News

1. Why was Lamar Eason suspended?

Writes Stephen Kimber:

“People don’t like to talk about race, culture, bias,” Bayview Community School principal Lamar Eason explains, adding elliptically: “Doing your job can lead to questioning the people employing you. Understandably, people get defensive. But [race relations officers] are not there just to support schools; we’re also there to support students and their families. There can be some hard conversations.”

Click here to read “Hard conversations: Why was ‘fantastic principal’ Lamar Eason suspended from his job?”

2. Cod and seals

Photo: Hans-Petter Fjeld/ Wiki

“There is a high probability that Atlantic cod will be locally extinct in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence by mid-century — even with no commercial fishing, according to a new report,” reports Paul Withers for the CBC:

The paper, published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, says the death rate now stands at 50 per cent for adult Gulf cod five years and older. 

The likely culprit? Grey seals.

Back to the evil seals. Fishermen hate seals. Many blame seals — and not overfishing — on the cod collapse, and they say that if we’d just kill off enough seals the cod would come back. One fisherman told me of his idea for the Canadian government to feed “starving Africans” by way of a massive seal kill-off, the carcasses sent to Ethiopia or wherever for food.

My fisherman friend (truly, he’s a nice guy; he even gave me a hat) is not alone. Back in 2009, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) concocted a plan for just such a massive kill on Sable Island, albeit without the benefit of aiding hungry Ethiopians, wrote Linda Pannozzo:

The study details what would be required to kill, lift and move tens of thousands of seal carcasses over a 25-day period. Adult seals would be killed with rifles and the pups with either rifle or by clubbing. To achieve the goal of 100,000 dead seals in 25 days, 10 seals would have to be killed every minute. “At this production rate, a tandem dump truck would be filled with seals approximately every 10 minutes…seven hours a day for 25 days,” says the study.

Thirty modified tree forwarders with boxes and rubberized grips would be required to load all the carcasses from the “work zones” to one of the 20 or so mobile crematoriums where they would be “thermally treated,” meaning incinerated. If the carcasses were not incinerated then the onset of rot and disease would be fast, resulting in biological hazards and health and safety issues for the workers. The study explained that if incineration did not occur before stockpiling and storage, then the carcasses would have to be transported daily off the island — slung from shore by helicopter to a supply vessel — and brought to the “shore base” for disposal. CBCL identified the Mulgrave Marine Terminal on the Strait of Canso as a base, able to accommodate offshore supply vessels, ocean-going tugs and barges, fixed and mobile cranes and regular off-loading capability for the tractor-trailer support the operation would require.

According to the study, 100,000 intact carcasses would weigh roughly 15,000 tonnes and would require 500 trips by tractor trailer from the marine terminal to a disposal facility. The study notes several problems with this scenario, one being that the carcasses would likely freeze inside the containers, making disposal difficult and, secondly, that it’s currently not legal to dump 15,000 tonnes of dead seals into a Nova Scotia landfill.

For these reasons incineration on Sable Island is the study’s preferred choice. Units called “Air Curtain Burners,” designed to burn wood waste with a special mechanism to control smoke, would be used for incinerating the carcasses.

The seal genocide never happened, probably because the whole thing was just too ridiculous.

But even if you can stomach a seal genocide, it is not as simple as “seals eat fish, so if you kill the seals there will be more fish.” In logic, this a fallacy known as “Denying the Antecedent”:

If p then q.
Not-p.
Therefore, not-q.

Or in our case:

If there are a lot of seals, then there won’t be many cod.
There aren’t a lot seals.
Therefore, there will be many cod.

Logic nerds can learn why this is wrong, here, but we don’t even have to get into that. Instead, we could read Linda Pannozzo and Bruce Wark’s 2010 article, “Sable Island’s cod killer? The new plan to slaughter seals blames seals for the cod fishery collapse, but a large seal population might just be the cod’s best hope.” They wrote:

“Cod make up a very small proportion of [seals’] diet,” [ecologist Sara Iverson] says. “By far the largest diet items for grey seals on the Scotian Shelf are sand lance, redfish and other forage species such as capelin and herring.” Iverson says seals prefer eating these fish because they are abundant and have a high fat content (five to 14 percent) compared to cod, which is only one percent fat.

