The SFU Science Undergraduate Blog

Arts student makes fish friends: on interdisciplinary research

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By Griffin Kelly

This spring, I had the opportunity to complete a research project at Salmon Coast Field Station (SCFS), located in the Broughton Archipelago, situated between northern Vancouver Island and the mainland. I am a third year student at the University of Toronto (UofT), but unlike most students and researchers at SCFS, I am not studying science or math. I am completing a double major in Canadian Studies & Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies. Students are streamed into science or arts so early in life – most of my peers, including myself, decided what subjects we were “good” at somewhere around grade 10. I chose history and social studies – the arts. The choice quickly seems irreversible as prerequisites build up and academic pressure looms. I studied marine science in high school, completing field work and scuba diving courses outside of Victoria, BC, for two years. I highly valued this experience, but considered it an outlier in my academic career. However, in my program at UofT, I learned about the impact of natural resources on national identity and conflict originating from resource or land disputes. As climate change continues, there will only be less resources for our growing population. The politics of resource distribution will become increasingly heated and inequitable if there are not legislative measures put in place to protect resources and the communities that rely on them. These issues forced me to recognize that I would need training in conflict theory, but also knowledge of climate change science. Therefore, I came full circle to my interest in marine science, and decided to enroll in an Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) research excursion course about salmon at SCFS.

My time at SCFS reinforced my belief in the need for collaboration between fields. Salmon aquaculture crowds the Broughton and threatens its natural ecosystem. My project focused on the regulation and policy of pesticide usage on fish farms. This project was a case study of resource politics that allowed me to interact with various salmon interest groups. I had the opportunity to interview and work with Department of Oceans and Fisheries (DFO) scientists, members of the local Musgamagw Dzawada’enuxw First Nation and academic researchers. Collaboration between these groups is extremely important but rare, due to disagreements over the best way to use and protect land. I found that two camps had formed on the issue of fish farms. Camp A was producing research in support of industry fish farms, and Camp B was finding that fish farms have a negative impact on wild salmon populations. Legislation for salmon farms reflects this conflict. Depending on who you ask, policy is insufficient and a threat to wild salmon or policy is effectively doing its job. I believe that increased communication and collaborative research between these groups is necessary to protect our resources.

This is where the connection between the arts and science comes in. Mediation and community engagement about issues such as salmon farming should be conducted by individuals who possess an understanding of scientific research and practice, in addition to expertise about public policy, conflict resolution and community protection. The division between arts and science prevents people from filling this gap, or seeing this gap as a career option.  After my experience at SCFS, I feel that research stations should open their doors to arts students, and arts institutions should do the same for science students. The smaller the gap between these fields, the more capable we will be to address climate change.


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Griffin Kelly is a third year student at the University of Toronto who loves to swim & travel. She is currently working on a double major in Canadian Studies & Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies.

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