolific insect hatches.

“The shift in dominance of some of these plant species was a lot more dramatic than I frankly had expected. Species like salmon berry it turns out are really well named. They tend to dominate in streams that have a large number of salmon,” said Prof. Reynolds, who oversaw the research project which was led by Morgan Hocking, a postdoctoral fellow.

In addition to looking at plant species, Prof. Reynolds said it is important to consider the physical characteristics of a stream as well, because animals avoid fishing in places where getting out of the water with a salmon is difficult because of steep banks.

“If it is a small stream and has shallow banks, then there is a lot better chance that the plants will be effected by the carcasses, because these are more accessible to bears,” he said.

I’m certainly appreciative of the research by Reynolds and Hocking. I’ve read quite a bit of their research before and it’s great to see some of it going a bit mainstream.

This is an image from Dr. Tom Reimchen’s lab at Uvic. It’s kind of ‘techie’ and scientific; however shows the same connections — or more like has been showing these connections through ‘scientific’ channels for quite some time.

Salmon enter the near-stream environment from bottom stage left, and become food, nutrients, energy for a pile of critters. (make sure you glance at the date: 1994)

"nutrient vectors"?

And well… what to our wonder…

Apparently salmon depend on the forests of the stream ecosystems they swim up to spawn and then often (for some species) spend several years in as baby salmon.

_ _ _ _ _

An article just the other day from the Atlantic Salmon Federation:

Boreal Forest Water Vital to Atlantic Salmon

OTTAWA – A first of its kind report by the Pew Environment Group reveals that Canada’s boreal, the world’s largest intact forest and on-land carbon storehouse, contains more unfrozen freshwater than any other ecosystem. As United Nations’ International Year of Forests and World Water Day coincide, world leaders are grappling with water scarcity and pollution – and scientists are calling boreal protection a top global priority.

… [because Canada’s Boreal Forest]:

  • contains 25 percent of the planet’s wetlands, millions of pristine lakes, and thousands of free-flowing rivers, totaling more than 197 million acres of surface freshwater;
  • provides an estimated $700 billion value annually as a buffer against climate change and food and water shortages;
  • offers the last refuges for many of the world’s sea-run migratory fish, including half of the remaining populations of North American Atlantic salmon.

“A first of its kind report…”??

Maybe for the Pew folks… but certainly not a unique idea. (as i’ve mentioned before… marketing is everything; everything is marketing).

_ _ _ _ _ _

And so really… what all of this is saying is… if we’re going to do true “Ecosystem-Based Management” we better really think about the entire spectrum of ecosystems, and the endless interlinked relationships… and we should probably be cautious and use precaution because we might mess up a delicate balance…

But have no fear I tell you… because over ten years ago (1999) the Department of Fisheries and Oceans devised this incredible draft concept: Canada’s Wild Salmon Policy. One of the central components of that Policy was to be “Ecosystem-based management”…

How are we doing?

Utter failure.

Have you seen the allocations of salmon for species other than humans?

Like maybe Species at Risk Act (SARA) listed Resident Orcas in the Salish Sea that depend heavily on Fraser Chinook as a food source, or dwindling Grizzly Bears, or starving eagles?

_ _ _ _ _ _

And south of us… have no fear, I found on the Pacific Fishery Management Council website that there is a sub-committee of a Committee holding a sub-Panel of a Panel to devise a Plan…

Sounds promising, let me tell you.

Ecosystem-Based Management Subcommittee of the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel to Hold Work Sessions to Develop recommendations on an Ecosystem Fishery Management Plan

The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) will convene meetings of the Ecosystem-Based Management Subcommittee (Subcommittee) of the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the Ecosystem Advisory Subpanel (EAS) that are open to the public.  Please note, this is not a public hearing; it is a work session for the primary purpose of considering recommendations to the Council on the development of an Ecosystem Fishery Management Plan (EFMP).

I don’t mean to be the can of fish asshole today… but come on!

are you kidding?