“Grey seals are only one small cog in a very large wheel,” Iverson says adding that the complex marine food web makes it impossible to point a finger at any one species. “It’s well known that the absolute largest predators of fish are other fish. Cod themselves are extremely cannibalistic and are large consumers of forage fish such as sand lance, capelin and redfish.” She says that when the cod stocks collapsed, the whole marine food web shifted. With few large cod left, the population of the smaller fatty fish exploded, and since they’re the preferred prey of grey seals, the seal population ballooned too.

According to Iverson, there is evidence, based on DFO’s aerial surveys, that the exponential growth of the grey seal population on Sable Island has stopped. “The population was still increasing several years ago, but not nearly at the rate it had been over the past few decades,” she says. The results of the most recent survey won’t likely be available for a few months, but Iverson predicts it will probably show further stabilization of the seal population. She concludes there’s not enough scientific evidence at the moment to justify either a cull or the sterilization of grey seals.

“Scientifically we don’t really have clear evidence that removal of grey seals would result in the recovery of those cod stocks,” she says. And tinkering with a complex system could result in unintended consequences. “We have a hard time managing even simple ecosystems in terms of food webs. This is a very complex system and we don’t have any idea would happen if we removed one cog.”

Dalhousie biologist Jeff Hutchings acknowledges the point; writes Withers:

But Hutchings says even a seal cull would not guarantee a cod comeback.

“Many species are feeding upon one another, competing with one another, interacting with one another,” he says. 

“And we simply don’t have enough information to draw any scientifically legitimate and defensible conclusions about what a cull of grey seals would do to cod.”

The “kill all the seals!” sentiment reminds me of those proposing geoengineering schemes to address climate change: we’ve been mucking up the planet by burning gazillions of tonnes of fossil fuels, so let’s un-muck it up by spewing sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere or iron into the oceans; what could possibly go wrong?

We humans are an arrogant lot, thinking we can solve any problem with more intervention.

3. The Corbett Lake Affair

Speaking of mucking stuff up…

The Healthy Forest Coalition points out that a proposed harvesting of 40 hectares of crown land near Corbett Lake has gone very wrong. The proposal was announced in December, with public comment open until January 19. But:

Many citizens and the Annapolis County council immediately began preparations to submit comments on this proposed harvest. A site visit was conducted with 18 residents to tour the proposed two-stage clearcuts. Upon arriving at the site, they discovered a large 750 meter long road constructed down the center of the natural peninsula. (Figure 3 a-b [above]). They also discovered that first stage harvesting had already taken place. The citizen field tour also found many scattered very large and ancient hardwood trees and other ecological, scenic, and recreation features, being a peninsula between two lakes.

It’s worth reading the whole account, “The Story of the Corbett Lake Affair and the Erosion of Trust in the Public Process.”

4. Crows

“A longtime roost that’s home to thousands of crows in Halifax will likely survive the construction of a large housing development next door, say two bird observers,” reports Frances Willick for the CBC:

Fred Harrington, a retired professor who taught animal behaviour in the psychology department at Mount Saint Vincent University, said it’s unlikely the crows will be deterred from their roosting spot by the development.

“It’s very difficult, very difficult to convince birds to go elsewhere,” he said. “It really takes a lot to move a roost.”

Bob McDonald is an avid birder and has been monitoring the crow roost for 30 years. He conducts an annual count of the crows at the university and took a keen interest in them during his long tenure there as chemistry professor.

“The crows are going to survive this,” McDonald said. “Crows are extremely successful birds.”

We’ll see.

5. Yantian Express

The Yantian Express, a container ship that regularly calls in Halifax, and which was en route to Halifax, is on fire.

Reports Hailey Desormeaux for American Shipper:

Hapag-Lloyd said January 3, a fire broke out in one container on the deck of the ship and spread to additional containers.

Due to bad weather conditions, the fire has not been successfully contained yet and has significantly increased in intensity at times. Crew members were evacuated to the salvage tug “Smit Nicobar”, which arrived Friday to help fight the fire, but the fire has not been extinguished yet.

