Section 2
Science That Matters To Canadians

Over the last two decades, Canada and many other nations have adopted the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF), which recognizes that human activities such as fishing must be managed in a way that does not compromise the biological diversity, productivity and overall environmental quality of marine ecosystems. Increasingly, DFO Science is incorporating an ecosystem approach into its activities, as outlined in the department's New Ecosystem Science Framework in Support of Integrated Management (www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/Publications/Ecosystem/index-eng.htm).

DFO is also playing an international leadership role in the development of this approach. To make progress towards implementing EAF, carefully selected and appropriate ecological indicators that accurately reflect the effects of fisheries on marine ecosystems are necessary. Dr. Alida Bundy of DFO's Population Ecology Division is co-lead of IndiSeas (www.indiseas.org), an international project that aims to select the most ecologically significant, measureable indicators that are sensitive to fishing pressure. This will enable ecosystem impacts and changes to be translated into management and policy measures that can be assessed for their effectiveness.

Dr. Bundy co-led an IndiSeas workshop in 2008 to develop the analysis for research into the status and health of 19 fished marine ecosystems around the world, including the east and west coasts of Canada, using eight ecological indicators. She also helped develop an approach for comparing indicators across ecosystems in order to more accurately assess the state of each ecosystem. A suite of nine papers detailing the initial results will be published in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) Journal of Marine Science in 2010.

These ecosystem indicators reveal some interesting trends on Canada's east and west coasts. Analysis for Nova Scotia's eastern Scotian Shelf indicates an end to long term declines in biomass, fish size and other indicators but there have been no corresponding increases in indicator trends to indicate recovery. In contrast, positive indicator trends for Canada's west coast reflect active management for groundfish and increased migrations into Canadian waters of species such as Pacific hake and Pacific sardine.

TARGETED RESEARCH

Northern Shrimp Survival Strategy Could Backfire if Oceans Warm

The findings of an international research project on northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) — led by Dr. Peter Koeller of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography — are raising concerns that shrimp stocks may be vulnerable as oceans warm under climate change.

When cod stocks collapsed in the early 1990s, populations of northern shrimp exploded throughout the northwest Atlantic. Much of this increase was linked to a decrease in predation by fish on shrimp, but it wasn't the only factor. The North Atlantic was exceptionally cold in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Shrimp biologists have long known that northern shrimp thrive during such periods of cold water, but they did not know why.

Acadian fisherman Pierre D’Eon

Acadian fisherman Pierre D'Eon empties a codend of northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) caught on the eastern Scotian Shelf near Cape Breton, N.S. A DFO-led international research project suggests warmer oceans could cause a mismatch in timing between larvae hatching and the availability of food to nourish them, potentially affecting future shrimp stocks.

Photo: DFO, Dr. Peter Koeller

To explore shrimp sensitivity to changing water temperatures, the multidisciplinary research team combined fisheries data from five countries with satellite images of ocean colour that they used to identify green booms of phytoplankton, the primary food source of shrimp larvae. Their findings, reported in the May 8, 2009, issue of the journal Science, reveal that northern shrimp eggs hatch on average within days of the annual spring phytoplankton bloom across the entire North Atlantic. This is remarkable, considering that both the spring bloom times and the temperaturedependant egg incubation periods (6 to 11 months) vary greatly over the geographical range for shrimp.

DFO staff deploy an annular flume

In the Strait of Georgia, DFO staff deploy an annular flume called the Sea Carousel. The carousel sits on the seabed and creates a flow to assess sediment stability. These assessments have been carried out on the Fraser River Delta, a point of entry for juvenile salmon and an important stopover point for internationally migrating shorebirds. The findings will support projections on sea-level rise and other impacts of climate change.

Photo: DFO, Terri Sutherland

Over evolutionary time scales, northern shrimp have genetically adapted their reproductive cycle to average local bottom water temperature, which determines the length of egg development. For example, during the early 1990s when bottom temperatures were colder, eggs hatched later and closer to both the spring bloom and seasonal warming of the surface waters where the larvae live. This survival strategy is not without its pitfalls, however. If climate change eventually warms bottom waters, eggs are likely to hatch earlier, when food is scarce, and potentially well before the spring bloom. While it is not yet possible to accurately predict how climate change will affect shrimp stocks, there is no doubt that their sensitivity to water temperature leaves them vulnerable. The findings will play an important role in ecosystem-based stock assessments over the coming years.

Ecosystem Research: The Strait of Georgia in a World of Change

The marine ecosystem of the Strait of Georgia, situated between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, is different now than it was 50 years ago and even 25 years ago. These differences are due to interactions between a variety of forces, including natural long-term changes in climate and human activities such as intensive fishing and increasing urbanization and industrialization of the Georgia Basin–Puget Sound region.

A team of 50 DFO scientists from the Pacific Region are studying these changes using an integrated ecosystem approach. “The Strait of Georgia in 2030” — one of seven DFO Ecosystem Research Initiatives underway across the country — explores the present state of the Strait, how it is changing and what the Strait might be like in 2030. This involves understanding how the ecosystem works, identifying the major factors causing changes, analyzing potential responses of the ecosystem to these changes in the future, and identifying possible management actions and policy developments.

Dolphins

Dolphins are a common sight in the Strait of Georgia.

