Engaged graduand safeguards fish
Ask Simon Fraser University doctoral graduand Brett Favaro if he is a politically motivated scientist and the conservation biologist will say: “No. As scientists we must be non-partisan.
“But there are situations where a party in government advocates decisions that run counter to evidence-based science. In those cases, scientists sometimes get unfairly branded as being ideological and political if we oppose those decisions.”
Favaro’s doctoral research on bycatch reduction devices (BRD) in British Columbia’s lucrative prawn fishery has earned him a Liber Ero doctoral fellowship at the University of Victoria. He is committed to research and community engagement.
A course on marine fish biology at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre during his undergraduate years sensitized the Burnaby resident to how applied research on a threatened resource translates into community engagement.
“I learned about the massive damage that unrestricted commercial fishing activity can have on our marine ecosystems,” says Favaro.
“However, I also realized that this issue is solvable. If we can put a person on the moon, surely we can manage the oceans so that we can be sustained by seafood in perpetuity.”
That realization inspired Favaro to pursue a doctoral thesis in which he successfully designed BRDs to protect non-targeted rockfish from being caught by accident in prawn fisheries. But the devices also reduced prawn catch by about 40 per cent, leading Favaro to conclude fishers and scientists need to collaborate more on finding an optimal design.
“Often ecologists will focus too much on reducing bycatch but not on the importance of inventing gear that will get used in real life,” says Favaro. “We have to work together with fishers. They don’t want to be catching species that are being depleted by fisheries but they need BRDs that are commercially viable.”
In another project Favaro found that BRDs for protecting endangered sharks and rays from longline fishing gear didn’t prevent these marine animals’ capture.
When Favaro started realizing that evidence-based science needs to drive sound government policymaking to adequately safeguard fisheries, he engaged in politics.
In collaboration with his doctoral supervisors, he wrote a letter to the editor of Science, challenging the federal government’s rationale for reducing fish habitat protection. It reached a potential one million readers.
And, in a provincial letter-writing campaign he helped draw attention to the need for a made-in-B.C. Species at Risk Act to protect a multitude of endangered species uncovered by the existing federal act.
One of only four Liber Ero postdoctoral fellows, the conservation biologist is now applying all his research and community engagement skills to protecting fish in the Arctic.
“As the planet warms and sea ice recedes, human activities are likely to increase drastically in this sensitive region,” says Favaro. “My goal is to produce research that will inform the management of new and emerging Arctic fisheries to minimize their impact on non-targeted sea life.”
Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.