People know salmon in Western Canada mostly as the gorgeous scarlet Sockeye
What we are told and taught about those red sockeye and their kin that make up five species of Pacific salmon is incredibly wrong.
Read along here about the true lives of salmon and best of all news how help is heading out to sea to save them!
That photo of Sockeye salmon at the top of this page might soon be all that is left of the fish. Six years ago the number of Canadian Sockeye salmon in their biggest home river system, the Fraser River, was so low that government ran a special federal investigative commission headed by a Supreme Court Judge.
Judge Cohen ordered all those with knowledge of salmon especially Sockeye, to give their sworn testimony. The commission was supposedly in search of the cause of what was seen to be near extinction level numbers of fish in 2009. Judge Cohen and his team of lawyers spent $36 million dollars on the study and took years to complete their report.
The salmon commission saw drama both in the courtroom and in Nature. In the spring and summer of 2010 the commission hearing went on for months hearing testimony from experts, politicians, special interest groups, and the public. As the hearings lingered into the late summer, the time when the bright red sockeye swim into the Fraser River where it pours into the Pacific at Vancouver Nature added her very special drama to the story.
Sworn To Be The The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God/Nature
Where the predictions, sworn under oath as truth, before the judge told of the expectation of one of the worst returns of Sockeye in history something wonderful happened. Instead of the slightly more than 1 million of the fish returning, 40 million fish swam home, the largest run in all of history!
The fisheries biologists and managers in the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans had a major screw loose as they proved without a shadow of doubt their knowledge of the Sockeye was worse than useless. No one could be more wrong!
The government fisheries managers had for decade bet the farm on the notion that because salmon spend part of their lives in fresh water, spawning, hatching from eggs, and growing to into a 1 inch long minnow before swimming out to sea that “good salmon science” could focus entirely on the brief freshwater life of salmon and ignore their life at sea where they put on 98% of their body weight living swimming and either thriving or dying on distant ocean pastures for years.
Good science and non-existent salmon science
Don’t get the wrong impression from what you’ve read so far, knowing as much as salmon science does about their freshwater lives is wonderful science and there is a superb understanding of how many fish enter the rivers from the sea to spawn, how many of their eggs hatch, and how many of their minnows pass out of the rivers to go out graze on their ocean pastures. Every year, good years and bad years, Sockeye lay enough eggs in the Fraser River and its tributaries to grow and send about 400 million minnow Sockeye out to sea.
Forty years and billions of dollars of freshwater based salmon enhancement efforts had effectively restored and revived salmon habitat and of course that meant society one would have to continue to richly fund this salmon enhancement industry forever. It has paid for salmon scientist soothsayers to have created computer models and simulations that perfectly predict the freshwater salmon life cycle, or so it was claimed.
Riding Salmon Science Magic Carpets
I can share some personal history as to how much fun it is to be a salmon biologist as decades ago I was a government scientist. One of my most favourite activities of all were the salmon river swims I participated on to count salmon. The job went like this. Our small team would set up base camp in some motel near a stretch of river we were going to do our fish census in. The wilder the better for me. Early in the morning each day we’d climb into our wet suits with one swim flipper on one foot and a running shoe on the other.
Our helicopter, and there is nothing closer to a magic carpet, would take us far upstream and drop us on a gravel bar and 3 of us would begin our day long swim down river. With mask and snorkel and a waterproof bag holding lunch we took to the river like fish, or perhaps more like ducks. The one flipper foot would give us power to swim and the running shoe the traction to stand on the bottom against the current.
We carried waterproof notebooks, made of paper called ‘ducksback paper’ with waterproof pencils and waterproof maps of the river. As we swam the river we’d slip silently into to the back eddies behind boulders, slowly drift through riffles and pools, and try not to get to bashed up being flushed through the rapids. We’d take notes and a tally of the fish we saw. At the end of the long day our magic carpet ride would appear at an agreed on location and whisk us off to our cozy motel and restaurant for dinner.
Science not sport… honest
Sometimes we didn’t have the magic carpet fish counting tool and instead we’d tie some number 6 long shank streamers and with our 8-9 foot flyrods and chest waders suffer the ignominy of having to trick the fish we were counting into biting that fly. No it wasn’t fishing no matter how much like fishing it appeared to be, it was salmon science and that was our story and we’re sticking to it 🙂
Life was heaven being a fisheries biologist in fresh water. At the time I never even gave a thought to what was going on with salmon out on the distant high seas. That was a truly inhospitable environment that took days of seasickness to reach and had nigh unto no possible means to find the fish let alone count them. Sure when salmon were nearing the river mouths we could join the legions of sport fishermen and catch them on day trips. But ocean salmon biology, it was and is unheard of. Or at least that is what I thought at the time.
