Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Reflections on My Career, by Don Orth

I never thought of a career as a professor. Not until college did I even have any personal experiences with professors. However, after a 43-year career at Virginia Tech, I have learned much and share a few of my favorite memories and lessons. Rather than repeat the misguided “publish or perish,” I rather advise to "publish and flourish" in academia. Done right, a career in academia provides fulfillment in our lives through accomplishing meaningful and worthwhile work, and connecting with others at a deeper level. My favorite short poem, Instructions for Life, by Mary Oliver (Red Bird 2008), is a brief reminder of lessons learned:  

Pay Attention.

Be Astonished.

Talk about it. 

Figure 1. Photo of mullet and Mayan cichlids with quote by Williams James, the father of American Psychology. James made this famous statement to remind us that our small actions can make a big difference in the lives of others. 

Non scholae sed vitae discimus
[translated “We do not learn for school, but for life"]

Being successful in academia meant learning by doing, learning from the dark side, and understanding the dark side of knowledge. I hope students remember lessons that help them in life. In the past weeks, I have received many notes of congratulations from friends, colleagues, and students, which showed that they were paying attention. Many “Orth” sayings came back to me. For example, whenever students would ask “Is the exam comprehensive?” I would respond “Yes, because life is a comprehensive exam.” When asked “Will questions be multiple choice?” I would respond “Nothing in life mimics a multiple choice exam.”  My collection of favorite memories, quips, and ‘fishy’ puns shared at my retirement celebration and may be viewed online.

I began to pay attention as I grew up in a densely populated neighborhood in Chicago. This early urban experience led to dreams and motivation to leave and explore life elsewhere. Critical events in my early life that I paid attention to are chronicled in the digital story “Not Everyone Truly Lives."  In Chicago, I observed riots to abolish legalized racial segregation, discrimination, and disenfranchisement throughout the United States. Even after the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965) black people still faced discrimination in jobs, housing, education and politics. Martin Luther King, Jr., in The Other America Speech wrote that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”   Even to this day, many promises of freedom and justice have not been met. 

As privileged people, we should never wonder why people are protesting. Protests will continue until real reforms are made. As an impressionable young person, I saw strong anti-black sentiment, and disgust for progressive programs of relief, recovery, and reform that generated jobs and hope for the disadvantaged. I believe these early experiences led me to be an advocate for DEIJA (diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and accessibility). The world of fisheries has many unresolved issues related to exclusion, privilege, and violation of human rights. 

Dreams drive me.  You must dream before you can achieve anything. My dream as an adolescent was to escape the urban setting. Anytime I was away from the city, I could easily see the polluted air sitting like a dark cloud over the Chicago region. This air could not be good to breathe. Today, Chicago ranks in the top 10% of metro areas for smog and particulate pollution (American Lung Association 2023). On Chicago beaches I saw my first large-scale fish die offs. The historic Alewife dieoff of 1967 heightened my curiosity about all things fish. Until that time, I had no idea what an Alewife was or how they got there. 

Listening to dreams of students is one key to help with motivation. I believe in the power of personal narrative to motivate students. Students are often reluctant to share their dreams and convictions with their instructors. As a professor my dream was to see that each day students judge what is truth, beautiful and good in our world. And when they see something wrong, they learn to speak up and take action. This takes more than knowledge — it takes courage to speak up to power when something is wrong, it takes integrity to tell your story and  to energize and mobilize your community to act. In many ways I saw my students as heroes of their own developing stories. I preached Joseph Campbell’s mantra that “If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential.”  Although I did not follow the path of others, I certainly learned from studying the path and wisdom of others. 

In graduate school, I was introduced to the works of William E. Ricker and devoured each page of the newly published green book (Ricker 1975). His career story influenced me greatly as I learned more about the man. Ricker was both an accomplished entomologist and fisheries scientist (Beamish and Noakes 2006; Noakes 2006). In a classic paper, Ricker (1969) calculated that the world fish catch might be sustainable at approximately 2.5 times the 1968 catch, or about 150 to 160 million t and that the maximum world catch would be attained by the year 2000. This was the very first attempt to calculate this quantity. The world catch of fish only reached this level from additional inputs from aquaculture as catch from global fisheries flattened since 2000 (Figure 2). The logic and mathematical approach used by Ricker has been widely applied throughout the world.  

