Last week I attended the annual Canadian Conference for Fisheries Research (CCFFR), this year held in London, Ontario, Canada. This was my third consecutive year attending CCFFR and, yet again, it impressed me how much dedication there is towards not only generating knowledge to better understand Canadian fishes and the organisms that support or benefit from these systems, but also the desire to communicate such work.
For those unfamiliar, CCFFR is an annual conference that has been ongoing since 1948, bringing together aquatic researchers from across Canada to communicate and discuss the advancements and challenges in fisheries science. Meetings are held in different cities across Canada, and like many scientific conferences, generally revolve around a theme, this year being ‘Resilience, Adaptation, and Mitigation Strategies for Conserving Canada’s Aquatic Resources.’
Based on attending various presentations at the conference and my own experiences as a postdoctoral fellow at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the choice of theme is reflective of the state of Canadian fisheries and perspectives of many Canadian scientists. Specifically, aquatic ecosystems are at risk and we need to work hard to conserve or recover these systems. The need to conserve freshwater was highlighted throughout the conference and a concerning topic for those listening in the audience.
There were many highlights of the conference, starting with the excellent plenaries given by the awarded Dr. Sean Anderson and Dr. Bernadette Pinel-Alloul. Dr. Anderson, a biologist at the Pacific Biological Station with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, gave the J.C. Stevenson Memorial Lecture on the prevalence of Black Swan events in fisheries science. Black Swan events are rare, highly impactful events that are only predictable retrospectively. Dr. Anderson warned that as climate change continues to impact the way aquatic ecosystems in Canada function, we might expect the frequency of Black Swan events to increase, causing major (likely negative) changes across the landscape. I will certainly be thinking about this in my future work.
Dr. Bernadette Pinel-Alloul, an expert zooplankton taxonomist, and someone who has greatly contributed to the field of limnology in Canada, gave the F.H. Rigler Memorial Lecture. Dr. Pinel-Alloul spoke about her work over the last several decades on the relative effects of abiotic and biotic disturbances on aquatic ecosystems across geographic and temporal scales. The ideas and expertise of Dr. Pinel-Alloul have been extremely influential to those interested in characterizing and quantifying patterns of freshwater biodiversity. Additionally, Dr. Pinel-Alloul was a pioneer in the field of Canadian limnology, the first women to earn a professor position in her department at McGill University, and paved the way for the increase in women that we see in aquatic sciences today.
Although there has been an increase in the representation of women in fisheries and aquatic sciences, there is still a lot of work to do. In a session showcasing early career women in aquatic ecology and conservation research, Dr. Christina A. D. Semeniuk presented data demonstrating the overall lack of representation of women, Indigenous peoples, and overall ethnic diversity in Canadian fisheries and aquatic sciences societies and a major fisheries journal. The legacy of the white male dominated field of aquatic sciences in Canada and abroad is still apparent and further work is needed to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion broadly in aquatic sciences.
Following the inspirational plenaries were two days of five concurrent sessions of invited and contributed 15-20 minute talks that covered a variety of topics. Many of the presentations were Ontario focused, likely a result of the conference location and prevalence of aquatic ecosystems in the province (> 250,000 lakes and ~500,000 stream segments in Ontario). Several themes were highlighted across presentations including road salt use, species reintroductions, consequences of warming waters, using fish behaviour to understand issues with species monitoring, and improvements in methodologies to better understand aquatic ecosystems (e.g., environmental DNA technology, aquatic ecosystem classification systems, stable isotopes). Biased by my own research, I mostly attended talks related to community ecology, species reintroductions, and general themes related to biodiversity and conservation (e.g., connectivity, movement, behaviour).
Based on my experiences as an American entering the tight-knit Canadian fisheries and aquatic sciences community, I have always felt welcomed. Perhaps this is easy as a white male with a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from a top Canadian University. Nonetheless, I am appreciative of the openness of Canadian scientists to share their work and ideas at a conference like CCFFR, all in an effort to improve the condition and status of freshwater ecosystems in Canada and abroad. In an age of big data and damming problems in aquatic sciences, collaboration is the only way to advance resiliency, adaptation, and mitigation strategies for conserving Canada’s aquatic resources, and CCFFR provides that venue for discussion between academics, government scientists, consultants, and students. As a result, CCFFR will continue to be an important venue for the advancement of science for Canadian aquatic ecosystems into the future and I highly recommend those interested in the field to attend next year in Halifax, Nova Scotia!
-Karl A. Lamothe