Last Tuesday, Earth Day, I reported about an apparent success story in restoring the salmon fisheries used by a Canadian 'First Peoples' tribe. In a comment to that story, Paul of the blog 'Hawsepiper: The Longest Climb' offered a different and very interesting perspective. He's a qualified marine biologist and ship captain (his current occupation), so he knows whereof he speaks. I'll reproduce his comment in full here.
Peter - I found this a couple of days late (been at sea), but the science behind this, while not 'settled' is poor. First Nations people aren't going to care about secondary impacts, chances are, but they should.
Allochthanous nutrient import (bringing in energy subsidies from outside the ecosystem) is relatively well-understood, and artificial micronutrient import is not as well understood, but there are some obvious problems. Iron is a limiting factor, especially in pristine waters, for nutrient uptake - to pull out the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous that's available. The problem is, when you create an algal bloom in an area that doesn't have algal blooms, you have oxygen production during the day (photosynthesis), but that oxygen gets consumed after the sun peaks for the day. End result is that oxygen becomes scarce in the algal bloom where the food is. Water doesn't carry oxygen for crap. 5mg per liter at absolute best. Drop that to 4,3, or 2 or even 0, and you've got a 'dead zone', and that's very easy to do when you dump iron in an environment where algae blooms are not natural. Everything else that isn't a highly-migratory species, such as pacific cod and pollack (the largest fishery in the world currently), won't run out of the oxygen-deficient zone. They're either doomed or going to experience stress and reduced growth rates in that area at best. And in the case of the cod and pollack, unemployment and impotent tears for those who like sashimi and fish sticks. End result is a cascade effect. Consider that marshes, deltas and other fresh-water outlets are already lower-oxygen environments.
One other problem - the volume of salmon runs are super-sensitive to disturbance - it's not unusual for massive swings and population crashes. There wasn't any sort of analysis to show correlation between the iron dump and population increase. It was an example of magical thinking at its best. "It Just Works" is also the mantra for the correlation between female circumcision and female marital fidelity in Muslim lands.
Russ George is a snake oil salesman, and that's another problem. He made a tidy living running around on a grant where he tried to raise support for his corporation's attempt to do the same thing in the Gulf Stream, which was VERY easy to show would create more harm than good for everyone but Russ George. Perhaps I'm biased. I don't like seeing a charlatan and fraud succeed.
I applaud almost any effort to cut unnecessary governmental involvement in self-management, but this is a case where the province was in the right to never consider doing something so dumb. The fact that it didn't cause a fish kill isn't sufficient justification to repeat it.
Thanks, Paul. Definitely food for thought there - and an object lesson that journalists don't always know what they're talking about. Thanks for giving us a different perspective.
I looked for more information about Russ George, and found these articles helpful:
- Scientific American - "Pacific Ocean Hacker Speaks Out"
- Living On Earth - "Iron Fertilization"
- Salon.com - "Does Russ George deserve a Nobel Prize or a prison sentence?"
- Russ George's own Web site
Read them for yourself, and make up your own mind.