UBC Professor Earns Award for Groundbreaking Work to Protect, Conserve and Rebuild Declining Pacific Wild Salmon Populations
Vancouver, B.C. — A professor in the Forest and Conservation Sciences Department at University of British Columbia is conducting groundbreaking research to protect wild Pacific salmon, becoming the first to use innovative small fish tracking and health monitoring methods to ensure more successfully make it to spawning grounds.
The state-of-the-art work has earned Scott Hinch the Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership–Professor awarded by Mitacs, a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada for business and academia. The award will be presented at a ceremony in Ottawa on November 27.
Hinch — who has supervised more than 75 Mitacs internships involving 16 researchers — is being recognized for collaborations with the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), the St’át’imc Eco Resources (SER, a First Nation corporation) and B.C. Hydro, in which Mitacs researchers applied a first-of-its-kind telemetry tracking system to better understand the impact of local waterways on the movements of fish, as well as the potential for pathogens and diseases to affect their overall health. The surveillance technology — which forms the basis for the Pacific component of Canada’s Ocean Tracking Network — relies on miniature transmitters implanted in the fish that communicate with ‘listening stations’ strategically located throughout B.C.’s fresh water and coastal marine system.
“We’re tracking how well they do, how fast they migrate and then we tie that back to their initial condition,” said Hinch, explaining that researchers take small tissue samples of the fish before tagging them with the transmitters. “We’re the first to use this technology on small fish and the results of our research have led to significant outcomes,” he added.
For example, interns working under Hinch’s supervision with SER found that operational changes to dams and water releases controlled by B.C. Hydro would result in a 10 to 15 per cent increase in survival rate, meaning more salmon would reach spawning grounds. The recommendations of the researchers have since been implemented, ultimately protecting the fish population that the St’át’imc people rely on for food security, culture and heritage.
Interns working on behalf of the PSF found that less than 10 per cent of young salmon were surviving their coast migration from fresh water to the open ocean, that their initial health was predictive of their survival, and that natural predators played a large role in young salmon survival. Researchers also identified ‘hot spots’ where young salmon mortality is high. Their groundbreaking discoveries are now being used by the Foundation to inform future fishery policies, said Hinch.
“Our research is about understanding where fish populations are succeeding and where they are failing, and identifying what we can do in terms of better management to ensure their sustainability,” Hinch said, who is also recognized for his leading-edge work conducting watershed experiments on large fish. Seven of the Mitacs interns mentored by Hinch are now employed in academic, government or industrial research positions and more than 20 research papers have been published or accepted for publishing.
The Mitacs Award for Exceptional Leadership–Professor is presented to an academic supervisor with an exemplary record of developing collaborations with industry and other partners, providing valuable research and training experiences to their interns, and initiating research projects with significant outcomes through their Mitacs funding. Hinch is one of six Mitacs award winners nationally, chosen from thousands of researchers who take part in Mitacs programs each year. The remaining five recipients were recognized for outstanding innovation, exceptional leadership or commercialization in other areas of research.
“Mitacs-funded research continues to fuel the Canadian economy and create a more innovative Canada by strengthening connections between industry, academia and government worldwide,” said Alejandro Adem, Mitacs CEO and Scientific Director. “The work these award winners represent is truly remarkable and Mitacs is honoured to support them with our unique boots-on-the-ground networking strategy to help them realize their ideas.”
For more information about the Mitacs awards and a full list of winners, visit www.mitacs.ca.
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