Photo: DFO, Graeme Ellis

Two central questions are driving this research: what controls the productivity of the Strait, and what characteristics of the ecosystem provide resilience against major disruptions and collapses of the system? To address these questions, the team has taken on 28 projects, including:

  • developing tools for ecosystem-based marine management;
  • investigating the decline of some salmon populations, in particular coho and chinook;
  • understanding food-web connections and the impact of increasing harbour seal populations on other species in the Strait; and
  • understanding how nutrients from the west coast of Vancouver Island impact the Strait.

During 2008-2009, the research team modelled anticipated changes to the flow of the Fraser River due to climate change, tagged juvenile salmon to understand how they use the Strait, and discovered that the number of transient killer whales has increased, along with increases in their prey, seals. These and other findings will help DFO move towards an ecosystem-based approach to managing the Strait, and to anticipate potential impacts of climate changes and explore possible management responses. For more information, visit the project web site at www-sci.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/sogeri/default_e.htm

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THE STRAIT OF GEORGIA THEN AND NOW

Over the past 50 years or more, scientists have observed many changes in the Strait of Georgia, where a DFO Ecosystem Research Initiative is now underway. Following are some of the changes that have been observed:

  • the Strait has warmed by 1ºC in the past 100 years. This warming is occurring at all water depths;
  • the peak spring flows from the Fraser River are occurring earlier;
  • plankton blooms are occurring earlier. This can cause a mismatch in timing between fish and their prey, which can lead to starvation of the fish;
  • key bottom-dwelling species such as cod, lingcod and rockfish have decreased in abundance. Fish that live in mid-water, such as Pacific herring and Pacific hake, have been relatively abundant;
  • invasive species are increasing (as of 2007, there were 73 species);
  • the resident killer whale population has been declining;
  • harbour seal numbers are increasing and may be as abundant as 100 years ago;
  • coho and chinook salmon populations and their respective fisheries are at low levels, but abundances of pink and chum salmon have not declined to the same extent or may be increasing.

A Decade of Scientific Research at the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park

In October 2008, at a symposium held to mark the 10th anniversary of the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park, research scientists from the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec, reviewed the latest advances in research on the ecosystems and biodiversity of the St. Lawrence Estuary and Saguenay Fiord. The symposium showcased 10 years of science in support of conservation in this unique marine protected area, jointly managed by Parks Canada and Parcs Québec.

Research highlights include:

  • Noise and belugas: Véronique Lesage, a research scientist in marine mammal ecology, demonstrated that the mouth of the Saguenay River is the area with the highest noise levels, heaviest traffic and types of ships likely to be audible to belugas. The sectors of Cacouna and Île Rouge have the lowest levels of noise audible to whales.
  • Pollutants in belugas: Michel Lebeuf, an environmental contaminants researcher, indicated that the monitoring of persistent organic pollutant (POP) concentrations in St. Lawrence belugas is a valuable tool for assessing temporal trends in the levels of these compounds. He demonstrated that the levels of certain POPs, which are regulated in Canada, in this sentinel species are either declining or stable, but that concentrations of certain emerging brominated compounds are increasing.
  • Genetic analysis of fish and shellfish: Jean-Marie Sévigny, a researcher in population genetics, reported on the findings of the analysis of genetic markers in various species of fish and shellfish of the Saguenay and St. Lawrence: cod, Greenland halibut, redfish, snow crab and northern shrimp. The study showed that organisms in the Saguenay Fiord and St. Lawrence Estuary and Gulf belong to the same population, but spend most of their life cycle in different environments.

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KRILL

The Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park region is the richest krill aggregation site documented to date in the Northwest Atlantic. Strong twolayer estuarine circulation in the St. Lawrence River is responsible for the transport, retention and aggregation of adult krill from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. These unique oceanographic characteristics have come together in the marine park area for hundreds of years to create an exceptional feeding ground for whales.

Beluga whales

Beluga whales in the Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park experience the highest noise levels and heaviest ship traffic at the mouth of the Saguenay River, according to research by Véronique Lesage, a marine mammal research scientist at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute.

Photo: DFO, A. MacFarlane

Researchers aboard the research vessel CCGS Teleost

Researchers aboard the research vessel CCGS Teleost sort the catch taken during a multi-species bottom-trawl survey in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The survey monitors populations of fish and macro-invertebrates such as shellfish and sea squirts.

Photo: Nils Guse

Marine Fish Community Changes in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence

The composition of the marine fish community in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence has undergone dramatic changes over the past four decades. According to research by biologist Hugues Benoît and research scientist Dr. Doug Swain of DFO's Gulf Fisheries Centre in Moncton, N.B., the community of more than 50 species has shifted from one dominated by large bottom-dwelling fish such as cod to one dominated by small-bodied fish species such as daubed shanny and staghorn.

To explore what caused this shift, the researchers compared changes in the abundance of each species to their ecological traits including diet and the extent to which they are directly affected by fishing. They found evidence that high levels of fishing until the early 1990s, increasing predation by grey seals since the 1970s and changes in water temperature have all contributed to the changes in community composition. Increases in the abundance of small-bodied species were consistent with decreased predation by collapsed populations of larger fishes. Overall, the study suggests that in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence:

  • the effects of fishing have reverberated throughout the ecosystem;
  • the recovery of a formerly overexploited marine mammal (grey seal) is likely contributing to important reductions in the productivity of several bottom-dwelling species that are known to be grey seal prey; and
  • decadal-scale changes in ocean temperatures contribute to restructuring of the fish community.

