Climate change is posing a severe challenge to freshwater fish in Canada. Already record high temperatures in rivers and streams during the summer have forced temporary closures of popular fishing locations, and within the next 50 years more than 30 percent of habitat for cold-water fish like rainbow trout and steelhead are projected to be negatively affected.
In BC more than 160 lakes are now unable to support stocking programs because of increased water temperatures and water alkalinity, and wild populations of rainbow trout are also under threat. This has the potential to impact Canada’s $8-billion recreational fishing industry, and the many jobs it supports. In order to manage these impacts we need to better understand why some wild populations of fish are still able to thrive and why others aren’t able to survive in these altered environments.
A new research project, funded in part by Genome BC, is designed to provide genomic tools to identify the genes that help some populations of rainbow and steelhead trout to be resilient to the effects of climate change. With funding close to $4.4-million, the University of British Columbia (UBC)’s Dr. Patricia Schulte is leading an interdisciplinary team of natural and social scientists who will use genomics tools to assess genetic diversity in wild rainbow and steelhead trout and identify appropriate strains of fish to improve the effectiveness of stocking programs, and then translate this information into policy recommendations to sustain these recreational fisheries.
“This work will provide sound science to inform stocking practices and to assist in the conservation of wild populations,” says Dr. Schulte, a Professor in the Department of Zoology at UBC. “We will develop low-cost tools for fisheries managers to monitor the genetic health of rainbow and steelhead trout populations and develop policy recommendations for managers and stakeholders to help them manage and preserve the species.”
“This work represents a stellar effort between government, First Nations and academia while supporting the health of our Province’s natural resources and economy with innovative genomics tools,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sector Development at Genome BC.
Key partners and co-funders in this research include the Freshwater Fisheries Society of British Columbia (FFSBC), which administers the stocking programs for rainbow trout in BC, the British Columbia Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), which coordinates fisheries management policy and provides fisheries technical services in their traditional lands.
These partners are positioned to implement the information that will be generated through this project to help preserve and protect rainbow and steelhead trout and the recreational fishing industry that depends on healthy and thriving populations of fish. The project was awarded through Genome Canada’s 2015 Large-Scale Applied Research Project Competition Natural Resources and the Environment: Sector Challenges – Genomic Solutions.