Please see Documents for attached pdf of Project Description
The Canadian Arctic is experiencing isostatic rebound, where the land rises following the disappearance of ice sheets after an ice age. This causes sea levels to lower in relation to land, resulting in decreased flow in coastal streams. Climate change and associated unpredictable weather patterns are exacerbating these effects in many areas of coastal Nunavut.
Decreased streamflows affect the ability of anadromous (sea-run) fish, including Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), to successfully migrate between spawning, rearing, and overwintering habitats in coastal freshwater systems and summer feeding habitats at sea. Low flows in migratory streams can result in fish stranding, and subsequent declines in productivity of local fisheries.
The Coppermine River has historically supported an important subsistence fishery. Since 2015, the Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO) and community members have observed a sharp decline in the fall run of migratory char. Neither local fishers nor scientists know where char spawn and overwinter in the Coppermine River or adjacent tributary lakes, so the cause of this decline is unknown.
At present, there are at least two known species of char in the Coppermine River – Lake char (Salvelinus namaycush) and Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus). Both these species have freshwater resident and anadromous life history types. Evidence from previous (unpublished) morphology, meristic, and genetics work also indicates that Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma) may be present in rivers of the Coronation Gulf, including the Coppermine River. Local fishers differentiate char based on morphology (e.g., silver char, red char), and it is unknown whether these differences are associated with genetics or life history.
This research project was developed following the above observations and concerns voiced by the Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization (HTO). Through this project, the University of Waterloo and the Kugluktuk HTO will work together to learn more about char species, movement, and the impacts of changing habitat. This information will be used to identify restoration priorities, incorporating both western science and Inuit knowledge.
There are four key objectives of this research project:
1.Identify migratory patterns and overwintering habitats used by Arctic char in the Coppermine and adjacent river systems
2.Verify the presence of Dolly Varden char (Salvelinus malma) in the Coppermine River and other rivers of Coronation Gulf
3.Determine how species, morphotype, and life history type of char is related to fish resource and habitat use
4.Identify critical habitat for migratory char and priority sites for future restoration
Research activities will focus on the major char-supporting river systems near Kugluktuk, including the Rae, Richardson, Coppermine, and Kugaryuak Rivers, as well as the marine environment in Coronation Gulf.
The Coppermine River, part of the proposed study area, crosses Kugluk Territorial Park. No other conservation areas, such as bird sanctuaries, are present in the study area. There are many cultural sites in Kugluk Territorial Park, along the Coppermine River, and throughout the study area. Activities will all be water-based, with the exception of some foot traffic at boat landing sites and ATV transport along established off-road trails. Therefore, there will be minimal terrestrial impacts, and archaeological and cultural sites will be avoided.
There are five key activities that will be conducted to address the above research objectives. These activities are anticipated to take approximately 45 days each year in the field, by a team of ten, including four researchers and six community members that are selected by the HTO. All activities have been approved by the Kugluktuk HTO.
Char to be tagged will be captured by a combination of netting (small mesh, and checked every hour so that there are no mortalities) and angling. Captured fish will have an acoustic tag surgically implanted to enable tracking when passing within range of an acoustic telemetry receiver. This tracking will provide information on habitat use and migration of char.
A total of 95 tags will be deployed over the duration of this project. Approximately 30-50 fish will be tagged in July-August 2018. The remainder of the 95 tags will be deployed in the summer of 2019.
An additional 13 fish will receive pop-off satellite tags, deployed in July-August 2018. The satellite tags will provide the first information (fall 2018) on fish movement and habitat use, as well as overwintering habitat. Information from these tags will be used to refine the placement of acoustic receivers. Pop-off tags are applied externally to the fish and are programmed to release at the end of September 2018, after the fish have arrived in their overwintering habitat and before freeze-up. These tags transmit a satellite location once released, so they may then be retrieved. Similar tags may be used in 2019 and 2020 as necessary.
Transportation to fish tagging sites will be by boat, or ATV if accessible.
2.Placement of acoustic telemetry receivers
Acoustic telemetry receivers will be deployed, to record the passage of tagged fish when within range.
Two types of receivers will be used:
i.Fourteen VR2Tx for freshwater applications such as the Coppermine, Rae, Richardson, and Kugaryuak Rivers
ii.Six VR2AR for deployment in the marine environment and deeper lakes within the study area
Receivers will be deployed in July-August 2018. Receivers in shallow riverine locations will be removed in September of each project year, and redeployed in overwintering lakes for the winter period. The remaining receivers will overwinter and remain deployed for the duration of the project. Receivers will be downloaded at least once per year, and seasonally when possible.
Transportation to deploy the majority of the acoustic receivers will be by helicopter, with the remainder deployed by boat. The receivers removed for the winter will be removed by ATV or boat.
Water samples will be collected from areas identified as important habitat for migratory char. These samples will be analyzed in the lab for stable isotopes and trace metals, and will be used to help determine habitat use of harvested fish (see Activity 4).