I’m really not sure what an “ecosystem fishery” management plan is… isn’t that what we all do… go fishing in an “ecosystem”?

The Subcommittee session will focus on incorporating ecosystem science into the Council management process.  The joint session of the Subcommittee and the EAS will focus on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment [take deep breath]. The EAS will also discuss available science and its potential application with the SSC and will develop recommendations on the EFMP’s purpose and need, regulatory authority, and management unit species for the June 2011 Council meeting in Spokane, Washington

(I’m not making this stuff up… true quotes)

I just don’t understand why they don’t form an advisory subsubcommittee (S2C) that will integrate a framework that will inform the sub-Panel of the Board of the Directors recommendations to the post-science, pre-conference, strategic planning sub-Group — which will in turn provide a background matrix and risk-management scaffolding to guide regulatory management and authority of that sub-species, pre-migratory, complex habitat, ecosystem-based, policy informing database and ecological modeling platform.

Maybe that’s why Dr. Reimchen’s work has never been officially incorporated into Department of Fisheries and Oceans “ecosystem-based management” policies. He must not have been on the sub-committee of the sub-Panel reporting to the EBM Board at the DFO…

But hey… thank ghad… there is contact info for the upcoming gathering down south:

For further information regarding the ecosystem-based management advisory subpanel and subcommittee work sessions, please contact…

… Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to … at least five days prior to the meeting date.

I, by no means fault the effort to provide access to individuals with disabilities — that’s important everyhwere… I’m just wondering if they’ll have “translation” services available. I think that could be a mandatory “auxiliary aid” for any of these salmon processes.

I was a at a conference in Portland, Oregon last year and there were translation services for Japanese and Russian participants — several times I was looking for the translation services for gobbledeegook, bumpf, bureaucratese, ‘science-chatter’. I’m sure some folks have been looking for these services at the Cohen Commission looking at declines [aka crash] of Fraser salmon in 2009…

It’s a disease… or a bumpf-ease… could one be so bold as to say “plain language might save the wild salmon”?

And maybe a return to a thousands and thousands of years old understanding… salmon are essential to forests; forests are essential to salmon.

“Everything is connected; connected is everything…”

Salmon status unknown

Recently at the Cohen Commission looking at declines of Fraser River sockeye, a backgrounder was released for one of the 12 technical reports to be completed:

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

Only the Executive Summary and Backgrounder is available for public consumption at this time.

This technical report was apparently meant to:

…investigate several aspects of Fraser sockeye ecology, including the status of sockeye Conservation Units, a review of industrial and urban impacts on freshwater ecology and salmon life history, and an expert assessment of potential impacts from historical industrial and urban activities on Fraser River sockeye.

This report is focused on evaluating changes in freshwater ecology and its role in recent sockeye salmon declines, including the status of sockeye salmon populations and habitats and the impacts of human activities on freshwater habitats.

Reading the Executive Summary for the report I was struck by some pretty curious statements:

This report is focused on evaluating changes in freshwater ecology and its role in recent sockeye salmon declines for the Cohen Commission. This work includes examining the status of sockeye salmon populations and habitats, as well as the impacts of human activities on freshwater habitats (i.e., logging, hydroelectricity, urbanization, agriculture, and mining).

Changes in freshwater ecology due to natural and human forces are hypothesized as having three pathways of effects. These pathways include effects on the: (1) quantity and quality of spawning habitats; (2) productivity of nursery lakes for rearing; and/or (3) habitat conditions associated with migration of smolts / adults.

To assess the current status of Fraser River sockeye salmon populations, we have been charged with three tasks:

(1) summarizing existing delineations of population diversity into Conservation Units (CUs) [a CU is defined by the Wild Salmon Policy as “a group of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, is very unlikely to recolonize naturally within an acceptable time frame”];

(2) evaluating Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) methods for assessing conservation status; and

(3) determining the status of Fraser River sockeye salmon CUs. Delineations of Conservation Units were necessary to quantify habitat conditions, analyze landscape level disturbances, and evaluate the relationship between changes in freshwater ecology and changes in productivity…

Back to the Backgrounder:

Status of Conservation Units

The report identified 36 sockeye Conservations Units (CUs) within the Fraser River basin, including 30 lake and six river-type CUs..

