On July 6-8, Dr. Dick Beamish, was on the stand at the Cohen Inquiry. Beamish is a very influential, recently retired DFO scientist. He was the Director of the Pacific Biological Station, Head of Salmon Interactions and he received the Order of Canada. On the panel with him was Dr. Stewart McKinnell of the North Pacific Marine Science Org., (an intergovernmental scientific organization doing research in the North Pacific) and Dr. David Welch, President of Kintama Research Services that tracks wild migrating wild salmon.
What transpired exposes exactly what is wrong with our federal fisheries, how we lost one of humanity’s greatest food supplies – the North Atlantic cod - and how we are going to lose BC’s wild salmon.
Dr. Beamish brought the power of his position to advance a politically convenient theory that the 2009 Fraser sockeye died in the Strait of Georgia, before they passed the fish farms, due to lack of feed. However, under questioning Beamish had to admit to Justice Cohen that his data did not actually fit his theory at all.
As his theory was crumbling, Beamish spontaneously performed what could only be described as a plug for salmon farming. He waxed on about how the industry feeds the world and how it is a good fit for BC. This had nothing to do with the line of questioning. Beamish’s theory that the Fraser sockeye died in the Strait of Georgia would clear the salmon feedlots of any responsibility for the demise of the Fraser sockeye.
DFO warning from DFO
In Exhibit #1342, is a 2003 memo from Dr. Brent Hargreaves, (DFO) explaining how Beamish took his data without permission to support an outlandish (my words) theory that sea lice drop off mature salmon in the fall and wait all winter to infect juvenile salmon as they come out of the rivers the next spring. This theory clears salmon farms from the list of suspect sources of lice. However, there is no evidence it is possible for sea lice to over-winter off a salmon. This memo is a warning about DFO from within DFO.
“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…He does not know where the fish samples were collected or how the resulting data should be interpreted…. This really is ‘shoddy’ science….I can only assume Beamish either does not recognize what he did was wrong, or he does not care…. In any case, I do not want to work or even be associated with any DFO “senior scientist” with this kind of behaviour and ethics. Please do not put me on the same ‘team’ as Dick Beamish.”
Strait of Georgia had no food
The whole premise of Beamish’s two submissions to the Cohen Inquiry was that his 'data' showed young sockeye were in "poor condition" and exceptionally small in 2007, and for that reason did not survive and this caused the 2009 crash. His evidence was the average length and weight of 65 fish caught in the second week of July in 2007, compared to other sockeye smolt samples caught in other years and places. July is considered too late to sample Fraser sockeye in the Strait of Georgia as most have left the area.
However when counsel took beamish to one of his own Tables of ‘data’ his numbers actually showed no difference in length between 2007 and other years. Another of his Tables showed the 2007 sockeye were actually larger than the 2008 smolts – the generation that produced the huge 2010 run. Some how Beamish thought he could ignore that the data he presented to this federal inquiry did not match between his submissions and did not support his theory.
Beamish said the reason the fish were so small in 2007, was unusually poor physical conditions in the Strait of Georgia that disrupted the sea surface mixing layer. Dr. Rick Thomson of DFO’s Institute of Ocean Sciences sent Beamish an email saying:
“I like your attempt to bring in the winds, but I think your interpretation is not correct… The winds are nearly zero in May 2007…” (Exhibit # 1334, July 8). Dr. McKinnell said they did not find any unusual physical events in the Strait of Georgia in spring 2007.
Despite the lack of evidence, Beamish’s theory remained hinged on the concept that because of poor conditions, the young sockeye did not get enough to eat. However, his own chart showing their stomach contents revealed the 2007 sockeye did have food. When queried why he believed the fish did not have enough to eat, when his own report suggested otherwise, Beamish responded the stomach data was too small a sample size to be accurate. However, he was using this same sample size to say the 2007 fish were smaller and thus failed to thrive and this caused the crash.
Beamish's belief that here was no food in the Strait of Georgia also did not stand up to other research by DFO. Commission counsel showed Beamish a plankton study done by the Institute of Ocean Sciences (DFO), that said plankton in the Georgia Strait in 2007 was 'similar' to other years. Beamish just dismissed this, claimed it didn't say there was food (which it clearly did), and said plankton was 'complex' -- ie more data he could just ignore. (Exhibit # 1310, July 6).
When Beamish was asked “Is that not a statement that plankton levels in the Strait of Georgia were normal?
Beamish answered: “No, I don't I wouldn't interpret that to indicate that…”
McDade asked, would it be irresponsible to draw conclusions with a sample size of only 65 fish?
