Egg Shells Again

The announcements of more commercial fishing for Fraser River chums just keep coming. As I’ve said previously, if you chart all the various classes of openings on the Thompson steelhead migration route and timing, its all but impossible to find a window that would allow a handful of those endangered fish safe passage. Everyone wants to put crosshairs on the commercial fishermen and their friends in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, justifiably so. But who dares mention those other fishers who are (yup, I’ll dare say it) effectively unconstrained. Case in point – here is a typical announcement copied from the DFO Fishery Notices web site:

Fishery Notice


ABORIGINAL – Salmon: Economic Opportunities


FN1140-ABORIGINAL – Salmon: Economic Opportunities – Chum and hatchery marked coho salmon – Area 29 and Region 2 – Lower Fraser Area

A commercial economic opportunity fishery is authorized for Aitchelitz, Cheam, Kwaw-kwaw-apilt, Peters, Shxwha:y Village, Shxw’ow’hamel, Skowkale, Skwah, Soowahlie, Squiala, Sumas, Tzeachten, Yakweakwioose, and the Yale First Nation for chum salmon using set and drift gill nets in the Fraser River.   This fishery is open for set nets from 16:00 hours Monday, October 30 to 16:00 hours Tuesday, October 31, 2017 and for drift nets from 08:00 hours to 16:00 hours Tuesday, October 31, 2017 in the following area: portions of Area 29, the mainstem of the Fraser River from the Port Mann Bridge to Hope Bridge. Only individuals designated by the Aitchelitz, Cheam, Kwaw-kwaw-apilt, Peters, Shxwha:y Village, Shxw’ow’hamel, Skowkale, Skwah, Soowahlie, Squiala, Sumas, Tzeachten, Yakweakwioose, and the Yale First Nation are authorized to participate in this fishery. All aspects of the communal licence will be enforced. Fish harvesters are advised to contact their band for a copy of the conditions of their fishing licence.   Notes: The target species in this fishery is chum salmon. Retention of hatchery marked coho salmon (i.e. fish with a healed scar in place of the adipose fin) caught incidentally is also permitted. There will be non-retention of chinook, sockeye, pink, wild coho salmon (i.e. adipose fin is present), steelhead and sturgeon. Opportunities to harvest chum salmon will be constrained by management objectives for Interior Fraser steelhead which is a stock of concern presently co-migrating in the Fraser River. All non-target species will be released back to the water alive and unharmed. It is mandatory that all salmon retained under the authority of this licence be transported to the nearest landing station and made available for inspection.   A monitor shall be present during all landing of catch to record the number and weight of each species of salmon delivered. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) is monitoring seabird by-catch to determine potential impact on bird populations under current fishing effort and bird numbers. Fishers are requested to submit all dead birds entangled in nets to ECCC for species confirmation and DNA analysis to determine the colony of origin.   Please drop carcasses off at a local DFO office, or contact ECCC directly by calling the Wild Bird Mortality Reporting Line 1-866-431-2473 (BIRD). Handle birds with gloves, double bag dead birds. Label bag with date, time, location, fishery opening and vessel name (skipper name is not needed). Alternatively, please send photographs of birds with a reference object such as a coin, and the date, time, location, fishery opening and vessel name to Questions: contact Laurie Wilson (, 604-862-8817).

FOR MORE INFORMATION Sheldon Evers, Resource Manager, Fraser and Interior Area at (604) 666-8049.

Fisheries & Oceans Operations Center – FN1140
Sent October 26, 2017 at 1142

OK DFO, can you please share with us how set gill nets permitted for 24 hr can possibly result in release of all non-target species alive and unharmed ? Of the seven species with a reasonable chance of being encountered, only one and a half (chum and adipose clipped coho) are supposed to be retained. Pray tell, who is out there on the fishing grounds monitoring any aspect of this gill net fishery spread over 14 First Nations and at least 100 km of river? Prove to us there is any credibility whatsoever associated with whatever numbers may eventually surface? The same goes for the drift nets. How many landing stations? Where? Who are the monitors and inspectors? Are there reports on how many of those other 5 1/2 species were caught prior to being released back to the water alive and unharmed?