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup said another tug, “Maersk Mobilizer” has been dispatched to the ship and is expected to tow it to port. The ship is located about 800 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia.

The ship will be towed to Halifax, reports Alex Cooke for the Canadian Press.

6. Point Pleasant Park

Photos: Malcolm Norton / Facebook

I’ve come across several independent reports of hazardous ice conditions in Point Pleasant Park making the trails all but unwalkable.

I’m told the problem is exacerbated by city trucks compacting the ice — the smaller trails in the interior of the park are ice-free, but the wider roads where the trucks drive are unpassable. “They literally have cordoned off a huge part of the middle of the park and they use it as a depot for parks n rec,” one regular park user says. “There is a parade of trucks that speed through the park around 7 to 7:30 every morning as they head out to other locations to work… It was always there — but for trucks for the park only. In the last two years they’ve grown it and turned it into a depot for all of the peninsula.”


Government

City

Monday

Spring Garden Road – Public Open House (Monday, 6:30pm, Room 301, Halifax Central Library) — there are now three options for the Spring Garden Road functional plan. I guess you have to go to the event to see them, as I can’t find them on the city’s website.

Tuesday

Burnside Zoning Review – Public Open House, Case 21808 (Tuesday, 12pm and 4pm, in the building named after a bank, 259 Commodore Drive, Dartmouth) — Burnside is going to be turned into Shangri-La.

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — among other items, the council will consider a two-storey addition to the Delmore Buddy Daye Learning Institute at the corner of Cornwallis and Maitland Streets.

Province

No public meetings Monday or Tuesday.


On campus

Dalhousie

Monday

The Importance of Division of Work and Clinical Focus in Health Human Resource Planning: Dynamic, Multiprofessional, Needsbased Simulation Model (Monday, 12:30pm, Room 409, Centre for Clinical Research) — Adrian MacKenzie will speak.

Fractured Land (Monday, 7pm, Room 105, Weldon law Building) — a documentary about Dene lawyer Caleb Behn, who will be present and answer questions after the screening.

Tuesday

Trustworthy and novel dietary guidelines: Early results of systematic reviews on red and processed meat (Tuesday, 12pm, Room 409, Centre for Clinical Research) — Bradley Johnston from Dalhousie and Regina El Dib from Estadual Paulista University (Unesp), Brazil, will speak.

SURGE: Nova Scotia’s newest sandbox (Tuesday, 2pm, Room 2660, Life Sciences Centre) — paraphrased from the event listing:

Alice Aiken, Vice President Research and Newfangling, invites you to join Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education for the official opening of SURGE – Science Unleashed: Research Growing the Economy, Nova Scotia’s newest sandbox. Funded by the Nova Scotia government, SURGE aims to train science students to translate scientific discovery into economic growth and solutions to the world’s big problems.​

2:00 pm: Official opening of SURGE
2:10 pm: Introduction to Nova Scotia’s sandboxes
2:20 pm: Panel discussion with student sandbox participants
2:50 pm: Newfangling workshop with Aaron Newman, manager of SURGE
3:15 pm: Networking reception with NS sandbox managers​

Sandboxes, eh? Bring your own cat.

The term “sandbox” comes from computer programming. Programmers need to test the code they write in an atmosphere that won’t muck up working computer systems, so they create off-line and off-system environments (the sandbox) to basically play around with the new code, to see if it works, what the problems are, test rewrites, and so forth. Makes perfect sense.

But now the word has been borrowed by the tech world generally to mean, well, nothing at all. It’s just a buzzword, voided of all meaning like “sustainable” and “innovative” before it. As with all buzzwords, “sandbox” is supposed to make us feel all excited and happy inside, without conveying any actual meaning.

I think, however, that the point of SURGE is to teach students how to market technology. Well, OK. There’s a place for learning how to market one’s work. Roughly analogous are courses in the J-school that teach hopeful journalists how to market their work as freelancers.

