No fish tale: UBC centre fights to protect the world’s oceans

Rashid Sumaila, director of Fisheries Economics Research Unit

As the planet’s fisheries reach their ecological limits, marine ecosystems face a catastrophic collapse. Consumers can make a personal choice to eat responsibly harvested fish, but is it too little too late? Are we doing enough to stave off the impacts of overfishing and preserve a healthy ocean environment for future generations?

The UBC Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries brings together leading multidisciplinary researchers to understand the impact we are having on our oceans and to work with maritime communities, government, NGOs and other partners to reverse the decline.

Their research runs the gamut, from looking at ways to run, restore and sustain fisheries, to a project that studies seahorses, all in an effort to advance our knowledge of marine conservation and the management of competing populations, habitats and trades.

Take Villy Christensen. The fisheries professor and co-director of the UBC Fisheries Centre is driven by a single, complex question: Will there be seafood and healthy oceans for our children and grandchildren to enjoy? To find the answer, he is using global ecosystem models to measure the effect of human activity and climate change on marine populations.

Rashid Sumaila leads the Fisheries Economics Research Unit, which explores how ecosystems can provide sustainable and equitable economic and social benefits to both present and future generations, while maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

In 2010, UBC launched a $13 million, nine-year international partnership with The Nippon Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Tokyo, with a mandate to research solutions to the over-exploitation of resources around the world.

The impetus was the serious decline in fish populations, which has led to widespread concerns for the future. The NF-UBC Nereus Program, named for the ancient Greek god of the ocean’s bounty, is developing an international research network that is capable of evaluating future scenarios for managing fisheries in the world’s oceans and change how we exploit them—for our children, grandchildren and descendants long after we are gone.

“One of the biggest challenges for conservation of fisheries is that most people can’t see the state of our oceans with their own eyes because from the surface, everything seems unchanged,” says Dr. Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Fisheries Centre and chair of the Nereus steering committee. “This program will bring the real impacts of our decision and actions right before our eyes.”

Closer to home, fish, and salmon fishing in particular have always been an important part of BC’s heritage and identity.

The Aboriginal Fisheries Unit marries traditional ecological knowledge to modern science in order to better support and manage ecosystems and aquatic resources.

Elsewhere, Dr. Tony Farrell in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems has looked at the impact of rising water temperatures on the province’s salmon population. And from UBC Forestry Professor Scott Hinch and Carleton University Professor Steven Cooke comes important research that shows when sockeye salmon on the way to their spawning grounds are forced to “burst swim,” or sprint, through rapids or areas downstream of dams, many of them die from the effort before they reach their destination.

Maintaining healthy diverse oceans and preserving our fish stocks has never faced greater pressures. At UBC we’re helping the world make better choices for now, and for our future. 


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