KPU scientist wins prestigious award for fish biology research

Tue, Apr 2, 2024

A researcher from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is the recipient of the 2024 Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI) medal.

Dr. Erika Eliason, an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Science whose prolific research has focused on climate impacts in aquatic animals, received the award, which recognizes early-career scientists who have made exceptional advances in the study of fish biology and fisheries science.

“It is such an honour to win this award. Truly exceptional fish biologists and fisheries scientists have received this award in the past, and I am humbled and honoured to be included in their group,” says Eliason.

Eliason’s research explores how environmental stressors impact fish — particularly how Pacific salmon populations are impacted by climate change.

“My work has shown that populations of salmon differ in their thermal tolerance, which has important management implications. I’ve also shown that Pacific salmon may be dying en route to their spawning grounds because of heart failure,” she says.

“Most aquatic animals are ectotherms, which means they cannot internally regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature increases by 2 C, then the fish’s temperature increases by 2 C. Fish can only thrive within a specific range of temperatures, so heat waves — or cold snaps — can create huge problems for fish, even leading to death.” 

Fish biology has long been an interest to Eliason, who grew up fishing and loved being outdoors. Biology, she says, was a natural draw.

“Fish are incredibly important for our economy, recreation, culture and ecosystems. When I decided to go to grad school, I was excited to bring together my curiosity about how the world works with my love of fish and nature.”

Eliason joined KPU in 2023. Her previous role was Associate Professor of Ecological and Evolutionary Physiology at the University of California Santa Barbara, where her research program produced more than 90 scientific publications and trained researchers at the undergraduate, masters and doctorate levels. 

Eliason holds a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences from Simon Fraser University, and both a Master of Science in Zoology and a PhD in Zoology from the University of B.C. She is a salmonid specialist group panel member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, the editor of several book series in fish physiology and editorial board member of fish biology journals such as Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

According to the FSBI, Eliason’s research has proved valuable to policy-makers. Her paper on migrating salmon, for example, was used by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Pacific Salmon Commission to help in the management of the sockeye salmon fishery.

“Erika’s contribution to fish biology is voluminous and broad, underscoring her exceptional productivity and dedication to the field of fish biology as well as the influence her work has had across the community,” says Dr. Holly Shiels, FSBI Honorary President and Professor of Integrative Physiology at the University of Manchester.

The FSBI medal will be presented in July at the society’s annual symposium in Bilbao, Spain.