Giselle Bonney - Co-op Q & A

1.     Where did you work?

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).


2.     What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?

I was part of the Species at Risk program salmon team, within the Fisheries Management Branch at the Pacific Regional Headquarters in Vancouver.

Numerous populations of Pacific salmon have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) as being “at risk”, so either Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern. The Species at Risk salmon team is then responsible for gathering information within the Pacific region in order for cabinet to make a decision as to whether to list or do not list the populations under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), or refer back to COSEWIC because of new information.

My job was to assist with the day-to-day delivery of the Species at Risk Program and more specifically, the listing processes for the various salmon populations. When people ask me what I exactly do at work, its really hard to narrow it down to a few things. This wasn’t a bad thing at all though, since I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after I graduated and this job provided me a chance to experience so many different things.

Some of the tasks included literature reviews (on habitat threats to populations, migration timing and marine distributions), reviewing science and policy documents, reviewing and providing comments on various Grant and Contribution proposals, creating maps showing COSEWIC-assessed salmon distributions, tracking and maintaining databases, and attending consultations and meetings pertaining to salmon and fisheries management.

Everyday was different and my supervisor was very supportive of me trying new things and attending meetings and training sessions that I was interested in.


3.     How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?

Salmon biology, life history, threats and limiting factors affecting salmon in the Pacific region are extensive and complex. I definitely had to apply my knowledge on topics like geomorphology, biology, policy, legislation, and GIS that I learnt in the classroom into this job. It’s one thing learning about all these things in the classroom, but its another thing actually seeing the “behind the scenes” on how management decisions get made and who makes them. Being able to see the relevance, interconnectedness and ultimately apply the things I learnt in the classroom to a workplace really solidifies firstly, broad environmental topics and secondly, solidifies what I think I want to do in the future.

I have learnt so much over the year that I worked at DFO. I know so much more about salmon, people in government and their reasoning behind resource management decisions, First Nation and stakeholder viewpoints and even things like the names and locations of random streams, rivers and lakes in British Columbia.

In terms of workplace skills, my time at DFO has taught me organizational, professionalism and writing skills that I can apply into future positions wherever I go.


4.     Can you share a challenge you faced in your Co-op and how you overcame it?

I’d never had a proper Monday to Friday office job before, so it was a challenge to get used to the early mornings, long and busy commute and sitting at a desk for most of the day. After a while, I found that it was nice to have a steady routine and get weekends off. To cope with the desk-sitting, I walked pretty much everyday at lunch along the sea wall with a co-worker and ran or went to the gym after work – I found that the job somewhat pressured me to be more active. For the commute, I listened to podcasts, the news, listened to music or watched Netflix which made the time go a little faster.


5.     What was your most memorable Co-op experience?

My supervisor supported myself and a co-worker to do some stock assessment on the Harrison River. So we spent a day out on the river catching giant chinook, coho and chum, counting, weighing, measuring and tagging them.

In the office, I did a lot of work pertaining to this population of chinook because it is assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC, so it was really neat to have the opportunity to see the salmon that we’re trying to help first-hand.


6.     What have you learned through your Co-op experience?

I have learnt a lot about salmon, the complexities of “government” and the resources that they are managing. It was really neat to not only be a part of my SARA salmon team, but be part of and get a glimpse into other files like the SARA marine team that works on species such as the Southern Resident Killer whales and the SARA freshwater team that works on species such as White Sturgeon. I worked on the Fisheries Management floor, so I got to understand the management of other fisheries like groundfish and invertebrates as well as licensing. I was also around for the discovery and watched the developments of the Big Bar landslide on the Fraser River. A distressing incident, but also great to see how First Nations, all levels of government and the public came together to help the salmon.


7.     What advice do you have for future Co-op students?

Co-op is the best decision that I’ve ever made in my time at post-secondary. You can apply the things that you learn in school, make money, make connections, gain experience and get your foot into the door at places that are sometimes tricky to get into post-grad. Its really worth taking the extra semesters to do.