Eulachon in the EstuaryLatest update November 20, 2018 Started on October 24, 2018
Eulachon are a culturally significant fish to the Kitselas First Nation in Northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Kitselas First Nation is embarking on a project to help understand this relatively unknown species. Kitselas has designed a collaborative program with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to document the spatio-temporal distribution of marine mammals and marine birds in the waters of the Skeena River Marine Estuary. This program will be conducted annually to capture inter-annual variability which coincides with the timing of eulachon migrations. The Skeena River Estuary and the marine approach waters are a pristine ecological environment that is increasingly threatened by development. The Kitselas people are working among a large contingent of other Tsimshian Nations to protect and understand culturally important species to ensure generations to come have the same opportunities to enjoy their traditional ways of living on their territories.
We did our second day of our Eulachon Related Marine Mammal and Marine Bird Baseline Surveys in the Skeena River Estuary on November 16th. Although it was a cool windy day it was exceptionally beautiful for a late fall day in Northern British Columbia.
Still working out a few kinks in the method prior to later winter surveys when it will be snowing seagulls as they chase the Eulachon up the river. We were fortunate enough to count two porpoises and many seals who were sunning themselves on seal rock, just outside of the Esctall River confluence with the Skeena Estuary. They were very curious about us as we passed by on transect 12 and circled the boat at a safe distance, trying to figure out what we were and if we were going to set up shop on their rock :)
We were all pretty darn wet after our bumpy ride through our 13 transects but enjoying the fact that there wasn't any cold rain on top of the salt water splash.
Baseline work like this is important in an untouched, and remarkably pristine Estuary like the Skeena River Estuary. With development knocking on our door we feel that collecting data like this is imperative as part of our role in sustaining our Traditional Territory and the resources our people use for food and ceremonial purposes. If we don't know what we have now, we won't know how to protect it. If and when industrial development comes to this estuary, baseline data that this project is collecting will help inform how the impacts of that development will have.
The Kitselas First Nation plans to conduct a coordinated and ongoing data collection program of that can inform marine mammal and marine bird baseline characteristics in the nearshore and coastal waters of northern BC and within Kitselas Traditional Territory. Core programs to be implemented are described individually below. Funding dependent; these programs will be conducted annually for the next three years to capture interannual variability of marine mammal and marine and shore bird populations, with high temporal resolution coinciding with the timing of eulachon migrations.
Land-based point count surveys along the Skeena River Land-based surveys for marine mammals and marine and shore birds will be completed at 13 established sites (as identified in KRLD’s on-going AFS Eulachon Monitoring Program) along the Skeena River from Terrace to the Skeena Lookout near the mouth of the Ecstall River (just upstream from the vessel-based line transect area). These surveys will target temporal gaps in an on-going observation program and will be conducted monthly from September to January and weekly from the start of February until Kitselas’ daily monitoring program (already in existence during the peak eulachon run) takes over. These additional land based surveys inform gaps in abundance estimates and seasonal variation from September to March in marine mammals and marine birds along the Skeena River and in the estuary; abundance estimates will be examined to determine if a corresponding increase in counts is present coinciding with the Eulachon migration runs from Feb-March.
Vessel-based line transect surveys in the Skeena Estuary Vessel-based surveys will be completed using line transect distance sampling methods adapted from current DFO marine mammal distance sampling protocols in order to inform marine mammal and marine/shore bird abundance estimates. Observation of Pinnipeds will be of particular interest to inform a current data gap in baseline biological information for this species in the Lower Skeena. Surveys will be conducted monthly from September to January and weekly from Feb-March. Transects will be designed with the use of a GIS system in order to obtain the most effective sampling coverage with limited travel time between transects (i.e. parallel transects evenly spaced perpendicular to shoreline). The location and timing proposed will fill a temporal and spatial data gap in existing survey information about marine mammal and bird abundance and predation timing in relation to eulachon spawning.
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