Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Seattle, Day Two

Hello folks, I just wanted to give a brief update on the conference so far, before I run down to the Seattle Aquarium for a social.  Yesterday (Monday) was the first day of talks at the American Fisheries Society conference.

I figure most of you don't know what a science conference is like, so forgive me if I get into too much detail.

The day began dreadfully early.  The plenary talks began at 8 am at the beautiful historical Paramount Theatre.  It opened up, surprisingly, with a prayer in the language of one of the Native American tribes that fish salmon along the Washington coast.  What was even more surprising was that the prayer was not an invocation to the Great Spirit, but was actually a Christian prayer ending with 'the name of your son Jesus, amen.'  This was followed by a traditional Shaker song in a native tongue.  It was certainly an intriguing and unexpected beginning to a scientific conference.

Paramount theatre

From 8 am to noon I listened to four plenary speakers, with a lengthy intro from some local politician and a very lengthy awards ceremony honouring a state congressman.  Two of the plenary sessions stand out especially in my mind.  An elder of the Nisqually Indian Tribe spoke passionately of the decline of salmon that his people depend on to maintain their culture, and thanked all of us for being actively involved in sustaining fisheries.  It was a heartbreaking speech, as he revealed how powerless his people ultimately are in the face of governmental inaction.  The federal government gave the power to the state to work alongside of the people; the state went broke; now the people want the federal government to take control once again.  He said, in his simplistic but heartfelt English, 'The salmon is gone...There's poison in the water out there...Its so good that you science people are here.'

The second talk to stand out was from Dr. Robert Lackey, who tried to slap us all in the face with a great big reality check.  40% of Americans, he said, distrust what scientists say when it comes to environmental issues. The reason we have lost all credibility, he argued, is because we take some sort of political stance or bias.  In the court of law, the government scientists and the NGO scientists present conflicting science - when the facts cannot even be agreed upon, how can the policy makers ever hope to reach a decision?  The solution is to present the facts untainted.  Rather than make a sob story speech about how we need to restore the fish, it is the job of the scientist to simply state what is happening to the fish; it is the job of the policy maker to decide what the best use of the water is, whether that be to save those fish, or provide energy for working people, or open a recreational fishery, or what have you.  'Normative science,' he said, by which he meant science that contained a hidden policy agenda, 'is a corruption of science, no matter how strongly a scientist feels about policy...There are no exceptions.'  'If you want to be an effective scientist, become that source [of trust, by presenting neutral facts]...Present the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, no matter how unpleasant.'

I am still struggling with that one.  He certainly shook things up.

This was followed by a break for lunch, and then it was time for the individual talks.  There were over 30 rooms in which talks were occurring simultaneously.  It was quite difficult to choose.  Here is what I went to:

1. Challenges to reducing barotrauma mortality in US. (Stephen Theberge Jr).
2. Too hot or too cold? How Pacific sardine respond to changing temperatures (Alena Pribyl).
3. Oxidative stress and senescence throughout the migration of pink salmon (Samantha Wilson)
4. Responses and recovery of adult migrating Pacific salmon to exercise and temperature stress (Michael Donaldson)
5. Matters of the heart and sex: cardiac stress physiology in rainbow trout (Tracey Momoda)
6. Media coverage of ocean issues: a content analysis of newspaper articles on marine, coastal and ocean management from 1990-2010 (Ingrid Biedron)
7. Effects of an experimental cortisol challenge on the behaviour of wild radio-tagged creek chub in late fall.

And that was just the first round of talks!  After the break, I saw:

8. Estimating mortality of Atlantic bluefin tuna in a catch-and-release fishery (Michael Stokesbury)
9. Stream or shore? Outlier loci distinguish Kokanee ecotypes to inform fisheries management (my good friend Karen Fraser)
10. Climate change and northern Puget Sound steelhead (Ed Connor)
11. Physiological biomarkers of hypoxic stress in red swamp crayfish (Christopher Bonivillain)

There was at least one other, but I cannot for the life of me recall it.

To be honest, there weren't too many talks that excited me this day.  The temperature and sardines one was really cool, with a very ambitious experimental design that was able to address a large number of questions.  It fits in with my own research program quite well, so I will likely contact that scientist to get a copy of their research.

Today (Tuesday) however was much more exciting. I took copious notes, and tomorrow I will describe some of the remarkable things I learned about the state of the American fisheries.

Monday evening kicked off with a delicious buffet at the trade show/poster convention.  I had an involved discussion with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) people, that I will have to make a separate post about.  I talked to a Canadian about some sweet work he's doing with predator/prey behaviour in an alpine lake, and then returned to my hotel, exhausted and ready to take advantage of American Netflix.

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