All Fish Is Plankton
But something is very important about the ocean lives of salmon, it is in fact most important of all. That is where hundreds of millions of baby fish arrive and in a poor year only a million return where in a good year 40 million return. Long ago a famous English writer taught in his written wisdom about the important of pastures to animal life.
Walt Whitman wrote, ALL BEEF IS GRASS!
I have added an addendum to his 150 year old wisdom and now say ALL FISH IS PLANKTON!
The Misjudicial Salmon Commission
Here’s where Justice Cohen utterly missed the point, more likely was misled to miss the point, about the magnificent Sockeye salmon. Salmon are not a fish whose life can be roughly summed up as spending part of their live in fresh water and part in salt water. The important part of lives of salmon is 98% at sea. And it is the condition and carrying capacity of their ocean pastures that defines how many fish survive, thrive, and return to be caught and to reproduce. This is neither revolutionary nor radical science this is simple pasture stewardship that was learned and used by man 10,000 years ago when our ancestors began tending pastures and their herds at the beginning of civilization!
In the summer session of Judge Cohen’s judicial commission hearings there wasn’t a hint of the fish weighing in to give their testimony. How could they, they were expected to be seen only in numbers that portended their near extinction. But testifying to the total ignorance of the fisheries managers and scientists two years prior in the summer of 2008 when the Fraser River Sockeye young minnows headed out to sea number in the hundreds of millions something very rare and unusual happened.
Pele Calls – Be The Volcano
In the middle of August just as the Fraser sockeye minnows were swimming into the distant open Pacific hundred of miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii a volcano erupted thousands of miles further to the west in the Aleutian Islands, almost to Russia. Sarah Palin might have been able to see it from her house!
That volcano, Kasatochi, erupted for the first time in 50 or more years and for a week it spewed clouds of ash high into the air. Airliners headed from Vancouver and the Western USA that were headed to the orient had to divert from their normal route to avoid the clouds of ash. For few days some of that ash cloud drifted to the south-east and fell on the waters of the NE Pacific, onto the ocean pastures west of Haida Gwaii.
That ash carried mineral nutrients that are the most rare and vital nutrients for ocean plankton and as it fell the ocean pasture turned from a blue desert into a lush green pasture oasis. Just in time to feed our Sockeye babies who not only survived in vast numbers they thrived. They next summer when they headed home to the Fraser River to spawn they would be the big surprise. 40 Million Salmon Can’t Be Wrong and they had something to report about the most important aspect of salmon science.
Testimony by invitation only, no fish need apply
Tragically the government and academic fisheries folk were not about to allow their fish dogma to be revealed as being not merely uncertain but dead wrong! They insisted in their testimony that no one could possibly have known about this miraculous return of the largest number of salmon in all of history when they had convinced the government that the smallest return in all history was leading to a near extinction event… and by the way this meant good fishing for more tax money, or so they hoped. Magic carpet rides are getting ever more expensive you know. The 40 million salmon scientists with their living history’s as proof were effectively squashed and their testimony never heard!
What was needed to help give a voice to the 40 million salmon was a second volcano – Russatochi Erupts Summer of 2012
As it happened I had been working for a decade and more on translating 25 years and a quarter of billion dollars of public scientific ocean plankton research into a practical and useful technology to help save the oceans and the world. The global ocean science community, including me, had conducted decades of ocean science studies testing and proving how vital mineral micronutrient dust, much like that which volcanos spew, could be given to vast ocean pastures to revive them.
The science was all but perfect but the global ocean science community that had been doing the decades of science insisted one much larger test, ten times larger or more than the previous 10 open ocean tests needed to be done. Of course being academic and government scientists and institutions they demanded a research grant of $200 million to perform this vital test.
Nonsense I said, this test should cost about $5 million to do!
To make a long story short in July of 2012 I was aboard my research ship, Ocean Pearl, the largest BC fishing boat and one sometimes chartered by Fisheries and Oceans to do open ocean science. Aboard I had half filled the holds of the ship with 100 tonnes of nutrient iron mineral dust.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing we weathered hurricane force winds of 100 knots on our way north to the open Pacific hundreds of miles west of Haida Gwaii before we erupted and began to spew our dust. A friend who knows this story of volcanos, salmon and me has called that 2012 volcano – Russatochi.
For weeks we slowly motored the boat as slow as we could make it go to spread that dust over a patch of ocean 100X100 kilometers, 10,000 sq. km. We had to go slow to reduce fuel costs as we left endless back and forth trails of red iron mineral dust behind the boat.
