Since the partnering of two Memorial institutions, the Marine Institute’s (MI) Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research (CFER) and the Labrador Institute (LI) in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2012, an important goal has been to develop a community-based fisheries research program in Labrador.
CFER research scientist, Dr. Marie Clément, stationed at the Labrador Institute, is developing a research program which focuses on fisheries-related issues. Not long after beginning at LI, Dr. Clément noticed that although Atlantic salmon represented an important Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) fishery for local communities, the species is understudied in the Labrador context.
Salmon populations in rivers that drain into Lake Melville are of particular interest. Preliminary research on these populations revealed an unusual juvenile age and possibly a unique genetic structure compared to other areas of Labrador.
Dr. Clément, in collaboration with Dr. Ian Bradbury, a geneticist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), developed a project to investigate the genetic structure and rivers of origin of Atlantic salmon to assist with fisheries sustainability in Labrador. Since then, several other scientists have joined the team including Dr. Geoff Veinott from DFO, Dr. Ian Fleming from Memorial University and Dr. Paul Bentzen from Dalhousie University.
The project is being conducted in partnership with the Nunatsiavut Government, the Innu Nation, Nunatukavut Community Council, the Labrador Hunting and Fishing Association, and the Torngat Wildlife, Plants and Fisheries Secretariat.
“This research project will determine if salmon stocks in the Lake Melville watershed are genetically distinct and should be managed as a separate designable unit,” explained Dr. Clément. “We will also be identifying natal rivers of Atlantic Salmon to determine the origin of the fish in the Food, Social and Ceremonial (FSC) fishery so we can estimate exploitation rates and assess stock status, which would help manage the stocks in a sustainable way. Depending on the findings of this research, potential changes to resource management could be recommended.”
This work will lead to the formulation of recommendations on locations where habitat compensation and enhancement measures could be applied in order to increase salmon productivity for food security. These changes will protect salmon populations in the face of future economic developments that will occur in the region.
The project is complementary to a salmonid tagging study that was conducted by the Nunatsiavut Government in summer 2013, near the community of Rigolet, to better understand salmon movement within Lake Melville and identify a location for a salmon assessment facility in the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area of Lake Melville. Combined with the results of the tagging study, this project will help to better understand which rivers are supporting salmon populations in the region.
Ultimately, the project is expected to produce new information on status of Atlantic salmon stocks within Lake Melville, which will assist with the management and conservation of Atlantic salmon and ensure food security to local communities.
In September 2013, Drs. Clément and Bradbury recruited Jonathan Pearce, Memorial Ph.D. biology candidate, to conduct research on the genetic structure and rivers or origin for this project. Pearce received a MSc. in Biology from Northern Michigan University while working on the population genetics of brook trout located in tributaries of Lake Superior.
The rivers around Lake Melville are a challenge to access because they are remote, wide, shallow and rocky. Traditional local knowledge is essential in order to successfully carry out this project.
“Aboriginal communities possess a wealth of knowledge about the natural resources in Labrador,” said Dr. Clément. “I strongly believe that science and traditional knowledge should work together to obtain the information needed for sustainable management of resources in northern regions.”
To assist in his research, Pearce will be hiring aboriginal field technicians who will be trained in fisheries sampling techniques and recording of scientific data. The aboriginal field technician will contribute to the success of this project by sharing knowledge about the region, how to safely access the rivers and identify rivers which are producing salmon.
“This summer I will be working with all team members in remote sections of rivers around Lake Melville collecting juvenile Atlantic salmon,” said Pearce. “This will be the most challenging part of the collections due to the distance needed to travel and difficulty of accessing the upper reaches of the rivers. We will also be working with aboriginal conservation officers and fishers to collect samples from the fisheries for analysis.”
Determining the genetic structure and rivers of origin of Atlantic salmon in Lake Melville is the first of several projects that Dr. Clément is expecting to develop in the region. Among other projects, she is particularly interested in studying the bioaccumulation of methylmercury in food webs and quantifying hydrological changes related to the lower Churchill hydroelectric development.
Below is a video of the presentation that took place on March 12 at the North West River Research Station.