Helping Inuit communities establish new fisheries aim of Arctic research

Preliminary data gathered from state-of-the-art acoustic technology in the deep waters off the shores of Baffin Island will provide extraordinary insight for developing new commercial Inuit fisheries and protecting fish stocks for future generations in northern Canada, according to a University of Windsor scientist.

Over the last year, researchers working in the lab of Aaron Fisk, a professor in the University’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, have been setting acoustic receivers on the floor of Cumberland Sound, a large, deep inlet on the southern part of Baffin Island. Those receivers collect data from corresponding acoustic tags implanted in such species as Greenland halibut, and help scientists understand their migratory patterns.

The data collected so far should provide the Government of Nunavut and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans with critical evidence about where and how to develop commercial fisheries in the region, Dr. Fisk said.

“The Inuit have special rights to their land and the animals that live there,” said Fisk, who heads up the Arctic portion of the Ocean Tracking Network, a $168 million initiative to study the migratory patterns of a wide variety of species from around the planet. “We really want to contribute to them developing a viable fishery, which I think is really critical for northern development.”

Between August 1 and September 24, Fisk’s team retrieved acoustic receivers in Cumberland Sound and estimate more than 90 individual fish, including Greenland shark and Arctic skate, were detected in the latest data capture.  Low commercial catches in the north of the inlet during the summer have raised questions about distribution and abundance of commercial fishing species, but the latest data reveal clear summer to winter migratory patterns of halibut.

“Cumberland Sound is very important because they’re developing an Inuit-based commercial fishery and there’s a lack of good biological data on these very important populations,” Fisk said. “The data we collected this summer is just so instrumental for protecting that fish stock and developing a good management plan.”

Fisk’s team is currently in the process of moving their research site north from Cumberland Sound to Scott Inlet, located just north of the tiny Inuit hamlet of Clyde River on Baffin Island’s northeast shore.

“We know there’s Greenland halibut in the area and that community is very keen on developing their own Inuit fishery,” said Fisk. “We’re going to go in there and get that data so they can develop that properly and protect their stock and protect their interests from outside fishing interests.”

This weekend Stephen Fields, a communications officer in the University of Windsor’s department of Public Affairs and Communications, will join Nigel Hussey, a post-doctoral fellow in Fisk’s lab aboard the MV Nuliajuk, a 64-foot research vessel for an eight-day research expedition. The two will be part of a crew setting out acoustic receivers, catching and tagging fish in Scott Inlet. Fields will blog about the journey and conduct regular satellite phone interviews from the ship with Tony Doucette, the host of CBC Windsor’s morning radio show The Early Shift.

Fisk, meanwhile, will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.

Read Fields’ blog here.

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