I’m so comforted by the recognition that Interior Fraser steelhead are a “stock of concern”? Nothing exceptional though. Just because people are contemplating legal action against DFO for negligence, just because there has been a serious effort underway for months to fast track an endangered species listing for those fish, just because DFO’s own test fishery is showing the worst ever return and their technical wizards have signed off on models that accept the spring 2018 spawner abundance estimates are deep, deep into the extreme conservation concern zone… could any of that warrant something beyond the same old, same old one liner DFO has been including in its Fisheries Notices for years?

The bird business is instructive. An entire paragraph devoted to handling and submitting dead birds, not endangered species dead birds, just birds!? Why not a wild steelhead mortality reporting line? Oops, I forgot, they’re all released alive and unharmed so there’s nothing to report. I wonder why the birds aren’t released alive an unharmed. They must be much more vulnerable to gill nets than are steelhead and chinook, and coho, and pinks and sockeye….and sturgeon.

I’ll step right out on the end of a limb and say that if this was a non-aboriginal fishery the rules would be different and there would be some hard words spoken between various fish and fishing advocacy organizations. Not so with FNs. Governments have obviously decided to use fish to atone for the perceived sins of our forefathers. Steelhead are the easiest to disregard in that context. DFO could care less and the province is not in the game.

Comments 27

  • Say goodbye to Thompson, Nahatlatch, Stein, Bridge, Chilko and Chilcotin steelhead stocks. Nails are being driven into their coffins as we speak. And you wonder why I am outspoken against our legal system, DFO, the Fish and Wildlife Branch and First Nations, the latter of which are NOT THE STEWARDS OF THE RESOURCE.

    Colour me livid; angry as hell.

    • Thanks for adding this revealing link to the discussion Greg. As you and I have recognized previously, there are two interpretations we can place on this. The first and always most attractive one is the steelhead catch reporting business is deliberate deception on the part of DFO. The fact is (whether on the Fraser, the Skeena, Dean Channel, etc.) DFO never places any caveats around data they know is inaccurate and misleading. Years later their successors bring these numbers forward as evidence there has never been any problem. The only people who know otherwise and ought to be held responsible for the lies are long gone leaving the few of us who know better to beat our heads against the wall. The other interpretation is there really are no steelhead out there which ought to be taken as proof of a conservation problem. You can be sure that if those FN nets were not catching any chinook or sockeye those fisheries would be closed in a heartbeat. In fact that happened on both the Skeena and Fraser this year but those troublesome steelhead never qualify for any such measures.

  • Yep if birds were the main threat concern, which according to that entire paragraph are, the order operation or apparatus used in that 24hr Fishery should have serious consideration toward changing !!!
    DFO in the case of the Native Food Fishery treads lightly and carries “NO STICK”. There is no mention as to net depth set as there is with the commercial fleet targeting Chum. Is that left to the monitors overseeing. A few bucks slipped into the back pocket of those folks makes turning a blind eye allot easier!
    Where does it say only a set number of fish per family within aboriginal bands as its supposedly governed in northern areas?
    Where is the ruling of check pulling of nets on regular time over the period of allowed setting!!
    To save or conserve stocks during times of crisis, avoiding non target fish like Steelhead, be farmed raised in a controlled environment if a Food Fishery is the objective?
    Ok I will go further out on that limb until it snaps and point a finger at the worst of two evils.
    How much of that catch harvested by the Native “Food” Fishery ends up in the freezers of aboriginal folks in need over the winter and not in the individual pockets in the form of cash or illegal substances.
    DFO has no interest or jurisdiction in such activity as long as there is peace and calm during that 24hr massacre. DFO could give as much pressure as a Rats Fart toward what ends up at the spawning grounds as long as DFO towed the line of being politically correct along the way!
    DFO it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deterring birds – the cherry orchards in BC have been doing it for years with Co2 cannons and now with high pitched sound waves.

  • Absolutely preposterous that a critically low steelhead return year, such as this one and many recent others, would not call for an altering of the approvals for “ecconomc opportunities” from the very organization that is federally commissioned to observe, protect and manage fish stocks.

    • It’s also disturbingly frightening that the DFO’s best thinking on the matter, in light of this condition of “extreme conservational concern” forecasted from their own abundance models could still allow them to come up with multiple gill nets as an acceptable fishing method to condone along the migration route.
      …Mind blowing….

