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Fish otolith chemistry for environmental assessments

The purpose of this project was to determine value of Fish Otolith chemistry as a tool for environmental assessment in Yukon as it may relate to mining sites and improve aquatic wildlife protection. This technique has been developed over the last decades and applied at different locations, but not yet in the Yukon.

The goals of this project were two-fold, 1) apply Fish Otoliths Chemistry technique at the Keno Hill District and 2) share knowledge and discuss the results and potential application with local community, scientific community, regulators and decision-makers.

Fish otolith chemistry integrates information on contaminant exposure and life history of both individual fish and populations. Furthermore, it has the potential to advance our understanding of the local ecosystem and to become an additional technique in the environmental assessment and monitoring toolbox. 

Improvement of the environmental assessment and prediction of potential impact of land use activities rely on the development of scientific tools and techniques which are a critical part of all mining developments. This technique has the potential also to provide First Nation peoples, other Northerners, and regulators with robust data to inform land use and watershed decisions in Yukon.

Fish otoliths chemistry affords a unique opportunity: otoliths consist of a calcium carbonate structures in the inner ear of fish deposited in daily to annual increments that have been used to determine age and life history events of fish and fish populations. As otoliths are metabolically stable, the contaminant levels within their annular structure can provide temporal record of the exposure of the fish to trace metals and can be used to get baseline data information required for environmental assessments and reconstruct historical exposure for the further protection of aquatic wildlife.

As new mining projects are developing, Yukon could benefit in establishing fish otoliths chemistry technique and database in the territory with the local population.

Project Team

Project coordinator: Dr. Amelie Janin, NSERC Industrial Research Chair, Yukon College.
Principal investigators: David Petkovich, General Manager, Access Consulting Group and Pr. Norman Halden, Dean Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources, University of Manitoba.
Project Advisors: Jody Mackenzie-Grieve, Federal Contaminated Sites Program Biologist, Fisheries & Oceans Canada;  Bob Truelson, Manager, Water Quality Unit, Yukon Environment; Pat Roach, Yukon Regional Contaminants Committee Coordinator, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Martin Haefele, Permitting Manager, Capstone Mining Corp.; Darrel Otto, Instructor, Yukon College

Project Partners

Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, University of Manitoba, Access Consulting Group, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Yukon Environment, AANDC, Capstone Mining Corp

Project Funders

Yukon Fish and Wildlife Enhancement Trust