The Purpose

At the most basic level, my research tells stories about coastal communities and regions: what unites them, divides them, and makes them sustainable (or not). I am driven by my desire to answer questions that are meaningful to the people with whom I work. The challenge is finding ways to answer applied, problems-oriented questions like, "what are the barriers to local access to locally caught seafood" while also managing to pose and test scientific hypotheses about the nature of things. 

In a nutshell, I'm interested in answering three questions:

  1. What are the relationships between human well-being, ecosystem health, and sustainability
     
  2. How can people with different values and priorities for natural resources manage conflict to coexist sustainably?
     
  3. How can people achieve win-win scenarios, where people's well-being and the health of the environment, thrive together?
     

The Projects

I currently leading or participating in a variety of projects that attend, in some direct or indirect fashion, to these questions. 

SUSTAINABLE FUTURES NORTH

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The Sustainable Futures North project is concerned with developing a sophisticated understanding of the interactions among environmental security, natural resource development, and climate change in the North American Arctic and Subarctic regions. With principle study sites in Western, Northwest and Arctic, Alaska, as well as Baffin Island, Nunavut, the project combines integrated assessments of community needs and challenges, ethnographic research, large-scale data synthesis, engineered systems analysis, and an education and outreach program intended to enhance community capacity for responding to change.

Partners on this project include faculty from multiple universities, including University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of New Hampshire. We also have support from a number of community partners including the Bristol Bay Natives Association, the Tribal Village of Kotzebue, the Northwest Arctic Borough, the City of Iqaluit, and the Hamlet of Clyde River. 


Risk, Resilience, and Innovation in Coastal BC Food Systems

Communities of Coastal British Columbia are innovating to strengthen food systems and security, while also protecting and enhancing local and regional biodiversity. Yet, challenges such as oil and natural gas pipelines on the land, and ocean acidification and pollution in the sea, create numerous risks for these initiatives. In this project we will work with community partners to learn how they think about these risks, and how this informs their innovative strategies for reducing risk, building resilience, and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

This project has two streams: the first is a coast-wide assessment of conservation and sustainability challenges as they relate to community food security and local people's ability to steward local natural resources. In what ways are people creating resistance to challenges such as climate change and development? What programs are being successful and to what extent do they explicitly engage both biodiversity conservation and food/community security?

The second stream is in partnership with the Clam Garden Network and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Here we are doing a more in-depth ethnographic engagement with one specific case of local innovation--the restoration by local First Nations of traditional clam gardens. New mariculture initiatives are an example of community innovation that will add diversity and hence resilience to local food systems, but will also increase communities’ risk of exposure to ocean acidification and hazards such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). We will explore local perspectives on risk and resilience, and how these may differ from contemporary scientific definitions. One hypothesis is that “risky” strategies like the clam garden project are seen as enhancing community resilience; this runs counter to traditional thinking about the relationship among resilience and risk reduction, and is in line with calls to better incorporate agency and self-determination into resilience science 


Sustainability and Health in Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) is an archipelago off the coast of British Columbia that is home to some of the earliest human settlements in North America and also a tremendous amount of biodiversity as a result of being unglaciated for nearly two millennia longer than the mainland during the end of the Pleistocene glaciation.  It has been called "the Galapagos of the North". The islands are the ancestral home of the Council of the Haida Nation, and Haida today make up about half of the local populace. The southern part of the archipelago, known as Gwaii Haanas National Park Preserve and Haida Heritage Site, is a spectacular temperate rain forest ecosystem that is managed under a unique co-management arrangement between the Council and the government of Canada. 

In the last few decades, Haida Gwaii has been the locus of contentious battles over sovereignty and sustainable resource management. Some of these battles continue today; the status of local herring fisheries, for example, which continue to be of utmost important to local peoples, is in question, though there are strong interests in reestablishing commercial fisheries. Likewise, plans for an oil pipeline portend increase shipping traffic and risk of environmental contamination for these sacred ecosystems.

This research is interested in learning more about the past and present human ecology of the islands. To what extent did herring fisheries and other aspects of the maritime environment contribute to regional sustainability historically, and how should they be managed today in order to restore herring populations such that local people's values for these fisheries and commercial interests could coexist? To get at these questions we need to dig into complex and very personal ecologies of health and sustainability. How do local people define sustainability? What role for health and well-being in that definition?

Some of my partners in this work include: the "Ocean Tipping Points" project, Parks Canada, and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. 

I am currently recruiting master's students to work on this project. For more information email me using the form below.


Sustainability in Pacific Northwest & Alaska Fisheries

Alaska's fisheries are widely advertised as sustainability success stories, but multiple ongoing challenges, including apparent declines of salmon fisheries, food insecure fishing communities, widespread loss of fishing rights among Indigenous peoples along the northern Pacific Coast, and bitter conflicts that divide communities, all call question to this reputation. 

Photo by Mike Brubaker

Photo by Mike Brubaker

I am currently collaborating on several projects that seek to develop a better understanding of the ecological and social dimensions of fisheries in Alaska and the BC coast, from as far north as Norton Sound to the Haida Gwaii archipelago. This research seeks to understand how fishers in sport and personal use fisheries respond to changes in management and in the abundance of a particular fish species, e.g., salmon and herring, by shifting their fishing pressures elsewhere. People respond to change in a variety of ways that incorporate not just their individual needs but also their knowledge of the status of the marine environment 

For more information

Please let me know if you're interested in more information about my research using the form below. Media requests should be sent to meagan.hinther@usask.ca 

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