html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: How about you show me a <i>bigger</i> one?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How about you show me a bigger one?

First of all, why do you start off with such a reckless assertion as: "largest fish kill ever." You have no way of proving that. Not even close. I checked the web and that assertion is repeated on lots of blogs and other posts across the web, but nobody gives a single jot of factual support for the assertion. And since you are an expert and should know better, I can only imagine that you said something that reckless because you were driven by anger. I don't think that's good. But perhaps it is understandable in at least as far as most of the environmental movement seems to be fundamentally motivated by anger and self-righteous resentment.

You’re right. I quoted that bit about the “largest fish kill ever” and I didn’t check it. I didn’t blink at it either, because a single event fish kill of 77,000 salmon sounded like a lot to me. So it made it past my initial skepticism. Let’s check it now. The CA Department of Fish and Game told the legislature that there are about 1,250,000 adult salmon left in the state. The Klamath fish kill was 77,000 fish. That single fish kill killed 6% of the salmon in the state of California. That is a significant chunk of a population.

But, is that the largest fish kill ever? Did I make an erroneous claim that shows my thought to be so distorted by anger and self-righteous resentment that the rest of my the post is clearly irrelevant? Hmmm. How big are other fish kills? This one in China got press. Maybe it is big. 450,000kg of fish is 99,000lbs of fish. Guess a twenty lb fish and you’ve got… 50,000 fish. Klamath kill is bigger! This “massive fish kill” was apparently good news. And it was so big! “Thousands” of fish! I’m guessing they’d have said tens of thousands if it had come anywhere close to 77,000 dead fish. I bet it was smaller than the Klamath one. Doesn’t look like the Exxon Valdez oil spill caused a substantial fish kill, although it suffocated that year’s roe.

So, twenty minutes of looking around confirms my sense that 77,000 adult salmon is a very large fish kill. But is it “the largest ever”? Did underwater volcanoes ever cause a bigger one!!!! How about when that meteor hit the earth and extincted the dinosaurs! Bet that killed a lot of fish!!! Listen, pedant. The clear context for that sentence is “kill of adult fish of a species we care about in recent Western history”. In that context, 77,000 fish, 6% of all the salmon we have in California and every salmon in the Klamath those weeks, is A LOT. I don’t know if it is technically “the largest fish kill ever”, but it is not a reckless assertion.

Next, you can take back your patronizing assumption that this level of anger (one I have lived with for seven years) would override my expertise, and you can stop throwing around crude and unsupported assertions about the entire environmental movement. When you are done with both of those, you can tell me how the possibility that this wasn’t the single largest fish kill in history makes any of the specific consequences I listed less significant.


Anonymous HC said...

The first bigger one I could find is estimated at 4.6 million fish.

So, no - not the largest. Now that we've gotten that burning question out of the way, can we agree that that the fish kill was large, with significance for lots of people in lots of ways, and that it "matters that we elect people who believe these decisions should be made with a public balancing and acknowledgment of those costs, according to the laws that our representatives passed. It matters that we hold politicians to these standards and make them accountable for the damage they do"?

Having done so, can we return to the program of autopsying the damage and seeing how the decision was made or distorted?

12:03 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Getting to it. This is going to have to be piecemeal...

That's cool. My readers LOVE when I go off on lengthy tangents.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Holy shit. That was a HUGE fish kill.

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Gdr said...

The 2000 cyanide spill at Baia Mare in Romania poisoned much of the lower Danube, with over 1,200 tons of dead fish. The 1998 spill of toxic sludge into the Doñana National Park in Spain resulted in 30,000 tons of dead fish (160 times as big as the White River kill).

Of course this doesn't change the fact that "largest ever" was a fine piece of hyperbole for the Klamath kill and only worth nitpicking by someone who had no better argument.

8:44 AM  
Anonymous gdr said...

Oh, and when you compare the Klamath and White River kills, you need to compare like with like. Those 4.6 million fish were pretty small if together they weighed 187 tons (~ 170 metric tons).

If your 20 lb (~9 kg) estimate for a salmon is good then the Klamath kill represents about 750 metric tons. So "largest ever in the US" remains to be refuted.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other important part is whether the action was deliberate or accidental. Can't open the first, but I don't think anyone meant to dump cyanide into the Danube. To go in the vein of the nitpick, maybe there have been "larger fish mass deaths", but not "larger fish KILLS". :)

9:46 AM  
Anonymous gdr said...

You're quite right; the spills are due to the failure of tailings dams (due to negligent maintenance). Not the same thing at all.

The first link is a PDF; Google can supply you the text if select "view as HTML".

12:01 PM  

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