By Vivian M. Nguyen, 2014 PhD Larkin Award Winner

From animal movements to knowledge movements: Knowledge mobilization associated with rapid developments in electronic tagging technology and its application

I am currently a PhD student in the Biology Department at Carleton University. I wouldn’t say that my research project is a typical one you would find within a biology department; instead, I am pushing the boundaries a bit, and taking on a more social science slant. My research focuses on addressing the gap between science and action, and understanding the movement of knowledge in the context of improved conservation through informed decision making. I am using knowledge produced from electronic tagging technology for fisheries management as a case study.

Vivian observing salmon angling along the Fraser River.

Electronic tagging technology (ETT) has proven to be a powerful tool to study animal movement, migration and habitat. Improvements in battery and reductions in tag size enables tracking of smaller taxa and life stages that could not be studied previously. As ETT information and database grow and improve, they will be of increasing value for informed decision-making and will be a necessary go-to source for end-users. Therefore, ETT has the potential to provide knowledge needed to address key management and conservation problems.

New and novel information can potentially challenge the status quo, and as such, electronic tagging can be viewed by many as a “disruptive technology. With the vast improvement in tracking technology, knowledge gaps that could not be filled previously can be addressed. Are fisheries managers ready for integrating potentially “game-changing” information/knowledge? Key questions arise with the emergence of “disruptive technology”. Should telemetry data collected with public funds be publicly available even though it has the potential to enable better exploitation of the resources? Who is responsible for the interpretation of the data? Who is the owner of the data? How can new telemetry information be integrated into developing more sustainable management practices? What are the potential barriers to mobilization of such data? Fisheries managers and practitioners as well as stakeholders/user groups are faced with a wealth of new knowledge.

Vivian interviewing a First Nations angler along the banks of the Fraser River.

Vivian interviewing a First Nations fisher along the banks of the Fraser River.

My research objective is to evaluate the potential impact of ETT information and knowledge on fisheries management and conservation regimes, and identify barriers and facilitators to the integration of ETT knowledge into management frameworks. For example, there has been over 10 years of research on Pacific salmon using ETT in the Fraser River watershed, British Columbia. Still, fisheries management are hesitant to adopt the findings. Why is that? I hope that my research will help answer some of these key questions, and to provide a model for other electronic tagging programs that are used to study animal-environment interactions, conservation science, and animal resource management.