'We are trying to cheat nature and create a char population from zero.'

Small fry a hit with old and young alike


Nearly 300 Kuujjuamiut of all ages have become better acquainted with their neighbours – the thousands of tiny Arctic char at the Napukaaliuvik fish hatchery.

Tanks filled with 8,000 char fry – 3,500 from 2005 and 4,600 smaller fish from last year's egg collection – mesmerized kids from Kuujjuaq's schools and local child care centres who attended the hatchery's recent open house.

The hatchery, a project of the Nayumivik Landholding Corporation, has an ambitious goal: to introduce fish stocks in the Nepihjee River watershed near Kuujjuaq, by releasing fish grown in the hatchery.

Until 1999, the Nepihjee watershed never supported char populations, although other species were present, such as trout, white fish and suckers.

That's because a set of steep rapids and high waterfalls prevented char from migrating upstream. So, in 1999, dynamite was used to clear two channels through solid rock to create a path for fish.

Last spring, some residents of Kuujjuaq started to catch Arctic char by jigging through the ice.

"This was the whole idea with the project, in having access to Arctic char so Kuujjuaq families could enjoy fishing and eating the beautiful species," said the landholding's president, Allen Gordon, who received a national fisheries award in 2002 for his work at the hatchery.

Since 1999, the migration has jumped from 230 char to more than 1,000 a year.

"In a nutshell we are trying to cheat nature and create a char population from zero, nothing related to over-fishing or [stock] decline," Gordon said.

Since 2000, the hatchery has released about 500,000 char fry to lakes and streams near Kuujjuaq.

In 2006, the hatchery, located near the municipal water pumping station, installed $80,000 worth of new equipment, including six large holding tanks.

The new equipment means the hatchery can raise the baby fish for longer periods, Gordon said.

"This enables us to grow bigger char before we release them back to nature. By raising bigger char, we feel that they will have a much better chance at surviving from predators and become breeding adults," he said.

Gordon, who is also a dog team owner and executive director of the Nunavik Tourism Association, has devoted much of his spare time over the past seven years to getting the hatchery up and running.

To date, the entire Napukkaaliuvik hatchery operation has cost the landholding corporation $200,000 – an investment they hope will pay off handsomely in char some day.

The hatchery's Inuttitut name, Napukkaaliuvik, means a place where small fish are raised. The name also evokes the cross pieces (napuit) of qamutiks because the fish fry have dark markings on their bodies that resemble napuit.

Gordon praised the large turnout of young visitors to the hatchery's recent open house, which was organized on short notice.

"They are the next generation of fishers and hopefully some will even become biologists and work on fisheries projects in the future," Gordon said.

Following the open house, Gordon and his assistants released 3,500 char, averaging 22 centimetres in length, into nearby Stewart Lake. The remaining 4,600 fry will remain at the hatchery until next summer.

Gordon and his team also collected eggs for a new generation of hatchery-raised char. They caught more than 50 females with eggs and placed them in a holding pen in a stream near Kuujjuaq, but during the night a hungry black bear managed to turn the pen upside-down and released the fish before their eggs had been collected.

"Next morning, we managed to get more spawning fish, but it was a lot harder since the fish can see us much better in the daytime, which makes them a lot harder to catch. We luckily ended up with 110,000 eggs of which are now in the incubators," Gordon said.

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