Jeffrey Hutchings

Jeffrey Hutchings. Photo by Alexfern, Wikimedia Commons.

By Daniel Pauly.

Jeffrey Hutchings, a friend, colleague and mentor to many at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, passed away in late January 2022 at 63 years of age. His eulogy in the Globe and Mail emphasized that he “firmly believed in the value of ensuring that public-policy decisions are guided by unbiased research.”[1]

Jeff himself had emphasized his role as an “advocate for independent fisheries research” in a recently published autobiographical piece in the ICES Journal of Marine Science[2]. However, we should realize that his advocacy was rendered legitimate, as it should, by a sound basis of technical competence.

Specifically, Jeff very early on understood that depleted fish populations – including the Northern cod in Eastern Canada – at low population size suffer from a reduced ‘intrinsic’ population growth rate ‘r’, a phenomenon variously labeled “Allee effect” or “depensation.” In other words, r is not really ‘intrinsic’ to a fish population: it also depends on its abundance, at least when it is low. This concept, masterly presented in Nature[3],  was an important contribution to fisheries science, reflected in the fact that depensation is built in most of the stock assessment models in current use. Jeff was quite aware of the importance of this phenomenon, which is the focus of one of the last papers he co-authored.

One feature of crises of various sorts is that they allow people – including scientists – to shine, or not. Two Canadian crises gave Jeff importunities to shine. One was the collapse and closure of the Canadian fishery trawling for cod, reportedly the best-managed fishery in the world, and whose demise was blamed by the DFO bureaucracy on “ecological factors” such as seals and cold waters. This, however, did not consider the fact that cod had been successfully exploited for 450 years by  European and Canadian fishers,  despite seals and cold waters.

Jeff and his colleague, R.A. Myers, then both with DFO, challenged their employer’s position. They both had to find refuge at Dalhousie University, but they won the argument: we now know, not least thanks to their efforts, that the cod stock was dreadfully overfished, and it has become an exemplar for how not to run a fishery.

The second crisis that allowed Jeff to shine was the largely successful attempt by the previous Harper government to muzzle scientists and sideline science in policymaking generally. In various countries – especially the USA – we can see the damage that decisions of this sort can inflict on society. Jeff was a leader in Canadian scientists’ successful public protests against this policy[4]. Jeff should be, and hopefully will be, a role model for young scientists: technically competent, courageous, yet modest, a “mensch.”

We will miss him.

Dr. Daniel Pauly
University Killam Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. William Cheung
Professor and Director, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Marie Auger-Méthé
Assistant Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Villy Christensen
Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Simon Donner
Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries & Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability & Department of Geography

Dr. Chris Harley
Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries & Department of Zoology

Dr. Brian Hunt
Assistant Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Dianne Newell
Professor Emeritus, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Evgeny Pakhomov
Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries & Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences

Dr. Tony Pitcher
Professor Emeritus, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Andrea Reid
Assistant Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. David Rosen
Assistant Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Rashid Sumaila
University Killam Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries & School of Public Policy and Global Affairs

Dr. Andrew Trites
Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries & Department of Zoology

Dr. Amanda Vincent
Professor, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries

Dr. Carl Walters
Professor Emeritus, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries



[1] Tutton, M. 2022. Jeffrey Hutchings – Teacher, Scientist, 63. The Globe and Mail, B16, 2 Feb. 2022.

[2] Hutchings, J. 2022. Tensions in the communication of science advice on fish and fisheries: northern cod, species at risk, sustainable seafood. ICES Journal of Marine Science https://doi.org/10.1093/dasab271

[3] Hutchings JA. Collapse and recovery of marine fishes. Nature. 2000 Aug; 406(6798): 882-5.

[4] Hutchings, J. 2013. Harper government’s muzzling of scientists a mark of shame for Canada. The Toronto Star, March 14, 2013.