Reflections on the Canadian Conference for Fisheries Research 2020

CCFFRPoster2020

Guest Blog by Kayla Hamelin, PhD Student

Less than two days after ringing in the new year (and new decade), I made my way into a meeting room to take part in my first conference as a PhD student – the Canadian Conference for Fisheries Research (CCFFR 2020). After several years working outside of academia, the environment felt both friendly and familiar, but also refreshingly new. It was also a bit jarring to be under the fluorescent lights staring at a PowerPoint screen after two weeks away enjoying the holidays with lots of food, family, and fun! But one has to get back to work eventually, and what better way to kick off the new year than with inspiration from fellow researchers from across the country?

Held in partnership with the Society for Canadian Limnologists, CCFFR was celebrating its 73rd meeting, gathering both freshwater and marine researchers in Halifax to share the latest and greatest in fisheries science from coast to coast to coast. The event officially kicked off with multiple keynote addresses. I found Dr. Scott Bonar, who gave a welcome message on behalf of the American Fisheries Society, particularly memorable. He used a large portion of his time to highlight the importance of communicating with the public and encouraging us to do so, especially regarding global climate change. It was an appreciated reminder that climate change research is not outside the expertise of fisheries scientists, but rather an integral consideration in what we do, and thus we bear some responsibility in spurring climate action by the public.

As a researcher interested in the local knowledge held by fishers, I was thrilled to see that there were more community-based projects working with stakeholders than academic conferences I had attended in the past. More and more, researchers are co-developing projects with Indigenous groups, engaging citizen scientists, and working side-by-side with community partners. Despite this, I did feel that I was a bit of an anomaly as an interdisciplinarian, given that I split my time between the Bailey lab, focused on equity in fisheries governance, and the Hutchings lab, focused on fish ecology and evolution.

For this reason, I couldn’t help but notice the “siloed” nature of the fisheries research presented at CCFFR. While the audience included a mix of academics, NGO representatives, and staff from various government departments (primarily the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO]), most of the presentations focused on ecology, evolution, genetics, and research methodologies specific to the natural sciences. Most presenters asserted that their work had applications for management, but I couldn’t help but think that we could all benefits from having more folks from the policy and economics side of things in the room. After all, fisheries management typically has not only ecological objectives, but also social and economic ones as well. Some of my colleagues who attended the North American Association of Fisheries Economics in Halifax last year commented that their meeting, too, was very discipline-specific. It would be great to have more opportunities to bridge some of these gaps within the field of fisheries.

One opportunity did arrive at the end of CCFFR which nicely addressed this concern – a unique presentation organized by Noreen Kelly and Ryan Stanley (DFO), who led an open discussion on “the future of marine spatial planning in Canada’s oceans”. It was a chance to share ideas and perspectives among academics, government officials, and others with an interest in the topic. It provided more of an exchange of ideas than would typically occur in a question period at the end of an academic talk but was more open and public than the one-on-one or small group discussions that often take place in the poster session or during the coffee break. As a result, needs for data standardization, transparency, and communication with stakeholders were brought to light for further discussion.

All together, I learned a great deal about the field of fisheries science and enjoyed many fantastic presentations and conversations during CCFFR 2020. On a personal note, it was also a pleasure to reconnect with current and former colleagues from throughout my academic and NGO work history. I’m grateful to everyone who stopped by my poster presentation to ask questions and give feedback. I learned a lot about the parts of my project proposal that work and parts that need tweaking. Perhaps more importantly, talking about my proposed project helped me to realize the parts of my project that I am most engaged with and most excited about, so I can see more clearly where to focus my energy moving forward. Best fishes for a great year of research ahead!