A Canadian Perspective on Ocean Acidification

In 2008, researchers from DFO's Pacific, Quebec and Maritimes regions embarked on a three-year project to study the impacts of ocean acidification on Canadian marine ecosystems and fisheries. The goal of the research, supported by DFO's Climate Change Science Initiative, is to understand the natural variability and risks of acidification in Canada's three oceans and to develop biogeochemical models to forecast carbon cycle and pH levels and predict future risks. Project findings and progress to date include:

  • There is more carbon in the North Pacific than in other ocean basins, which makes the water more acidic (lower pH). As a result, the saturation horizons (the point below which the aragonitic shells of shellfish, corals and some plankton dissolve more quickly than the organisms can make them) are already as shallow as 100 to 300 metres in depth. This lower-pH subsurface water is now shallow enough to enter surface waters along the west coast during summer upwelling.
  • Modelling studies of seasonal pH cycles off the west coast of Vancouver Island show that pH is extremely variable. It is low in surface waters during winter (< 7.9) but lowest for short periods (days) immediately following summer upwelling events. In future, pH is expected to get even lower.
  • Data analysis reveals that the pH in bottom waters of the Lower St. Lawrence Estuary has decreased notably by 0.2 to 0.3 pH units over the past 70 years. Corrosive waters were also detected in several others regions of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
  • Analysis of historical data for the Scotian Shelf indicates that pH has decreased by 0.18 units since the 1930s.
  • Canada's east coast is affected by corrosive Arctic outflow through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
  • Researchers are exploring relationships between carbon, temperature, salinity and oxygen in order to understand past carbon and pH states and learn more about how marine organisms respond to changes in acidity.
An image based on joint U.S.-Canada research reveals the depth below which water along the Pacific coast of Canada and the U.S. was corrosive to aragonite

An image based on joint U.S.-Canada research reveals the depth below which water along the Pacific coast of Canada and the U.S. was corrosive (at the time of sampling) to aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate that some marine organisms use to build shells and skeletons.

Did you know?

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION

  • About one quarter of carbon dioxide (CO2) released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s has been taken up by the oceans. Carbon dioxide dissolves in the surface water and forms carbonic acid, lowering the pH of ocean waters. There are serious concerns about the ability of marine ecosystems to adapt to acidification.
  • Since the 1800s, ocean pH has decreased by 0.1 units. If CO2 emissions increase as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the global surface ocean pH will decline more, by 0.3 to 0.5 units by 2100. The oceans have not experienced as large or rapid a pH change for at least the last 650,000 years.
  • The most direct biological impact of lower pH will be on organisms that formcalciumcarbonate (CaCO3) shells and skeletons, because a decline in pH increases the solubility of CaCO3. These organisms include phytoplankton such as coccolithophores, zooplankton such as pteropods and foraminifera, sea urchins, molluscs and corals.
  • High-latitude surface waters are predicted to experience detrimental effects earliest, likely within decades, because lower salinities and temperatures naturally favour lower pH in the polar oceans.
  • The Pacific coast is especially vulnerable because carbon is high (low pH) there and the upwelling circulation brings this low-pH subsurface water into the surface layer.
Oxygen saturation percentages

Colours indicate the average oxygen saturation percentage in Canadian marine waters based on all available data up to 2008. When the oxygen content of surface water is at equilibrium with the atmosphere, it is said to be at 100 percent saturation. Below 30 percent saturation, water is considered hypoxic. Low oxygen conditions in marine habitats can be natural or induced by human activities, but have similar impacts in either case.

Image: DFO

Hypoxia Assessment in Canadian Marine Waters

Low oxygen (hypoxia) has dramatic impacts on aquatic ecosystems, and the tolerance of marine fish and invertebrates to this condition is highly species dependent. At oxygen levels below 30 percent saturation, cod and other species that are intolerant of hypoxia either migrate or die. Beginning in September 2008, a team of DFO researchers led by Denis Gilbert of the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec, undertook an assessment of hypoxia in Canada's marine waters as part of a three-year project funded by the department's Climate Change Science Initiative. Deoxygenation is now recognized as one of the likely consequences of climate change.

In the St. Lawrence marine ecosystem, changes in oxygen levels are primarily caused by changes in the proportion of higher-oxygen Labrador current water and loweroxygen Gulf Stream water. The percentage of Labrador current water in the bottom waters of the St. Lawrence has declined from 72 percent in the 1930s to 53 percent in the 1984 to 2008 period. On the west coast of North America, increased coastal upwelling and reduced vertical mixing due to stronger stratification of offshore waters both contribute to lower oxygen levels. Under global warming, the trend towards increased stratification and reduced vertical mixing is likely to continue.

To date, the research team has examined and consolidated historical oxygen data to produce bottom maps of oxygen concentration and to determine the mean oxygen levels and trends in Canadian marine waters. The team will also explore ecosystem impacts of worsening hypoxia by studying the distribution of various groundfish species in relation to oxygen in the Northeast Pacific, Gulf of St. Lawrence and Scotian Shelf-Gulf of Maine. Their findings will help interpret changes in the distribution of these fish species in Canadian waters.

Fatal Red Tide in the St. Lawrence Estuary

In August 2008, a toxic algae bloom killed 10 belugas, nearly 100 seals and thousands of birds and fish in the St. Lawrence Estuary. This red tide of unprecedented size and impact on aquatic wildlife extended from the mouth of the Saguenay River to Sainte-Anne-des-Monts in the Gaspé Peninsula for a period of two to three weeks.

