“Primary factors” for Fraser River sockeye salmon decline in 2009

Last year, we highlighted the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River, located in British Columbia, Canada. At the time, we questioned how a respected Judge – Justice Bruce Cohen – could have been bullied into submission by anti-salmon farming activists hell bent on confirming their feelings that salmon aquaculture was the “smoking gun” and responsible for the decline in 2009 sockeye returns to the Fraser River. After 2 years of evidence from the experts and spending $26 million of taxpayers’ money, the Judge found no smoking gun. However, despite this science based conclusion, Judge Cohen seemed to strangely focus many of his future “recommendations” toward salmon farmers, suggesting that, while innocent based on science, they are guilty in the court of public opinion and therefore must “prove” their innocence (public opinion was likely based on the 30 full-time anti-salmon farming activists who sat in court to jeer and cheer during the aquaculture hearings).

Time for a full admission: when we had initially wrote about Cohen’s whimpy response to activist bullying we had not read all 1200+ pages of the Final Report. Only now have we waded through the voluminous documents: http://www.cohencommission.ca/en/FinalReport/

Well, what we have found hidden in the back pages of Volume 3 is astonishing:

“I am also satisfied that marine conditions in both the Strait of Georgia and Queen Charlotte Sound in 2007 were likely to be the primary factors responsible for the poor returns in 2009. Abnormally high freshwater discharge, warmer-than-usual sea surface temperatures, strong winds, and lower-than-normal salinity may have resulted in abnormally low phytoplankton and nitrate concentrations that could have led to poor zooplankton (food for sockeye) production.” (Volume 3, page 59)

Wow! “Primary factors”, you say Judge? That sure sounds like the “smoking gun”!

And then this zinger:

“…data presented during this Inquiry did not show that salmon farms were having a significant negative impact on Fraser River sockeye…” (Volume 3, page 24).

Holy crap!

Let’s summarize: No evidence suggests that salmon farms have any effect on Fraser River sockeye, and lack of food for salmon when they entered the ocean was likely the primary factor in the poor salmon return in 2009.

We’re sorry that we doubted you Bruce Cohen. But let’s be honest, you posted this so far back in the Final Report, that it sure seems that you wanted this important statement to be missed. Every journalist did.

In 2010, a record high return of sockeye salmon returned to the Fraser River: ~ 30 million.

In 2013, a record high return of pink salmon returned to the Fraser River: ~ 26 million.

What a waste of money – money that could have been spent on real salmon conservation work.

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Aquaculture jobs in Alaska: now this IS exciting!

Looking for a job in aquaculture? Perhaps you are a skilled biologist, hatchery technician or fish farmer? These are all careers available in Alaska, now.

The following text is taken (unedited) from Alaska Summer Jobs dot com. We thought regular readers of our blog would be interested – and perhaps see the humor (or is it irony?) in the webpage as well. You better take a look at the website quickly, because we expect the page to be removed not long after our blog posting is published!

Proud Alaska fish farmer

Proud Alaska fish farmer

Alaska is one of the primary regions for aquaculture in the United States.

Salmon is the most recognizable portion of Alaska’s aquaculture industry, as well as the most valuable. Bristol Bay, Prince William Sound and all of Southeast Alaska are three of the primary salmon-producing regions.

Fish farms and hatcheries are the backbone of the aquaculture industry. Positions such as aquaculturists, fish technicians and breeding managers are common jobs in this area. These personnel monitor and ensure the health and quality of a specific species. Therefore, for career-oriented positions, a scientific background is necessary to understand and manage the respective operation. These positions require a person comfortable in performing duties in both indoor and outdoor settings. Median salaries average around US $50,000 accompanied by medical benefits and paid vacation.

