DFO to study Sylvia Grinnell char stocks

DFO to study Sylvia Grinnell char stocks



A three-year study of Arctic char in the Sylvia Grinnell River is set to begin this summer in response to concerns voiced by Iqaluit’s Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association.

The association, open to beneficiaries in the Iqaluit area, voted in December to close the river to boating and fishing in certain areas for five years.

A similar closure imposed in the 1980s restricted netting to allow the numbers of Arctic char to rise. The HTA works in a co-management role with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated to ensure the health of the river.

Dr. Michael Papst, the DFO section head of science for central and Arctic regions, explained that if the HTA agrees to the study specifics, it would be run in three phases.

The first will be a community-based monitoring program, which DFO will lead. It will involve two local monitors who will visit fishermen using the river this season, questioning them about their catch and recording other comments they may have on the quality or health of the fish.

The second part is a biology study led by Dr. Terry Dick of the University of Manitoba, one of four northern research chairs recently appointed in Canada.

His project will use the community monitors, plus a research assistant from Winnipeg to do more intensive sampling and to study the fish population by doing some test netting, fish sampling and water sampling.

“Any fisheries study that solely relies on the catch information is kind of a biased sample because all you see is what the fishery catches,” Papst explained. “You don’t see what’s going on in the bigger population.”

The third part of the study, a fish stock assessment, will be run again by DFO. It will take the information from the three-year research project to the community and conduct a review.

The study does not, however, rule out interim management measures.

“We’re not delaying the process of developing a management plan for three years,” he said. “It’s just the more comprehensive plan will come out when all the information is ready.”

Will the river really close?

David Ell, president of the Amarok HTA, said board members have decided to close the river, but will work with DFO to help them with measuring the fish stocks, population and fish size.

The HTA approached the federal department to ask for assistance in the river closure. Karen Ditz, a fisheries management biologist with DFO, said there is an opportunity for DFO to impose a closure, but it’s not a choice they have made yet.

“Our role in this is we’d like to collect some of the biological data first and then if DFO does institute a closure on top of that, then we’ll have some solid basis to do that.”

Ell said HTA members wants the river closed to recreational boats too, such as jet boats, but no decision has been made on kayaks.

Ditz said she was advised that no legislation applies in Nunavut that would allow the coast guard to restrict boating in the river.

The HTA’s concern is that people are putting nets across the mouth of the river, too close to the falls, so that it’s stopping the char migration, she said. They are planning to continue net fishing in the bay area where many people have their camps.

“Certainly anything that is done in the name of conservation we would support,” she said. “They also want to restrict snagging,” which is when fish are caught by a large hook that is jigged to snag the fish.

Public meeting

Ell said a public meeting is planned for June 18 at 7 p.m. at the parish hall in Iqaluit to come up with some rules and bylaws regarding the river, although only HTA members will be able to vote.

Someone from DFO will also be hand to present the Sylvia Grinnell Arctic char study proposal.

The Nunavut land claims agreement says that approval for a river closure must come from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board.

“Once we get the bylaws or hunting rules in place for the river, like no hunting, no fishing in certain areas, we’ll forward the decision to the NWMB,” Ell said.

Ben Kovic, chair of the NWMB, explained that the decision to close a river involves a process of applications.

The HTA, regional wildlife organization, and DFO would collaborate on recommendations to go to the NWMB. The NWMB then decides whether to accept the recommendations it receives, or modify them, before sending them to the federal fisheries minister for a 60-day review.

In the case of recreational boating, there would have to be proof that the habitat was being disturbed, and that the matter might fall under the jurisdiction of the Nunavut Water Board.

Kovic said whatever decision the minister makes would be binding on all people, not just HTA members, and would fall under fisheries regulations, which would be enforced by DFO.

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