UNBC graduate student nets prestigious scholarship

UNBC Stories
Person with long brown hair and royal blue top stands in front of coniferous trees.
Natural Resources and Environmental Studies PhD candidate Annika Putt is the recipient of a three-year Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

Drawn to the University of Northern British Columbia by the opportunity to work on a unique collaborative fisheries research project, Annika Putt is pursuing a PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies.

To assist in this undertaking, Putt has been awarded a prestigious 2023 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, valued at $50,000 per year for three years.

Originally from Winnipeg where she obtained a Bachelor of Environmental Science from the University of Manitoba, Putt moved to B.C. in 2011 and earned a Master of Resource Management from Simon Fraser University. She had been happily ensconced in a job in her field when several people alerted her to a PhD position with UNBC researchers Drs. Eduardo Martins and Mark Shrimpton on a project supporting conservation and recovery of the eulachan fishery population in Haisla traditional territory along B.C.’s northwest coast.

“They were developing a project that aligned with my learning goals and featured a collaboration with other universities, industry and the Haisla First Nation,” explains Putt. “It was a great opportunity for me because I enjoy collaborative, multidisciplinary research, and I want my work to positively impact ecosystems and communities.”

Putt’s research project is focused on modelling eulachon population dynamics – the how and why fish populations change over time – towards conservation and recovery. Her scholarship-garnering research is examining the strengths and weaknesses of different types of numeric models and how they can be used to describe the eulachon.

A forage fish like herring and capelin, eulachon, also known as oolichan in many Indigenous communities, are an important component of coastal ecosystems and are valued by First Nations as both a food source and cultural resource. While still harvested in many Indigenous communities, low abundance in some regions has led to fishery closures.

“My research will contribute to the Haisla Nation’s goal of sustainably managing and conserving eulachon within their traditional territory,” says the PhD researcher. “I also hope to contribute globally to our ability to predict the effects of environmental change on fish populations. Many fish populations are at-risk from overfishing, habitat loss and climate change, new assessment tools are important for learning how we can manage our fisheries sustainably.”

Putt’s project is part of a broader research initiative called the Conservation and Recovery of Oolichan in Haisla Territory (CAROOHT), which is funded through a Mitacs Accelerate grant. Mitacs is a nonprofit national research organization that works in partnership with Canadian post-secondary institutes, industry and government to fund innovation solutions to real-world challenges.

Working closely with the Haisla First Nation, CAROOHT’s research goals were developed with the Nation in response to a desire to learn more about eulachon within its territory. In addition to UNBC’s researchers, the group also includes students and researchers from the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University; private consultants, including Ecofish Research Ltd and Stantec; and LNG Canada.

Putt believes this broad collaboration will lead to more impactful results for the Haisla and the eulachon throughout their habitat range.

As for the impact of the Vanier scholarship, Putt says the substantial financial award is a huge benefit to her mental health, quality of life and potential success as a PhD student. However, she acknowledges scholarships and awards are a benefit afforded to only some students and she feels it’s important to work towards increased funding for all academic research in Canada.

After 10 years away from academia, Putt admits she had to be encouraged to apply for the award by her supervisor, Eduardo Martins.

“I’m gratified the committee recognized my experience and potential, as well as the importance of my research,” says Putt. “I hope my success encourages other UNBC students to apply for national awards. UNBC is a small university, but it has a very diverse graduate program and I think this diversity can help UNBC students be successful.”