Community-based long-term monitoring of the Peel River near Fort McPherson
Principal Investigator: Moore, Jonathan (1)
Licence Number: 16152
Organization: Simon Fraser University
Licenced Year(s): 2017
Issued: Jul 25, 2017
Project Team: Jonathan Moore (Principal Investigator, Simon Fraser University), Emma Hodgson (Researcher, Coordinator, Simon Fraser University), Rachel Hovel (Researcher, Coordinator, University of Washington/University of Maine), Trevor Lantz (Advisory Expert, University of Victoria)

Objective(s): To establish a community-based monitoring program in the Peel River watershed, based in Fort McPherson.

Project Description: The objective of this project is to establish a community-based monitoring program in the Peel River watershed, based in Fort McPherson.

Previous research has shown that multiple whitefish ecotypes (non-anadromous, semi-anadromous and anadromous), utilize the Peel River as spawning habitat, but it is unclear how much each ecotype contributes to harvester catches. As different ecotypes occupy different sets of habitats, it is likely that they will be differently exposed to and impacted by cumulative environmental impacts. With a long-term goal of better identifying broad whitefish distributions and watershed use, this research will contribute to the development of vulnerability assessments for these ecotypes.

The sampling approach is modeled on community-based monitoring of Dolly Varden in the Rat River. This program was established in the 1990s and operates as a collaborative effort between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board, and Fisheries Joint Management Commission. The sampling approach described here has already been tested and shown to be effective for data collection on fish length, age, weight and qualitative water conditions. To measure whitefish length, weight, and spawning conditions and extract otoliths, the research team will employ harvesters as community monitors at the three camps described above. Each monitor will take these measurements on 5-10 fish per day, for three days a week over a seven-week period. Broad whitefish have been observed in spawning migrations from July-October, with a return migration in October-November after the ice freezes. With recent water temperatures higher than historical average, fishing has started later in the season than has been traditionally the case. Our sampling will take place during harvest season, beginning at the end of July or early August and continuing through September. The research team are targeting 300-600 fish/year, distributed throughout the period of highest spawning migration.

Harvesters will be provided with 5-inch mesh gillnets, to maximize capture of broad whitefish. At time of capture, harvesters/community monitors will note qualitative observations about water conditions (level of sedimentation, amount of debris, and water level). Once fish are captured, monitors will sample for a suite of biological data: 1) Length, 2) Weight, 3) Photograph, 4) Spawning condition, 5) Otolith extraction, 6) Fin clip, 7) Enumerate and identify all fish captured in the set, and 8) Collect other tissue samples for contaminant analysis (once per week).

Otoliths will be aged and processed for otolith microchemistry. This technique discerns chemical ratios laid down in the otolith as the fish grows, and these chemical signatures can be mapped to different habitats and watershed locations, providing information on the migration patterns of the fish (e.g. anadromous, semi-anadromous or non-anadromous). In this project the research team will focus on otolith analysis, but as fish are already captured will also collect fin clips that can be used for genetic analyses and other tissue or organ samples that will be preserved for future contaminants analysis. Tissue samples need to be frozen upon collection, thus harvesters will only collect these samples once per week when they take a trip to Fort McPherson to put samples in a freezer.

This project intrinsically involves the local community. A core goal of this project is to create community capacity for monitoring the fish populations that support harvest near Fort McPherson, and to provide resources and tools for collecting biological and physical (water) samples. Community members will be involved at all points in the process: 1. data collection, 2. data interpretation, 3. refinement of data collection protocols and 4. design of future research questions and goals. Three harvesters from Fort McPherson will be trained on broad whitefish monitoring methods. The scientists involved will then curate the data, and share the data with the community in raw format, as well as summarized in plain language presentations.

Deliverables from this project will be communicated to communities and government through presentations, plain language summaries and reports.

Presentations: results from the first year of the pilot study will be presented at a northern meeting (such as the NWT Environmental Monitoring Results Workshop), and to community members in Fort McPherson. In each year of the project, updates from protocol development and scientific findings will be presented to both to the NWT Cumulative Impacts Monitoring Program and Fort McPherson community members.

Plain language summaries: in each year of this project the research team will summarize findings in a plain language summary that will be shared at presentations and with community members. With this effort, the research team seek to reach community members of all backgrounds, especially youth.

Reports: The research team will write two reports, which will be submitted to the Northwest Territories Cumulative Impacts Monitoring Program, the Northwest Territories Discovery Portal, the Tetlit Gwich’in Renewable Resource Committee, the Gwich’in Renewable Resource Board and the Fisheries Joint Management Committee.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 25, 2017 to October 8, 2017.