Teams of scientists collected water samples and animal carcasses for analysis at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Université de Montréal in Saint-Hyacinthe and the Institute for Marine Biosciences (National Research Council of Canada) in Halifax. Test results confirmed that the marine food chain was being poisoned by a phycotoxin produced by Alexandrium tamarense, the alga responsible for the red tide, so named because it changes the colour of the water.

A large toxic algae bloom in the St. Lawrence Estuary

A large toxic algae bloom in the St. Lawrence Estuary, noticeable by its red colour (foreground), killed 10 beluga whales, about 100 seals and thousands of birds and fish in August 2008. DFO researchers are analyzing the dead animals to learn more about how this toxin spreads through the food chain and to aid in the development of a red tide prediction system.

Photo: DFO, M. Starr

This microscopic alga, which occurs naturally in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its estuary, can produce a toxin that affects the nervous systems of fish, birds and mammals. The analysis of animals that washed up on shore will enable researchers to better understand how this toxin spreads through the food chain. Results of the studies will also help MLI scientists develop red tide prediction systems to alert aquaculture farmers and make recommendations on the closure of shellfish harvesting sites.

CSI-like Techniques and Fish Otoliths Resolve Life History Mysteries

A small calcified structure in the inner ear of fish, known as an otolith or ear stone, is the focus of studies by DFO researchers trying to resolve mysteries about the origins and migratory patterns of various fish populations. Material deposited in the otolith as a fish grows leaves telltale chemical signatures of the environments they inhabit. Like detectives examining forensic evidence, researchers at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C., are measuring stable isotopes of sulphur and strontium in the otoliths of adult salmon to reconstruct the chronology of their migration through various environments and to identify their maternal origin. Since the centre of an otolith incorporates material from the egg, it is akin to a black box that holds the chemical signature of the mother's diet, ambient water or both.

A cross-section of a sockeye salmon otolith

A cross-section of a sockeye salmon otolith (right) shows locations where isotope measurements were made. DFO researchers are solving mysteries about the origins and migratory patterns of certain fish populations by measuring trace elements in their otoliths or ear stones, which grow as the fish do, revealing their life history. One study revealed that sockeye salmon that returned to the Alouette River near Vancouver after a 75-year absence were the progeny of kokanee. The findings suggest that kokanee might be the last resort for restoring some anadromous runs of sockeye since the two are ecotypes of the same species.

Photo: L. Godbout

In 2008-2009, this technique helped determine whether all chinook salmon that return to spawn in the Okanagan River are anadromous (live mainly in marine habitats and spawn in fresh water) or whether some live their entire lives within the Columbia River basin. Otolith analysis found that they are anadromous. In another case, otolith analysis revealed the origin of sockeye salmon that returned to the Alouette River near Vancouver in the summer of 2007, 75 years after this anadromous run of sockeye had been eliminated by dam construction. The fish were actually progeny of kokanee that had lived their entire lives in fresh water, and not strays from nearby rivers. This reversion to anadromy has implications for salmon recovery projects elsewhere. Since kokanee and sockeye salmon are ecotypes of the same species, kokanee might sometimes be a successful last resort to restore endangered populations of anadromous sockeye salmon.

Innovative Bluefin Tuna Research Aids International Stock Management

International research on Atlantic bluefin tuna, in collaboration with DFO Science, is providing new insight into the structure and mixing of eastern and western bluefin stocks and influencing the management of this highly migratory species both in Canada and internationally. Bluefin stocks have been in steep decline since the 1970s, their recovery hampered by international migration.

The research team, including Dr. John Neilson of DFO's St. Andrews Biological Station (SABS), and researchers from the United States and Italy, analyzed chemical signatures (ratios of carbon and oxygen stable isotope) in the otoliths or ear stones of bluefin yearlings. These isotopes vary in surface water around the world and are deposited in ear stones during the first year of life, making them chemical markers for determining the natal origin of adults and patterns of stock mixing.

The analysis of ear stones, collected over six years from nurseries in the eastern and western Atlantic Ocean, revealed in part that:

  • the return of spawning adults to their region of origin was remarkably high for both eastern and western stocks, which indicates that there is very little contribution of eastern adults to the western spawning area.
  • bluefin spawning stocks in the Gulf of St Lawrence, where colder waters are more suitable for bigger, older fish, were entirely from the Gulf of Mexico nursery (western stock) with no mixing from the eastern stock. This means bluefin stock assessments for the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which are based solely on fishery catch rates, aren't affected by mixing with eastern stocks.

In another study published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, researchers from SABS and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography used historical bluefin ear stones and radiocarbon-based dating to determine the age, growth and longevity of northern bluefin tuna. A chemical mark, left on fish bones and other calcarious organisms by atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was used to determine the age of the fish

DFO research scientist Dr. John Neilson removes the otolith or ear stone from a bluefin tuna

DFO research scientist Dr. John Neilson removes the otolith or ear stone from a bluefin tuna. Neilson is leading research to analyze chemical markers in otoliths for clues to the natal origin of adult bluefin and patterns of mixing between eastern and western stocks. The findings of this and other bluefin tuna research underway at DFO are influencing the management of this species both in Canada and internationally.

Photo: Leah McConkey

The study revealed that the growth curve used in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) bluefin stock assessment likely overestimates the maximum size reached by bluefin.

“These, and others findings have already guided some of the analysis that ICCAT carried out for its 2008 bluefin stock assessment, and they have expressed an interest in doing more of that,” said Dr. Neilson. The study, published in the October 31, 2008 issue of the journal Science, concludes that the significantly smaller, declining western stock requires continued protection to ensure its sustainability.

