Lower Fraser First Nations embrace biomonitoring to protect fish habitat
Lower Fraser First Nations embrace biomonitoring to protect fish habitat

Lower Fraser First Nations embrace biomonitoring to protect fish habitat

Indigenous concerns around threats to fish habitat have prompted staff from the Stó:lō Nation and Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance (LFFA) to seek aquatic biomonitoring training in the Lower Fraser Valley.

The S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance (STSA) and LFFA work in partnership to support First Nations-led freshwater management and to restore waterways in the Lower Fraser Valley. Both organizations decided to pursue STREAM biomonitoring training to gain insight into where there may be pressures on water sources within S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō territory).

“Stó:lō is looking for impacts on fish habitat, a concern for many STSA members,” said Julian Yates, Research and Special Projects Manager for Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre. “STREAM gives us an understanding of the quality of habitat to assess stressors on fish in some areas.”

Led by the Hajibabaei lab at the University of Guelph’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, STREAM is a community-based Canada-wide project in collaboration with Living Lakes Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada. The project involves the collection of benthic macroinvertebrates (small aquatic bugs) from rivers across the country to better understand aquatic ecosystem health. By using cutting-edge DNA metabarcoding technology, STREAM obtains faster, more accurate and less expensive monitoring results.

Participants rotating through practice stations ©STREAM

“We want to identify the most heavily impacted rivers and streams and also identify the clues of where the impact may have come from. This will help to prioritize where restoration efforts are made and informs how Nations of the STSA will plan restoration projects for each geographically unique area in which they work,” explained Ian Hamilton, LFFA Biologist.

Clear waters, smoky skies, and good company sums up the two days of STREAM training that Living Lakes Canada hosted for STSA and LFFA members in Chilliwack, B.C.

Staff from Living Lakes Canada, WWF-Canada and the Hajibabaei lab guided STSA and LFFA staff as they collected freshwater benthic macroinvertebrate (bug) samples in and around Chilliwack, using the federal Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) protocols adapted for the STREAM project.

“When a kick-net sample has been taken from the water and you look at all the bugs collected, it’s interesting to think about the diversity that’s in and amongst the rocks … you don’t think of all the bugs that could be feeding at the bed of a river,” described Julian.

Although they’re small and mostly unnoticeable to the untrained eye, benthic macroinvertebrates play an important role in helping us understand the health of watersheds. These organisms are excellent indicators of aquatic health due to their high sensitivity to pollutants and climate change-related impacts.

Participants practicing STREAM protocol ©Catherine Paquette, WWF-Canada

All benthic macroinvertebrate samples will be analyzed by the Hajibabaei Lab at the University of Guelph using DNA metabarcoding to extract bulk DNA and use advanced bioinformatics to track the collected macroinvertebrate species.

“Community-based sampling and training are at the heart of STREAM—it’s only with the help of groups like the STSA and LFFA that we’re able to access important monitoring sites,” said Dr. Mehrdad Hajibabaei, Integrative Biology Professor at the University of Guelph’s College of Biological Sciences and STREAM Scientific Leader.

As training was completed and samples were collected, participants became eager to receive and interpret the data.

“STREAM methodologies provide a guide on where STSA should conduct more thorough investigations, but also as an ongoing project, collecting data and creating a data set within S’ólh Téméxw is important,” said Julian.

 

All data will be shared with both organizations and uploaded to the national CABIN and STREAM databases.

STREAM acknowledges and extends its gratitude to S’ólh Téméxw Stewardship Alliance and all collaborating Nations and their territories, including the unceded territory of Sts’ailes First Nation, the unceded territory and reserve land of Soowahlie First Nation, a member of Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe, and the unceded territory of the Ts’elxwéyeqw Tribe and the Pelólhxw Tribe member First Nations.

Staff from Stó:lō Nation and the LFFA receiving their STREAM certificates with LLC and WWF-Canada ©STREAM

 

By Tamanna Kohi, STREAM Field, Outreach and Communications Coordinator

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