26 August 2017: A big couple of weeks for salmon

Salmon have been in the news a lot over the past two weeks, and the news hasn’t been good.

First, a paper led my PhD student Mike Price was published, showing that monitoring of salmon streams in BC is at an all-time low.  This is in spite of the excellent visionary goals of the Canadian federal government’s 2005 Wild Salmon Policy, aimed at bringing assessment and conservation of Pacific salmon to a new, higher level.  This study got a lot of press, and Mike did a great job with interviews.  We weren’t interested in DFO bashing – we were trying to help with recommendations for getting on with the job of implementing the excellent Wild Salmon Policy. It’s been 12 years, people!  Just do it!

Second, we had the escape of up to 300,000 Atlantic salmon from a net pen in Washington, just over the border from Canada.  That led to my first ever Facebook Live interview with the CBC, and some clashes with the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association.  I was stunned to hear him say there was no evidence of negative impacts of farmed salmon on wild fish!  He also said we didn’t know if the virus PRV causes HSMI (heart and skeletal inflammation).  I challenged him on this, based on this study.  A few days after our interview, this experimental study provided additional proof.  Time to update the talking points.

Third, disturbing new images appeared of grotesquely deformed and diseased salmon in a BC net pen.  I don’t know how many fish looked like this – were the sick ones at the top, less frightened of the camera, and more likely to be photographed?  Probably.  Whatever, it seems like a serious animal welfare issue to me.  If these were pigs or chickens, wouldn’t the farmer be compelled to put them out of their misery?

These 2 weeks were capped off on a more positive note, with the successful 5th annual Pink Salmon Festival in Vancouver, hosted by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and part of the FraserFEST series of celebrations of the mighty Fraser watershed.  It was great to see everyone turn out to celebrate our under-appreciated salmon species.

JR & Brian Riddel

18 November 2016: 1700+ early career scientists call for evidence-based decisions on environment

Congratulations to the 1700 (and counting) early career scientists who have issued a call for better transparency in use of scientific evidence in environmental decisions by the Canadian federal government.  Some of the organizers are grad students and postdocs in my lab and affiliated Earth to Ocean labs at SFU.  Their website and letter are here.

19 September 2016: Sabbatical in Montpellier

I’ve started a one-semester sabbatical in Montpellier, as a means of focussing on research while ducking out of the usual administration and teaching that goes with a faculty position.  I will be back at SFU in January.

3 December 2015: New Postdoctoral Fellowship

A new postdoctoral fellowship has been established from an endowment fund to support the Tom Buell BC Leadership Chair in Salmon Conservation at Simon Fraser University. This fellowship will be renewed every two years, and the successful candidate can be considered for one renewal. We are looking for someone who can conduct world-class research on the ecology and conservation of Pacific salmon and their ecosystems. As a member of this research group, the postdoc will join the Earth to Ocean Group of professors, postdocs, and students – a highly collaborative group of like-minded scientists interested in ecology and conservation.

The postdoctoral fellow will be encouraged to develop new research initiatives and can also benefit from foundations laid by an ongoing study of 50 watersheds in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. This program connects salmon with marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Examples of further research include implications for ecosystem-based management and linkages to wider watershed characteristics. We are open to new ideas on any aspects of Pacific salmon ecology and conservation.

Candidates must have a PhD, strong analytical abilities, and a proven track record of research excellence in aquatic ecology and conservation. The salary will be $47,000 per year plus benefits, and funds will be available for research and travel. Please send the following as a single document with the subject line “Salmon Postdoc”: cover letter, statement of research background, statement of research ideas for this fellowship including policy relevance, CV, and contact information for three references to Dr John Reynolds (the current Tom Buell chairholder:, The starting date is flexible, but as soon as possible. Application deadline: 15 January 2016.