As aquaculture is essentially dealing with the growth of biological organisms, the need for a fish biologist is critical throughout the industry. The biologist is an important expert in all aspects on aquaculture, from understanding and managing the growth of aquatic species in hatcheries and farms to communicating the impact those operations will have on local surroundings. Biologists are often relied upon to study wild or manmade fishery systems and analytically relay his/her finding through many different methods. Sampling surveys, water quality determinations, environmental impact studies and fishery operation inspections are just a few responsibilities a biologist partakes in.

A proud salmon farmer in Alaska

A proud salmon farmer in Alaska

Salaries generally start around US$40,000 for applicants immediately out of school or those with very little experience. Salaries often extend to US$70,000 with greater amounts of pertinent experience and demonstrated abilities.

If you’re simply looking for seasonal work, then start contacting Alaska’s aquaculture associations beginning in January. They frequently hire college students to help with a variety of tasks. Pay often starts at minimum wage (Alaska’s is $7.75 as of Jan. 2010) plus time-and-a-half for overtime worked. In remote locations room and board is frequently included.

Read more about these exciting aquaculture career opportunities in Alaska at http://www.alaska-summer-jobs.com/other_alaska_fishing_jobs.htm

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Andrew Sharpless and his less than sharp opinion about fish meal

Seems like the CEO at the environmental activist group Oceana is trying to manipulate his audience by selecting and ignoring data that endorses his agenda. Andrew Sharpless (we did not manipulate his last name, we swear) wants his reader to believe that a salmon should not eat. Well, just a farm-raised one, to be specific.

In a poorly crafted article, Sharpless (why do we laugh every time we type that name!?) tries to persuade his audience into believing that salmon only come in two forms: wild and farmed. Sure, ignore the fact that millions billions of “wild” salmon are cultured specifically for human consumption and economic gain: raised in a hatchery, released into the ocean to graze, and return to its place of birth (the hatchery) to be caught and sold as “wild-caught”. It’s called salmon ranching – remember that term – you’re going to be hearing a lot about it in the near future.

There’s nothing wrong with this method of aquaculture – it literally saved Alaska from wiping out its salmon 50 years ago.

But to not include this method of fish culture in the discussion about global fishmeal consumption, is, quite frankly, ignorant and deceitful.

Here’s the inconvenient facts that Sharpless prefers you don’t know about fish meal use in an easy to read pie charty thingy:

Source: Salmon Ranching Examined, Bill Vernon, 2007.

Source: Salmon Ranching Examined, Bill Vernon, 2007.

Andrew is right on one account: the fishmeal industry needs to be sustainable and needs to be used as efficiently as possible to maximize benefit. Looking at this graph, it’s pretty easy to tell which aquaculture method is the most efficient use of a finite resource – yet Sharpless chooses to ignore this fact.

Like many activist organizations, its funding sources seem to dictate what it chooses to include as facts and ignore the inconvenient truths that don’t support its agenda.

And Sharpless (man, really gets us everytime!) follows this modus operandi to the letter.

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“Real ranchers know how many cattle their ranches can support” – Les Palmer

Les Palmer raises some good questions about ranched salmon sustainability – as published in the Peninsula Clarion;

During the past few years, for reasons that remain largely unknown, king salmon returns throughout Alaska have been dismal. Desperate for a “fix,” some fishermen propose that hatchery-raised king salmon are the answer.

It’s more likely that hatcheries are part of the problem. Since 1970, the combined efforts of the U.S., Canada and other Pacific Rim countries have increased the number of hatchery-raised salmon released into the Pacific from 500 million to 5 billion fish. About 90 percent of these hatchery-released fish are chum and pink salmon. Since the mid-1980s, hatchery chums have outnumbered wild chums in the ocean.

Alaska’s many pink-salmon hatcheries just might be one of the problems with its king salmon runs. Pinks are hard-wired to eat lots and grow fast. They hatch in the spring, migrate to the ocean as fry the same year, overwinter in the ocean and return the following fall. It’s no coincidence that pinks aren’t on the endangered species list.