Figure 2. World capture fisheries and aquaculture production. FAO 

I was fortunate to meet Bill Ricker at a meeting of the American Fisheries Society. This was made possible due to a mentor, Larry Larimore. Instead of joining Bill to reminisce on the bus, he asked me if I had ever met Bill Ricker and introduced us. He was 75 years old, I was not yet 30, and we shared a long bus ride to a social event. I learned first-hand that he was a very unassuming, humble man. Yet, he was one of those “giants in science on whose shoulders fuure biologists will stand” (Beamish and Noakes 2006). 

One irony about success in academia is the importance of both positive and negative happenings. What is highly valued is recognition from grants, promotions, publications, and honors earned.  Professsors are held to high standards and readily criticized. Yet, failure and criticism are how we learn. One annoying fact about our evolution is that we all possess a negativity bias. We tend to dwell on the negative more than the positive because our brain tries to keep us safe from harms. Consequently, many brilliant and talented young academics are subject to burnout and overwork as they focus and remember the insults and criticism far more than the praise.  Therefore, I advise you to maintain some trusted colleagues who will provide honest feedback and praise or criticism when deserved.

Academia continues to push the banal "publish or perish" mantra. However, in the field of conservation, there are many approaches to translating research findings to to guide conservation action, and scholarly publication is necessary, but not sufficient alone. I always maintained that the function of scholarly pursuits is to guide action. I was a pragmatist long before I ever read William James (1907):

Pragmatism teaches that the function of thought is to guide action. And that truth should be tested by the practical consequences of the beliefs we hold. Though James’ philosophy fell out of favor during much of the 20th century, many modern philosophers are reconsidering James’ ideas, as his work provides inspiration for new theories of perception, meaning, and belief.” 

There are many ways to be a success in academia and the young academic will be indundated with much advice from mentors who disagree on what you should do.  Instead of thinking you will perish, focus on writing papers that will help your career flourish. Write a string of papers in a research area so that you become known as a leader in a particular area of research. What you stand for should reflect your advocacy for science rather than for particular point of view. Seek out other collaborators to expand your access. It is difficult to make a lasting impact with many unrelated papers. Rather, the value of your scholarly writing will depend on (1) how it is used and cited by other researchers; (2) whether it is adopted in principal teaching materials; and (3) its influence on policy and practice. Finally, trust your judgment to create your own path. 

I learned much from my years working on the dark side of University administration. Universities have many examples or failed leadership as successful professors are promoted even when they don’t possess great leadership skills. Too often leaders exhibit destructive traits of narcissism, hubris, or Machiavellianism (Figure 3; Paulhus and Williams 2002). From stories from many colleagues, I adopted the “No Assholes Rule” because assholes can destroy morale (Sutton 2007). Getting the best out of people means we should “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” (Mark Twain, cited in MacLaren 1938, p. 66).  As you encounter the assholes, consider them as “trials” sent to make you stronger and wiser.   

Figure 3. The personality traits for destructive leaders (Paulhus and Williams 2002). 

The dark side of knowledge is another troubling aspects that advocates standardized testing, keeping students at a distance, and discouraging questioning. All learning begins with a dream and students at college arrive with a dream, either ill-formed or fantastical. Learning starts with a question, a problem to be solved, a dilemma to be resolved, and a challenge to be met. Questions should be never considered annoyances. Questions force deep thinking and reflection and invite  conversation. Yet many college students are fearful about asking questions in class — they fear the arrogant professor.  This unfortunate reality must be remedied. One approach for those of us arrogant professors to be more relatable, is to present important lessons in stories. People love stories.  

Learning is challenging, but we encourage and support student with learning activities known as desirable difficulties (Brown et al. 2004).  Design the desirable difficulty activity to be sufficiently challenging that it must be introduced as a sequence of learning tasks and feedback.  The secret to providing meaningful feedback is to deliver it to students as a complement sandwich (Figure 4). 

Figure 4. A graphic representation of the compliment sandwich, a mix of positive and constructive feedback. Source. 

