Science at DFO



The video that you are about to see is an overview or a snapshot of science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or DFO. Its depth, its breadth, and its incredible scope. You'll get a feel for the wide array of work that we do from coast to coast to caost, at sea, on land and even in the air.

Science at DFO has a long tradition of excellence that contributes to the mission of the Department. When science is peer-reviewed - when it defines, serves, and supports programs and decisions - the result is credibility. The people of DFO science excel at providing timely, high quality, peer reviewed scientific advice so that government can get it right.

Jessica Sameoto, Senior Biologist, Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Alain D’entremont, Chief Operating Officer, O’Neil Fisheries Limited, Scotia Harvest Seafoods Inc.

Carmen Bernie, Capt., F/V Brittany and Madison III, LBM Fisheries

Jessica Sameoto: The work that we do is in support of science advice for fisheries management.  So what that means is that we are the ones that go out and get the numbers and provide the numbers and provide the scientific support for how many scallop are out there in the wild that could be caught to support a sustainable fishery.

We work directly with industry from the ground up.  We actually conduct our surveys on industry vessels; we’re on fishing boats when we go to sea to do our survey.

Alain D’entremont: It has guided us in the past to close areas temporarily to allow the scallops to grow without human interaction.  In other areas we may see that there’s an abundant population of older scallop and we’d like to focus our exploitation in that area instead of on the juvenile’s that are more sensitive, so it guides a big part of my life and a big part of how I plan my business. 

Carmen Bernie: You know if I’m borrowing money as an investor I want to be able to know that I’m going to be able to pay that back and through the science process they give us that outlook that it’s going to be there for me to pay back the money I owe.


Our science advice matches client needs. Our monitoring identifies emerging issues like ocean warming, and its impacts. Our research and science for aquatic animal health regulation supports our exports. And we work at the international level, supporting Canada’s goals.


There are five science functions. Research. Advice. Data Management. Data Products and Services. And we monitor changes in our waters … with autonomous floating buoys, satellites, ships and even helicopters…

Dr. Charles Hannah – Physical Oceanographer, Bedford Institute of Oceanography

Charles Hannah: We actually go out at the end of winter in a helicopter, deploy an instrument and measure the water temperatures down to depths of about 200 metres, and what we’re finding is the last couple of years, that upper layer of the ocean isn’t getting as cold, sometimes it doesn’t even get to freezing, and so we’re getting less sea ice. These changes extend throughout the water column and they persist throughout the year, so we expect that changes will start to occur in the ecosystem, and it will have impacts on things like lobster, snow crab, and shrimp, and other fisheries resources in the Gulf of St Lawrence.


Much science work is in the field … and the short summer season is busiest. The rest of the time, staff are at work in labs, testing and organizing their findings and writing up advice at one of DFO’s 14 research institutes across Canada.


We’re a diverse bunch. About 1500 people work in science at DFO. Scientists with expertise in biology, ecology, genetics, chemistry, physical oceanography, hydrography, mathematics, population modeling, veterinary science, and more. There are research technicians and engineers, electronics technicians, managers and supervisors, computer systems experts, administrators. We are about 15% of DFO’s workforce.


Fish Population Science is the best known of the science work we do. Our stock assessment work involves close collaboration with Fisheries Management and the industry to establish access and allocation. Research to understand fish stocks and what impacts them enables us to play an effective role in the international governance of fish stocks.


This summer, the trawl survey aboard the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Ricker was undertaken to help managers understand how much can be harvested in one of B.C.’s key commercial fisheries.  It is typical of science surveys at sea -- each involving weeks of study and thousands of nautical miles -- to understand fish stocks, investigate ecosystem changes that may impact them and to understand where fish go and why they go there.

Jennifer Vollrath, Science Advisor, Strategic and Regulatory Science

Jennifer Vollrath: DFO Science uses fifteen Canadian Coast Guard vessels as well as small craft. We use these vessels to monitor the state of the oceans, assess fisheries and acquire hydrographic data. We operate in the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts, as well as in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and in the Great Lakes. On an opportunistic basis, we use Coast Guard icebreakers to conduct our missions in the Arctic.


At-sea science plays an important role in Canada’s coastal economy. Our commercial fishing industries are worth more than $2 billion a year. Scientists gather the data that supports fisheries management decisions. Their advice enables DFO to maximize the economic opportunity for Canada, while sustaining ocean resources.


Aquaculture is a key component in future world food security according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. By 2050, the world must feed 9.1 billion people. With 7% annual growth worldwide, aquaculture is the fastest growing food production system. In Canada, the environmental and biological interactions between aquaculture and the environment are being understood through our Program for Regulatory Research. Research into integrated multi-tropic aquaculture enables us to do it smarter, and our Aquaculture Collaborative Research Program with industry helps ensure it is sustainable.

