Another month, another adventure. This time, to the land of fjords and weird brown cheese – Norway! I was lucky enough to get selected to go on the first Hjort Summer School being held at a marine field station just south of Bergen and spend a whole week learning about marine ecosystems, fishing and oceanography. Academic bliss!
The theme of the summer school was ‘Fishing and physics as drivers of marine ecosystem dynamics’, an interesting topic to discuss and find out more about, particularly on the physics/oceanography side seeing as it’s not a topic I often think about perhaps as much as I really should. It also meant that there were other students from a variety of disciplines attending, from fisheries scientists and marine biologists to biogeochemists and climate modellers, so it was great to get a range of opinions and interpretations of the lecture material and discuss ideas as a group.
As a fisheries scientist, it was really nice to ‘come home’ to Norway – Norway has a lot of history and strong roots in fisheries science and the marine environment and has a lot of marine institutes doing a lot of cool research. Johan Hjort, after whom the summer school was named (and also funded through the Hjort Centre), was of Norwegian descent and a really prominent fisheries scientist both in his time and still today. Hjort was director of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research in Bergen (1900-1916) and was also one of the founding fathers of ICES. He had a key role in the gradual fisheries research shift from ‘migration thinking’ towards population thinking due to his work on recruitment and year class strength as a cause for natural fluctuations in fish stocks – work which still is being built upon to this day. So, it was a good place for the summer school to be set!
Given the fishing/physics theme, a particular focus of the week was on looking at top down processes affecting marine ecosystems vs bottom up processes. For this we heard from two really interesting speakers, Ken Frank (research scientist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Queen’s University; Dalhousie University, Canada) and Hjalmar Hátún (Researcher, Oceanographer, Environmental Department, Faroe Marine Research Institute). Whilst Ken made a compelling case for top down effects being the main drivers in marine fisheries dynamics (e.g. through fishing pressures and predator effects), Hjalmar counteracted these views with strong evidence that in fact oceanographic features, such as available nutrients or temperatures, are in fact the dominant drivers of these dynamics. It was really interesting to see these different view points, and although the debate didn’t get too heated (as has been known to when discussing this topic) it really made you have to make up your own mind for what you think is the main driver within marine systems. For me, I actually think it’s a bit of both (is that the easy way out?!), but the extent to which one is more dominant than the other is circumstantial and depends on the system or assemblage you are looking at. Of the whole week though, I think the best part for me was Hjalmar’s ‘Oceanography 101’ sessions which really helped to brush up my fairly non existent oceanography knowledge.
We also heard from Anna Gårdmark (Lecturer at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden) who spoke about size spectrum models and their application to understanding marine population dynamics, as well as thinking more closely about both the importance of the individual as well as their interactions within food webs. I enjoyed her lectures as I have been meaning to read up about those sorts of models and approaches for a while, but haven’t got round to it yet, so it was great to have her talk about it and get us doing some exercises on it too!
The final day wrapped up with considering fisheries management, firstly by hearing from Katja Enberg, who sits on a working group at ICES which gives stock assessment advice. I found her talk really interesting to find out about how the stock assessment process works and the advantages and disadvantages of current models and approaches. She also spoke about how we move towards ecosystem based approaches in assessments and management – something which we are all keen to see implemented but not really sure how it can be done on the ground!
We then heard from Mikko Heino from University of Bergen who spoke about fisheries-induced adaptive changes in commercially important fish stocks. Such a fascinating set of talks! I knew very little about the influence fishing can have on evolution of fish and the types of traits it can select for, and so learning about this was extremely interesting for me and opened my eyes to a whole research area which I hadn’t paid much thought to before. I will now be doing a lot more of my ‘leisure time’ PhD reading on this subject as I thought it was just really cool!
So overall, we had a pretty jam packed week and it’s safe to say my brain was a little full after! We also had presentations from other speakers and from students too, so there was lots of topics to discuss and ideas to take away to use on your own research. For me, it was so nice to interact with other fisheries focused researchers and find out more about the methods they use, and just generally chat about fisheries! I think we all found it useful, and if anyone reading this is thinking of applying for the summer school next year I would say definitely go for it!