When UBC Forestry professor and Natural Resources Conservation program director Dr Scott Hinch began studying the migration ecology of Pacific salmon nearly three decades ago, most other researchers were not investigating the physiological basis of migrations in the field. He was the first to track adult salmon using transmitters with ‘muscle-sensing’ electrodes which provided the first direct insights into how salmon use energy. Over the years, by linking cutting-edge tracking approaches with physiological analyses he was able to show the effects that environment and physiology had on salmon migrations.
“Our understanding of migration physiology in fish took a huge jump when we began blood analyses on the fish we tracked – it took a quantum leap when we began to incorporate genomic analyses.”
Over the years, the data collected from physiological telemetry studies has allowed Hinch and his team of researchers to describe how salmon health, stress, and disease have played a role in migration mortality and the roles that environment, climate change and land-use can play. Dr Hinch and his team are counted among the first scientists to study the effects of climate change on wild migrating Pacific salmon. His group’s work in this area has resulted in predictions of the declines in salmon survival that is quoted in mainstream media on a regular basis. This broad scientific body of evidence answers important questions for policy makers – questions that include how wild Pacific salmon cope in waters that are rising in temperature.
“Hot temperatures are bad for salmon – seems simple enough but being able to confirm this reality with lab and field studies really helped people come to terms with that fact.”
Recently named as Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in the Life Sciences Division for his work related to Pacific salmon conservation, Hinch has been the recipient of multiple awards for his research and academic achievements throughout his career. Although he is honored to have received the notable recognition time and time again, he is quick to say he shares those successes with his peers.
“There are lots of deserving people here and I am standing on the shoulders of giants. It takes a village to run a research program.”
Dr Hinch also points out his students, and not so much the accolades, are what motivates him to continually adapt his research to reflect current trends and issues in land and water management.
“What I am most proud of is my students,” says Hinch. “They are the face of the research program. They are the ones who are carrying it out, taking the risks and working really hard.”
Dr Hinch is head of the Pacific Salmon Ecology and Conservation Laboratory at the University of British Columbia and the Pacific Lead for Canada’s Ocean Tracking Network. He is considered a world-renowned expert in salmon ecology with a transdisciplinary research program, linking ecology, behavior, physiology, genomics, and the social sciences. He has published over 250 peer-reviewed articles in high-impact journals including Science and 44 technical and extension reports, and has been cited nearly 17,000 times. Dr Hinch has also served as mentor to many students and postdocs who have gone on themselves to become influential members of the aquatic science and management communities.