First Nations Collaboration Aids in Tracking Endangered Inner Bay of Fundy Salmon

In collaboration with the Fort Folly First Nations in New Brunswick, Dr. Gilles Lacroix of DFO's St. Andrews Biological Station, is tagging adult Atlantic salmon from the endangered inner Bay of Fundy populations with pop-up satellite archival tags (PSATs) to find out why they experience such high marine mortality. Historically these populations had a high survival rate at sea, with a large proportion of adults repeatedly returning to spawn over many years. Today these repeat spawners, crucial for maintaining population stability, have all but disappeared. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, 2,000 to 5,000 salmon returned annually to spawn in the Big Salmon River near St. Martins, N.B. Today, a mere 40 to 60 adults return, despite an extensive restocking program.

Tim Robinson (at left) of the Fort Folly First Nations and DFO research scientist Gilles Lacroix release an Atlantic salmon kelt

Tim Robinson (at left) of the Fort Folly First Nations and DFO research scientist Gilles Lacroix release an Atlantic salmon kelt with a pop-up satellite archival tag near the mouth of the Big Salmon River in New Brunswick.

Photo: Larry Adair

In 2008-2009, Fort Folly provided field assistance to deploy PSATs on post-spawning salmon (kelts) as they left the rivers and to count the returning adults. The tags record the depth and light-based position of the fish and water temperature every 15 minutes then pop off after a preset period of four months, or earlier if the fish dies, and transmit the data via the Argos satellite system for environmental monitoring (www.argos-system.org). Of the 20 tags deployed in November 2008 and April 2009, 15 have reported data. Preliminary results indicate that salmon from inner Bay of Fundy rivers remained in the Bay of Fundy and Gulf of Maine region where they died within the four months. In contrast, salmon from an outer Bay of Fundy river, which were also tagged, migrated to the North Atlantic Ocean and Labrador Sea and survived.

The team plans to deploy more PSATs in 2009-2010 on salmon from different areas of the Bay of Fundy to compare their marine habitat and performance. “Our goal is to determine what marine habitat is critical to the inner Bay of Fundy populations and identify the location and potential causes of mortality so that we can hopefully take actions to help the stocks recover,” said Dr. Lacroix.

Researchers collect sediment, algae and clam samples from one of 350 First Nations clam gardens

Dr. Terri Sutherland (standing) and Shane Petersen of the DFO Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research collect sediment, algae and clam samples from one of 350 First Nations clam gardens located in the Broughton Archipelago, B.C. Beginning thousands of years ago, inhabitants of this region began rolling large rocks seaward to form rock walls at the edge of the beaches. The walls help stabilize and trap sediment, food particles and clam larvae within the terraces, known today as clam gardens.

Photo: DFO, Jason Dunham

Blending Aboriginal and Scientific Knowledge to Explore First Nations Clam Gardens

First Nations clam gardens are prominent archeological features in the Broughton Archipelago of British Columbia, with over 350 terraces located within this island complex. The formation of these traditionally engineered gardens began thousands of years ago by the continual rolling of large rocks seaward to the low tide line to provide more room for clam recruitment. In time, the built-up rock walls trapped sediment, organic material and juvenile clams to create a highly productive clam habitat comprised of a near-level sand flat extending along the shoreline and seaward. Today, clam gardens continue to play a vital role in the stability of First Nations culture and economy.

The clam digger communities of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah- Kwa-Mish and ‘Namgis First Nations have voiced some concerns regarding observed changes to the intertidal ecology of these beach terraces and the potential impact on clam abundance and food quality within the archipelago. Under principal investigator Dr. Terri Sutherland of the DFO Centre for Aquaculture and Environmental Research, a multidisciplinary and multicultural team is exploring these concerns and investigating possible interactions between First Nation clam gardens and local anthropogenic activities, including aquaculture, as well as long-term environmental shifts due to climate change. In 2008-2009, the team integrated Aboriginal ecological knowledge with oceanographic and ecological practices to form project goals. Consultations were held between First Nation leaders, elders, clam digger communities, industry groups (Marine Harvest Inc.) and multiple government agencies to develop consensus regarding the project focus and sampling design. Water, sediment, clam and algal samples were collected from the clam gardens and the results are currently being analyzed for presentation and discussion among the project partners. The goal is to integrate both scientific and Aboriginal knowledge and assess observed changes to Broughton Archipelago clam gardens that fuel the local First Nations culture and socioeconomic structure.

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WHARVES AND BREAKWATERS

The construction of new wharves and breakwaters alters the seabed and fish habitat, either partially or completely, but the structuresmay also provide new habitat for seaweed and other life to colonize and may ultimately increase the productivity of fish communities. Dr. Robert Gregory of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, N.L., is leading a 10-year DFO study (2007–2016) of the positive and negative impacts of new structures, including habitat change and the impacts on fish and invertebrate fauna at 18 sites along the Newfoundland coast. The findings will aid in the development of habitatproducing wharves and breakwaters.

DFO aquatic technicians

DFO aquatic technician Justin Shead (at right) and physical scientist Mike Tate of the U.S. Geological Survey take a temperature and oxygen profile on Lake 658 in the Experimental Lakes Area, where a broad range of whole-lake experiments have been carried out over the past 40 years.