PDF of this advertisement

27 August 2014: Congratulations Kyle Artelle!

Today it was officially announced that Kyle Artelle, a PhD student who I’m co-supervising with Chris Darimont, won a prestigious Vanier Canada scholarship.  These are awarded to “attract and retain world-class doctoral students”.  Beers on Kyle!


18 August 2014: New Project, Now Recruiting Grad Students

We have just launched an exciting new research program with the Hakai Institute to link island biogeography with ecosystem subsidies on remote islands of the Central Coast of British Columbia.  This research will examine how nutrients from the sea affect the ecology of plants, breeding birds, mammals, insects, amphibians and their interactions on 100 + islands near the Hakai Institute.

This research will support a number of new graduate student and technician positions.  More information, including a link to an advertisement, is here.


11 July 2014: Congratulations Dr Michelle Nelson!

Congratulations to Michelle on the successful defence of her PhD!  She gave a terrific account of her studies of impacts of nutrients derived from salmon carcasses on the growth and densities of juvenile coho salmon.  You can read some of her results in her publication.  Michelle’s defence was followed by a party at Vancouver’s Craft Beer Market, which included almost-all-you-can-eat oysters.


April 2014: Work Work Work

Here’s the best way to spend an afternoon with my research group at work, especially when it’s my birthday!


20-26 March 2014: When Science-based Management Isn’t

On March 20th we published a letter in the journal Science pointing out how science can be misused in justifying management actions.  Our example of trophy hunting for Grizzly Bears parallels the case of badger culling in the UK and proposed de-listing of wolves in the USA.  We hold researchers to high standards of peer review and transparency.  Why don’t we do this with management decisions too?  This story has been picked up by the journal Nature here, an article in the Vancouver Sun here, and also here.


5 March 2014: Queensland Birding Guides

Kookabura - JD ReynoldsWhile I was on sabbatical at the University of Queensland in 2012 my two favourite local birding spots were Hinterland Regional Park and Coombabah Lakelands Conservation Area.  Mat Gilfedder and I have just finished writing birding guides to each of these areas.  Hinterland guide here, Coombabah guide here.


16 January 2014: Interview on Surprise Opening of Salmon Farm Expansion

This morning I discovered that the Canadian government had informed the BC salmon farming industry in October that they were lifting the moratorium on expansion of salmon farms along most of the BC coast.  The Vancouver Sun broke the story here.  By noon I was in the Vancouver CBC studio doing a live call-in session with their Almanac radio program.  The director of the BC Salmon Farming Association was also involved, and we took calls from the public.  The result is here.

15 November 2013: Update on Grizzly Bear Hunting Paper

This study, led by Kyle Artelle (see below) has been viewed 1,958 times in its first 9 days.  We’re still getting some media attention, including a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun this morning by Faisal Moola, of the David Suzuki Foundation.

6 November 2013:  Management of the BC hunt for Grizzly Bears is too risky

Kyle Artelle, a PhD student who is being co-supervised by Chris Darimont and I, has just published his study assessing the sustainability of the controversial trophy hunt for Grizzly Bears in BC.  His study, which you can see here, shows that uncertainty in  biological characteristics of the bears, combined with uncertainty in how many will die each year of various causes, conspire to make the current management of the hunt prone to overkills.  This is attracting a lot of media attention such as the Globe and Mail and the CBC.

30 October 2013:  1 Year anniversary of the Cohen Commission

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Cohen Commission of Inquiry into sockeye salmon in the Fraser watershed.  This $26 million judicial inquiry was established by the Prime Minister to find out why these fish have been declining, and what can be done about it.  One year after its release, there has still been no official response from the Canadian government to the 75 recommendations.  I participated in a press conference organized by Watershed Watch Salmon Society in downtown Vancouver, along with Craig Orr (Executive Director) and the Hon.  John Fraser, former Minister of Fisheries and Speaker of the House of Commons.  We discussed major recommendations by the Cohen Commission, such as issues related to salmon farming and habitat protection, and how the government might enact its own policies in relation to the recommendations.  This was followed by an interview on CBC radio.  My segment begins around minute 14 on this podcast.  The Vancouver Sun also covered the story, including a photo.