But let’s acknowledge what’s going on here: once again, the point of research is not primarily to broaden knowledge or even to make the world a better place, but to make money, and to make that money in the context of a certain kind of economy and not another kind of economy. In short, the university is being used to remake society. There’s a lot to say about this… I don’t like it, but I probably wouldn’t object quite so much if I thought the students were also learning about the social and economic context they are working within.

My understanding is that war colleges require students to take courses in peace studies, so the students understand the critiques levelled against the military. I know that every radical student I knew in college understood at least the outlines of capitalist theory; my own Marxism class (taught by the Marxist theorist Michael Perelman) involved a deep reading of Ricardo and Adam Smith long before we ever picked up Das Kapital, which itself is about capitalism, not communism. I think something similar should be required of tech students — OK, you’re going to become a cog in the neoliberal order, but at least know that you’re going to be a cog in the neoliberal order.


In the harbour

00:45: YM Evolution, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for Bremerhaven, Germany
06:30: CLI Pride, cargo ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Rotterdam
11:30: Danzigergracht, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
11:30: CLI Pride sails for sea
16:15: Vuoksi Maersk, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Montreal

Where are the Canadian military ships?



Footnotes

Because I’m old and have a lot on my mind, I wake up in the middle of the night and stare into the darkness thinking about shit while being annoyed that I can’t fall back asleep. Last night, I tried to placate my frustration by reminding myself that at least I don’t have to punch a timeclock. But that led to thinking about timeclocks… why do we call them timeclocks; is there some other kind of clock that measures something besides time? We don’t call them distancerulers. This is why I get paid the big bucks.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Parker, Several years ago I sent you an email with information about my book — I was responding to something you posted about the seals, but I can’t recall what it was. Clearly you had no interest in reading it. I interviewed more than 30 fisheries scientists for the book and except for a very few, the vast majority pointed to an ocean ecosystem that is vastly different from the one before the cod collapse. The early 1990s didn’t just mark the collapse of the cod, it marked a gigantic shift in the structure of the ocean ecosystem. Almost all groundfish species with any commercial value were wiped out. What we are seeing, and have been seeing, is the fallout.

    There are two things that stick out for me as I write this reply. First there is the study that was authored by four fisheries scientists including Jeff Hutchings, published in Science in 2013. It looked at depleted fish stocks around the globe and found that, if decisive action was taken in reducing fishing in a timely manner, stocks can rebound. However, if this doesn’t happen, then recovery is unlikely. The study goes on to say that “current harvest levels and low biomass levels render recovery improbably for the majority of the world’s depleted stocks.” This is exactly the situation faced by the southern Gulf cod.

    While directed fishing on all the cod stocks was closed at some point during the 1990s, not all have remained closed. In fact, when it comes to the Gulf, directed fishing for cod has actually been the norm since the moratorium. Following the closure in the Gulf in 1993, the two Gulf stocks showed positive signs of recovery, but small directed fisheries have been allowed since then and have erased any of these gains. Even during the so-called moratorium, which in the Gulf lasted about 4 years, a recreational cod fishery was allowed, not to mention that they were still being caught as by-catch in other fisheries. Over the years directed fishing was opened and closed again and again, each time erasing any gains in recovery. By the time Gail Shea finally shut it down in 2009, it was probably already too late. We should have let the cod recover without directed fishing, but it was politics not science making those decisions. In order to protect the cod we have to change the way we fish. But, it’s so much easier to blame the seals.

  2. The word clock comes from a medieval Latin word meaning bell, and while it came to be associated with timekeeping, it’s used in a more general sense to mean something measured (he was clocked at 50 k in a 40 zone), or even achieved (Sue clocked up another win). There are various modifiers used with clock (tower clock, mantel clock, grandfather clock, ship’s clock, water clock, carriage clock, railway clock, etc.). If you are planning to patent and sell a machine to factory owners concerned about the precision and trustworthiness of their employee’s working hours, it’s important to be precise about what you are selling. (Though in fairness, a more consistent modifier would have been factory clock, or perhaps untrusted workers clock.)

    Time clocks have also been called, more accurately, time recorders, but time clock is easier to say. In some places time recorders were called Bundy clocks, after an early manufacturer (which went through several name changes and amalgamations, and at one time was part of IBM).

