Martin Krkošek awarded NSERC Steacie Fellowship for research into disease in wild and farmed salmon

November 17, 2021 by Chris Sasaki - A&S News

Martin Krkošek, whose research has shed light on the disease dynamics between wild and farmed salmon on Canada’s west coast, has been awarded an E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

"This award recognizes a collective effort of a community of students, collaborators, mentors and local peoples in the remote and unceded Kwakwakaʼwakw territory," says Krkošek, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and Canada Research Chair in population ecology.

"I am exceptionally fortunate for this village that raised me as a mathematical and field biologist."

The fellowship recognizes researchers in the early stages of their career and supports them to enhance their research capacity, so that they can become leaders in their field and inspire others. 

"This award recognizes the outstanding contributions of Professor Krkošek and his research group to our understanding of the ecological causes and consequences of infectious disease on fish populations," says Stephen Wright, who won the Steacie Fellowship in 2015 and who is now EEB chair. "This stellar achievement reflects the importance of his work for both broad ecological understanding and for fisheries management."

"It is also wonderful to see NSERC recognize the importance of research in ecology and evolutionary biology," says Wright. "This is the fourth Steacie Fellowship awarded in our department in the last ten years."

As a population ecologist, Krkošek studies the ecology of diseases, fish and conservation, particularly in farmed and wild salmon on Canada’s west coast. The work is particularly significant because of the expansion of fish farming which, in turn, has led to an intensification of disease transmission between farmed and wild fish.

According to Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, "The public and media interest in the salmon industry on the west coast is an indication of the relevance and importance of Professor Krkošek’s research. His career and his vital research in this field are richly deserving of this support."

Krkošek’s work has provided insight into the emergence of disease from farmed fish stocks and their detrimental effect on wild stocks; it has also shed light on how parasites affect those populations. As such, the research is critically relevant to policy-making for the management of salmon farms and wild salmon stocks.

"If managed carefully, wild and farmed fish can coexist," he says. "This makes our research important for realizing the economic, food security and conservation benefits of aquaculture in general, and to conserving salmon and their ecological, economic and cultural value in particular."

Through his research, Krkošek has created opportunities to engage with Indigenous communities in Canada. He and his collaborators have worked with the Dzawada'enuxw and ‘Namgis First Nations in whose unceded territories his group conducts fieldwork.

Krkošek provides his collaborators with opportunities to learn about the context of reconciliation and Indigenous-relevant research in which they work. He has also created opportunities for members of Indigenous communities to participate in the work.

In addition, he has served on U of T's Decanal Advisory Committee on Indigenous Teaching and Learning for the Faculty of Arts and Science.

With the support of the Steacie Fellowship, Krkošek plans to expand his investigations into infectious diseases of salmon at a number of sites over the two-year period of the award.

"Most of the research that I’ve done in the past 18 years has been limited to a couple of parasitic copepod species," he says.

According to Krkošek, the fellowship will provide him with the opportunity to study a full diversity of infectious diseases of salmon, as well as the variability of those pathogens in relation to wild fish migrations, production of farmed fish and the natural environment.

"The results will be fundamental to management and policy in Canada and internationally," he says, "and facilitate my continued engagement with society, governments, non-governmental organizations and Indigenous communities."