When Dylan Morse ’22 thinks about salmon, he sees more than a pink fish that cooks up nicely on the grill. He sees a connection between people and nature. Salmon build economies and culture in fishing towns and foster spirituality in certain First Nation communities. When climate change threatens Atlantic salmon populations, it threatens people, too. 

Morse will spend the coming year studying this issue, and the conservation done in response, as the recipient of a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, a national fellowship awarded to graduating seniors from 41 partner institutions. As a Watson fellow, he will receive a $36,000 stipend to pursue “a year of independent, purposeful exploration” abroad.

Morse’s project, titled “Swimming Upstream: How Culture Impacts Atlantic Salmon Conservation,” will send him to five countries around the Atlantic Ocean: Canada, Iceland, Scotland, Spain, and Norway. Each of these countries has a unique connection to salmon. Morse chose Canada for its salmon-reliant First Nation tribes, Iceland for its recreational salmon fishing economy, Scotland and Spain for their commercial salmon fishing economies, and Norway because it is the world’s largest exporter of salmon. He hopes that by learning about salmon from many different perspectives, he will develop a comprehensive understanding of their importance and conservation.

“There are a ton of communities that have grown up and prospered alongside salmon,” Morse said. “I want to look at how climate change is affecting each of those communities differently and see what drives them to protect their salmon.”

Though this will be the first time Morse studies fish outside the U.S., he has long been interested in their conservation. Growing up in Ithaca, N.Y., catching salmon and other kinds of fish was an integral part of community life. In fact, in his Hamilton admission essay, Morse wrote about finding a passion for fishing as a young teen.

“I grew up fishing, and I saw the importance of fish to the people in my community,” Morse said. “But I also saw the impact that things like climate change and habitat destruction had on the fish populations and the effects that their disappearance had on the rest of the ecosystem.”

When Morse arrived at Hamilton, he found ways to engage with fish conservation. As a sophomore, he secured an Emerson grant to pursue a project on trout populations near his home. This was done in conjunction with the Leon Chandler Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a conservation nonprofit that Morse volunteered with from 2013 to 2019.

Dylan Morse ’22

Majors: Biology and Hispanic Studies
Hometown: Ithaca, N.Y.
High School: Ithaca Senior High School

Morse is currently working on the logistics of his project. Salmon are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater, live most of their lives in saltwater, then return to freshwater to spawn. Because of this, he has to carefully plan his trips around salmon runs, which is when they return to freshwater. At the moment, he anticipates leaving in August. 

“I’m really excited for this experience,” Morse said. “Something that is unique about the Watson is that I don’t have to produce anything. And because of that, I can just go and meet some really cool people. I get to connect with them and learn about them for a couple of months, all while exploring this question that I’m interested in.”

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