  3. Seven fisheries scientists—Rachel D. Neuenhoff, Douglas P. Swain, Sean P. Cox, Murdoch K. McAllister, Andrew W. Trites, Carl J. Walters, and Mike O. Hammill—studied seal predation of cod in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and concluded that, “while predation by grey seals appeared to play a minor role in the collapse of Atlantic cod, we found it to be the main factor preventing recovery.”

    Moreover, “Under current conditions, extirpation of [southern Gulf of St. Lawrence] Atlantic cod appears likely unless there is a large decline in the abundance of grey seals.”

    The scientists published their findings in a peer-reviewed journal, the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. They did not recommend a seal cull.

    However, nine years ago, Linda Pannozzo and Bruce Wark, who are not fisheries scientists but environmental activists, published an article in the Coast, which is not a peer reviewed journal but was edited at the time by Tim Bousquet (among others). They concluded that, “a large seal population might just be the cod’s best hope.”

    I have no idea whether any biologically sound and politically practical intervention could prevent the extinction of cod in the Gulf, but am I crazy for thinking Pannozzo and Wark, though still in denial, have been decisively proven wrong?

    Extirpation of cod would be a terrible thing, comparable to notorious mass extinctions of the buffalo, the passenger pigeon, the great auk, and the American Chestnut. This problem deserves more thoughtful treatment and less ideological whistling past the graveyard.

    1. I wonder how much all of that seal biomass out there on Sable Island is worth in fur coat and dog food form? Even if North Americans and Europeans won’t wear the stuff, there’s a huge market in Asia.

      Instead of an industrial scale seal genocide why not exploit the resource?

    2. Hi Parker,

      I’m a journalist not an environmental activist. You refer to the Coast article that Linda Pannozzo and I co-authored nine years ago, but you do not seem to have read her later book which she cites in her own comment above.

    3. Forty-nine years ago I took a math course called ‘Populations’ which examined predator-prey relationships. The math is pretty convincing – over time, predators and prey reach equilibrium. Assuming equilibrium is something like what the Portuguese found in sixteenth century Newfoundland, that would be a worthy goal. If, like mine, your aging brain doesn’t do differential equations anymore, you can read ‘American Wolf’ to learn how the introduction of long-absent predators rehabilitated elk populations in Wyoming. It’s a great read.
      Unfortunately, it takes time and patience for populations to optimize and stabilize, but the end result of mutual benefit (the right balance ensures the health of both actors) is the only way to ensure a sustainable harvest by a third party.
      “…a large decline in the abundance of grey seals.” will happen of its own accord. Human intervention is certain to be much too simple-minded, failing to account for some of the cornucopia of variables hinted at by Ms. Pannozzo (above).
      Just by-the-way, Rachel Carson never wrote articles for peer-reviewed journals, yet she rescued our sorry behinds from the scourge of DDT and brought the science of ecology into the mainstream. Scientific revolutions have reactionaries and revolutionaries.

      1. Hi Gus,

        Despite the principles of predator-prey relationships you cite, there is ample evidence in the scientific fisheries literature that a given fish stock can be depleted to such a low level that it never recovers

        This happened to a population of haddock that lived for millennia off the south coast of Newfoundland, but was devastated by overfishing in the 1970s (about the time you were taking a statistics course). It never recovered.

        The actual scientists who have actually studied this issue say that’s what’s happening in the southern gulf. A peer-reviewed journal in their specialty thought their research worthy of publication. Perhaps we ought to listen to them.

    4. Parker says: “I have no idea whether any biologically sound and politically practical intervention could prevent the extinction of cod in the Gulf, but am I crazy for thinking Pannozzo and Wark, though still in denial, have been decisively proven wrong?”

      If anyone’s in denial about the raft of real science out there Parker, it’s you. Why don’t you take some time to read about all this, rather than rant and name-call? If a journalism degree, two books and nearly 25 years working as a freelance journalist doesn’t make me a journalist, I don’t know what does. The irony is that when I was just starting out as a journalist in this province I really admired your work at the Daily News, particularly your tenacity when it came to digging below the surface. But to see you resort to such small minded tactics here, not based in fact and aimed at discrediting people… well, it’s disheartening to say the least.