Photo: DFO, Martin Lussier

Experimental Lakes Celebrates 40 Years of Whole-Ecosystem Research

From exploring how pollutants move through aquatic ecosystems and unravelling the cause of algae blooms to studying the impacts of acid rain, the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) in northwestern Ontario has made significant contributions to freshwater ecosystem research since its inception. Established by the Fisheries Research Board of Canada in 1968, the facility celebrated 40 years of whole-lake experimentation and research in 2008.

The centre, now operated jointly by DFO and Environment Canada, has provided both Canadian and international scientists with a unique opportunity to carry out whole-ecosystem experimental research. Over the years, researchers have undertaken more than 50 wholeecosystem manipulations at ELA to explore environmental issues ranging from eutrophication, acidification and biomanipulation, to contaminants (including radioisotopes, cadmium, mercury and endocrine disrupting chemicals), hydroelectric reservoir creation and management, and freshwater aquaculture. The facility has also amassed a comprehensive record of hydrology, meteorology, chemistry and aquatic biology for the unmanipulated lakes within its boundaries. These data have become invaluable for assessing long-term changes in freshwater lakes related to climate and other environmental factors. In November 2009, a special issue of Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (Vol. 66, No. 11) was dedicated to recent research at ELA.

Dr. Gregory videotapes seabed habitat (kelp on cobble substrate) near Marystown, N.L. and Corey Morris examines sea anemones among the boulders of a breakwater near Bauline, N.L.

Far left: Dr. Gregory videotapes seabed habitat (kelp on cobble substrate) near Marystown, N.L. Left: Corey Morris examines sea anemones among the boulders of a breakwater near Bauline, N.L.

Far left: Photo: DFO, Corey Morris Left: Photo: DFO, Dan Porter

MONITORING

State-of-the-Art System for the Prediction of Atmosphere, Ocean and Ice Conditions

The Canadian Coupled Atmosphere-Ocean-Ice Forecast System was launched to improve the prediction of atmosphere, ocean and ice conditions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The only one of its kind in the world, this system is the result of collaboration between Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Canadian Hydrographic Service) and Environment Canada (Canadian Ice Service). It is part of the Canadian Operational Network of Coupled Environmental PredicTion Systems (CONCEPTS) program, which is developing basin- (Atlantic and Pacific) and global-scale versions of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-ice model.

Dr. Denis Lefaivre

Dr. Denis Lefaivre, research scientist and Manager, Modelling and Operational Oceanography for the Canadian Hydrographic Service (Quebec Region), was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Canadian Coupled Atmosphere-Ocean-Ice Forecast System.

Photo: DFO, F. Pouliot

From 1997 to 2008, Environment Canada's atmospheric model used an average value of ocean temperature and ice cover to calculate a daily atmospheric forecast. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in turn, used the atmospheric forecast to predict current and ice conditions for the Gulf of St. Lawrence. With the coupling of the systems, data exchange during calculations is now possible, thus improving the predictions from the three models. Coupling is particularly useful for more accurately predicting the formation and location of snow squalls in the Gulf. It is also of benefit in the summer, providing a better representation of sea surface temperatures and moisture flow, which results in more accurate predictions of air temperature and precipitation.

The benefits of this forecast system are already apparent. The Canadian Coast Guard is using the ocean forecasts and ice condition information from this system to plan shipping routes, and some fishers in the Gulf are using the ocean current forecasts to plan how to set their nets. The coupled prediction model has also been useful for planning oil-spill response and search-and-rescue operations in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Ocean forecasts are available at: http://slgo.ca/en.html

Three Decades of Fisheries Data Reveal Climatic Trigger for Changing Fish Distribution

Recent research by Dr. Brian Petrie of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and Queen's University scientists reveals that the distribution of fish responds dramatically to the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) — a large-scale, time-varying atmospheric pressure pattern over the North Atlantic Ocean. The findings are based on the analysis of 31 years of fisheries data collected by DFO and the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service from Labrador to Cape Hatteras on the coast of North Carolina.

The NAO strongly influences weather and climate in the North Atlantic. Variations in its pressure gradient affect winds and storm tracks, which alter air and sea surface temperatures. It also causes changes in shelf bottom temperatures that prompt north-south movements of fish species. Bottom temperatures from the same location during positive and negative NAO periods showed differences of up to 2º C.

A computer image of the east coast

A computer image of the east coast reveals temperature differences of up to 2°C from north to south during a sustained negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a large-scale variation in atmospheric pressure over the North Atlantic Ocean. A negative NAO, marked by a weak subtropical high and a weak Icelandic low, causes above normal temperatures (red areas) in the north and below-normal temperatures (blue areas) in the south, which influences the north-south distribution of fish.

Photo: DFO, Brian Petrie

A negative NAO — marked by a weak subtropical high and a weak Icelandic low —leads to warmer conditions and more species in the north, and cooler temperatures and fewer species in the south. In contrast, a positive NAO — defined by a stronger than usual subtropical high and a deeper than normal Icelandic low — leads to cooler temperatures and fewer species in the north, warmer conditions and more species in the south. The smallest yearly difference in the number of species between north and south was 27 during a negative NAO phase, while the largest was 70 species during a positive NAO period, for a range of 43 species. This is a profound response to NAO forcing. Computer models predict that higher levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases would result in a strengthening trend of the NAO and cooler temperatures, tending to reduce the number of fish species in the north. This would counteract the northward shift of fish species in response to global warming. Continued monitoring of both the fisheries and the environment is necessary to determine which process is dominating and how harvesting levels and strategies should be adjusted in response.

