Dr Nigel Haggan

My research focus is on how to put our emotional, and spiritual connection to the ocean on an equal basis with economic and scientific considerations.

I joined the UBC Fisheries Centre in 1993 as a Research Associate to explore how the academy might provide an alternative context to confrontation, court cases, and media wars. There, I  co-initiated and participated in numerous projects to build collective understanding of coastal and marine ecosystems as they were, as they are and what they might become.  

Earlier work includes 14 years developing cooperative fisheries management programs with BC First Nations.

Spiritual values are not peculiarities of 'other' cultures.  All cultures are reflections of spirit.

What we call 'cultures' emerge from relationships between people, animals, plants, lands and waters.  Our engagement with the world is emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and economic.  Spirit is the recombinant power of a universe whose goal is complexity.  It is why a bird is not a fact, but a step between a dinosaur and something yet to be and a joy in itself.  It is the 10,000 or so populations of Pacific salmon that 'appeared' since the last Ice Age.  It is the belief that drives the artist, scientist and mystic in all of us to face down the border police, to ask new questions.  It is recognition of the difference between 'you' and 'me' and the spark that jumps between.

Belief that everything has a spiritual as well as a physical existence is consistent with grateful use and generosity, but not with depletion, extinction and environmental degradation.  I grew up in Northern Ireland, so I agree with Richard Dawkins that religion should have no civil power, nor dictate education.  That said, exclusion of 1,000s of years of spiritual and religious insights from our attempts at ecosystem valuation and management is at best, unwise.  It allows the human values concealed in the price of a barrel of oil to dominate government and the price of a kilo of farmed salmon to distort BC fisheries out of all recognition.

Research goal

To rewrite environmental law and policy to include the 'immeasurable' values of love in the sense of cherishing and protecting people, places, plants, animals, lands and waters to which we are deeply connected and committed to protect.

Lists of such values appear in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and Ecological Economics literature, with the comment that such values are equally if not more important than the measurable values of science and economics.  This makes the case for inclusion of Indigenous spiritual, artistic and eco-theological perspectives in review of projects such as the Tarsands/Enbridge pipeline and farmed salmon. 

Core concepts

Becoming Indigenous

Throughout human history, people have entered new lands, encountered and learned to live within limits and often to increase the productivity of lands and waters.  People, biota, lands and waters shape and reshape each other over long periods.  The encounter with planetary limits puts our generation in the same position as every group that entered new lands since the dawn of time.

Unlike our ancient ancestors, we have no 'next valley' to exploit.  Unlike them, we have no common language to develop new relationships--threaties, covenants, metaphors of co-existence.  Concepts such as 'ecosystem services', 'social-ecological systems' and 'ecosystem-based management' have promise, but I think we need to take a step further...

Eco-social-spiritual communities

The aim is to recognize our relationship with other-than-human beings and aspects of existence. 'Community' acknowledges relationship.  It is not created by measurement or from some outside or objective stance.  The term eco-social-spiritual community explicitly includes the sacred or spiritual as an integrative dimension of human experience as worthy of articulation as the measurements of science and economics. 

The Sea Change project

Goal:  To write a full set of human values into environmental law and policy.

Background: The long-term sustainability of non-industrial societies stems from the interweaving of scientific, economic, social, artistic and spiritual dimensions.  Use is tempered by respect and the goal of flourishing of the entire ‘eco-social-spiritual community’.  Fisheries collapse and damage to marine ecosystems is driving a move towards ‘marine ecosystem-based management’.  At first sight, British Columbia has some of the most inclusive processes on earth.  A harder look reveals that spiritual, religious and artistic perspectives are not there.  

We need the goods and services that the waters provide, but we love them too.  The gift that ordinary people bring to ‘ecosystem-based management’ is the language of love for lands, waters, plants and creatures to which they are deeply connected and committed to cherish and protect.  The powerful response to such language when used by Indigenous spiritual people (and a growing number of mainstream religious leaders) indicates that it belongs to us all.

Unfortunately the words of love and relationship we use in our private lives are not part of the project review or management lexicon. We cannot ask scientists to bring Indigenous and religious concepts of covenant and relationship with non-humans into their work.  We can make the conversation more complete by bringing Indigenous spiritual leaders, religious leaders, artists—poets and painters, dancers and filmmakers—into the busniess of review of projects such as Enbridge, industrial salmon feedlots and fisheries subsidies.


Selected publications

Haggan, N. (2012) Becoming Indigenous: Measurable and Immeasurable Values in Ecosystem-Based Management. PhD, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. 210p. https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/43132.

Haggan, N. (2011) You don't know what you've got till its gone: The case for spiritual values in marine ecosystem management. In: World Fisheries: A Social-Ecological Analysis. Perry, I., Ommer, R.E., Cury, P. et al. (eds). Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford. Abstract.Full text.

 Haggan, N., Jackson, G.D. and Lacroix, P. (2009) Salmon and Eulachon in Ecosystem Space and time: A Plea for Better Collaboration and Data Integration.  In: Challengesfor Diadromous Fishes in a Dynamic Global Environment (ed Cunjak, R. et al.) American Fisheries Society, Bethesda, MD. AbstractFull text.

Haggan, N., Ainsworth, C., Pitcher, T.J. and Heymans, J.J. (2006) Life in the fast food chain: Ou sont les poissons d'antan?  Pages 51-74 in: Parrish, C.C., Turner, N. and Solberg, S. (eds) Resetting the Kitchen Table: Food Security, Culture, Health and Resilience in Coastal Communities. Nova Science, New York, 247p.  AbstractFull text.

Haggan, N., Neis, B. and Baird, I.G. (eds) (2007) Fishers' Knowledge in Fisheries Science and Management. UNESCO, Paris, 437p.  Contents.  IntroChapter 1.

Haggan, N. and Neis, B. (2007) The changing face of Fisheries Science and Management.  Pages 421-432 in: Haggan, N., Neis, B. and Baird, I.G. (eds) Fishers' Knowledge in Fisheries Science and Management. UNESCO, Paris, 437p. Full text.

Pitcher, T.J., Morato, T., Hart, P.J.B., Clark, M., Haggan, N. and Santos, R. (eds) (2007) Seamounts: Ecology, Fisheries and Conservation. Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 536p. OverviewContents.

Haggan, N., Turner, N.J., Carpenter, J., Jones, J.T., Menzies, C. and Mackie, Q. (2006) 12,000+ years of change: Linking traditional and modern ecosystem science in the Pacific Northwest. UBC Fisheries Centre Working Paper #2006-02. AbstractFull text.

Haggan, N., Narcisse, A., Sumaila, U.R., Lucas, Chief Simon and Turner, N.J. (2005) Pacific Ecosystems, Past Present and Future: Integrating Knowledge and Values, Anticipating Climate Change. Society for Ecological Restoration International/Indigenous Peoples’ Restoration Network session, Zaragoza, Spain, September 12 - 18, 2005.  PowerPointConference paper.

Haggan, N. (2000) Back to the Future and Creative Justice. Pages 83-99 in, Coward, H., Ommer, R.E. and Pitcher, T.J. (eds) Just Fish: Ethics in the Canadian Coastal Fisheries. ISER Books, St. John's, 304p.  Full text.

Haggan, N. (1998) Reinventing the Tree: reflections on the organic growth and creative pruning of fisheries management structures. Pages 19-30 in: Pitcher, T.J., Hart, P.J.B. and Pauly, D. (eds)Reinventing Fisheries Management, Chapman and Hall, London, 435p.  AbstractFull text.