PO­LAR BLOG

HOW RE­SEARCHERS AND LO­CALS IN CAM­BRIDGE BAY, NU­NAVUT, ARE KEEP­ING THE STA­PLE ARC­TIC FISH HEALTHY

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - BY JOHN BEN­NETT

Char track­ers

JEAN-SÉBASTIEN MOORE knows first­hand that build­ing re­la­tion­ships with Inuit com­mu­ni­ties can be key to suc­cess­ful re­search in the Arc­tic. The bi­ol­o­gist from Que­bec City’s Univer­sité Laval col­lab­o­rates with a Fish­eries and Oceans Canada team and Cam­bridge Bay lo­cals to track the be­hav­iour of mi­grat­ing Arc­tic char around south­east Vic­to­ria Is­land, Nu­navut, us­ing acous­tic trans­mit­ters and ge­netic data. The project, which is sup­ported by Po­lar Knowl­edge Canada (PO­LAR) and its Cana­dian High Arc­tic Re­search Sta­tion cam­pus, is of keen in­ter­est to the com­mu­nity. Peo­ple in Cam­bridge Bay de­pend on Arc­tic char for food and op­er­ate a small com­mer­cial fish­ery that’s an im­por­tant part of the lo­cal econ­omy. “Our goal,” says Moore, “is to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion that will help keep the sub­sis­tence and com­mer­cial char fish­eries healthy well into the fu­ture.” Moore im­plants tiny trans­mit­ters into the char that send acous­tic sig­nals to float­ing re­ceivers, telling him where the fish go and how their be­hav­iour changes from year to year. If they’re poorly placed, these in­stru­ments won’t re­ceive sig­nals, but, he ex­plains, lo­cal ex­perts have guided the re­search team to ex­cel­lent lo­ca­tions that would oth­er­wise never have been considered. “We’ve learned that in the ocean the char fol­low the coast­line, stop­ping for a while at each es­tu­ary. That means that in the event of an en­vi­ron­men­tal emer­gency like an oil spill from a ship, those ar­eas need im­me­di­ate pro­tec­tion.” Fish­ery man­agers have long as­sumed that char win­ter along their natal rivers where they spawn ev­ery few years. But by us­ing ge­nomics to iden­tify the natal rivers of in­di­vid­ual fish, Moore and his col­leagues have dis­cov­ered that in years when they don’t spawn, char from a wide area swim up a short river to Fer­gu­son Lake (Tahiryuaq) to win­ter, rather than up the longer rivers to their spawn­ing grounds. Moore spec­u­lates that they do this to save en­ergy by trav­el­ling a shorter dis­tance when they’re not spawn­ing. That knowl­edge is im­por­tant in man­ag­ing the fish­ery and de­vel­op­ing quo­tas for in­di­vid­ual rivers that re­flect how the fish ac­tu­ally be­have. Co­op­er­a­tion with Cam­bridge Bay res­i­dents con­tin­ues to be es­sen­tial to the re­search, says Moore, who in 2016 had the op­por­tu­nity to learn from lo­cal ex­perts at Iqaluk­tuuq, a fish­ing site west of the ham­let that Inuit have used for cen­turies. There, dur­ing a knowl­edge ex­change camp sup­ported in part by PO­LAR, elders fished with and passed gen­er­a­tions of ex­per­tise on to lo­cal young peo­ple. “Arc­tic char is in­grained in their lives,” says Moore. “It’s food, com­mu­nity, cul­ture, home, sur­vival and his­tory.”

Jack Omil­go­e­tuk (left) and Les Har­ris of DFO at a sam­pling site on the Ekalluk River north of Cam­bridge Bay, Nu­navut, where they will im­plant char with acous­tic trans­mit­ters.

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