Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Salmon Failure

On the West coast, the bad news just keeps coming on the decline of the salmon fishery. Of course the blame game is in full swing. It was not too long ago that the natives were blamed for the losses. Today, the first choice is good old global warming, taking the place of any actual analysis.

To demonstrate how utterly silly that is, merely recall that huge salmon runs existed all the way south into northern California. Now try to convince me or anyone else that the water temperature of the Sacramento River was ever seriously cold like most of the rivers north of Oregon. In short, salmon survive well enough over a reasonable range of temperatures and most likely simply prefer cooler waters in the mountains. They certainly spawn in local creeks in the GVRD that are merely spring fed.

Once that is eliminated, we must return to the persistent habitat damage induced by human riverine development. This obviously and clearly is a huge factor. And not just through the building of dams, which are all built now. Dams chop huge sectors of the overall water shed out of the available usable salmon habitat. Bypass systems do work but are still a bit unconvincing. It also represents a large direct cost on stock management that is not linked directly to the consumer cost of product anywhere.

Without question our riverine damage abatement practices of the past were woefully inadequate. A lot of this has now been reversed and to be fair, there is persistent pressure to now recover river and creek ecologies that over time will hugely restore this resource. We are talking about a lot of time though. Single successes restoring single spring-fed urban creeks are educational encouraging the next generation to do more.

We can envisage a day in which all the river systems are reoptimized in terms of their fecundity. It cannot be a wild restoration, but a human dominated managed wilderness which is a theme that I have promoted for some time. The true wild is not an option.

Again we have a problem. Riverine impact is now largely contained and been reversed in some locales. Yet the wild salmon stocks continue to dwindle. The current status of the stocks is desperate and has now led to an end of the fishery along the entire West coast up to Alaska. If it has not yet been formally closed it is clear that it is about to be. It is also very likely that for reasons we fail to understand, that spawn releases are not surviving to make it back. Today, the only remaining proper management response is the entire closure of the wild fishery along the entire coast. Sorry, Alaska! When you categorically prove that you are an idiot, it is not wisdom to keep up the same behavior.

From the perspective of selfish human needs, the farmed salmon industry has long since developed the capacity to satisfy the whole market. Various environmental concerns that have been thrown its way are all surmountable and should be resolved by the simple expedient of global regulation. Of course, we will have to bicker about that for a few years.

Once you eliminate all the excuses, you are left with only one reality. It is called over fishing. And as my readers know, that means something a lot different than what has been practiced.

A population must recover from predation each and every year for a catch level to be sustainable. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Optimal predation should preserve the female part of the population in order to maximize recovery efficiency. That means that if you wish to have a maximized fishery, it is necessary to allow the stock to reach the best carrying capacity of the environment and to then harvest the proper amount each year.

To date all our global stocks have been demolished by the insanity of catering to the fishers. It is asking a weasel to manage the henhouse. It is already over virtually everywhere.

Right now, we have the recent practice of grazing the ocean in bands taking a hundred percent of what comes on board. This process is obviously putting continued predation on the young salmon that makes any management efforts of the onshore harvest a disaster.

As Arthur C. Clark observed decades ago, the global wild fishery will be reduced through this process to collecting jelly fish. I personally see absolutely no initiative anywhere to at even this last terminal phase, to bring the industry under global management. The US Navy may have the assets able to enforce a regulatory regime for fishing on the high seas. It does not have the authority to impose a regulatory regime on all users of the high seas. That truly must come from the UN as well as a revenue system to pay for enforcement.

To me, it is a miracle that any whales survived extinction. Yet some idiot wants to still hunt whales. An animal with a niche providing a two hundred year lifespan can absorb losses of about one a year for every couple hundred live animals. It is really that sensitive. A global regulatory regime that recognized that as an economic factor would swiftly cure this nonsense through ensuring every kill tag reflected the loss of the remaining life of the animal.

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