The researchers found that 17 of the 36 Fraser sockeye CUs have poor population status and are distributed across all run timing groups.

The status of 11 CUs is unknown.

_ _ _ _ _ _

So the status of at least 30% of the Conservation Units is unknown… yet, a CU is “a group of wild salmon sufficiently isolated from other groups that, if lost, is very unlikely to recolonize naturally within an acceptable time frame…”

_ _ _ _ _ _

The Executive Summary continues:

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


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

uh, huh…

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

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

‘Measures not available’… ‘lack of information’… ‘lack of experimental design data being collected’… ‘tests for cause and effect limited’… ‘limited set of quantitative techniques and data’…

Do I sense a pattern here?

And yet…conclusion is:

…we believe that recent declines in Fraser River sockeye salmon are unlikely to be the result of changes in the freshwater environment.

_ _ _ _ _ _

And so a desktop, office exercise (one that was probably not cheap) for: “evaluating the status of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon and the role of Freshwater ecology in their Decline” concludes on “limited data” and “lack of information” that the freshwater environment for Fraser sockeye is just fine.

Is something amiss here?

But wait… a consulting firm that states its mission is: “to bring together people, science and analytical tools to sustain healthy ecosystems and human communities.” And “our dedicated and knowledgeable team of scientists fills a niche in the consulting field — we work together in interdisciplinary teams with our clients, applying quantitative methods and qualitative concepts to resolve complex natural resource and environmental management problems”

states in its recommendations:

(1) To improve our understanding about survival at critical freshwater life stages, scientists need better estimates of juvenile abundance, overwinter survival, and mortality during smolt outmigration.

(2) To improve our understanding about population status across Conservation Units, scientists need more information about the abundance and distribution of small lake and all river CUs.

(3) To improve our understanding about habitat status across Conservation Units, scientists need information on habitats monitored in a consistent manner on a regular basis across a larger number of rivers and nursery lakes.

(4) To improve our understanding about the population level effects of stressors on freshwater habitats, scientists need more precise estimates of the biological consequences of disturbance as a function of increasing stress.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Appears scientists need a lot of information on the freshwater environment, yet some scientists “in the consulting field” can still state that recent declines are not a result of the freshwater environment, yet also state “ohhh, we need more research, more research…”

Something just doesn’t sit right here…

Didn’t it state at the beginning that: “Changes in freshwater ecology due to natural and human forces are hypothesized as having three pathways of effects. These pathways include effects on the: (1) quantity and quality of spawning habitats; (2) productivity of nursery lakes for rearing; and/or (3) habitat conditions associated with migration of smolts / adults.”

But then it is stated in the recommendations that we need far more research on all of those “three pathways of effects”?

Fraser sockeye declines are not a result of freshwater habitat changes… but we better do more research?

Fraser sockeye declines are not a result of freshwater habitat changes… but there are huge data gaps?

Which one is it?

_ _ _ _ _ _

The final recommendation stated is:

(5) To improve transparency in the science and related decision making scientists, managers, and the public need information that is more accessible and collected in a way that is more integrated across federal and provincial agencies.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Couldn’t agree more… The public certainly does need information that is more accessible.

Maybe I’m making some pretty early judgments without reading the full report, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the questions…

Once upon a salmon: “Salmon management for people”… that’s the problem isn’t it?

Pacific Salmon Management for People

I came across this book in a Vancouver Island used book store recently as well. It was published by the University of Victoria in 1977.