      • The other nets I didn’t talk about are those deployed by FNs for “food, social and ceremonial” purposes. The deal is, unless there is a proven conservation concern accepted by the multitude of FNs involved on the Fraser system (or anywhere else where steelhead are found in British Columbia), those FSC fisheries are unconstrained. Heaven only knows how many steelhead meet their end through those fisheries. But, as Greg’s post below illustrates, no data = no problem.

  • The chum roe fishery is an economic obscenity much in the same way the herring roe fishery is. Piles of chum carcasses on the bank stripped of eggs with not enough economic value in them to justify their use as pet food. For this and other reasons the current management of the DFO is an obscenity and a disgrace and must be exposed for what it is. A political money grubbing charade controlled by a few rich fish product merchants.

    The chum roe fishery has reduced first nations fishermen to gold digging for salmon caviar for a paltry few dollars per year. All the salmon caviar fishery does is highly enrich a few exporters behind desks in their offices. Must our first nations commercial fishermen now be reduced to little more than the level of the sneaky Russian caviar fishermen killing the last of the female sturgeon then ripping out their eggs?

    What can we do about it that might be effective?

    Firstly the end consumers of the “salmon caviar” should be shown how their eggs are obtained and what it is doing to the wild fish runs of Western North America. The Japanese public is not ignorant, they fully understand that a ban on luxury food products like “salmon caviar” and herring roe is not going to cause starvation.

    Education of the end consumers and a public awareness of the environmental damage that the overexploitation of these specific products is creating here in BC has a much greater chance of positive results. I doubt that addressing this travesty in any other way, for example by railing at the corrupt management at the DFO will have any results other than denial and more lies to cover the corrupted management of this resource for the enrichment of a very few people in their ivory towers.

    The ones getting rich off the “salmon caviar” fishery are certainly not the first nations fishermen being paid to strip the eggs out of the chum!

  • For what it is worth, here is the note I sent to the DFO Regional Director and his subordinates.

    Regarding this DFO Fisheries Notice;
    FN1140-ABORIGINAL – Salmon: Economic Opportunities – Chum and hatchery marked Coho salmon – Area 29 and Region 2 – Lower Fraser Area
    I am concerned over the implementation of this Chum salmon net fishery at these places at this time. As evidenced by the wording of this FN notice, the DFO is acutely aware of the grave state of decline the co-migrating Steelhead (O. Mykiss) are suffering. I am concerned that these net fisheries, directed at Chum salmon stocks, will cause to go extinct the stocks of the very last few remaining Steelhead venturing upstream to their spawning grounds.
    From FN 1140; “Opportunities to harvest chum salmon will be constrained by management objectives for Interior Fraser steelhead which is a stock of concern presently co-migrating in the Fraser River. All non-target species will be released back to the water alive and unharmed.”
    Due to the very nature of set gill nets and drifting gill nets, a certain portion of all fish caught will be deceased before the nets are lifted for fish removal, that is a certainty. What accountability or system is in place for accurately reporting the corpses of non-target fish species? Will this net fishery be shut down immediately when a threshold of unacceptable by-catch of non-target species has been crossed? What is that threshold number?
    I implore you to stop this proposed in-river gill net fishery before it begins. To let this net fishery go ahead as planned would be to drive the last nail into the Steelhead’s coffin of extinction.
    Awaiting your considered and timely response.
    Rory E. Glennie

  • Good letters. Really interesting but sad stuff. I have to say that from an outside perspective (I live in NY) I cant help but think about how the demise of the steelhead here and the demise of native cultures here are so directly linked. Every opinion here is correct. But, If i were a native, I would look at this as a problem caused by white people, and once again native culture pays for it.

  • Here is the glistening nail being driven into the heart of the legendary and nearly lost Thompson River steelhead:
    Quote “Ikura Prices Soar to 30-year High in Japan Due to Lackluster Salmon Harvests in Hokkaido (Source) SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Japan Reports] – July 7, 2017.
    Wholesale prices of ikura (salmon roe) are soaring in Japan reflecting the shrinking domestic inventory due to poor harvests of fall chum in Hokkaido.
    The wholesale price in Tokyo and Osaka has been on a rise since last fall, jumping 30 to 40 percent over the same period of the previous year.
    A major dealer at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market notes it is the highest price since Japan’s bubble economy period 30 years ago. … ( end of story for our purposes F.D.)