Terry Mills, Norlantic Processors Ltd.

Dr. Harry Murray, Research Scientist, Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre

Terry Mills: We started about 7 years ago in this part of the bay and we needed extra grow out sites and the only place left on the Northeast coast was out in the deeper, say the main ocean.

We started to do some research on our own, some, just commercial trials and the results were encouraging. We were growing mussels out in fairly deep water so we did it a few years, we looked at the results and then we, obviously we were certainly out of our league when it comes to, we had to get some applied science to confirm what we were analyzing and so we met with some DFO people and met with Harry and got a project together and submitted it and off to the races!

Dr. Harry Murray: We’re out here in Notre Dame Bay in an area called Pleasantview where we’re looking at working on our ACRDP project to study the growth of and the health of mussels in deep water versus mussels grown in shallow water, which is more typical.


Science protects markets as well. Canada's National Aquatic Animal Health Program helps prevent new diseases from being introduced and helps maintain our access to export markets. We have four labs for regulatory diagnostic testing -- in Nanaimo, Winnipeg, Charlottetown and Moncton.  Their tests are validated to international standards to ensure results are accurate.  Staff there are the frontline protection system for Canada's valuable fish and seafood markets. In 2014, our exports alone were worth $4.9 billion.

Dr. Nellie Gagné, Research Scientist, Gulf Fisheries Centre

Dr. Nellie Gagné: My name is Nellie Gagné.  I'm a research scientist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.  My main task would be to do research on aquatic animal diseases and develop and implement testing methods. We have multiple tests on viruses, bacteria and parasites that we do on fish, shellfish, mollusc and crustaceans. The field that is my speciality... it is the DNA, the genome, or the trace of the parasite that is left in the tissue. It is relatively a recent field so that keeps us on the edge.


We also do extensive environmental and biodiversity science … science on species at risk, biodiversity and food web research … and research on invasive species.

PLUS we do science to sustain ecosystems such as the National Conservation Plan.

This program engages stakeholders and communities to strengthen marine and coastal conservation. It includes research and monitoring at Marine Protected Areas and assesses the state of knowledge in marine ecosystems.


Occasionally DFO scientists make exciting finds, like seldom seen deeper water species, and even new species to science…and sometimes the find is something very old. Last year, the Canadian Hydrographic Service celebrated with Parks Canada when they located the long lost Franklin ship, the HMSErebus.


In addition to creating the nautical charts required to keep our water routes and ports safe, the Canadian Hydrographic Service has also been mapping the extents of our continental shelves in the Arctic and the Atlantic – a sovereignty effort and in support of possible future resource development. Under the Law of the Sea, a nation that has ratified the UNCLOS treaty can present seabed data to show that its continental shelf extends offshore. The seabed data could enable Canada to extend its legal limits from 200 nautical miles out to 350 nautical miles, and sometimes beyond. The Canadian Hydrographic Service has been mapping our seabed to support Canada’s claims.


DFO science plays an important role for the Department on the international scene …aiding in intergovernmental decision- making and ecosystem science for regional fisheries management. Ocean data is shared internationally and goes into products and services for weather, emergency management, and safe navigation. DFO works bi-nationally and assists with specialized science … such as dispersion strategies for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. DFO supports the Argo floating buoy program that provides insight into the ocean’s role in climate and DFO scientists contributed to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. We play a role in the major Atlantic and Pacific international science organizations, ICES and PICES. International collaboration is necessary to understand global issues. Most recently Canada joined the U.S. and E.U. in the Galway agreement on Atlantic science, now underway. Our researchers are providing the benefits of global science to Canadians.


Trevor Swerdfager

Trevor Swerdfager: You know, I think fundamentally Science lies right at the core of our reputation. When you travel abroad, as I’ve been fortunate enough to do, and talk to other people and ask them about DFO, without fail what they return to is our tremendous scientific credibility. Our peer-reviewed science is right at the core of our reputation and what we do contributes to the key decisions we make – whether it’s on fisheries management, on fisheries habitat protection, species at risk conservation, ocean conservation – you name it, Science is right at the core of what we do and contributes to every single part of our mission.

With thanks to:

Argo Array of Drifting Ocean Data Profilers - courtesy of The Argo Project Office (

Canadian Coast Guard

Canadian Hydrographic Service

LBM Fisheries

Marine Institute of Ireland

Parks Canada

O’Neil Fisheries Limited/Scotia Harvest Seafoods Inc.

Norlantic Processors Ltd.

Digiteyes – Pat Anderson Photography

Stonehaven Productions, Montreal

Produced by: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2015