This is my letter to COSEWIC - the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, sent out this morning.
31 January 2022
I am devastated to inform you that Jeff Hutchings has passed away. Jeff was a member of COSEWIC from 2000-2012, including serving as a transformative Chair.
Jeff was a world-class scientist based at Dalhousie. His recognitions include induction as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Fellow of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, President and co-founder of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution, and winner of the A.G. Huntsman Award for Excellence in the Marine Sciences.
Jeff is best known for linking fundamental principles from life-history theory with implications for sustainability of fisheries. His grounding in evolutionary ecology, including a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh studying fruit flies, provided Jeff with the rare ability to move seamlessly between what makes sense about animal ecology, and what people were claiming about applied population dynamics. This led him to call bullshit on DFO’s claims about the collapse of Atlantic cod in the early 1990s. He published a devastating critique of DFO’s explanations of the cod’s collapse, at considerable personal cost, at a fragile stage in his career. He had just been appointed to Dalhousie as an assistant professor. No tenure yet, no more opportunities to provide scientific advice to DFO. He never got over his outrage at the false claims that were being made at the time, and he returned to cod again and again for the rest of his career. Along the way, he wrote about the value of divorcing scientific advice from government agendas.
Then he joined COSEWIC.
I’ll let Jeff’s own words pick up the narrative from there, in the attached article that he published just before his death. You will see that COSEWIC had some challenges in those days. Apparently, we always will. But the principles that Jeff stood up for, providing unbiased scientific advice based on the best available evidence, hold true to this day. A few weeks ago I spoke to Jeff about some of COSEWIC’s current challenges, and he was very helpful and insightful, as always.
On a personal note, I should say that I have known Jeff for 30 years. We have published several highly-cited papers together about threatened fishes and fisheries, and our careers have been eerily similar; roots in evolutionary ecology, life history theory, links between life histories and responses to exploitation, Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada (Jeff wrote the case for my election), and 12 years in COSEWIC including Chair. Jeff was my academic soulmate, friend, and constant inspiration.
Jeff was 63.