  • Bob, thank you for your dedication! I’m left thinking public opinion must change for it to change and fire must be fought with fire through realistic means. Politicians will go where they are lobbied. Maybe we somehow redirect their focus with that same lobby?

    As a long term solution maybe we should be seeking the assistance of young college age environmentalists. Can we encourage them to recruit, seek out and befriend fellow FN students and educators to understand what their own peoples are doing? Any future documentaries should try to recruit a young FN face on the production. Time spent recruiting young educated FNs to the cause will change things where our old white faces on a production will fail.

    We all know that public television image of Iron Eyes Codey, a nobel FN with a glycerine tear in his eye disturbed by our white litter. Here is a link to the old television spot.

    That image, as false as it is… lives on. False not that whites don’t / didn’t litter, but we here know it isn’t a racial divide, not when it comes to the environment. In this age of silencing opinions I’m left thinking the only way to change it is to put a new Iron Eyes Cody face on it. FNs must want to change themselves. No it won’t happen soon but in this age of public relations it can happen remarkably quick. Faster than a protest that can be shouted down as racist. The FN lobby must be re-directed with a new focus for politicians. A new age FN face on it could walk the talk show circuit when today’s flame throwers would only label a well meaning white guy racist.

    I’m encouraged… here we are on egg shells again. This time there are no tail wagging flame throwers, only folks looking for solutions. Maybe, just maybe, over time it becomes difficult to defend the indefensible. None-the-less a glimmer of hope. Thank you for your steadfast stand where It is, to say the least, uncomfortable to shed light a problem and seek solutions.

  • To add emphasis. Chum roe being sold in Canada – currrent prices. Described as “Wild Canadian Salmon Caviar” from Costco, 3 tins of 1.78 ounces each. $59.99. From SeafoodOnLine you can buy I kg. frozen for $ 114.98. Imagine then the price air freighted to Tokyo and sold at the fish market. What would be the price retail for a dripping serving in a Tokyo restaurant. Ignorant me, I always thought Chum was only used for cat food. Fat cats indeed.

  • Silly me. Here I thought the dearth of chum salmon on the other side of the Pacific last year drove the price for Mr. Pattison’s roe sky high but that was not expected to repeat. I’m reminded of the discussions between fisheries and forest harvesting interests of yesteryear (when there were still a few patches of old growth along the Nimpkish River). The foresters looked at an acre of old growth stems and trumpeted a value per stem and per acre, then asked what our steelhead were worth? Not unlike what we have here. How much does a fish hold of caviar laden chum fetch relative to a couple of angler caught steelhead?

  • Ralph,.. please expand on your comment. If you were FN why would you need to look at it as a problem caused by white people? Why is that?

  • Ralph,.. I’ll respectfully address what you may have meant? There certainly is argument for why the dwindling numbers of Steelhead presents. You can blame white people’s if you want for population, urbanization, dams and the commercial fishery. Makes no difference to me. However, I would remind you that consumption of seafood is to satisfy all people’s within a global market. Urbanization and dams in particular have been (wrongly mind you) constructed for the benefit of a diverse population. If your feelings are related to sins of white forefathers, I suggest you hit the history books and go to every museum you pass. Forefathers of every race on this globe committed their share of sins…

    The plight of Steelhead in the T and elsewhere is not turned around by blaming forefathers, it is here and now all people’s must act with compassion. Bob’s spotlight is on why there is a commercial net fishery in the T and other rivers,… period. If makes no difference the race of the people(s) running those nets, though they happen to be FN! However, we must ask ourselves why those whom we pay with our hard earned tax dollars (the theoretical gatekeepers of our fishery) neglect their fiduciary responsibility, to not only turn a blind eye, but in effect collude with FN commercial interest?

    That is the focus and everyone commented hereto, including yourself, I am most certain would agree that all indiscriminate nets (FN and otherwise) need be removed from the ecosystem(s). Steelhead aren’t the only indiscriminate by-catch. “WILD” seafood consumers need to know that Birds, Bears, Otters, Beaver, Insects, Plants and virtually every coastal species is indirectly caught up in those nets. Next time we are out to fine dine with friends remind them of that.