Argo Floats Contribute to Labrador Sea Monitoring

The International Argo Program now has more than 3,200 subsurface floats drifting in the world's oceans, relaying temperature and salinity profiles from the surface to 2,000 metres in depth via satellite. Dr. Igor Yashayaev and colleagues at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography are using observations from the floats to complement the annual research vessel survey of the Labrador Sea for DFO's ocean climate and ecosystem monitoring program.

Profiles from the floats are filling a critical temporal gap in vessel-based observations by providing year-round information on the vertical structure of subsurface temperature, salinity and stratification. This is important because of the strong seasonal variation in water properties in the upper ocean and in the Labrador Sea in particular, as shown in the time-depth evolution of temperature there since 2002. Strong atmospheric cooling over the region in winter results in the overturning (mixing) of upper-ocean waters to depths ranging from 500 to 2,400 metres or more (mauves and dark blues in the computer graphic on page 24) and the formation of an important mid-depth water mass called Labrador Sea water. This water subsequently spreads across the North Atlantic as part of the global ocean's Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) — often referred to as the global ocean conveyor belt — which plays a key role in variability and change in the Earth's climate system.

Photo: Igor Yashayaev, DFO Science, Maritimes
Seasonal-to-interannual evolution of potential temperature as a function of depth below the surface in the Labrador SeaSeasonal-to-interannual evolution of potential temperature (colour-coded in ºC) as a function of depth below the surface in the Labrador Sea, based on Argo observations (locations in map inset). The strong seasonal changes in the upper-mid-ocean, which are important to climate and ecosystem dynamics, were not previously detected by annual vessel-based surveys.

The Argo observations indicate that vertical overturning occurred to a depth of 1,600 metres in the winter of 2008, as a result, replenishing this component of the MOC. This is the greatest depth recorded since the 2,400-metre depth recorded in 1994. This indicates that the MOC in the North Atlantic is still very active, providing an important mechanism for transferring atmospheric heat and carbon dioxide into the deep ocean and, as a result, moderating climate change and global warming. For more information see: www.meds-sdmm.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/isdm-gdsi/argo/ index-eng.html.

Ecosystem Research Probes the Lower Food Web in the Beaufort Sea

For several years, DFO scientists have been collecting information on the physical, chemical and biological components of the coastal Beaufort Sea aboard the CCGS Nahidik. This research program aims to understand how the coastal Beaufort ecosystem currently functions in anticipation of future development of energy resources and ongoing environmental stressors.

Left: Photo: Cathy Munroe  Right: Photo: DFO, Andreas BlouwBongo nets are ready for deployment aboard the CCGS Nahidik in the Beaufort Sea
Bongo nets are ready for deployment aboard the CCGS Nahidik in the Beaufort Sea (left), where DFO scientists are gathering physical, chemical and biological data on the lower food web, including what is unique about the areas where bowhead whales feed. Bongo nets are used to collect zooplankton, larval fish and other biological material so researchers can estimate how much plankton is present in certain areas.

One of the main goals of the 2008 field season was to determine what is unique about the areas where bowhead whales feed and what drives the production of bowhead food north of Cape Bathurst. This knowledge will be used to provide advice on transportation routes and development activities in the region in order to reduce impacts. Bowheads in this region, which numbered around 10,400 in 2001, are listed as a species of “Special Concern” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Diatoms

Photo: Dr. Michel Poulin, Canadian Museum of Nature

The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment encompasses biodiversity at all levels, from polar bears and seals to more than a thousand microscopic organisms. Some of these, such as phytoplankton, live in the water column. Others live in sea ice. This photo shows diatoms (singlecelled microalgae) found in landfast ice in Franklin Bay, Beaufort Sea. The large single cell is Entomoneis gigantea var. septentrionalis. A forming colony of Nitzschia frigida is on the left. The latter species has a pan-Arctic distribution and is very abundant in spring.

A research team from various DFO locations, including the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Man., the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C., and the Yellowknife office in the Northwest Territories, as well as researchers from the Polish Institute of Oceanology and the Canadian Museum of Nature, collected data on water and sediment chemistry, and the distribution and biomass of phytoplankton, zooplankton and benthic invertebrates. They discovered that lipid-dense, high-calorie centric diatoms and protozoans are the main components of the phytoplankton biomass where bowheads feed. High concentrations of this type of phytoplankton have not been detected elsewhere in the region.

Because environmental changes are likely to impact organisms lower on the food web first, the team is also exploring whether sediments and the fatty acid composition of organisms such as algae, zooplankton and benthic invertebrates have potential as rapid assessment tools for monitoring environmental changes.

DFO Contributes to Arctic Biodiversity Assessment

In 2008-2009, DFO Science undertook a leading role in key components of the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA), a high-profile, international initiative led by the Arctic Council to synthesize and assess the status and trends in Arctic biodiversity. DFO's involvement is central to the department's mandate to ensure sustainable development in the North, particularly in the context of increased threats to Arctic biodiversity, mainly from climate warming and increased resource exploitation.

The ABA will produce the Arctic Biodiversity Highlights Report (2010) and the in-depth Arctic Biodiversity Assessment: Status and Trends Report, to be completed in 2013. DFO Science is leading chapters on the biodiversity of fish species and marine and freshwater ecosystems in the Arctic. The reports will:

  • synthesize the current state of biodiversity in Arctic ecosystems and identify knowledge gaps;
  • provide a baseline for monitoring changes in Arctic biodiversity and for global and regional assessments; and
  • identify threats to Arctic biodiversity and produce recommendations to inform policies.
Biologist Lisa O’Connor and scientist Tom Pratt of DFO sort ciscoes aboard a fishing tug on Lake Superior.