Most successful academics have been trained and continue to teach Western ways of knowing. Science is promoted as objective, quantifiable, and the foundation for “real” knowledge creation. Traditional ways of knowing may be seen as anecdotal. However, Indigenous communities knew much about fish and nature long before their regions were colonized by Europeans.  Western scientists never asked indigenous peoples about the natural systems they studied. Their arrogance meant they were not integrating all available knowledge in their studies.  Today, we are increasingly promoting "two-eyed seeing" that encourage efforts to weave indigenous ways of knowing in a more inclusive approach to science. In an inclusive approach we seek to evaluate and discuss importance of values and actions and knowledges.

Everything that is or was started with a dream.” – Lavagirl (2005)      


American Lung Association. 2023. State of the Air. Available at:

Beamish, R.J. and Noakes, D.J., 2006. Bill Ricker: A man of gifted intellect, insatiable curiosity and generous spirit. Environmental Biology of Fishes 75:119-129.

Brown, P.C., H.L. Roediger, III, and M.A. McDaniel. 2014.  Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Belknap Press, Harvard University Press.  Cambridge, MA  313 pp.

James, W. 1907. Pragmatism: A new name for some old ways of thinking. Longmans, Green and Co.

MacLaren, G., 1938. Morally we roll along. Little, Brown. 

Noakes, D.L.G. 2006. Bill Ricker: A Tribute. Environmental Biology of Fishes 5:1–5. 

Paulhus, D.L. and Williams, K.M., 2002. The dark triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality 36(6):556-563.

Ricker, W.E. 1969. Food from the sea. pp. 87 – 108. In: P. Cloud (chair.) Resources and man, a study and recommendations, Report of the Committee on Resources and Man, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, W.H. Freeman and Co., San Francisco.

Ricker, W.E. 1975. Computation and interpretation of biological statistics of fish populations. Bulletin of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada No. 191: 382 pp.

Sutton, R.I. 2007. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Business Plus. 224 pp. 


Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A Message to Students: Is Your Future in Fish, Fisheries, or Conservation? by Don Orth

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” – Joseph Campbell

I have five simple messages for those still seeking a career path. First, start developing and nurturing your network of friends and associates and learn what you can from them. Second, everyone’s path in life is unique so seek your own way in college and beyond. Third, you belong and you can succeed. Fourth, diverse career opportunities exist in the fisheries profession. Finally, your future options may be informed by current trends in fish conservation. If you google future career opportunities you will get over 780,000 hits and none will mention fish or fisheries. One news story mentions the 10 best careers for the future: 10 Best Careers for the Future: Highest Paying & in Demand (College Foundation of North Carolina 2021)

1.     Registered Nurses and Medical Professionals. 

2.     Data Analysts. 

3.     Plumbers and Electricians.

4.     Dentists and Dental Hygienists.

5.     Software Developers.

6.     Cybersecurity Experts. 

7.     Alternative Energy Installers and Technicians. 

8.     Mental Health Professionals.

9.     Veterinarians

10.  Artificial Intelligence

However, these are not necessarily the best careers for you. If you are uncertain about your path, you are not alone. Use trusted sources and mentors to help guide your pathway. In the past weeks of the Hutton program you have met several fisheries and aquatic professionals. They are your mentors. Please, add me to your professional network of contacts. Learn from our past mistakes. You can learn more about me from a short article (Orth 2017) or two short videos. You may find the digital story of critical events in my early life that illuminated the values of an 18-year-old Don; see “Not Everyone Truly Lives." To learn more about my approach to science, see “Why My Science is Awesome.”

Fisheries management and fish conservation are difficult and complex arenas. Actions needed take persistence and patience and an open mind. Everyone’s path to a career that involves fish is unique, but all find that what they do makes a difference. A college degree is needed, so you must navigate your college choices wisely. That means use your network to discuss questions and how to overcome obstacles encountered. 

