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Thread: Bonnie Williams op-ed

  1. #1
    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Default Bonnie Williams op-ed

    http://www.newsminer.com/news/2009/m...ntial/?opinion

    In today's Newsminer, Bonnie Williams, BOF member, included this in part of her op-ed:
    "When the information we are provided has been selected to predetermine our decisions, we cannot fulfill our responsibility. It is critical that the board receive only truth, and the full truth. Most staff make a best effort to give us that.

    Some staff, unfortunately, tailor things, attempting to engineer outcomes rather than to fully inform. Once alerted, I found myself in a constant dilemma, in which I wondered, each time this individual gave a report to us, whether I should believe a single word I was hearing."

    Not sure how prevalent this above line of thinking is among BOF members. I couldn't really tell from the example (on eastern Stellar sea lions) Bonnie gave whether she is upset with federal staff, state staff, or just what agency staff is not giving truthful reports in her opinion. Pretty interesting to include that in the piece I thought.

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    Hmmmm,

    Bonnie has a point to an extent, but there is another side. When dealing with proposals from the public....anyone can offer one up...no matter how much bar room biology is involved (logical as it may seem)...the onus is then on the departmental scientists (pick a department) to support, or refute what is offered. Yet somehow, there is plenty creedance given to the public proposal and yet skepticism from some of the Board on the science.

    I observed Bonnie at the Dillingham BOF meeting and was impressed with her demeanor (and her prose in the Newsminer shows it is expressed with her pen as well), however, she definitely put off a pro-resource development, science skeptic aura in her comments and questions. (which was evident during discussion of Pebble Mine proposals).

    I think this is a smart lady, with a good head on her shoulders...but she could definitely be a hard sell for scientists due to her own preconceptions (a tendency she has now projected on the scientists in her op ed). She may ask for hard proof that something will be damaged by development, while she wouldn't so stringently ask the resource developer to prove that it won't damage things. But, that's why there are multiple members so that all views can be received and juggled in making decisions.

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    nothing new there mark, folks been telling us what they think we want to hear for years.
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

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    Default Board members and personalities

    Having been on both sides of the Board process I can provide some insight from my experience. There are a number of ways staff can interact with Board members. These are:

    1. As Bonnie points out - ADF&G and other agencies do have agendas and do try to lead the Board on some issues. This is usually in the area of escapement goals (a Board member wants to use biology to get an allocation objective) or actions that will throw the Board into the ditch - some weird idea a Board member has which has no factual foundation.

    However, for the last 20 years or so the allocation objectives of ADF&G have entered the Board process so objectivity has been compromized.

    I have been in Board meetings where supervisors have had area biologist not sit at the table so they could give the official department position even when area staff knew it was not biologically complete.

    I will give one example. A Board member from the Mat/Su valley did this long mathematical presentation on data from the Susitna. It was flawed and full of mistakes. Area staff wanted to correct the record. Instead, the Commissioner said he was not going to make this Board member feel stupid. So he wrote a statement that said ADF&G stands by their analysis of the data. That was it and a regional supervisor read it into the record. So it appeared to other Board members we were not going to engage in the debate. So flawed data remained on the record. Board members who knew the data analysis by this Mat/Su Board member were pissed that area staff did not stand up and take on the Commissioner and this Board member. However, staff are limited in what they can do. Insubordination is a cause for dismissal.

    2. Board members want something from staff to help their position. Numerous times I have been asked by Board members to explain the data or outcome of their regulation proposal They feel uncomfortable bringing this out themselves so they ask questions and get answers before the Board meeting. Then at the meeting they ask the questions in a form that gets the answer they want.

    It appears that they are just asking questions but staff knows that they are making a case. In this situation it sometimes is best to let the process go and not go beyound what the Board member wants on the record. Staff is caught between Board members and that makes for some Board members on the other side of the issue to feel staff is supporting one position or another. They just need to ask the right questions to get the record balanced but sometimes they have not done their homework to do this.

    3. Board members try to trick the staff based on information they have from other sources. I have been in this situation and was grilled by a Board member for two hours as he read questions, some prepared by a user group consultant. In that case staff becomes very careful on what they say until they know where the Board member is going.

    It can appear to be less than open but when a Board member is trying to discredit the professionalism of a staff member it becomes a situation where the staff member says just what is required to answer the quesiton. In the case I am refering a user group arranged for the local radio station to broadcast this protion of the Board meeting. So during the 2 hours of questions in an adverse sitituation staff will naturally be less canidid because the Board member thinks he is in court instead of a public hearing. Other Board members can get very frustrated in this situation as the whole Board meeting becomes tainted - no one trusts anyone.