It’s quite a remarkable read for simply shaking one’s head and mumbling: “…we just never learn… we just never learn…”

There’s also some recognizable names from today’s salmon debates…

Here’s some material from the Preface of the book:





Over the past few years there has been a rapid and widespread expansion of enlightened attitudes towards managing resources and planning their development. Two principle components can be identified. The first is recognition that a resource is part of an ecosystem, and that manipulation of any part of the system will have effects ramifying throughout. The second component is an awareness that people also are a part of the ecosystem, and the ramifying effects will reach them in many different ways and times.

This book emphasizes the salmon resource system — the fish, the environment, the people, and the social organisation and interactions which nowadays link them together and which overlies the natural ecosystem of simpler times. Its examination of this system unfortunately cannot be comprehensive. The system is too complex for that…

… Section III concerns itself with the future, for without such prognostications the book itself would be only an academic exercise of little use to people…


_ _ _ _ _

Here are three quotes from Section I: Emerging Knowledge and Theory.

“One can only look with sadness and with wonder at the record of man’s use of the Pacific salmon resources…”

For myself… this book was published before I was in kindergarten… how sad and with depressed wonder is that view of man’s record with Pacific salmon — now?

_ _ _ _ _

“This (the involvement of biologists in salmon management) is particularly necessary during a management period when a philosophy of systems analysis, in which salmon tend to be regarded as statistically predictable automata, rather than living individually varying animals, is being emphasised.”

Not much has changed on this front… we now have a Department of Fisheries and Oceans “Pilot Study” called the Fraser River Spawning Sockeye Initiative (FRSSI) which is a computer modeling program that uses a variety of paper maché theories to attempt to predict run sizes and fishing limits.

_ _ _ _ _

“It is ironic that just as the agencies are beginning to achieve maximum sustained yield (on the Skeena sockeye at least), the inadequacies of this theory are becoming widely recognized.”

It is even more ironic that in 2011, thirty-four years later — salmon management is still based on this tired old theory of maximum sustained yield. It’s still a central component of the apparent Wild Salmon Policy.

_ _ _ _ _

And, yet… the conclusion to this book could, no doubt, be written today. It could be the same words used in Justice Cohen’s final report…

The problem of Pacific Salmon management is twofold: the maintenance of a natural resource, and its allocation to people with diverse claims. The setting is the contemporary world of urban and industrial growth, unemployment and inflation. The light which we throw on the problem is the new understanding that issues cannot be interpreted, nor decided upon, in isolation but must be seen in a broad context of ramifying relations which we call a system.

James Crutchfield described how man as a predator of salmon has failed conspicuously to maximize either the salmon populations or his own gains. Stocks have declined, and labour and capital have been grossly wasted. From the failure to put the fishery on a sound economic basis stems the failure to reach the primary goal of salmon management – “some composite measures of human well-being.” The chief reasons for the pursuit of immediate profit and conflicts of interest. Inadequate knowledge of the ecological needs of salmon has not been a prime cause of their decline. Decisions have been made knowingly.

The mood of today, and it may be an ephemeral mood, is tempered with restraint. The tradition of stewardship, traceable to Plato has a voice. Man has responsibilities towards nature (and the mind to the body?). Certainly the Pacific salmon must not attain the status of the Atlantic salmon in Europe…

…The problems of salmon management, then, represent in microcosm some great issues of our time. They call not merely for ecological economics but also from ecological politics. They are one test of whether man can make a civilization distinguished by restraint and a sense of place…

I know the sense of place that I have of British Columbia and the Pacific Rim in general… is one that includes healthy runs of wild Pacific salmon.

When will we learn? When will we learn?

Maybe reading these old reports on salmon ‘management’ should come with a mandatory prescription of Prozac.

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?

Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC?

Search “BC salmon” on google or otherwise and one can get a list of media articles. As usual, there is much debate from all sides of the issue — many of which are explored on this site.

Some curious comparisons this week…

The release of another peer-reviewed scientific study (Public Library of Science ONE — PLOS):

Sea Louse Infection of Juvenile Sockeye Salmon in Relation to Marine Salmon Farms on Canada’s West Coast


Pathogens are growing threats to wildlife. The rapid growth of marine salmon farms over the past two decades has increased host abundance for pathogenic sea lice in coastal waters, and wild juvenile salmon swimming past farms are frequently infected with lice. Here we report the first investigation of the potential role of salmon farms in transmitting sea lice to juvenile sockeye salmon.