Water samples will be taken in the summer of each project year. Transportation to sampling locations will be by boat or ATV where feasible.
4.Collection of otoliths
Obtaining otoliths (fish ear bones) requires lethally sampling fish, so samples will only be collected from fish caught for food by subsistence harvesters in Kugluktuk.
Chemistry of otoliths will be determined, and used in conjunction with water samples (see Activity 3) to examine habitat use of char and help inform results from the tagging study.
Samples will be collected from harvesters in the summers of 2018, 2019, and 2020 from fish caught in the Coronation Gulf, as well as the Coppermine, Rae, and Richardson rivers.
5.Collection of fin clips
Fin clips will be collected from harvesters at the same time as above otolith samples (see Activity 4). DNA will be extracted from the samples and sequenced at University of Waterloo. These samples will verify if Dolly Varden char are present in the area, as well as determine if names and descriptors used by local fishers (e.g., silver char, red char) correspond with genetic data.
Genetic results will be related to data on habitat use (see Activities 1-4), and used to identify habitats used by evolutionarily significant units of char, and/or char of special value (e.g., silver, red) to subsistence fishers.
Toxic or hazardous materials
No toxic or hazardous materials will be used for this project.
Aviation fuel will be required for helicopter transportation to study sites, as well as gasoline for rented truck, ATV, and boat. All these vehicles will be refueled in Kugluktuk, and no storage of fuel is required. Five-gallon jerry cans of gasoline will be brought for emergency purposes only when traveling by ATV and boat.
The telemetry receivers use lithium-ion batteries, which are not considered a hazardous material and will be transported after use to Waterloo for recycling.
Char must be immobilized before inserting acoustic tags. Clove oil will be used for immobilization, which is a nonhazardous product that has no lasting effects on fish, allowing fish to be safely consumed by humans immediately following recovery. Electronarcosis, or the use of a low voltage electrical current, may also be used to immobilize the fish temporarily.
Waste management issues are not anticipated, as no camp is planned to support this project. Daily waste (e.g. food and equipment packaging) will be packed out each day and disposed of in Kugluktuk.
The telemetry receivers deployed in the marine environment are self-contained and, when released, inflate a buoy to rise to the surface for collection. Therefore, no temporary structures or waste is associated with these receivers. The receivers deployed in streams and shallow lake environments will be anchored using 5-gallon buckets filled with concrete. The buckets and concrete will be removed at the end of the deployment and disposed of in the Kugluktuk. No materials will be left on site.
The satellite pop-off tracking tags will be programmed to detach from the fish on a certain date (late September 2018 in the first year). Once released, they transmit a GPS location via satellite, and the trackers will be retrieved from the field.
Benefits to the community
1.Addressing community concerns
This research project is designed to directly answer questions voiced by the community of Kugluktuk regarding key environmental and fisheries concerns. The information gathered will benefit the community in helping them understand, protect, and make decisions regarding the subsistence char fishery in the area.
The Kugluktuk HTO boat and ATV will be rented for accessing study locations, and a truck will be rented in Kugluktuk for transport of researchers and gear between town, airport, and the boat launch.
No camp will be established, so four researchers travelling from Waterloo will require local accommodations in Kugluktuk for the duration of the field season (an estimated 45 days each year).
Six Nunavut Land Claims Agreement beneficiaries will be employed for fieldwork project components, and will participate in all field activities. In addition to employment, this work will help develop key skills and local research capacity.
A part-time community liaison will also be employed, to collect samples from subsistence harvesters and maintain relationships within the community.
The results of this research will be used to inform a restoration project, for which funding has already been secured. The restoration phase will involve additional employment opportunities for community members.
Community consultation summary
Two formal consultations (in addition to many emails and phone calls) were held with the Kugluktuk Angoniatit Association (HTO), who are a research partner in this project:
During this meeting, the HTO identified aquatic environmental issues and fisheries research priorities. The numbers of fish caught during subsistence harvesting activities are decreasing, and fish may be stranded or unable to access streams previously frequented. As a primary concern, the HTO identified a lack of knowledge on where fish are overwintering and moving in the freshwater and marine environments.
The research proposal was developed addressing the priorities and concerns voiced during the March 2017 consultation. The proposal, including detailed methodology, was then reviewed with the HTO at a November 2017 meeting to ensure the project fit community interests. This proposal was then submitted for funding approval with the support of the community.
Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Inuit knowledge) will be compiled from existing sources and interviews with knowledge holders conducted through the Kugluktuk HTO, on topics such as identification of streams with low flow and fish stranding, historically important char areas, and observed changes in char habitat use and migration. This knowledge will be synthesized with the above scientific research (fish habitat use, migration patterns, and genetics analysis), and together will identify priority sites for coastal restoration of migratory char habitats, to be completed following the research phase of the project. As locations and methods have yet to be determined, the restoration component of the project will be included in a future project application.