    Ralph, no malice to you personally. What I/we Act to quash is the vail from which FN are able to act and indiscriminately destroy what’s left. My guess is you too agree.

  • Let’s get a fund going to take legal action against DFO.

  • I can cheer on the desire to sue the DFO, but let’s look at some realities. I will then propose an alternative. First off, one would sue the Government of Canada since the DFO is only an arm of that body. Second, we would be in a long lineup. As of last year, there were 45,000 legal claims pending against the federal government (source: CBC, August 26, 2018). Thirdly, and most discouragingly, bringing a successful action against government is daunting.

    Any action is fraught with complexities, which court, what offence under law and which jurisdiction, i.e. in which province or territory? That the DFO involvement often happened in coastal waters may complicate things further. Before I propose an option, I will provide some comment on how Canada works, that is on federalism itself (bear with me, because such understanding will illuminate the issues).

    Many might believe that Canada works smoothly as a federation and that the interests of the Government of Canada are paramount. This is false, even if the Ottawa politicians repeatedly claim that this or that project must proceed in the national interest. Most often though, for the multitude of issues, things are worked out between the federal bureaucracy and the provinces through myriad intergovernmental agreements (I.G.A.s). That is true of fisheries management and therein is a possible remedy. (I have commented before in this forum but feel it’s important now to elaborate).

    There is a way to take the Government of Canada to court, and it relates to I.G.A.s. It is little known and little used. In 1971, the Federal Court of Canada replaced the Exchequer Court. In 2003, a revised Federal Court Act separated that court into an appeal and a trials division. This court, while subordinate to the Supreme Court, has jurisdiction in specific areas, but in some few areas, it is the court of last resort. One such is in intergovernmental relations. Article 19 provides a mechanism to settle disputes between governments. In effect, the Federal Court can act as an arbitrator of intergovernmental frictions or outright quarrels. This power is not confined to legally binding agreements. It includes those that are political in nature and need resolution – in accordance with legal principles.

    To get to my point, I believe that B.C. can take the federal government to court for breach of trust as regards steelhead management. Only the provincial government can do this. Third parties are not able to petition the Federal Court.

    So, what is breach of trust and could a dispute around fish involve legal principles? From the time of the early Greeks and the Roman Empire, and elaborated on in the Magna Carta, no one owns wildlife. Government keeps it in trust for the benefit of present and future generations. This is called the Public Trust, a doctrine that covers most wildlife, fish and certain other resources. Thus, the federal government is guardian of steelhead in the ocean while the province has the trusteeship in rivers. This guardianship imposes fiduciary duties to defend the trust, to be impartial amongst beneficiaries, to be loyal and, importantly, to exercise prudence. This last duty and the first duty are most relevant as concerns steelhead.

    The feds, as trustee, may claim they are excused from liability because their actions (or inactions) have been occasioned by necessity, by some other adequate cause, has been authorized or condoned by the people of the province or resulted from an innocent mistake. Any of these would be laughable in the current instance of chum openings, this November, which arguably place the future of Thompson steelhead in dire jeopardy if not condemning them to extinction. All the evidence Bob provides covering decades of mismanagement and failure only adds to my conviction that this is an intergovernmental dispute of the highest order.

    To conclude, I believe that a delegation – individuals, the Steelhead Society, other groups – should meet with the highest levels of our provincial government and urge them to petition the Federal Court of Canada. The assertion should be that the national government has breached a sacred trust, with respect to Thompson River steelhead, and is guilty of a crime against the people British Columbia and future generations.

    • Outstanding commentary Frank. Thank you for educating so many of us on the art of the possible. I understand there are already a few people in the steelhead advocacy community who are exploring options. Your message is a big plus in that regard. I will make sure the people who need to see this do, if they haven’t already.

    • Over the course of these past months, much has been said, advocated and propositioned on this blog-site regarding the state of wild steelhead. That is to be applauded, as it shows there are people who care enough to make their voices heard. After all, the site is titled “Steelhead Voices.”
      Through this site, those many people who have contributed to the illumination and greater understanding of the many issues concerning the plight of wild steelhead have been industrious in their efforts to lay it out, flat onto the earth, for all to see. Or rather, has it has been piled onto the Flat Earth surrounding Ottawa?… where it teeters on the edge.

