February 06, 2009

Summary of State of Salmon 2009

The State of the Salmon 2009 conference over the last three-and-a-half days has left me stunned -- long days and lots of information to process. I documented it as best I could in a running collection of Tweets on my Twitter account, and I've posted that entire flow of jottings to my blog here.

First let me say that the conference organizers did a tremendous job. I don't know if there was ever any panic behind the curtains, but there was nary a glitch to be seen by the audience. And thanks to the simultaneous interpreters who mediated the flow in English, Russian and Japanese.

This was the second State of the Salmon conference, and my first. It's mostly aimed at scientists and bureaucrats, but we had a pretty good volunteer presence from lower-mainland streamkeepers and First Nations from the west coast and north. I think such broad representation greatly added to the conference, but of course I'm biased :-).

One of the threads that flowed throughout was the need for more research on how to protect and conserve wild salmon, and there was excitement about the new approach to science under the new Obama administration. The research dollars may start flowing again!

It was interesting to see the rifts occasionally bubble to the surface between the geneticists, the hatchery promoters and hatchery critics, the "stronghold, or protect the best" advocates and those who feel all habitat deserves protection. As a streamkeeper working on the ground, I was part of perhaps a minority that felt that any available $$ need to go toward action and habitat protection. We know what the problems are, yet we continue to study the patient while he's dying. Any knowledge we gain in the end is still, as one participant put it, "looking at a construction site through a hole in a fence -- and we're standing ten feet back from the hole."

There was also an underlying sense that perhaps with climate change leading to ocean warming and acidification, there is no way to prevent the loss of southern salmon spawning areas. Which to my mind made the groaning buffet tables laden day after day with salmon, halibut, shrimp, pork, bison, chicken etc. seem an indictment of the principles of having such a conference in the first place. Of course I ate everything, so I'm as guilty as anyone, but it never ceases to amaze me at how difficult it is for us humans to make our actions even approximate our pious thoughts. When it comes to human gatherings, feasting is so ingrained in all cultures that I doubt we'll ever get away from such behaviour.

At one point I was dreaming about future historians studying the progression of conferences and seeing that at the first one participants ate crab and lobster, at the second salmon and shrimp, at the third tofu and beans... and finally they were chewing on switchgrass because that was all that was left :-). Oh, rats, I've trapped myself in an illogical story -- by that point there would be, er, no point, in holding another salmon conference. I digress...

Something that was strangely absent from any discussion was pollution. I think it came up once in passing in a comment from the audience, and perhaps was glossed over by one of the speakers. Yet pollution is one of the biggest issues when it comes to habitat preservation, and is a direct and deadly killer of urban streams. And what's it doing to ocean survivability? We humans have been flushing all sorts of chemicals down our rivers and into the ocean for centuries -- surely that must have some impact on the "mystery" of declining biodiversity. Yet it was never addressed.

It was refreshing to hear from First Nations representatives who spoke from the heart, and who gave a breath of life to the proceedings. You can throw up all the PowerPoint slides full of as many charts and plots, and dense statistical calculations, as you like, but to hear the simple words "We have no fish anymore," provides much greater clarity and grounding.

Well, I have to get back to work, and perhaps I'll find time for more analysis and synthesis later.

I'm glad I attended.

Now, how about some ACTION!

Posted by Paul at February 6, 2009 12:02 PM