Homely sculpin key to Davis Strait fishery
“This is one of the last pristine environments in the world”
The sculpin, or kanajuq, a small, ugly, prehistoric-looking fish that feeds on the bottom of Nunavut’s oceans, holds the key to creating a prosperous and sustainable fishery in the north end of the Davis Strait, according to a group of scientists studying the territory’s deep sea species.
Chandra Chambers, a 29-year-old PhD student from the University of Manitoba, began setting nets and scooping up sculpin near Iqaluit last week. She came as part of the federal government’s multi-million-dollar effort to shed light on the largely unknown interaction of species in the depths of the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay, northeast of Baffin Island.
Researchers like Chambers maintain that before opening a turbot fishery east of Baffin Island, the federal government needs to figure out the population levels of the creatures that the turbot eat, which includes the sculpin.
Chambers is also mapping the complex web of what other species are eating two kilometres below the ocean’s surface, in order to recommend the amount of turbot that trawlers can take out per year without endangering any species.
After Chambers finishes her research, the federal government will ask how high — or low — they should set the annual quota.
“This is one of the last pristine environments in the world,” Chambers said during a break from sculpin fishing. “Before we start taking large amounts of these turbot out, we need to know who’s important in that food web and who it’s going to impact the most by taking out these species.”
Chambers began researching 30 different species in Nunavut’s ocean depths four years ago, mostly by sifting through what trawlers caught far from Baffin Island.
But this year, she steered her research back to Iqaluit to take a look at in-shore short-horn sculpin. Many Nunavummiut know the fish by its Inuktitut name kanajuq, an extremely boney fish that stick in fishermen’s nets near rocky parts of the shore or river.
After dissecting and analysing more than 1,700 deep sea fish, Chambers decided she needed to know more about the in-shore sculpin because she wasn’t getting enough samples of the deep sea version of the species. Chambers hopes she’ll find enough similarities between the two to complete her study by 2006.
During the first few days in Iqaluit, the nets were empty. But with the help of Moshi Kotierk, a 27-year-old geneticist from Igloolik, and his father, Chambers managed to catch a few sculpin in Apex and by the mouth of the Sylvia Grinnell River.
Chambers said she wouldn’t have been able to find the sculpin without the Kotierk’s traditional knowledge of where to find the evasive bottom feeders.
“Until you go out and someone explains it to you, you really don’t know where a good area is, and what is going on,” she said. “That’s where the traditional knowledge comes in to effect.”
Even before finishing the research, scientists involved with the Davis Straight study say the federal government needs to put more funding into managing the future fishery.
Terry Dick, a top Arctic researcher who supervises Chamber’s work, says Nunavut is plagued by “ad hoc exploitation” of the Davis Strait turbot fishery.
He warns that unless the federal department of fisheries and oceans develops a national marine strategy for Arctic fisheries, Nunavut’s turbot, also known as Greenland halibut, will suffer the same fate as the cod in Newfoundland.
“What do you think will happen?” Dick said when asked about the lack of an Arctic policy. “The fishery is going to collapse.”