    4. Board members have arranged something before the meeting - this has happened a few times. The Board has violated the law by trading votes and come to the Board meeting prepared to do an action - regardless of what staff thinks. That has happened at least twice in my tenure and maybe more. In this case staff knows what is going on and the Commissioner usually just says we are not part of this - at that point staff does not enter the debate or participate. Board members who are on the losing side are very upset but staff wants to leave the record incomplete so law suits and actions by the Department of Law can over-rule the regulations and correct the process.

    So these are just some of the things that go on at a Board of Fisheries meeting. Depending on the Board makeup any and all can happen. Most of the time it does not but an individual Board member may not know what other Board members are doing and how staff is directed to respoind.

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    Thank you for that answer, Nerka. That is one thing we both agree strongly on- that the board system is flawed. I've definitely seen decisions made at the board that had so little to do with public testimony heard in the open that they were almost certainly made in private, either prior to or during the meeting. It shakes the public's confidence in the "public" process when they are completely ignored.

    Ms. Williams' op-ed piece made some good points. What I have to ask of any board member, though, is this: "Does the information presented by a biologist or other person with a biological degree always trump that of a layperson?" and a followup: "What about that of 20 laypersons? Or 100?"

    I believe the answer, both from her opinion piece, and her actions and statements made at the '08 Cook Inlet meeting, is that yes, the biologist's statement always trumps that of the "lay public", no matter how many of them speak to an issue. And in cases where two biologists disagree, who do you believe? That is decided by advisors and deals outside the meeting hall.

    Being on the BOF is a very weighty responsibility. You will hear widely divergent opinions on every issue heard. Both sides usually have good data to support their side. The BOF member has to decide which has merit, and in the end, make a decision; ideally that decision will bring most benefit to the most people, and will not harm the fishery it exploits or protects.

    I also agree that sometimes it is obvious that F&G is coming to the table with an agenda. Usually not at the field level, though, but from political appointees on the top of the heap.

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    Default solution to the issue

    Bonnie makes one critical flaw and you speak to it somewhat Willsphis4food. She assumes that the Board of Fisheries made up of lay people can decided what science is best or they try to select data to their agenda without looking at the full picture.

    I have always felt that in sciencific discussions that a lay board has no training or ability to decide complex scientific issues - like the uncertainity in the data or methods used. For example, the genetic results in the UCI sockeye fishery have a number of statistical procedures to get to the final result. Some of these can be questioned from a methodology view by others expert in that field. How does a Board of Fisheries deal with that or even understand it - so agencies reduce things down to a simplified discusion and sometimes that leads to bad decisions and poor outcomes.

    I have suggested, starting back in the 1980's, that the Board of Fisheries have its own scientific staff to help the Board understand these issues and define what is the best available science. Right now the Board members decide that and it is wrong for them to do so.

    Willphish4food - it does not matter if a lay person brings a data set to the Board or ADF&G. What does matter is not the person but whether the data set can withstand scientific review. If not it should be given the importance that review provides.

    Where the general public gets in trouble and ADF&G bioloigst do the same is when they offer an opinion but make it sound like a certainity. That is making a discusion ride on the authority of the individual and that is not good science. However, when expressed as an opinion then the background of the person should be evalutated relative to the topic.

    I have heard and read numerous posts here about over-escapement from lots of lay people and it obvious they do not understand the issue - in this case they should be educated or failing that ignored.

    However, I have also talked to lots of fisherman about where they are catching fish in UCI to gain information from them on where the fish are and how they are moving - this is great information to a manager. However, I do not pay much attention when they tell me the fish they caught are all Kenai fish - just because they are bigger. I know from genetic sampling sockeye around the inlet there are some big fish in other streams.

    So numbers are not important Willphish4food - what is important is the strength of the data and the position relative to those data.

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    Default the system is what it is

    Board of Fisheries Members allready have their own scientific staff to help them better understand scientific issues. They go by the title of ADF&G Regional staff.

    When looking at a issue, problem, proposal or whatever you want to call it BOF Members are not deciding on how to deal with that proposal just based on what the best available science data is pointing to. I would think that it would play a major part of the final decision but they still take into account other things. Social issues, economics, opportunity, sustainibility, health of the resource, msy, among other things are looked at as well.