  4. Timeclocks measure time spent on shift. Clocks tell us what time of day it is. Time ruler perhaps?

    It’s a stopwatch because… we stop it? Startwatch…?

    I will be up all night with this. Thanks, Tim.

  5. With respect to seals in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, seals are indeed going up into the freshwater portions of rivers like the Restigouche and its tributary the Matapedia.

    I do see more seals in the Baie des Chaleurs now than I did growing up in the 60s and 70s. Anecdotally, however, old folks tell me that decades ago there were way more seals in the Baie des Chaleurs than there are now.

    Also, if the seals are eating the cod, would they not also be eating Striped bass? There has been an explosion in the population of Striped bass in the southern Gulf after their numbers dipped in the 1990s. So much so that there are fears for the Atlantic salmon on the Miramichi River, where the stripers breed, because stripers eat young salmon. A First Nation has arranged with DFO to start a fishery of Striped bass because there are so many. So if there are so many seals around, why aren’t they eating all the Striped bass too? There is also no shortage of smelts, which seals eat. I have a suspicion the seals are just convenient to blame in this and the cause of the cod’s decline is something else.

    1. In my 2013 book, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: An Investigation into the Scapegoating of Canada’s Grey Seal (in public library), I looked at the studies that Swain and others have been producing — the ones that seem to point to the grey seals as the culprit for the non-recovery of the cod in the Gulf. I haven’t looked at the more recent studies, but my guess is they are not that different. I devoted an entire chapter to the “missing fish” in the Gulf — the adult cod some DFO scientists say they couldn’t account for. Another chapter looks in detail at the diet studies they use to implicate the seals. It’s such a complex issue and it truly amazes me that scientists who purport to know so much about ocean ecosystems are willing to hang their hat on a claim that is based at most on circumstantial evidence.

      This is from my book:

      “In the autumn, southern Gulf cod form dense aggregations and migrate great distances from their summer feeding grounds — up to 650 km for some — to deeper and warmer waters on the southern slope of the Laurentian Channel, a nearly three hundred metre deep underwater valley that extends 1,250 km from the estuary to the edge of the continental shelf south of Newfoundland. It’s here that they mix with other stocks in the area, where they feed less, use up the energy stored in their livers and muscles, and wait for spring, when they make their way back into the Gulf to spawn. According to information from satellite transmitters attached to some grey seals, it is also here, on the overwintering grounds, where the two species overlap. Some grey seals spend time in the vicinity of St. Paul’s Island, northeast of Cape Breton during the winter months; it is here that some scientists say the adult cod are being eaten. In the winter of 2008, DFO hired sealers to kill grey seals that were foraging near St. Paul’s Island in the Cabot Strait near the cod overwintering areas. Scientists analyzed the stomach and intestinal contents of ninety seals and found that cod made up a significant portion of the diet of a few of the grey seals — mainly the males — foraging in the area…DFO says that even though the sample size is small, grey seal predation is still likely the greatest contributor to the high mortality of cod. But there are other explanations for the missing fish including unreported catch, emigration, disease, contaminants, poor fish condition, parasites, noise from seismic activity, and changes to their life-history, including maturing and aging prematurely.”

      There are so many alternative hypotheses, all discussed in detail in my book — how is climate change affecting the oceans? How might the dead zone in the Gulf be impacting the cod? What about the cumulative effects? What impact does noise from seismic testing have on adult fish? And this is the crucial question: if any of these other factors, or some of them combined, have in fact made adult cod weaker and more vulnerable to predation by grey seals, are the seals really the cause of the mortality??

      The CBC should have interviewed Don Bowen, he’s a grey seal expert. He says that some of the other hypotheses were dismissed by the DFO because they know so little about them, but they know a lot about seals. “It’s basically the blind man looking where the light is brightest,” he says. Daniel Pauly, world renowned fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia told me this: in the case of the cod non-recovery, a great deal of time, effort and money have gone into studying the impact of grey seals and not the other possible explanations for the non-recovery. “This is how you can distort findings without ever being caught.”