This is the first study to demonstrate a potential role of salmon farms in sea lice transmission to juvenile sockeye salmon during their critical early marine migration [spring time]. Moreover, it demonstrates a major migration corridor past farms for sockeye that originated in the Fraser River, a complex of populations that are the subject of conservation concern.

Now to be fair, if one looks at the authors of this paper there are some organizations involved that may fairly be suggested to have some bias in their perspective. However, there is a rather significant difference between profit-based bias and non-profit-based bias; between satisfying-shareholder-make-profit-bias and special-interest-group-protect-wild salmon bias.

And really this whole bias thing is rather complex isn’t it?

Major universities get millions and millions of dollars of funding from industrial companies — say for example close to home here in Prince George: Canfor the major forestry company has invested a lot of money in the University of Northern BC (UNBC) campus. Go to a public presentation and you will most likely sit in the “Canfor Theatre”.

Do you think major research is going to come out of these institutions that might affect those donations?

Hard to say…?

The important point is that information gets out into the public realm for people to make up their own minds — that’s democracy isn’t it? People power?

_ _ _ _ _ _

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has invested probably over $100 million (or more) in aquaculture over the last decade or so — think it’s going to start releasing research or policies that have potential to make those investments obsolete?

Probably not.

_ _ _ _ _ _

And so what does the BC Salmon Farmers Assoc. (BCSFA) have to say about this recently released research paper?

More research needed into sea lice

The British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association [BCSFA] has stated that additional research into sea lice and its effect on wild salmon stocks is both important and necessary in response to the findings of a new study [above] that ties salmon farms to wild salmon infected with sea lice.

… the study recorded the highest lice levels on juvenile sockeye in the Georgia Strait near a farmed salmon processing plant, which intensifies existing concerns regarding the full potential consequences of the salmon farming sector on wild salmon in BC.

The aquaculture industry agrees with the researchers that more work is needed.

“Our farmers take very seriously the responsibility of managing sea lice on our fish to ensure they are not putting additional stress on wild salmon,” said BCSFA Executive Director Mary Ellen Walling. “Both sea lice and the challenges faced by BC’s wild salmon are complicated, multi-layered issues and there is more work to be done.”

_ _ _ _ _ _

But hold on a second…

The “fact” reported at the Salmon Farmers site suggest: “farmers work to protect wild salmon from sea lice” and the added commentary from the site moderators suggest:

…the precautionary approach is a very interesting topic. Many would suggest that aquaculture (growing fish and shellfish that help take pressure off wild stocks) is one step in the precautionary principle. But you are correct that, like all forms of food production, farming seafood also has some inherent risks


If you’ve read other posts on this site; I’m not one to buy this: “salmon farming takes pressure off wild stocks” argument… that’s the good old apples and oranges thing… it’s like saying goose farms take the pressure of wild geese… and so on.

Furthermore, you can watch the little Youtube video at the site:


There’s kind of an important piece of “fact” left out in this little video…

It’s all fine and dandy that the adult Atlantic salmon are checked for lice — and you can see one pulled of an adult salmon in the video — and it’s fine and dandy that the farmed salmon pick up the lice “naturally”, and so on and so on.

That’s not really the problem.

The problem is that the farms accentuate a naturally existing parasite.

Sort of like the pine beetle infestation.

Pine beetles have been around about as long as trees. The two co-existed with ups and downs… however when intensive logging, fire suppression to protect the logging industry, a beetle break out in a Provincial Park and lack of interventions, and a list of other interventions occurred — a “naturally” occurring parasite became a devastating infestation.

The farmed salmon are in southern B.C. bays largely all year round, this means the parasitic lice have hosts all year round. Whereas wild salmon are not around all year round and thus lice don’t exist at the same densities as migration time.