Some call this iron fertilization but the amount of dust we delivered to the ocean was 1/millionth less than the amount of fertilizer you would ordinarily apply to your lawn! The challenge was prescribing and delivering this ocean life saving nutriceutical to the ocean in such an infinitesimal amount.
Great Science Before, During, and After The Ocean Pasture Restoration
Before we were finishing spreading my iron formulae the ocean began to bloom. Where we had not yet covered the ocean was a clear blue desert behind us the ocean had turned from lifeless blue to a life filled green. Where seabirds had been seen in the blue ocean numbering in ones or twos a few times each day suddenly the birds arrived by the thousands, tens of thousands to feed in the revived ocean pasture. Great whales came out of the blue where we’d been lucky to seen one or two in a week suddenly were so numerous we counted them by the score. Fish we seen leaping out of the water, some were young salmon!
Naturally being the science geek that I am I had all manner of the worlds most state of the art ocean science technology aboard. We could download satellite images of my bloom on demand. My fleet of ocean robots were able to autonomously swim through and survey the ocean inside and outside of my pasture and report hourly via satellite transmissions on the dat they collected.
Quite factually it was an remains the largest and most intensive scientific study of a large ocean plankton pasture every conducted. All that science would take a long long time and a lot of money to analyze so I had hedged my scientific reputation, hopes, and dreams on my ‘wild card’, if the fish came back I would see to it their life history would be taken and put into the record as the most important scientific report in ocean history.
Not only did the fish come back so did myriad other forms of sea life. Right on time for having benefitted from pre-natal nutritional help Orca whales in the Eastern Pacific are having a wonderous baby boom after suffering more than a decade without young ones.
The location of my ocean pasture was such and it was timed so that the biggest populations of salmon in the world would find it to their liking. Those were the Alaskan Pink Salmon who spend but year at sea before returning to spawn. Of course the Fraser Sockeye were another population as were to some degree all of the Pacific salmon of the west coast of N. America. There were lots of troubles and tales of those troubles are easily found on my blog but lets cut to the good news.
The Fish Came Back
In the summer of 2013 the fisheries scientists of the United States and especially Alaska were predicting with great confidence that the return of Pink salmon to Alaska that year was going to be a big return. The predictions were that some 50 million Pinks would be caught about as good as it ever gets in Alaska. When my fish swam home from their restored ocean pasture the fifty million predicted were caught in the first day! By the time the season was over 226 million Pinks had been caught the largest catch of salmon in all of history.
Up and down the coast of the Pacific reports flooded in of every creek, stream, and river being jammed with spawning Pink salmon. The state of Alaska has estimated that the additional fish, unexpected by them, delivered an economic bonanza to coastal communities nearing a billion dollars.
To the south there were hints in 2013 of an extra-large return of some salmon species but it would not be until the following year when my Sockeye returned to the Fraser River that it would be known whether a second volcanic salmon miracle was to be seen.
IT JUST WORKED!
The Real and Present Salmon Tragedy And My Call To Action
The number of sockeye that returned to the Fraser Rivers principal Sockeye watersheds, the South Thompson and Adams River, last year 2015, have been the lowest on record for the cycle dating back to 1939. That is the lowest number in recorded history!
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has released its late-run sockeye report detailing record-low numbers of returning salmon in the South Thompson; lower Fraser; Harrison-Lillooet; and Seton-Anderson (Lillooet) regions. The numbers in the South Thompson were worse, with only six per cent of the 2011 brood year returning — a total of 9,700 sockeye — and just three per cent of the average returning fish recorded for nearly eight decades.
“It’s worrying, for sure,” said Kim Fulton, a retired teacher from Armstrong who has been involved with salmon education and the Adams River run for decades. “There’s so many factors. They had the Cohen Commission and I followed that and read as much as I could. I don’t think anyone knows.”
“My sense is problems are in the ocean,” he said.
Help Is On The Way To Restore Ocean Pastures
My life is totally immersed in the troubles of our oceans but not as a mere armchair netizen or research grant seeking academic. My intention, as proven by my work at sea, is to develop and deliver the means to safely, sustainably, restore, and replenish ocean pastures in all of this blue planets Seven Seas. I have proven in the world’s largest ocean pasture science and technology demonstration covering nearly 50,000 sq. km that IT JUST WORKS!
Best of all this technology is proven and ready to be deployed immediately. The cost of doing this work on behalf of Mother Nature and Mankind is a second miracle as for mere millions of dollars each year vast ocean pastures can be returned to health around the world. These revived ocean pastures will repurpose billions of tonnes of our high and rising and deadly CO2 from being a source of ocean death into new ocean life! Billions of additional fish will swim into the nets and onto the plates of hungry people around the world helping to end world hunger.
My ships sail very soon. Join me!