    Board of Fish Members must weigh each proposal and make decisions that are not always going to fall in favor of what a scientist might recommend to them as they mull over all the issues before them. But they do get a report from ADF&G staff, they hear public testimony, go into the committee process and hear some more thoughts on the proposals, and then they get back together as a Board and have further discussion on a issue before voting it up or down. Is it a perfect system? No. But no matter what system that we had in place there would some that would think that it is not working the way they would want for it to work.


    Over-escapement? I have read numerous reports on this subject and a vast majority of the reports believe that over-escapement is better for a system than under-escapement!

    NERKA
    Before you reply that you want to know if I wake up in the morning thinking of something weird to say, that I am wrong, that I am uniformed, or that I am way out there as you have in my last several posts please remember that you cannot have it both ways. When I post my viewpoints on this forum you need to show some common respect before you will get it from others.

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    Default this post is a good example

    Quote Originally Posted by iceblue View Post

    Over-escapement? I have read numerous reports on this subject and a vast majority of the reports believe that over-escapement is better for a system than under-escapement!

    .
    This comment is exactly why the Board has problems and shows why people can go down wrong paths

    Over-escapement papers prepared by ADF&G and others do not refute that lost harvest takes place with overescapement.

    However, some lay people try to use overescapement to mean harm to the biological health of a system or stock. That should never enter the discussion.

    So when iceblue says he read numerous reports and the vast majority believe that over-escapement is better for a system than under-escapement that is a meaningless statement. Is iceblue refering to a yield analysis or his he talking about over-harvest impacts on a system? Certainly overharvest can cause low returns as can overescapement - there is some in ADF&G who feel the Deshka system poor chinook returns may be due to inriver escapement issues - I have no opinion on that as I have not looked at the data.

    Relative to the Board of Fisheries - ADF&G can no longer serve as an objective scientific reviewer. The reports prepared by ADF&G are given to the Board and they take them as objective. However, recent ADF&G reports are anything but objective and complete.

    The mark/recapture study results in the Susitna are a good example. ADF&G presented one set of data for 2006, changed it for the 2008 Board of Fisheries meeting, and now have decided not to use it at all. Some of us knew they violated the assumptions of the methods and had serious problems. However, given they took a million dollars to do the study how could they say it failed when other scientist who worked in the system told them this before hand. They had to cover their behind and did so.

    If the Board had its own staff not assoicated with the Department they could look at these issues with fresh eyes and not have ownership in the studies.

    If we do not strive to make the system better then we are saying poor decisions made on bad science are acceptable. I will not accept that.

    Iceblue, you reap what you plant and some on this forum planted seeds that bore fruit they do not like.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    This comment is exactly why the Board has problems and shows why people can go down wrong paths

    Over-escapement papers prepared by ADF&G and others do not refute that lost harvest takes place with overescapement.

    However, some lay people try to use overescapement to mean harm to the biological health of a system or stock. That should never enter the discussion.

    So when iceblue says he read numerous reports and the vast majority believe that over-escapement is better for a system than under-escapement that is a meaningless statement. Is iceblue refering to a yield analysis or his he talking about over-harvest impacts on a system? Certainly overharvest can cause low returns as can overescapement - there is some in ADF&G who feel the Deshka system poor chinook returns may be due to inriver escapement issues - I have no opinion on that as I have not looked at the data.

    Relative to the Board of Fisheries - ADF&G can no longer serve as an objective scientific reviewer. The reports prepared by ADF&G are given to the Board and they take them as objective. However, recent ADF&G reports are anything but objective and complete.

    The mark/recapture study results in the Susitna are a good example. ADF&G presented one set of data for 2006, changed it for the 2008 Board of Fisheries meeting, and now have decided not to use it at all. Some of us knew they violated the assumptions of the methods and had serious problems. However, given they took a million dollars to do the study how could they say it failed when other scientist who worked in the system told them this before hand. They had to cover their behind and did so.

    If the Board had its own staff not assoicated with the Department they could look at these issues with fresh eyes and not have ownership in the studies.

    If we do not strive to make the system better then we are saying poor decisions made on bad science are acceptable. I will not accept that.

    Iceblue, you reap what you plant and some on this forum planted seeds that bore fruit they do not like.

    Nerka,

    Please elaborate how overescapment was not appearantly affecting hte record red returns to the Alagnak????? Can u say severly mis-managed?? Tell me what is the difference between 200,000 and 5 million???

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    Default why is everybody always picking on me

    This was your statement not mine Mr Nerka. All I said is that if you wish for people to respect what you have to say without getting personal when they disagree with your response then you should pratice what you preach.