For example, are the following statements about college truth or fiction? • The best way to find out about a major is to take courses in it.
• I should get my Gen Eds out of the way first. Truth. Fiction. 
• College is unaffordable. Truth. Fiction. 
• Picking a major and a career are the same thing. Truth. Fiction. 
• Choosing one major means giving up all the others. Truth. Fiction. 
• My major will determine what I do for the rest of my life. Truth. Fiction. 
• You need a major. Truth. Fiction.
 • College is only for the smartest students. Truth. Fiction. 
• First generation college students have no disadvantages for college success. Truth. Fiction
These and many other common myths about college persist (Dehne ND). Guidance counselors will confirm that each statement is false. As you begin to discuss your pathway options with your growing network you will learn that everyone’s path is unique, but two pieces of advice will emerge: 1. Rely on a network of professional contacts whenever a question arises. They can inform you of new perspectives and influencers. 2. Seek opportunities outside your field to develop additional skills. Gerald Ford, our 38th President worked as a seasonal park ranger at Yellowstone National Park, which he maintained was “One of the greatest summers of my life.” Your major is just the starting point for designing a meaningful future. Consider the many possible wanderings as you explore the possibilities. Your life purpose is the point at which your skills, interests and the market intersect.

Venn diagram indicating that your life purpose is the point at which your 

skills, interests and the market intersect.

Answer these questions to help you decide “what should I do with my life?” (West 2020):

1. What, and who, is worth suffering for?

2. Close your eyes and imagine the best version of yourself. What is that person like?

3. If social media didn’t exist, what would you do with your life?

4. What comes most naturally to you?

5. What would your ideal daily routine look like?

6. What do you want your legacy to be?

Many uninformed observers believe that fisheries workers do the work of fishing and think we all work on a boat or in a hatchery. There are numerous types of fishing and even more human activities that may compromise the ability of ecosystems to support a diverse fish fauna.  Consequently, fish and fisheries experts are called upon to consult on the permitting, planning, and siting of many new mining, industrial, and manufacturing sites as well as long-term land and water use plans.  

Globally, fish are the primary protein source for ~ 40% of the world’s population. Overfishing is therefore common, which threatens the food security in countries dependent of fish for protein. Working on rebuilding on of the many overfished stocks can produce higher yields as well as substantial social, economic and ecological benefits. 

Artisanal and subsistence fisheries generate about one-third to one-half of the global catch that is used for direct human consumption and employ more than 99% of the worlds 60 million fishers. Scuba diving is a fast-growing form of special interest tourism that attracts individuals interested in underwater recreation and fish watching.  Scuba diving is now a multibillion-dollar industry and one of the world’s fastest growing recreational sports. Therefore, there is no single or one dominant type of fishing.


For many, the idea of managing for fishing seems silly or unnecessary. However, there are many obstacles to change to overcome in order to sustain good fishing.  In many cases, fishing requires basic access to fishing locations.  The goal of Fishing Has No Boundaries (FHNB) is to open up the great outdoors for people with disabilities through the world of fishing. FHNB, created in 1988, has grown into a National Organization with 27 chapters in 13 states, enabling thousands of individuals with disabilities to participate fully in this spirit-lifting, morale-boosting, trouble-free recreational activity. FHNB believes that through education, training, and the use of adaptive angling equipment, everyone is able to share in a dream come true.


What our graduates do is difficult to summarize because of the numerous pathways taken.  A four-year degree that includes aspects of fish conservation will be a strong foundation for many career pathways.  Although a MS degree is a pre-requisite for employment as a professional fisheries biologist in state and federal agencies, those who earn a BS find numerous opportunities working in environmental consulting, hatcheries, public aquariums, and related fishing and boating industries. 

In an impressive increase from years past, 38.3 percent of women in the United States had completed four years or more of college in 2020. This figure is up from 3.8 percent of women in 1940. A significant increase can also be seen in males, with 36.7 percent of the U.S. male population having completed four years or more of college in 2020, up from 5.5 percent in 1940. With this increase there is a saturation of certain majors, such as Criminal Justice, Psychology, Drama, English, and Computer Science. For example, a degree in business management and administration is pursued by 31.2% of all business majors, by far the most popular business-related concentration. Therefore, these majors expect steep competition in job searches. Recently, new college majors are emerging in fields as diverse as packaging, fermentation science, and cannabis cultivation to supply growing industries. According to Brewhound, the beer industry created more than 2 million new jobs (Kendall 2017).  The important take-home message is continuous changes in all fields.   

