Eric Angel is one of several students involved with the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN), a unique partnership among Canada’s academic researchers, fishing industry, and government to develop a national fisheries research capacity. Launched in 2010 with five years of support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Network has been designed to focus on issues of direct relevance to the fishing industry and management. The Network is housed on the University of New Brunswick campus in Fredericton.

In the first of a series that will feature CFRN members, we caught up with Eric to learn more about his research and his experience working with the Network.

Q: What lured you to fisheries research?
One of the things that really got me interested in fisheries is the contrast between the types of stewardship various groups display when it comes to resources, and the Aboriginal groups that have been supported by these resources over centuries and how quickly resources have been wiped out when new settlements moved in. For example, a formidable resource like the sturgeon in Northwestern Ontario was wiped out over just 10-20 years of settlers moving through. It really made an impression on me and I decided that I wanted to do a PhD looking at the relationship between First Nations, resources, and non-Aboriginal populations.

Q: What are you researching?
I’m looking at the human dimensions of fisheries and, in particular, salmon fisheries in the Skeena River, British Columbia. Most fisheries research tends to focus on the fish, but I’m interested in the people who are doing the fishing and also the broader communities that derive a lot of the benefits of these fisheries. Who is benefiting from the fishery, who is bearing the costs, and why is there this distribution of winners and losers? I want to understand the value of the fishery and how the local communities have evolved or persisted over the last 50 years. I also want to know what the fishermen’s values are, how people perceive the benefits, and how this differs among the groups involved in the fishery (commercial, recreational, First Nations). Finally, I want to understand the management processes and how the decisions that are made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the ultimate steward of the resource, affect these communities.

Q: How has the community received you and the work you’re doing?
I’ve really focused on building a relationship primarily with the industry partners including the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union-UNIFOR, the Northern Native Fishing Corporation and the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia. I think I’ve built up a lot of trust within the gill net fishing industry. That said, suspicion always exists because it is a highly politicized environment. There is still a perception that researchers like me will come in, earn themselves a degree, and not give back to the community any of the benefits of that work. But that’s changing and that’s a good thing!

Q: When will your results be available?
The full results of my research will be available in 2015.  I'll be submitting my work for publication in academic journals and presenting some of the results at conferences. In addition, I'll be giving a presentation for fishermen and others who are interested at the Fisherman's Hall in Prince Rupert, most likely in the summer of 2015. I also plan on submitting at least one article to regional media publications.

Q: What would you like the outcome of your research to be?
My goal is to work with resource-based, small-scale communities both within Canada and globally, that are coping with the twin challenges of globalization and environmental degradation.  I’m really interested in helping them navigate this challenging time.

Q: How has the Network benefited you? 
I’ve benefited from the interdisciplinary aspect of the Network and the opportunity to learn how to be a bridge between disciplines. One of the skills I’ve worked hard on, and why the Network has been so fantastic for me, is that it has helped me to be able to speak the language of the people I’m working with. Through training courses offered by the Network, I can now walk into a room and talk with biologists and fisheries scientists and at least have some idea of where they’re coming from. I can also act as a translator for some of the jargon that gets used in economics and other social sciences for the natural scientists.

Another huge benefit is the close collaboration with students across the country. The relationships I’ve built and the friendships I’ve made are going to last well beyond the Network's end date. Also, there are a lot of opportunities for student training and development. For example, recently the students suggested a “Predator Pit Challenge” and worked with the Network to organize this event. It gave us the chance to experience what it would be like to sell our research outside the academic world. It’s becoming increasingly important for students to have a diverse skill set, and we’ve got to know how to communicate. The Network really stands behind the students one hundred percent and has channeled the funding from NSERC needed to develop these skills.

The wealth of knowledge and experience that the professors in the Network bring is also incredible. They are some of the best fisheries academics around and I get to pick their brains and get advice from them whenever I want, which is amazing. This is a hugely valuable resource that I wouldn’t have access to if not for the Network.

Q: How is the Network working to achieve its goals?
I think the Network has been so successful because it stretches across Canada and because the funding has enabled the students to be brought together at least once or twice a year. Another thing, and one that I haven’t highlighted enough, is that the Network is industry driven.  Whenever we sit down at our meetings, there are always several fishermen representatives present and they add so much to the discussion. They keep you on track, and they make you feel like what you’re doing matters because they’re so passionate about what they do. 

Q: How has the Network helped to bridge disciplines?
Having a bunch of social scientists as part of an NSERC funded network is really unusual and may be a first. The collaboration across disciplines is really rare and exciting. The passion that we all feel about our work allows us to meet on common ground. Just throwing us all together in the same Network is a huge step. And bringing us together for three or four days at a time every year where we have to talk to one another and figure out how to communicate also makes a big difference. It’s not always pretty; sometimes there are some noses out of joint, but this is to be expected when folks are used to working in the silos that have typically existed within academia. We've come a long way since we first started working together.

Q: What would you most like to see come out of the Network?
I would like to see our project work on indicators for sustainable fisheries in Canada get published, and to get some press around its impact on fisheries management. I would like to see our work stand up to other similar frameworks that have been developed around the globe.

In a more general sense, I would like to think that the Network has demonstrated that social scientists and natural scientists can successfully collaborate and that there is value in the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. I hope that when the next network comes around, it will be easier to combine both disciplines. I hope that both NSERC and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) will see the value in combining the disciplines because I feel very strongly that the only way forward is for people to learn how to work together.



For more information, Eric Angel may be reached at