CU75 Champions: Biologist works to protect fisheries

Cooke’s research stresses the importance of inland fish to global food security and promotes ethical recreational fishing practices. (Chris Roussakis Photo)

Steven Cooke is one of Carleton’s new CU75 campaign champions. Help us celebrate our incredible people by visiting their biographical pages, sharing their stories on social media and taking our CU75 quiz.

Carleton’s Steven J. Cooke is both a biologist of national renown and the Canada Research Chair in Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology, but he is first and foremost an avid angler.

His love of recreational fishing is as strong as his concern for the fate of fish around the world, and particularly for those in inland bodies of water.

“The scientific community is banging the drum with research papers, but what we really need is the public telling our leaders that inland fish matter,” Cooke emphasizes. “This will help generate a political will that’s needed for the survival of many fisheries.”

Though biologists agree that inland fish are fundamental to global food security, Cooke’s most recent study reports that inland fisheries are too often ignored in agriculture and water resource planning. The study was published in Environmental Reviews in February and makes a strong case for inland aquaculture and capture fisheries as being vital to humanity’s economic and social benefit.

It presents some worrisome truths about the state of the $10-billion Canadian fishing industry, as well as a lack of appreciation for inland fish on a global scale.

A significant 40 per cent of the planet’s fish species that are harvested for human consumption are found in inland waters. These lakes, rivers, creeks, canals and reservoirs make up approximately 0.01 per cent of the world’s water supply and, now more than ever, environmental pollutants and human interference are putting almost two thirds of these habitats at great risk.

Cooke works just as tirelessly to translate his findings into lay language as he does conducting his research.

When recently interviewed by Lawrence Gunther of Blue Fish Radio, Cooke said: “Not surprisingly, when you take a fish out of water, that’s a challenge that they don’t experience very often. It can be very stressful. It would be the same as me taking somebody’s head and putting it in water. And you have to think that this has just happened after [I’ve] chased you as well.”

His emphasis on knowing his audience is what makes Cooke such a versatile speaker for a variety of scientific conferences, industry conventions, even public fishing shows.

Last month, he presented at the University of British Columbia, a telemetry conference in Michigan, and at the Ottawa Boating and Sportsmen’s Show. At the latter he spoke about responsible fishing practices, stressing that recreational fishing can only benefit from exposing fish to air very briefly and using fishing gear that minimizes risk of injury.

Besides promoting ethical catch and release, Cooke’s Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Lab studies fish migration patterns with tracking technology, the success of habitat restoration all over North America and the development of science-based policies and management strategies to protect fisheries around the world. In 2012, Cooke was part of the international team that created the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s first Technical Guidelines on Responsible Recreational Fisheries.

As associate professor in the Department of Biology and author of more than 450 papers, Cooke mentors many of his students in the ways of submitting their research for peer review.

“Our lab is quite productive in terms of peer-reviewed publication,” says Cooke. “I like to work with my students to tailor their messaging and delivery, and also interpret the comments of reviewers and editors as ‘constructive criticism’.”

This entry was written by Joseph Mathieu and posted in the issue. Bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media: http://carletonnow.carleton.ca/?p=13635

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