    Pretty much everytime you respond to a post that you do not agree with you attack the person that was posting in some twisted way with a comment that is out of bounds.

    What happens when the scientific panel that you suggest the BOF should have starts being influenced in the way that you think ADF&G staff is being influenced now? Should we get the scientific panel a scientific panel? Okay, then what? At some point we have to trust in the system and work within it as the system that we have works the same for everyone.
    Last edited by iceblue; 05-05-2009 at 20:57. Reason: added everyone -deleted harsh reply

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    Member Vince's Avatar
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    blue; doing the reading... Nerka is not being personal... your just taking it that way... may i suggest taking the information nerka is providing from an inside Point of view? it is obvious as such and that is very rare here on the forums...
    "If you are on a continuous search to be offended, you will always find what you are looking for; even when it isn't there."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    Relative to the Board of Fisheries - ADF&G can no longer serve as an objective scientific reviewer. The reports prepared by ADF&G are given to the Board and they take them as objective. However, recent ADF&G reports are anything but objective and complete.
    Wow, this is surprising news. I wonder what the memebers of F&G would feel about that statement. I don't see how an "independent" "objective" scientific advisory board would help. It would be political as is the entire process.
    I am surprised Nerka feels this way about the current F&G scientists and researchers. From what I have read on this forum I get the feeling F&G "walks on water" when it comes to management and now this! I and others get attacked for our uneducated views whenever we question F&G's numbers or reports and now Nerka drops this bombshell.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    However, recent ADF&G reports are anything but objective and complete.

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    Default Yukon

    I am not proposing anything new here. The NPFMC uses a scientific committee to advise it which is independent of a single agency control.

    In my experience with the BOF there are times as I stated with ADF&G is not objective - I gave a few examples. However, the main purpose of a scientific staff for the BOF is to allow them to collaspe 3000 pages of reports into a units they can absorb. At the 2008 BOF meeting ADF&G because of a internal decision making gave reports to the BOF that combined with the public numbered over 3000 pages. They also handed out reports with only a one day notice. Also, they did not present all the qualifications and assumptions of their reports - I gave the example of genetics and mark/recapture.

    An independent group of scientiist working over a year preparing for the BOF meetings would help the BOF ask the right questions to get things on the record, help the BOF know when the data may be flawed or at least have qualifications on it, and would balance the allocative objectives of ADF&G and the administration. This group would be protected from a Commmisioner of ADF&G who has a political agenda. That protection comes from how they would be formed.

    This is nothing new. The ADF&G, depending on what part of the state one is from, has this problem in both sport and commercial fisheries divisions. It is a cost of the area management concept which I support. I think it would make the process better because it would be more transparent. ADF&G, user group consultants, and the general public would know that independent review of their science would take place. Findings and discussions would take place outside the BOF meetings so that issues could be resolved or at least identified for the BOF members when they meet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    I am not proposing anything new here. The NPFMC uses a scientific committee to advise it which is independent of a single agency control. .
    That is a much larger area to cover and they manage various fisheries regulated my many different agencies. It makes sense for them.
    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    However, the main purpose of a scientific staff for the BOF is to allow them to collaspe 3000 pages of reports into a units they can absorb. .
    Or what the "scientific staff" wants them to absorb

    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    An independent group of scientiist working over a year preparing for the BOF meetings would help the BOF ask the right questions to get things on the record, help the BOF know when the data may be flawed or at least have qualifications on it, and would balance the allocative objectives of ADF&G and the administration. .
    I don't think there is anyway the group would be independent. That would be more political than the BOF.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    This group would be protected from a Commmisioner of ADF&G who has a political agenda..
    I am sensing lots of underlying issues in this statement and your whole reasoning for an "independent" group. I guess I have more trust in F&G scientists/researchers and that they are doing a good job doing the best they can with limited resources given to them. I take their reports to be scientific and the best available science. This does not mean I always agree with them, nor am I saying there isn't room for improvement, but I don't see how an "independent" scientfic board will make the process better. There is way too much room for it to not be "independent".

    I say let F&G continue to do the job they are underpaid to do.

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    Default perspective

    My perspective is from inside the system so I understand your feelings about trusting ADF&G. In most cases that is fine. However, there are times and places where an indepent review is necessary and more importantly a staff for the Board to answer Board questions. Lots of time ADF&G just does not have the time or energy to put things in a way the Board can understand them.