Percentage of the U.S. population who have completed four years of 

college or more from 1940 to 2020, by gender

Also, as the proportion of the US population in college increases, more of the students will be first-generation or historically underrepresented students.  Such students encounter additional challenges in navigating nuances of college choices.  That is why a network is so important. It is easier for people to take on the goals, motivations, emotions, and even physical reactions of people whom they feel even minimally connected to (Walton et al. 2012).  A sense of belonging does not depend on participation with, or proximity to, others or groups. Rather, belonging comes from a perception of quality, meaning and satisfaction with social connections. Belonging may also relate to a sense of belonging to a place or even an event. It is therefore a complex and dynamic process unique to each person. Thanks to the internet and smart phones, we are in many ways more connected than ever, and yet we are also reporting increased loneliness (Turkle 2017).


You can rely on your fellow students and seek out an on-campus group to facilitate dealing with changes during college. And change should be your expectation for education and career planning. The question “What do I do with this degree?” paralyzes most students who believe there in only one linear path. The linear progression of college internship  career job is unrealistic.  During your college years, be prepared for unplanned opportunities that arise and provide for possibilities for learning.  These may be undergraduate research, study abroad, or volunteer programs, such as Americorps (, Habitat for Humanity ( or Peace Corps (  

A rare linear path from college to a career. 

The future career opportunities for fish and fisheries professionals will increasingly address the top issues of our times. Some of these activities include:

·      Unprecedented Global Change 

·      Conservation aquaculture

·      Finfish aquaculture

·      Eco-labeling fishery products 

·      Reduce illegal fishing 

·      Certification of sustainable fisheries

·      Empowering women in fisheries

·      Climate change adaptations

·      Aquatic ecotourism

·      Drones and surveillance 

·      Small-scale fisheries governance

·      Marine sanctuaries

·      Biodiversity loss and discovery


As you continue your educational pursuits, never forget to thank those mentors who helped you along your educational pathways. Your success matters. Therefore, stay in contact and let your previous mentors know what and how you are doing. When you are struggling, reach out and ask for help. 

"One of the biggest defects in life is the inability to ask for help. " Robert Kiyosaki  

Humility is knowing what you don’t know. Often, the students I see who fail or will fail would rather argue against advice instead of taking advice. To succeed at anything, there’s a feedback loop that must be in place: try something --> get feedback and results --> learn from feedback and results --> try something new.


Good luck with your future educational choices.  Remember that “Chance Favors the Prepared Mind” (Louis Pasteur). 




Brooks, K. 2010. You Majored in What? Designing Your Path from College to Career. Plume Publishers. 352 pp. 

College Foundation of North Carolina. 2019.10 Best Careers for the Future: Highest Paying & In Demand. Accessed from

Dehne, G. ND. 25 Common Myths about College Accessed from

Kendall, J. 2017. Study: U.S. Beer Industry Creates More than 2 million jobs. Brewbound website. May 24, 2017. Accessed at

Orth, D. 2017. How I Got Where I Am. American Currents 42(4):21-24.

Turkle, S. 2017. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books. 400 pp. 

Walton, G. M., G. Cohen, D. Cwir, and S. Spencer. 2012. Mere belonging: The power of social connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102 (3): 513-532.

West, B. 2020. What should I do with my life? This is exactly how to know what you’re meant to do. Thought Catalog January 21, 2020. Accessed at

Friday, March 26, 2021

On the Reality of Wild Salmon Recovery: Accepting Limits to Growth, by Don Orth

The role of a fisheries scientist in advancing policy and science of recovery of Pacific Salmon is a valiant, perhaps quixotic struggle. While most believe salmon are important indicators of environmental health and believe it is important to restore wild salmon runs for future generations, surprisingly little progress is evident.  The historic expansion of human activity in the Pacific Northwest has driven a loss of phenotypic and genetic diversity in Pacific salmon. Almost 50 years since publication of  “The Limits to Growth” (Meadows et al. 1972), we are still shouting “there are limits to growth” and not getting through in a way that leads to substantive change.  By the year 2100,  there will be 11.2 billion humans on our planet, all demanding food, jobs, energy, and space. The relative increase in human populations will be even higher in the Pacific Northwest, making restoration of wild salmon runs difficult, if not impossible. My opinion piece deals with avoiding pessimism while proposing a realistic future for wild salmon.

In 2001, Robert Lackey penned an essay “Defending Reality” in Fisheries, in which he concluded that “The near-certain growth in the human population in the Pacific Northwest through this century, coupled with little indication that most people will accept the enormous lifestyle changes necessary to perpetuate, much less restore, wild salmon, means that restoring “fishable” runs of wild salmon in California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Idaho is a policy objective that is not likely to be achieved.“  Similarly, Healey (2009) when examining the status of Pacific Salmon in British Columbia, Canada, concluded that if salmon and their fisheries are to become viable again, radically new management policies are needed. 

