Salmon Leaks Part 12: Habitat in the Marine Environment and Aboriginal Fishing

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TotemsThe Cohen Commission approached the three-quarter mark in terms of days in hearing and turned to a new topic—Habitat in the Marine Environment, which included testimony from DFO and non-DFO scientists. Subsequently, the commission took another look at Aboriginal Fishing.

To see transcripts for the sessions on Habitat in the Marine Environment and Aboriginal Fishing:


On July 6th, Dr. Stewart McKinnell from the North Pacific Marine Science Organization was questioned about his expert report on the decline of Fraser River sockeye in relation to marine ecology.

On July 7, counsel for the Aquaculture Coalition questioned Dr. Richard Beamish, DFO, about a report he authored: anomalous ocean conditions may explain the recent extreme variability in Fraser River sockeye salmon production. The report suggests that “poor early marine survival [of Fraser sockeye] was likely due to low food levels arising from unfavourable wind and river discharge conditions in the Strait of Georgia and the Queen Charlotte Sound-Hecate Strait region in the spring of 2007” [see page 2 of the report]. Counsel asked Dr. Beamish if “The connection to prey abundance…and survival of sockeye salmon…is merely speculative?”

Dr. Beamish replied, “Yes, that’s true” [see transcripts page 95, line 20]. The questioning continued and Dr. Beamish admitted that he did not have any “direct evidence of prey abundance” to support the theory in his paper.

On July 7, Watershed Watch counsel questioned Dr. David Welch, Kintama Research, on some interesting theories related to the type of decline witnessed in Fraser River sockeye as reported in Dr. McKinnell’s expert report, which appeared to contrast to theories presented in Dr. Peterman’s expert report on Fraser sockeye production dynamics. Dr. Welch was a peer reviewer of both reports. Welch commented that McKinnell’s report suggested the 1992 sockeye decline was abrupt, as opposed to Peterman’s theory which purports it was a more gradual drop [starts on page 34, line 2]. Welch went on to say that both reports do not solely pin-point the cause of the decline to the Strait of Georgia region.

Mr. Leadem, counsel for Watershed Watch, questioned Dr. Dick Beamish [see page 37, line 22] in reference to his report, which was criticized the previous day for a lack of substantiating prey abundance data to support his theory. An email between DFO scientists Marc Trudell and Dave Mackas discussing this issue was entered into evidence. It included:

“Dick doesn’t have any plankton data in his paper, he just hypothesized that the low return of Fraser River sockeye in 2007 was due to poor/low plankton production. But could not substantiate his interpretation with plankton data; just with Mixed-Layer Depth from the Nanoose station and Wind data.”

Mr. Leadem then entered another evidentiary example in which Beamish was criticized for presenting a theory without offering robust data. The critique was published by Dr. Larry Dill, SFU, and was in reference to a sea louse theory Beamish conceived. Dill’s published critique included:

“In summary, BEA’s [Beamish et al.] errors of omission and their selective use of their own and others’ data lead the naïve reader to a conclusion that cannot be substantiated.”

Mr. Leadem also put into evidence an internal DFO memo written by Dr. Brent Hargreaves which criticized Dr. Beamish for putting forward a theory without substantial scientific evidence in an internal DFO meeting with the province and salmon farming industry. It contained many revealing statements including:

“I think to a large degree it was the inadequacies of Beamish’s research and conclusion that led to the lack of public confidence in DFO science.”

“How credible can DFO science be when a “novel hypotheses” like this is proposed by Beamish, when he cannot know where a critical piece of the information he is basing it on actually come from or how this should be interpreted? He does not know where these fish samples were collected or how the resulting data should be interpreted (at least in the opinion of the person (me) that collected these samples in the first place). This really is “shoddy” science.”

“Beamish then proceeded to say how these data supported his novel “theory” that sea lice attached to adult salmon returning to spawn may over winter in the Broughton, by transferring to the numerous sub-adult salmon that over-winter in the Broughton. Beamish stated that his new research showed this could be an important “alternate reservoir” for sea lice that subsequently infect juvenile pink and chum in the Broughton the following Spring. He noted that other people might not agree, but “we’ll just publish this idea and then see what happens.””

“In any case, I do not want to work or even be associated with any DFO “senior scientist” with this kind of behavior and ethics. Please do not put me on the same “team” as Dick Beamish.”

Curiously, Beamish published this life-history paper in the Physiology and Endocrinology  section of the Journal Aquaculture, the only paper to appear in that section not directly related to the subject matter.

On August 17th the Policy and Practice Report on marine environment issues potentially relevant to Fraser sockeye salmon was entered into evidence. Mr. Leadem questioned Dr. Jack Rensel, Rensel Associates Aquatic Science Consultants [starts on page 34, line 13] on the subject of algal blooms in relation to aquaculture facilities and wild sockeye. Rensel suggested that aquaculture facilities may promote the production of harmful algal blooms and that algae can be detrimental to sockeye.

On September 2, Ms. Gaertner, counsel for the First Nations Coalition, brought up the issue of rights and title with Ms. Kaarina McGivney, former Regional Director, Treaty and Aboriginal Policy, DFO [page 51, line 46]. Ms. McGivney states:

“DFO, as I think came up in some earlier documents, is not mandated to determine rights, yet we have an obligation to respect rights in the management of the fisheries. So part of the challenge — I think right now the processes that are open to clarify what rights and title there’s the scope and extent of the rights and title are undefined and the processes to resolve those are through the treaty process as well as through various litigations. So that process doesn’t — the responsibility for the reconciliation of those rights and title does not lay with DFO.”

For more information see:


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