17 May 2013: Birds and running – 2 of my favourite things

Here is an account of my Vancouver marathon, where for some reason I kept track of all the birds that I saw or heard along the way. Thanks to Hilary Maguire who wrote this up for the Burke Mountain Naturalists’ newsletter.  My time was 4:16, not as fast as my Australian effort last year (4:01), but my training wasn’t as disciplined.

24 April 2013: BC Endangered species legislation

British Columbia is one of only two Canadian provinces that does not have endangered species legislation.  As the province with the highest diversity of many species including birds, mammals, and butterflies, we certainly have a lot to lose.  We also have a disproportionately large number of species that are endangered federally.  But the federal Species at Risk Act only protects species on federal lands.  This means endangered plants and animals have no specific protection on 99% of British Columbia’s land.  Here is a letter sent by several of us from SFU to every candidate in the upcoming provincial election, urging creation of a BC Species at Risk Act.  You can find a similar recommendation from our colleagues at the University of British Columbia here.

9 April 2013

Wireless Birds

13 March 2013 Historic day for sharks & mantas at CITES

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, has just reaffirmed their votes from two days ago to list five species of sharks and two species of manta rays for protection, as well as upgrading protection for freshwater sawfish. CITES has a provision for reconsidering decisions made earlier in their meeting, and the Twitter feed as the discussion played out this evening in Bangkok was a lot more exciting than the hockey game!  I could feel the tension in the room in Bangkok from the comfort of my couch in Vancouver as Japan began by moving to reopen the debate on Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, with backing by Gambia and India.  They said they had new information, and were challenged on this by Mexico and Ecuador.  Japan didn’t provide the information, and after some confusion about procedure they were still granted a secret ballot to decide whether to reopen the debate.  That motion required 33%, but failed by a whisker, so the decision earlier in the week to list it on Appendix II stands.  The Twitter cheering was deafening!  The reaffirmation of listing this shark on Appendix II still allows international trade, as long as it’s sustainable.  Is sustainability really such a radical concept that 44 countries would vote against it?

Next up was the package of three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth, and great).  There was another vigorous debate whether to reopen the debate (!), this time led by Grenada and seconded by China.  Grenada claimed that they had been exposed to contradictory information, to which Mexico replied that the documents had been available since October.  Another secret ballot, and another reaffirmation that the earlier decision to list on Appendix II would stand.

Porbeagle shark then passed without debate, as did the two species of mantas, and freshwater sawfish were upgraded to Appendix I (no international trade), a mere 16 years after first being proposed by the USA.

So it was a complete win for sharks and their relatives this evening, and I’m sure there are a lot of happily drunk delegates in Bangkok right now, supported by their cheerleaders around the world.  But it’s also sobering to see such raw politics being played out in real time.  It remains to be seen how these international trade restrictions will help the fish, but they can’t hurt.

27 February 2013  SFU Think Tank –  Cohen Commission recommendations

This evening I gave a presentation on behalf of the 24-member Think Tank that met for the past two days to consider how to implement the 75 recommendations of the $26 million Cohen Commission report on Fraser River sockeye salmon.  It’s been four months since the results of this judicial review were submitted, and we are still waiting to hear the Canadian federal government’s response.  Our two-day meeting of scientists from Canada and the US reinforced recommendations under the general categories of habitat protection, life-cycle analyses, and impacts of salmon farming. Our report is here.

14 November 2012  Visit by MPs – how to translate research into action

Today our Earth to Ocean Research Group hosted a visit by NDP MPs Fin Donnelly and Kennedy Stewart.  They gave excellent seminars in the Coast to Coast series, and then over lunch they gave us lots of insights into how to translate our research more effectively into policy advice.  It was sobering to be reminded that most MPs don’t know what peer review is, yet important Canadian institutions such as the National Research Council have recently had peer review removed as a metric of success.  The 100 year-old NRC’s new mandate is to serve industry.  The bottom line was that if academic scientists want our research to matter, we have to engage directly with the political process.

