Wednesday, July 27, 2011

North Coast Observer program

In a not so well publicized arrangement, it appears the Prince Rupert branch of Ecotrust Canada and DFO have gotten together to form an observer program on the north coast. While at first look this seems a productive move further scrutiny reveals some worrisome aspects.

Check out the link for Ecotrust's Blog announcement at the start of the fishing season. It reveals aspects of the observer program which raise some interesting questions, such as this claim "To ensure the salmon fishing remains a part of this picture in years to come, however, industry, community and First Nations agree on the need to build the local infrastructure and expertise for a First Nations-supported monitoring, compliance, and traceability (MCT) program."

Wait a second, who in this greater community decided a priority was a First Nations monitoring program...?? The various Skeena fisheries effect more than just the inhabitants of coastal communities so why werent anyone but coastal people consulted?  Moreover, arent a great deal of north coast commercial fishermen First Nations....?? So how truly independant can a whole program full of First Nations only observers be?
This isnt a racist question but simply a realistic what person coming from a small, tightly knit, north coast village in their right mind would make and report observations that might endanger the opportunity of further fishing? How would any local resident observer in their right mind be expected to make note of numerous non-target fish dead in a gillnet for example when the gillnet belongs to the Chief or Band Council leader?
Moreover, if the majority of these observers are from the small north coast villages they stand a good chance of being somehow related to the fishers they are monitoring. How does this fact ensure truly independant monitoring?

This year's program is apparently titled the "At-Sea Catch Monitoring & Biosampling program" and is aimed at the seine and gillnet commercial fleets. Here are some 'things to know' about the program from the website;
  • Observers board fishing vessels to conduct catch monitoring (how many of what species are in each set) and biosampling (matched DNA operculum punches and scale samples);
  • The primary sampling target is Sockeye, but samplers are also retaining Chum this season in an attempt to understand this species’ stock composition within Area 3 (Nass River watershed). The data being collected from these Chum is especially important, as some wild Canadian Chum local to Area 3 have been identified as stock of concern;
(Wow, there is an understatement as north coast chum have been a species of concern for a decade with no directed fisheries and major concern for their depressed state. Commercial fishermen dont care and dont want chum conservation measures to be another restraining factor on their fishing opportunities, so the wording here is carefully tailored to minimize any serious conservation concern.)
  • Nothing goes to waste – fishermen keep Sockeye sampled as part of their haul; Chum sampled are distributed to First Nation community members as food;
( Chum salmon are on non-possession, non-retention for all commercial fisheries in Areas 3&4 so how can these fish be given to First Nations for food? They are supposed to be released dead or alive. The bio-sampling mentioned shouldnt warrant killing a fish and commercially caught fish are not supposed to be for FSC purposes. So what's with breaking the rules?)
  • All of the Ecotrust Canada Observers have undergone rigorous training recognized by, and consistent with, the sampling protocol used by the DFO stock assessment program, and carry legitimate program identification;
( Can we see a description of this 'rigorous training program'??)
  • As a part of the monitoring program we are also partnering with Environment Canada on their Seabird Survey initiative in an effort to get an idea of seabird abundance, and possible encounters (and mortality rates) with salmon fishing vessels (gillnets in particular);
  • An integral part of the Ecotrust Canada monitoring program is our focus on encouraging open communication and working together with partners in the fishing industry, building important relationships with fishermen, processors and communities;
  • We see this program as working in partnership with fishermen, and value their expertise, feedback and input;
( Wow, this sounds like they are in a pretty cozy relationship with the commercial sector already and they want to be more cozy in the future. Wonder how Ecotrust sees this special relationship jiving with  things like independance, objectivity, and unbiased reporting?)
  • By working together, we are keeping communities alive, viable and vibrant.
(Isnt fishery monitoring supposed to be about making sure a notoriously non-compliant industry complies with all the special regulations required to protect species and stocks of concern??? Isnt fishery monitoring about getting accurate numbers about bycatch and discards of non-target fish where historically commercial fishermen have been untrustyworthy sources in this regard?
Where did all this 'keeping communities alive' verbiage come from?? The pandering tone of the website is evidence this program might not be what it appears to be. Observers should be neutral monitors with some distance kept between themselves and those under observation. )

"...In addition to this DFO partnership, we are working with three Tsimshian nations ¬ Metlakatla, Kitkatla and Lax Kw’alaams – to help them develop monitoring capacity within their own fisheries programs. Further, individuals from these and other communities – Tsimshian and non-Tsimshian nations – are supporting our work with the commercial fleet. It’s been an early, successful, start to the season; we’ve already seen six days of gillnet monitoring in Area 3, and we are expecting to have our Observers out monitoring the seine fleet as early as next week...."

(Apparently, Ecotrust is just pleased as punch to see so much gillnetting going on for them to monitor. There is absolutely no mention of sustainable fishing, or selective fishing practises, or Marine Stewardship Council Conditions aimed at reducing bycatch and moving towards selective fishing.

Overall, their website seems to echo the rhetoric of the commercial lobbyists who use similar verbiage to camouflage their drive to resist positive change in fisheries. How is counting the dead fish these non-selective gillnetters kill of any benefit? How do observers count the dead chum that sink after being 'released' dead squished in seine nets? Where is the effort and commitment to moving towards truly selective fishing practises? Lots of questions over who the observers are and just how truly independant they are.

So, while Ecotrust thinks everything is great and they are working to provide for everyone's well being on the coast, the whole program is viewed by others with much suspicion. At its simplest, it is just another make-work project for depressed coastal communities....Taken at its worst, this is a subversion of a much needed, credible monitoring and compliance program. It is highly valuable to industry to prove MSC Conditions are being met and therefore keep MSC Certification. For it to have any minute amount of skepticism about its objectivity is hiighly disconcerting. Just how truly independant can these observers be by working so closely with the commercial industry given the political fishery landscape on the north coast?

And lastly, did we mention the fact that the person overseeing the Ecotrust Fisheries program is a relative of a longtime, high profile UFAWU (United Fisheries and Allied Workers Union) representative...?? Just this fact is enough to set off the alarms bells about the objectivity of this program.
For a bureaucracy comprised mainly of professional scientists, sometimes you have to wonder how DFO comes up with such poorly thought out programs...? Do the words objectivity, impartiality, unbiased, neutrality, veracity, integrity....mean anything in the North Coast DFO office???

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