The reaction to the essay reminded my of Cassandra's Dilemma. Cassandra was a beauty in Greek mythology. When Apollo fell in love with her, he granted her the ability to know the future in his attempt to show his devotion. But when she refused his love, he then cursed her by making it so that no one would ever believe her predictions. Like many modern environmentalists, Cassandra had perfect knowledge of the future and yet nobody would ever believe her – a frustrating curse in the extreme. When asked recently “has wild salmon policy and scientific landscape changed over the past twenty years? “ Lackey (2021) replied “ To answer bluntly . . . nothing substantive has changed from what I described in 2001.” It’s tough being an optimist when reality sucks! 

I am certain that many, like me, have experienced similar frustrations when simple, hard-to-accept reality was ignored.  Perhaps you shed Cassandra's tears. Perhaps you laughed and displayed eternal optimism.  In the extreme, we may respond to difficult futures with a cheerful, often falsely positive, fa├žade, which is referred to as toxic positivity by psychologists. Here the optimist is either in denial or just full of happy horsesh*t.  Lackey (2001) maintained that Pacific Salmon management involved a conspiracy of optimism. Optimism may be a coping mechanism because the opposite, pessimism, is bad for your health.  These difficult moments of self-doubt challenge each of us as professionals and require frequent self-talk or even group therapy to maintain a clear grip on an often, sad reality. While not a qualified therapist, I find that I do a lot of it for students and colleagues. I refer you to a Therapist’s Guide to Positive Psychological Interventions (adapted from Seligman 2002).  To be effective at our work we must protect ourselves from pessimism and its effects on anxiety and depression.  Optimism increases our ability to value and plan for the future, and our capacity to recall the past and learn from it.  We must learn how to be optimistic in a pessimist's world (AtKisson 2010). 

While on a sabbatical leave in academic year 1995-1996, I worked on analyses of reservoir release requirements for fish at the New Don Pedro Project (FERC Project No. 2299-024), just one of many FERC licensed hydro projects in the San Joaquin drainage of California. After comparing the possible release alternatives,  the outlook for Pacific Salmon and Steelhead runs looked bleak under current levels of hydro development, hatchery stocking, and degraded riparian wetlands. The reality of no hope for the future restoration of wild salmon did not register in the final environmental impact statement.  Looking back 25 years, one sees that the Tuolumne fall-run Chinook Salmon runs are still at historic lows despite many valiant interventions.  Our US government-required Environmental Impact Analysis ignored the larger wild salmon reality.  It did not “tell it like it is.”   


I once provided written testimony in a large, multi-station hydropower development at the time when new generation capacity was proposed. One conservation agency believed that the operations and altered flow regimes caused the substantial decline in abundance of large trout. However, after visiting the river, its hydro plants, and examining the evidence, I concluded that a simple model showed that increasing fishing effort satisfactorily explained the population decline observed over the 5 decades since hydro development. In this case, the simple reality was counter to the preferred policy option. In order to maintain false optimism, we often commit a naturalistic fallacy.  We maintain that if we could just go back to the way things were, fisheries and ecosystems would be restored.  This type of historically based restoration seeks to turn back the clock when there is no chance of going back.  Many ecosystems have been fundamentally altered for so long that they are unlikely to recover to a pristine, historic condition.  In many hydropower relicensing efforts, restoration of altered ecosystems is impossible with incremental changes in flow rules alone (Orth 2019; McManamay et al. 2015). The reality is far more complex.  

Figure 1. Naturalistic fallacy is an appeal to nature in order to judge it valid or good.


I found it almost surreal to read Lackey’s essay twenty years later. Pacific Salmon are a globally significant group of fishes and many scientific innovations started with salmon studies. I suspect one could/should do a comprehensive literature review on the question of substantive change and examine the empirical evidence.  The optimistic in me is inclined to seek and find only positive changes in wild salmon policy and the scientific landscape over twenty years. However, the reality is that what I’ve read indicates that Lackey was and is correct.  Refer back to the Therapist’s Guide for Cassandra's Dilemma. 