In 2010, one-third of the salmon in Alaska’s statewide commercial salmon harvest were released into the ocean by five non-profit hatcheries in Prince William Sound.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute hypes these hatchery fish as being just as “Wild, Natural and Sustainable” as wild fish. A large number of these “wild” and “natural” salmon hatch and rear in very un-wild and unnatural environments, and it’s arguable whether they are sustainable. Worse, study findings indicate that they can threaten the sustainability of wild salmon.

“Ocean ranching,” the marketers call it, so as to keep these hatchery-raised fish from being mistaken for “farmed” salmon. Salmon farms grow salmon to harvestable size in pens. Hatcheries, on the other hand, raise salmon to a size that optimizes their chances of survival, then release them in the ocean. Real ranchers know how many cattle their ranches can support, but not the fish hatcheries. They just keep pumping more fish into the ocean.

The failure to recognize that the ocean is a finite “ranch,” and continuing to release vast numbers of hatchery salmon into it is bound to have unintended consequences. Wild salmon, as well as a multitude of other animals, have to compete with hatchery-raised salmon for a finite amount of food in the ocean. A recent study of chum salmon in the Bering Sea found evidence that large-scale production of chum salmon from Asian hatcheries may affect size, age-at-maturation, productivity and abundance of wild chum populations in Alaska.

Hatcheries acclimate salmon to conditions unlike those found by fish that hatch naturally, in a stream. Trouble is, when released, hatchery-raised fish take what they’ve learned into the ocean, everything from feeding habits to predator avoidance. What they learn in the hatchery is anything but natural.

Straying is another problem that comes from augmenting a natural salmon run with hatchery stock. While most salmon return to their natal streams, a few stray. Straying isn’t all bad. Strays help to repopulate streams where salmon have been extinguished. However, straying can become harmful when strays mate with salmon from a wild stock. The offspring of these fish may not have the run timing or the “homing guidance system” of the wild stock. When this happens often enough, the genetic makeup of the wild stock may be altered, eventually threatening its viability.

The use of fish hatcheries to restore and augment salmon runs has a long history of failure in the Pacific Northwest, and is now threatening wild salmon stocks in the ocean. Augment our king salmon runs with hatchery fish? That’s crazy talk.

Posted in Salmon Ranching 101, Salmon Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Taste tests

What do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?

Unless you’re trying to promote a product (by knocking the other guy down), taste tests serve little purpose.

In the case of seafood, it probably only serves to further confuse a consumer. There are so many choices – all healthy – which Americans should be eating more of. Period.  Instead of telling people what a few “foodies” prefer, let people try it themselves to find the taste that

Washington Post salmon taste test

Washington Post salmon taste test

satisfies their own pallet. After all, taste is very personal.

Case in point: the Washington Post has just reported the results of their taste test survey of salmon:

1. Costco farmed Atlantic, frozen in 4 percent salt solution, from Norway; $6 per pound (7.6 out of 10)

2. Trader Joe’s farmed Atlantic, from Norway; $10.99 per pound (6.4)

3. Loch Duart farmed Atlantic, from Scotland; $15 to $18 per pound (6.1)

4. Verlasso farmed Atlantic, from Chile; $12 to $15 per pound (6)

5. Whole Foods farmed Atlantic salmon, from Scotland; $14.99 per pound (5.6)

6. ProFish wild king (netted), from Willapa Bay, Wash.; $16 to $20 per pound (5.3)

7. AquaChile farmed Atlantic, from Chile; $12 to $15 per pound (4.9)

8. ProFish wild coho (trolled), from Alaska; $16 to $20 per pound. (4.4)

9. ProFish wild king (trolled), from Willapa Bay; $16 to $20 per pound (4)

10. Costco wild coho, from Alaska; $10.99 per pound (3.9)

What do you think? Do you think surveys like this are helpful and encourage more consumption of a healthy food like salmon, or do they just serve to confuse consumers, upset salmon suppliers, and potentially demarket products that fall at the bottom of the list?