Beamish answered, “would it be irresponsible? It would not be something that I would do as a scientist to be a -- to draw major conclusions from that, that's true. I'm not so sure "irresponsible" is the right word. To say that they were smaller in -- I'm not sure that we actually said that. I don't remember saying that they were smaller in 2007 than 2008, because I recall that they weren't.”
Under questioning it was also revealed that Beamish had not done DNA testing of the 65 juvenile sockeye and so he did not actually know they were from the Fraser River.
McDade asks, so you couldn't draw the conclusion that the fish in 2007 were smaller than the fish in 2008.
Beamish: We just agreed to that. Yes. Now I seem to be incorrect about that.
McDade: You agree they weren't smaller in size?
Beamish: Than what?
McDade: Than 2008.
Beamish: That's agreed. I agree that they're similar in size.
Beamish completely reversed position on his own theory! If media contacted Beamish I wonder what he would say? Would he flip back and say the 2009 sockeye died in the Strait of Georgia in spring of 2007, or would he say I made a mistake, misinterpreted and had problems with the consistency of my own data and explain how he could be so wrong as a public service paid by the people of Canada? BeamishR@pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Beamish was under oath and was pontificating on the fate of the one of Canada's most precious, valuable and loved natural resources. What confidence can we take from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, if their own most celebrated scientist behaves like this?
McDade asked the Cohen Commission for the raw data Beamish based his theory on. We received the measurements for other areas, but not the crucial dataset – the 65 fish caught in the Strait of Georgia in the spring of 2007. So we don’t know what size they actually were. Yet.
And then we got the salmon farm infomercial. Time was short, the lawyers had to drop important questions to meet the commission deadline, but Beamish gave this speech to the audience of 5-6 people that included the head of the BC Salmon Farmers Association Mary Ellen Walling.
“British Columbia is perfectly positioned to be involved in aquaculture. We have a reputation for pristine waters and we have the technologies and the abilities to improve our aquaculture capabilities. So we think that not only will aquaculture continue to increase and be a major source of food on the planet, we think British Columbia will be perfectly positioned to develop that industry here.”
Who exactly is “we.”
If the sockeye were in poor condition, asked McDade, could that increase the impact of the disease DFO scientist Dr. Miller is investigating in the majority of Fraser sockeye?
Beamish: “Okay, I just want to be careful… I can't answer that, but I would think that that's possible, yes. I mean, I'm not qualified to answer that, but it does seem to be reasonable.”
Conservation Coalition lawyer, Tim Leadem marked exhibit #1343, an email from David Welch,
“I suspect that there may be some internal politics afoot to have mainly the
departmental staff speak on the sockeye issue so that DFO can be seen to be the lead organization, the source of most of the credible information. But it would be a tragedy if this morphed into the department trying to focus on the Strait of Georgia because (a) they have a better handle on how to study it (and can argue for more funding to do what they are already doing) and (b) because it puts the sockeye mortality problem in the Strait of Georgia BEFORE the smolts start migrating past the salmon farms.“
A government scientist holding the Order of Canada put forward a theory that did not stand up to his own data, nor data from his own department. This theory would have the Canadian public believe that the 2009 sockeye died before passing the salmon farms and indeed we got a strong statement delivered by Beamish on the stand in support for salmon farms.
Beamish completely discredited himself. But the larger question is why did he use his considerable influence to peddle a theory to a federal inquiry that was biological gibberish?
Did he do this to protect salmon farms? Is that why we got the fish feedlot commercial in the middle of this mad hatters tea party?
Was Beamish influenced by policy or other pressures, not science, in his reporting to the Canadian public why millions of Fraser sockeye failed to return in 2009?
This is how we lost the North Atlantic cod. Policy drove DFO to overpower its own scientist who was warning the collapse was coming rapidly and who advised on how to avoid it. No one in DFO was held accountable for this even though the cod collapse was avoidable and is robbing entire generations of a food resource, jobs and stable communities. (Hutchings et al 1997, Is scientific inquiry incompatible with government information control?)
I think the Governor General has to scrutinize the validity of Dick Beamish continuing to hold the Order of Canada.
If you want wild salmon attend the aquaculture hearings at the Cohen Inquiry August 22 – September 9. When you have senior DFO scientists behaving in this manner we have got to realize wild salmon survival is up to us. I do not want to be your only source of information on what is being said about our fish at these hearings. First Nations, fishermen, local people, youth, environmental organizations, sport fishing clubs, tourism, tackle shops, wild fish processors, and any who want to step between government and the demise of wild salmon need to witness these proceedings themselves.