Lichatowich and Gayeski (2020) chronicled the numerous fallacies in Pacific Salmon management. A failed salmon management paradigm rests on the concept of single species maximum sustained yield (MSY), which is not intended to be an appropriate management objective (Gulland 1969). Additionally, the fallacies include practices that allow small populations to go extinct, reduce life history variations, swamp gene pools with hatchery plantings, encourage investments in larger vessels and gear, permit incremental loss of freshwater habitat, and manage for economic efficiency (Healey 2009).  


The evolutionary consequences of overfishing (Palcovic 2011) and massive hatchery supplementation has changed many salmon populations. For example, in the Salish Sea, over 50 million Chinook Salmon are released annually to support a large mixed stock fishery off the west coast of North America. Over time, the size of hatchery Chinook Salmon has increased, making them significantly larger than natural‐origin fish and in the preferred size range for predators (Losee et al. 2019; Nelson et al. 2019). Declines in the average size and age of mature Chinook Salmon is widespread and can cause a reduction in population productivity (Ohlberger et al. 2018; Manashin et al. 2021).  Survival from smolt stage to returning adult Chinook Salmon has decreased in most regions  (for 123 Chinook Salmon time series ) and none of the runs monitored approach survival levels measured in the 1960s (Welch et al. 2021). Despite the many well-intentioned, valiant efforts to increase salmon populations through harvest regulation, hatchery enhancement, and habitat restoration, decreases in survival of Chinook Salmon persist.  In Canada’s Skeena River, the number and population diversity of wild Sockeye Salmon has dramatically declined over the last century (Price et al. 2021). To add to a pessimistic outlook, consider the constraints that climate change will pose on wild salmon populations (Weatherndon et al. 2016; Crozier et al. 2021). These few examples highlight the reality — not optimism.  An ecosystem approach has been resisted here as well as elsewhere for reasons that are not entirely valid (Fogarty 2014). 


I am desperate for signs of hope as I enter the ‘disputation’ stage of the ABCDE’s of the Therapist’s Guide. If reality is bleak for salmon, how can one remain optimistic for saving the many other freshwater fishes that are not economically valuable?  (Winemiller et al. 2016) Mark Kurlansky's (2020) recent book, which I read while locked at home during the covid pandemic, helped me appreciate the history, people, and many places — mountains, valleys, rivers, estuaries, and seas associated with Pacific Salmon in crisis. Others have thought about the dilemma far more than me and propose key elements of a renewed fisheries strategy, including a common vision for the future, a series of guiding principles, and specific strategies for supporting sustainable fisheries (MacDonald et al. 2000; Lach et al. 2006). 

I also feel hints of optimism from new dam removals designed to open up spawning and rearing habitat for Salmon and Steelhead. While the developing world is planning a boon in hydropower dam construction, new research efforts are underway as old dams are increasingly being marked for removal (O’Connor et al. 2015; Bellmore et al. 2016).  Removal of two dams on the Elwha River provides hope for other projects, such as the removal of eight dams on the  Klamath River. When the Klamath dams came up for relicensing 20 years ago, some tribal members and scientists decided that dam removal was the only path forward to restore wild salmon and the health of the Klamath river.  Frankie Myers, of the Yoruk Tribe, said that the idea of dam removal “seemed far-fetched, and raised eyebrows on the reservation, where people wondered if the dam-removal fight was the best use of the tribe’s energy.”  However, almost 20 years later, nearly everyone has come around. In the past two decades we begin to see investigations that focus on evaluating impacts of dam removal (Battle et al. 2020; Cooper et al. 2020).  But without lifestyle and governance changes, we are likely to overharvest restored salmon populations in mixed stock fisheries.

Therefore,  I tentatively share a few reasons for optimism. My reasons are not original ideas, but they do represent difficult challenges that need to be broadly embraced. First, the tendency to go decades without obvious progress is one characteristic of “wicked problems.” Accepting reality is not a pessimistic response, rather it is expected for wicked problems. Informed experts seem to agree that wild salmon recovery, because of the evolving set of interconnected issues and constraints, should be addressed as a “wicked problem ” (Lachner et al 2006). I want to believe in the possibilities that persistent, passionate people when seeking to understand the complexities of peoples and places, can create a governance structure that recognizes and engages different peoples and places. We need a new policy landscape, so that scientific advances will not serve to  simply document why wild salmon remain a mere fraction of historical levels.