  • Thanks Bob for your reaction to my commentary on a possible role for the Federal Court. The Federal Court has ruled on many fisheries matters – this is well-trawled water. My recent internet search provided a lucid and valuable introduction by Brad M. Caldwell (Caldwell and Company Law) entitled “Federal Court Fisheries Issues.” Anyone perusing this, and desiring an introduction might begin with Sec. 3. – Powers of the Federal Crown under s. 91 (12) of the Constitution Act (page 13). Much of this material is of little or at-best passing interest, though someone with an astute legal mind might wish to swim in the legalese. Let me be clear though, (to use a much abused political phrase) in my musings I am not thinking of the court’s usual involvement in fisheries. I am proposing instead that the government of B.C. act as plaintive under the little known and even less used Article 19 of the Federal Court Act. This is very different from the usual mix of actors, fishing license holders, related companies, First Nations and fishery associations, who petition the court. The province might argue that the Crown, through an ill-considered or inept role in addressing social, cultural or economic concerns, is ensuring the destruction of an immensely valuable resource – one that belongs to all the people of British Columbia, present and especially future generations. It seems to me that preventing the extinction of a living resource, a remarkable one, trumps any other consideration.

    • Oh if the matter was only so cut and dried, and simple, as Province v/s Feds, it would be great. Pitting one bureaucracy against the other in the courts of Canada on this issue could prove entertaining, to say the least. The fact that both parties are complicit and have colluded in bringing about the sad state of affairs regarding steelhead management and conservation/preservation is problematic… pot, kettle, black, comes to mind.
      Initiating a class-action law suit against both governments seems more appropriate. Possibly appropriating funds for such legal action could be garnered from the new-found billion dollar tax revenue about to accrue from the legalization and taxation of marijuana next July. Perhaps there is a law firm out there somewhere willing to go pro bono – for the public good.
      I am a realist with an ever so slight leaning toward optimism; definitely not a pessimist. I look forward to seeing the day when pigs will take wing.

  • Ah, but it is simple. By raging and fulminating against government, we blind ourselves. I would sooner skewer one branch with a legal rapier, or threat, than hurl verbal venom at them all. Sure a pox on government agency, but let’s find a way to get the most offensive; and, more urgently, the one that is presently doing most harm. It is as simple as seeing that the Public Trust around steelhead is being shattered, since the Crown is acting as if it owns the resource and can do whatever it wants – even threaten the future survival of steelhead. This would be a crime under Roman law and so it remains a girevous insult and a crime today. The Public Trust here

    • It has become abundantly clear that currently any single organization or coalition of organizations purporting to champion the rights of wild steelhead in British Columbia are at best, ineffectual. Perhaps even, impotent in the matter.
      Steelhead have a right to being that supersedes any historic or modern cultural practice which impacts negatively on their survival as a multi-racial species. Wild B.C. steelhead must have a dedicated, smart legal team to prosecute their right to being in the highest courts of Canada. A team without allegiance to, or interference from, any societal faction.
      It is time to solicit the services of a team of brave attorneys willing to prosecute this matter to the fullest. That call must be made now, by us, if not collectively, then individually. Place a “want ad” and see who responds.

  • What we need is a learned friend from the legal community. And I do not mean ‘friend’ in the slyly sarcastic sense of, “as my learned friend was saying”. Without doubt, we are in want of informed, sharp advice and the hour is late.

  • I continue this important thread, believing that the DFO decision to allow a chum fishery during October of 2017 is a pivotal moment – one that tilts the battle on our side. Anyone following these posts might read the Dragun Corporation Blog (an international Environmental Advisory firm, Windsor, Ont) entitled “Precautionary Principal and Canadian Environmental law.” (The DFO, knowing that interior steelhead races faced the risk of extinction, should have been prudent. In my view, they were negligent in allowing chum openings.) The Dragun article describes how the Precautionary Principle (Simply put – better safe than sorry: theRio Declaration of 1996/Wingspread etc.) is becoming recognized in Canadian environmental law. Several recent decisions confirm that trend: Morton v Canada Fisheries and Oceans, 2008 (B.C. Supreme Court and the Federal Court of Appeal) and also Canada Lt’ ee (Spraytech) v Town of Hudson (Supreme Court of Canada) These developments should buoy our spirits some and confirm that taking on the federal government is not at all hopeless.

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