Scott Inlet and Cumberland Sound
The Canadian Arctic represents a relatively pristine environment given its harsh weather conditions and limited land-based resources that have hindered the expansion of human infrastructure and industry. However, as a result of global climate change, decreasing sea ice extent and longer open-water periods in the Arctic Ocean have encouraged many industries to look north to supplement declining southern resources. This is particularly true for marine fish as the development of both large offshore fleets and small-scale inshore Inuit fisheries being to exploit Arctic fish such as the Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides). Developing fisheries have the benefit of bringing much needed economic development to the Canadian Arctic, which has long suffered from high unemployment. Yet the lack of scientific knowledge on basic species biology, interactions, habitat use, and stock structure limit our ability to sustainably manage Arctic ecosystems. In order to address these concerns we have established multiple research projects as a part of the Ocean Tracking Network in four areas throughout the Canadian Arctic:
The longline fishery for Greenland halibut in Cumberland Sound is the only Inuit ice-based fishery currently in Canada. Based out of the community of Pangnirtung, it provides employment of fishermen and fish-processors to generate abundant revenue for the community.
Projects in this region focus on understanding the stock structure and movement patterns of Greenland halibut, and how these relate to established management boundaries to delegate sustainable quotas. Through the use of acoustic telemetry for the first time at depths >1000m, we are now capable of tracking relatively high-resolution horizontal movements of deep-sea fish that were once inaccessible. With this technology, as well as pop-off archival satellite tags, we are also monitoring two major by-catch species of the longline fishery, Greenland sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) and Arctic skates (Amblyraja hyperborean).
Scott Inlet is located near the community of Clyde River, an area with very few employment opportunities that can greatly benefit from the input provided by a local fishery. Hunters from Clyde River have traditionally traveled to Scott Inlet for traditional hunting of marine mammals such as narwhale and seals, indicating that it is a rich and productive habitat.
Greenland halibut projects in Scott Inlet continue work with deep-sea acoustic telemetry with a focus on the development of a local fishery. Of particular interest in this system is the inshore/offshore connectivity of Greenland halibut as many inshore populations are considered to be sinks based on previous tagging studies.
One of the unique aspects of Scott Inlet is the presence of juvenile Greenland sharks, which have rarely been encountered elsewhere in the Arctic. Combining acoustic telemetry, satellite telemetry, high resolution accelerometer tags and studies on capture induced stress, genetics and feeding ecology, we are developing a better understanding of this little studied species. Other by-catch species such as the Arctic skate and Arctic flounder (Liopsetta glacialis) are also being studied in this area to encourage an ecosystem-approach to species management.
Similar to Scott Inlet, research in Qikiqtarjuaq is focused on helping to develop a sustainable Greenland halibut fishery for the community. Through the placement of acoustic receivers on the continental shelf (deep water slope into Baffin Bay) we are also looking at developing a better understanding of Greenland halibut residency and migrations in this area, as many offshore vessels target these slopes in the commercial fishery. Given the location of Qikiqtarjuaq in the middle of Cumberland Sound and Scott Inlet on Baffin Island, the acoustic array established in this area will also help determine the connectivity of these deep-water habitats throughout the Arctic.
This project involves examining the broad-scale movements of Greenland sharks and how the sharks associate with narwhale in collaboration with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans marine mammal research team. Through the use of novel mark-report satellite tags combined with archival satellite tags, we are furthering our understanding of the migrations of deep-sea species across vast Arctic regions. Continuing research in this area will include additional locations (such as Pond Inlet) and adding a component of using marine mammals as ‘monitors of sustainable fisheries’.