    Yukon, when I was in ADF&G and doing the Skilak and Kenai Lake work on sockeye salmon our funding source was EVOS funds. Those funds required an independent review process. It was the best thing that happened to me personally and ADF&G. We were able to meet with experts that we normally would not meet with, see viewpoints we missed, and answered questions that were obvious to us but not them (we knew the system). That is what good science requires.

    However, today in ADF&G one does not get the type of review some studies need - an independent group can provide that. While you assume no group can be independent that is not true - it is all about how they are set up and who has control over the group.

    I want to stress that the BOF is not making decisions on the best science available. They are presented data by a variety of groups and they have little ability to separate fact from fiction in the present regulatory process. They need lots of help and ADF&G is not providing that when they get reports to Board members a day or two from the meeting, do not reveal the problems with the data set, and control the flow of information to the Board.

    I just have seen too many times in the last decade where this has happened. Bonnie's article is speaking to this issue of trust with the department and lack of good science. I am agreeing with her.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nerka View Post
    My perspective is from inside the system so I understand your feelings about trusting ADF&G. In most cases that is fine. However, there are times and places where an indepent review is necessary and more importantly a staff for the Board to answer Board questions. Lots of time ADF&G just does not have the time or energy to put things in a way the Board can understand them.

    Yukon, when I was in ADF&G and doing the Skilak and Kenai Lake work on sockeye salmon our funding source was EVOS funds. Those funds required an independent review process. It was the best thing that happened to me personally and ADF&G. We were able to meet with experts that we normally would not meet with, see viewpoints we missed, and answered questions that were obvious to us but not them (we knew the system). That is what good science requires.

    However, today in ADF&G one does not get the type of review some studies need - an independent group can provide that. While you assume no group can be independent that is not true - it is all about how they are set up and who has control over the group.

    I want to stress that the BOF is not making decisions on the best science available. They are presented data by a variety of groups and they have little ability to separate fact from fiction in the present regulatory process. They need lots of help and ADF&G is not providing that when they get reports to Board members a day or two from the meeting, do not reveal the problems with the data set, and control the flow of information to the Board.

    I just have seen too many times in the last decade where this has happened. Bonnie's article is speaking to this issue of trust with the department and lack of good science. I am agreeing with her.
    Now this I aggre w/ Nerka...

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    Default another example

    Though many feel that the legislative task force was unnecessary and useless, one of the reasons it was formed was because of the inability of Fish and Game to provide data to the public in a timely fashion at the '08 BOF meeting. It was a problem that was addressed at the '05 Cook Inlet meeting, then was 10 times worse at the '08 meeting. It severely hampered the AC's part of the process, as they had to discuss the proposals while lacking the key information about many of the proposals.

    Now the task force is wrapped up, but the public report is being delayed because of data being held up by F&G. Last I heard it was discrepancies between fish tickets and final harvest numbers. So a report about whether or not F&G and BOF are facilitating or delaying the process is being delayed by F&G. Just my myopic viewpoint of what is happening right now

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    Quote Originally Posted by willphish4food View Post
    Though many feel that the legislative task force was unnecessary and useless, one of the reasons it was formed was because of the inability of Fish and Game to provide data to the public in a timely fashion at the '08 BOF meeting. It was a problem that was addressed at the '05 Cook Inlet meeting, then was 10 times worse at the '08 meeting. It severely hampered the AC's part of the process, as they had to discuss the proposals while lacking the key information about many of the proposals.

    Now the task force is wrapped up, but the public report is being delayed because of data being held up by F&G. Last I heard it was discrepancies between fish tickets and final harvest numbers. So a report about whether or not F&G and BOF are facilitating or delaying the process is being delayed by F&G. Just my myopic viewpoint of what is happening right now
    Ceartainly there is a delay in the data and reports, always will be, they can only get them out so fast and then once one project is behind, or a different person takes over for another, then things are lost and changed or more complicated.....

    What Nerka leaves out of many of his power data assertions is the methods and means by which it is collected, the nuts and bolts so to speak, then there is and engineers, the biologists and managers that are in a tug-a-war about all of this stuff..... I luv fisheries biology, but at times it has so many pittfalls....

    So examples are mark recaptures, PIT tags, and telemetry projects where the fish are tagged and bio samples collected out of water, over crowded brailer boxes on fish wheels, ASL collected w/ fish on burlap and out of water.

    The real issue is that things are not always as they appear... This is not a post about ADFG performance, they do a magnificant job w/ the budget and management constraints that they face... Fisheries biology is changing so fast right now and AK is falling behind.... Things in the NW have changed for the better for many spp and new things have been discovered that would eb very helpful to Ak Fisheries Management and Conservation!!

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