1 November 2012   My CBC radio interview about Cohen Commission

The long-awaited report by the 3-year judicial enquiry into the 2-decade decline Fraser River sockeye salmon was released yesterday.  It has 75 recommendations ranging from restrictions on salmon farming to increased protection of habitats.  It also urges accelerated implementation of the Department of Fisheries & Oceans’ 2005 Wild Salmon Policy.  I attended the press conference and did interviews on the spot, as well as this one with CBC Radio’s Rick Cluff this morning.  The interview is here.

10 August 2012       Paper published on sockeye salmon decline

I was part of a team of researchers who just published the first comprehensive analysis aimed at solving the mystery of why sockeye salmon have been declining (and sometimes bouncing back!) from the Fraser River.  A description of our results and the full report are here.

11 July 2012              Letter in Nature: Bleak Day for Canada’s Environment

Today I published another letter with Isabelle Côté and Brett Favaro, this time in the journal Nature.  The Canadian federal government has greatly weakened many of the laws that used to protect the environment, including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act (see also below).  We discuss the implications of the many changes that were buried in a budget implementation bill.

21 June 2012               Letter in Science on Canada’s Fisheries Act

Brett Favaro, Isabelle Côté and I just published a letter in the journal Science on recent changes to Canada’s Fisheries Act, which removes protection of fish habitat unless the fish is targeted by fisheries.  We show that the stated reasons for the changes are not supported by the evidence.  This letter attracted a lot of media interest, such as this article in the CBC.

20 March 2012           Sabbatical at University of Queensland, Brisbane

I am currently on sabbatical at the University of Queensland, where I’ll be based until September 2012. I am based with Professor Hugh Possingham’s Spatial Ecology Lab. This is a large, dynamic and inter-disciplinary group of researchers tackling big questions in ecology and conservation. There are many parallels with the objectives of our own Earth to Ocean Group at SFU, and I have met a lot of people interested in questions such as how to get the biggest bang for the buck when setting priorities for conservation of species and habitats.

2 November 2011             SFU Media Relations Award

This week I was presented with the SFU President’s Award for Media Relations. This was based on over 50 interviews last year, and various other activities such as public seminars. Most of the interest concerned the ups and downs of Fraser River sockeye, including the Cohen Commission’s judicial enquiry into what has been going wrong since the early 1990s. I had testified during the first week of the Commission’s hearings in September 2010, including cross-examination on issues concerning sustainable use and conservation. For a busy year of outreach, I credit SFU’s excellent press office for helping to get the questions out, and keeping me busy trying to answer them.

20 September 2010           Launch of the Hakai Network

We have just launched a new partnership between SFU and the Tula Foundation called the Hakai Research Network. This will involve research and education aimed at enhancing sustainable use of natural resources by the people of the Central Coast of BC. There will be two bases: SFU and the Hakai Beach Institute on Calvert Island, a former fishing lodge that is being re-fitted to serve as a field centre supporting research and outreach. I am on the steering committee of this initiative, which will include up to $8 million in funding over the next 8 years for graduate students and postdocs as well as research by scientists from SFU and other organizations. Our website isn’t up yet, but I will provide further information as we develop the programs in conjunction with local communities. This initiative dovetails perfectly with my research program based in Bella Bella.

24 July 2010             Congratulations Jan Verspoor!

Congratulations to Jan Verspoor, who defended his MSc on Thursday, and survived with no revisions! His study was based on 21 streams around Takla Lake in the upper Fraser Basin in BC. He found significant impacts of nutrients from salmon carcasses on growth of algae and populations of aquatic insects. His first paper has been accepted in the journal “Ecosystems” and we hope to submit the next one next week.