When southern salmon fry migrate through salmon farming areas (many of which are directly on wild salmon migration routes — esp. Fraser salmon fry) they pick up the sea lice that wouldn’t be there in the same numbers if the salmon farms weren’t there. The sea lice are there on adult farmed salmon — adult salmon which wouldn’t be there, and haven’t been there since time immemorial.

(think head lice and elementary schools… the lice wouldn’t be there in the same numbers if there weren’t a concentration of close proximity kids heads to infest)

It only takes a few lice to knock down a baby salmon. (And if you read the study quoted above, there is a big difference in sea lice densities on salmon in areas like the Skeena River: no salmon farming — and the Georgia Strait: lots of salmon farming, plus salmon farm processing plants with guts, lice, and such pumped directly into the Strait.

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So let’s take the comment from “bcsalmonfacts” at their site:

…the precautionary approach is a very interesting topic. Many would suggest that aquaculture… is one step in the precautionary principle. But you are correct that, like all forms of food production, farming seafood also has some inherent risks

And combine it with Ms. Walling’s recent comment:

“Both sea lice and the challenges faced by BC’s wild salmon are complicated, multi-layered issues and there is more work to be done.”

And the comments from the above article:

[this] intensifies existing concerns regarding the full potential consequences of the salmon farming sector on wild salmon in BC… The aquaculture industry agrees with the researchers that more work is needed.

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Well… the European Union, and European Environmental Bureau (1999) has some interesting definitions and considerations of “the Precautionary Principle” :

2.2 Precaution places the burden of proof on the proponents of the activity.

The reversal of the burden of proof is a fundamental principle of precautionary action. The reversal of burden of proof creates incentives for the proponents of an activity to prove that their product or activity is safe. The traditional burden of proof, which lies with legislators [think DFO’s new legislation and the Province of BC before that], may cause considerable delays before action is initiated [considerable delays when government bureaucracies handle things… no… I don’t believe it].

Furthermore, in the case of ‘uncertainty’ the traditional burden of proof may not work. Yet failure to act may in some cases impose considerable costs upon society and health

2.3 Precaution applies the substitution principle, seeking safer alternatives to potentially harmful activities, including the assessment of needs.

Where safer alternatives are available or may be marketed in the forthcoming future, these should be promoted as a substitute to the activity giving rise to ‘reasonable suspicion’. The substitution principle allows for technology driven changes (best environmental option) instead of waiting for the proof of harm. [think closed containment salmon farming, and no salmon farms on wild salmon migration routes]

The principle should be applied in a wide sense including the consideration of alternative products or services to serve the same function in addition to alternative materials for the same product…

2.4 Precaution requires public participation in decision-making.

Risk perception has a cultural dimension.

There is a considerable degree of subjectivism in choosing for a risk averse or a risk friendly approach, different within and between different societies. Decisions on the acceptability of technologies and activities, as well as on the intensity of their control cannot be defined by ‘sound science’ alone, but requires a mechanism to identify the preferences of the society. [this is where non-profits come into play]

Therefore, accountable, transparent public and democratic decision-making within Community institutions is a prerequisite to intelligent decision-making that will serve all citizens…

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A mechanism to identify the preferences of society.

Great point.

This isn’t just about science. This isn’t just about peer-reviewed journal articles. This isn’t just about esteemed fisheries scientists and their viewpoints and research. And this most certainly isn’t just about economics and agricultural exports and even just about jobs.

This is about the relationship between people and salmon; people and their surrounding environments; and people and their desired futures.

Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC… Rather than a quasi-legal, Dr. science-heavy, multi-million dollar Commission? (but I will wait to read the final report next year on this… Maybe Justice Cohen has and will hear the voices of common BC’ers and otherwise).

Maybe a Citizen’s Assembly on Wild Salmon in BC… rather than just an under-financed, sometimes overworked, heavy on the B bureaucracy that is fundamentally broken in so many way.

What do you think?

What’s your salmon story?