Saving salmon by the numbers

Oct 03, 2002, vol. 25, no. 3
By Howard Fluxgold

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In her budding career Ruth Joy has played a significant role in preserving some of British Columbia's dwindling wildlife.

Joy, who graduates with a master of science degree in statistics and actuarial science, has used her newly gained expertise with numbers to help federal department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists to count the endangered salmon of the Thompson river watershed.

Her thesis focused on a statistical method for producing a more accurate measure of the number of spawning coho returning to the watershed.

“There are many spawning creeks in the Thompson watershed,” she explains. “It is impossible to measure how many fish are in each creek. By applying the statistical methods developed in my thesis it is possible to measure how many fish there are in the creeks you can't actually count. This provides a valid measure of how many fish are spawning in the watershed. The same method will work anywhere and has also been used on the North coast.”

After graduating with a bachelor of science in biology in 1996, Joy spent three years working for B.C.'s ministry of the Environment, developing an inventory of bats in Clayoquot Sound. However, she says, “I came to a wall where I wanted to know more about statistics and analyzing data. I had a few statistics courses but I wanted deeper understanding of the theory behind collecting statistics.”

As a result, she quit her job and enrolled at SFU with the help of an entrance scholarship and a two-year NSERC scholarship to help support her research.Once she completed her degree she found a job as a biostatistician with UBC's marine mammal research group helping to analyze data and design experiments.

While she has no immediate plans to study for her doctorate, she hasn't entirely ruled it out. “Never says ‘never,' ” she laughs.

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