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People in glass houses shouldn’t throw golden nuggets

There is no doubt that fishermen care about the fish they catch. Whether it is love for the lifestyle, the adventure, the thrill of the chase, the taste, or the financial benefit: they need to care for the species that provides them their needs.

But when ugly truths like this video pop up (shot by commercial fisherman Abe Williams), you have to question whether it is the sellfish needs of “now” being satisfied, without caring one bit about the needs of the “future”.

The video shows thousands of sockeye and King salmon, dead on a beach near Bristol Bay, Alaska, after being discarded by commercial fishing boats. State biologists even have a name for it: “dead loss”. Apparently these salmon slip away from the nets of fishermen during a fishery. They didn’t spawn and they weren’t consumed by humans or bears. Crabs aren’t benefiting from them. They are not adding nutrients high into the river system for the next generation to feed upon. Simply wasted.

As Watchdog.org correctly points out, Alaska fishermen should be very careful. They are happy to buddy up with the likes of Robert Redford to raise fear about a nearby gold mine application and it’s potential negative impact on fish – essentially saying “no” to the application before the plan is even submitted to regulators for review.

As commerical fisherman, Abe Williams, rightly says, “don’t throw rocks if you’re living in a glass house”. And certainly don’t throw gold nuggets.

In the eyes of some, this waste may be an acceptable risk of the commerical fishing industry catching so many salmon in such a short period of time – but for most, probably not. But if this is an acceptable risk for the commercial fishing industry, the same level of impact must be acceptable for other industries that provide benefit to the region? Right?

Not quite the romantic vision that the label “wild-caught” is supposed to conjure up, is it?

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Breaking Bad on AMC: a serial killer’s advice on seafood

“You can make [crystal meth] any damn shade you want.”

“Yeah, like they do farm-raised salmon. Jesus, you ever see how pink they make that crap-like flamingo pink. Sure as hell don’t come out of the ocean looking like that. “

This biological and nutritional information comes to you from a drug selling, serial killing, character on season 6 of the AMC hit show Breaking Bad (episode 5). We’re not sure how this character: a drug dealing, fried food eating, New Mexico dwelling killer would profess to know so much about an ocean fish? Weird? The scene comes right before the opening credits – right when you’re really paying attention.

Bad, Bad, Breaking Bad

Bad, Bad, Breaking Bad

Correct us if we’re wrong, but has anyone ever seen another scene anywhere on Breaking Bad that offers “education” on a food product – or any commercial product at all? We think not, and would therefore question the reason this addition to the script – which strays awkwardly from the plot – goes out of its way to attack a healthy food that health authorities suggest Americans should be eating a lot more of.

Now, we’re all familiar with product placement – place a soda can on the lips of Brad Pitt for way too long (World War Z and Pepsi), or visit your sponsors restaurant for virtually every meal of the day (Happy Gilmore and Subway).  

But Breaking Bad has exposed the more subtle and darker version of product sponsorship: let’s call it product demarketing. A product’s competitor may pay to promote a negative campaign and use fear to steer the consumer toward the product not mentioned. Think politic campaign – happens all the time.

The meth head’s fear mongering words about farm-raised salmon are nonsensical. Salmon sure “as hell” does come out of the ocean looking exactly like that – a lovely, rosy pink or red – which is a by-product of the healthy carotenoids they eat. He did get one thing right – the flamingo analogy is actually accurate. That is, a flamingo eats food that contains healthy carotenoids and the pigmentation contained within the carotenoid turns the bird pink. Salmon, whether wild-caught or farm-raised, turn that nice reddish pink by the same process: healthy, anti-oxidant loaded carotenoids (natural or nature identical) and pigmentation in their diet.

This awkard scene in Breaking Bad only serves to unnecessarily confuse the consumer when they visit the seafood section of the grocery store.

“I’ll have the beef, Mr. Butcher, ‘cause I haven’t heard anything bad about that stuff lately.”

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