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sector_ico_Fisheries_trans Fisheries and Aquaculture

Tracking Fish Health in the Nass River Watershed to Alleviate Mining Activity Impacts

  • Project Leaders: Vicki Marlatt, Mark Cleveland
  • Institutions: Simon Fraser University (SFU)
  • Budget: $211416
  • Program/Competition: GeneSolve
  • Genome Centre(s): Genome British Columbia
  • Fiscal Year: 2018
  • Status: Closed

The fisheries and mining industries in British Columbia contribute approximately $1.2 and $8.8 billion respectively to the BC economy. The development of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) gold mine located 65 km north of Stewart, BC within the Nass watershed and Chinook salmon habitat, presents an opportunity to understand how both industries may affect one another. 

The Gitanyow Fisheries Authority (GFA) provides fisheries, wildlife and environmental leadership, and oversees the Nass watershed. In collaboration with Dr. Vicki Marlatt and her team from Simon Fraser University, the GFA undertook this project to better understand the health and movement of Chinook salmon in the Nass watershed. 

To discern the impact of metal contamination on fish health, a proteomics approach was used and changes in protein expression were identified in fish that had been exposed to metals. The proteins examined during the study were located in gill tissues. It was found that fish exposed to more metal contamination showed increased deformities. Data collected by the project suggests that the gill is a sensitive organ and can be a useful way to identify cases of metal exposure, but further work is needed to confirm whether the changes in protein expression are linked to gill deformities and to determine the direct impact of metal contamination. If these are proven to be connected, it may allow non-lethal techniques such as gill biopsies to be used to determine fish health in future studies and monitoring work. 

Environmental DNA (eDNA) sequencing methods were used to determine which species were affected. A variety of salmonids were detected and the preliminary results from these trials suggest that the detection of fish species using non-invasive methods is possible at certain sites, but further work is needed to validate the use of these methods in faster flowing creeks. Using these data, the GFA aim to build capacity in their scientific team and establish omics as a tool for  environmental sample collection and assessment.

In the long term, the methods developed in this study lay the foundation for designing cost-effective, non-invasive techniques for assessing the impact of mining on aquatic systems and for tracking fish health.