Second, scientists should gain some perspective and humility. As MacDonald et al. (2000) explained to salmon scientists,  “the ball is not in our court.” Scientists must get involved in policy deliberations, and play the appropriate role to provide facts, probabilities, and analysis, while avoiding normative science. As Lackey (2001) concludes, fisheries scientists must be “scrupulously realistic about the future.”  That realistic attitude recognizes that science is not the only way to view and learn about our world. Yeah, that statement activates my gag reflex too. 

Third, we need to improve communications among water users and develop collaborative approaches to cross-sectoral integration of development agendas because fisheries seldom exist in isolation from other human uses.  Wisdom of crowds is the idea that large groups of people are collectively smarter than individual experts when it comes to problem-solving, decision making, innovating and predicting. The wisdom of the crowd approach for fisheries management may draw upon the collective knowledge of resource stakeholders to overcome the challenges of fisheries management (Aminpour et al. 2020). Seeing how and why many experts and stakeholders disagree may give us reason to approach a future with eyes and minds wide open to learn. 

Fourth, the reality of accepting limits while understanding that others may interpret limits in different ways means we must treat salmon recovery as social problem. We should engage in the process of effectively dealing with the variety of beliefs and convictions.  Philosophical debates and clashes among many stakeholders must be part of the process of wild salmon recovery (Buchal 2006). In a pluralistic society, we will not be successful persuading others on fundamental questions of what is right? Rather we should begin a deliberative dialogue (Mathews 1998), and offer arguments that appeal to fundamental values of others, even while we don’t share them. What we’ve all learned in the last year about working remotely should serve us well in creating an online process to facilitate much-needed deliberative dialogue across many jurisdictions.  Lackey et al.(2006b), Healey (2009), Hand et al. (2018), and others recognized these needs for changes as they called for integration  of  harvest management, habitat management, and habitat enhancement by giving fishing and aboriginal communities greater responsibility and authority to manage the fisheries on which they depend. 

Fifth, our western colonial worldview does not accept the idea of limits. For over four centuries the western colonial worldview has maintained we humans have the right to take everything, or limited to a MSY based on false assumptions (Figure 2 - Ego). Appreciating the long dominance of this view helps all of us to understand why after only 50 years of shouting “there are limits to growth” we are not getting through in a way that leads to substantive change. The recent increased voice of white supremacists clearly reminded me that the fundamental idea that there are "no limits (on me)” is also a key tenant of white supremacy and colonization. 


Figure 2. Illustration of three different mindsets about the human relationship within the ecosystem. ‘Ego’ places humans at the apex, ‘eco’ places humans within the ecosystem, and ‘seva’ sees human role based on reciprocity, in service to others and nature.    from Brown (2021). source. 

The notion of two-eyed seeing, which works to engage traditional and local knowledge holders to manage and restore salmon fisheries, should provide direction.  Local and indigenous knowledge can complement western science approaches (Berkes 2017; Reid et al. 2021). Educational systems in North America provide more exposure to western writers and western ways of learning and ignore indigenous approaches to understanding.  For example, I often quote a western writer who wrote: “Who hears the fishes when they cry?” rather than a native American writer. Henry David Thoreau in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) asserted that the physical and the spiritual in human life were inseparable. In one passage he described that  “In the waters of this town there are about a dozen distinct species, though the inexperienced would expect many more. It enhances our sense of the grand security and serenity of nature, to observe the still undisturbed economy and content of the fishes of this century, their happiness a regular fruit of the summer.”

The context of this famous quote (yes, famous for fishy folks) recognized the fish were admirable fellow creatures. “Away with the superficial and selfish phil-anthropy of men, — who knows what admirable virtue of fishes may be below low-water-mark, bearing up against a hard destiny, not admired by that fellow-creature who alone can appreciate it! Who hears the fishes when they cry? It will not be forgotten by some memory that we were contemporaries. Thou shalt erelong have thy way up the rivers, up all the rivers of the globe, if I am not mistaken.” I’m afraid no one does hear the salmon fishes when they cry. We may be too busy crying about lost human pleasures we derive from salmon, our contemporaries 



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