Biologist Lisa O'Connor and scientist Tom Pratt of DFO sort ciscoes aboard a fishing tug on Lake Superior. By studying the evolutionary origins, diversity, distribution, abundance and taxonomic relationships of these fish, scientists will be able to identify populations in need of protection.

Photo: DFO

Exploring the Diversity of Deepwater Ciscoes

Given the relatively young age of our fresh waters (typically less than 10,000 years old), few freshwater fish species have evolved in, and are endemic to, Canadian lakes and rivers. Probably the best known are the sticklebacks on some British Columbia islands and the ciscoes in the deep waters of the Great Lakes and several other lakes across Canada. Deepwater ciscoes largely declined in the Great Lakes by the early 1900s due to overfishing and, more recently, invasive species. To identify populations in need of protection under the Species at Risk Act, scientists from DFO and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources are studying these fishes to learn more about the true extent of their diversity, taxonomic relationships, evolutionary origins, distribution and abundance.

A major question is whether the different forms evolved within lakes in the last 10,000 years or evolved earlier and colonized the lakes following the last Ice Age. Determining this will enable scientists to differentiate unique populations in need of conservation from populations closely related to more common species. In 2008-2009, researchers discovered four morphological forms of ciscoes in two lakes in Ontario's Algonquin Park. Researchers are also studying the four remaining cisco forms in lakes Superior and Nipigon. In the Yellowknife Bay area of Great Slave Lake, N.W.T., scientists have captured two to five distinct morphological forms in some locations. Across these lakes, some ciscoes closely resemble species at risk, including the shortjaw cisco, while others appear to be distinct but closely related to those species.

Four-hundredth Mission to the Rimouski Monitoring Station: Hypoxia and Acidification Observed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

During the summer of 2008, DFO research assistant Pierre Joly of the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec, undertook the 400th sampling mission at the Rimouski monitoring station. Recent observations at the station have uncovered severe hypoxia (lower oxygen levels) and acidification (lower pH) in the estuary's deep water, which threaten the health of the marine ecosystem and organisms in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and its estuary. Samplings also help detect the spread of toxic algae and invasive species.

Located 20 kilometres offshore from Rimouski, the station is part of a network of oceanographic stations used by researchers to track the evolution of this ecosystem, including its biology (planktonic plants and animals at the bottom of the food chain) and its physical and chemical properties.

Claire Bertolone, an intern at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, gathers a sample of zooplankton

Claire Bertolone, an intern at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, gathers a sample of zooplankton — copepods and other microscopic marine organisms—at the Rimouski monitoring station.

Photo: DFO, Pierre Joly

During weekly trips to the Rimouski station, scientists collect water samples at depths of up to 320 metres and plankton specimens, as well as gather data on salinity, temperature, oxygen and pH levels in the water column. These long-term data are of great value for studying climate change and other processes affecting the productivity of the St. Lawrence estuary, particularly those concerning species at the bottom of the food chain such as phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Tracking Striped Bass in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence

In collaboration with the Atlantic Salmon Federation, biologist Scott Douglas of DFO's Gulf Fisheries Centre, is leading research to monitor the movements and behaviour of striped bass, a potential species at risk in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. The research, which began in 2003, involves implanting acoustic telemetry transmitters in adult striped bass. Submerged receivers strategically placed throughout the Miramichi River and along the east coast of New Brunswick pick up signals from the transmitters.

Lowering the hydrophone of an acoustic telemetry receiver through a hole in the ice

Technician Trenton Francis (at right) of the North Shore Micmac District Council Inc. lowers the hydrophone of an acoustic telemetry receiver through a hole in the ice on the northwest Miramichi River, while DFO aquatic science technician Joseph Sheasgreen (at left) listens and records the unique codes from the transmitters implanted inside wintering striped bass.

Photo: DFO, John Hayward

In May 2008, the team implanted transmitters in 40 adult striped bass to track their summer coastal migrations and wintering habitat. The signals sent back revealed that a few bass migrated south of the Miramichi estuary after spawning while most moved north for the summer — some as far away as Quebec's southern coast. By midautumn, the fish switched directions and began their journey back into the Miramichi River for the winter. Tracking the striped bass through the ice revealed that the fish remained together for the winter and progressed slowly to the upper reaches of the estuary until ice-out. Of particular note was the discovery that the bass used many of the same locations in the Miramichi estuary for both wintering and spawning. These findings continue to highlight the importance of the Miramichi estuary to striped bass in the north, which is an important consideration when developing action plans to protect the species and its habitat.

Photos: DFO, P. Galbraith
Researchers fly by helicopter
In late winter, researchers fly by helicopter to 90 stations in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they hover 25 metres above the surface and lower instruments by cable (far left) to measure water temperature and salinity. The data help forecast summer oceanographic conditions, which is useful for biologists assessing fish stocks.

Probing Winter Waters to Assess Fish Stocks

At the end of every winter since 1996, a team led by Peter Galbraith of the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec, has undertaken an innovative oceanographic survey in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Taking advantage of the period of peak ice cover, the team travels by helicopter to 90 stations scattered throughout the Gulf, hovering over each station while researchers lower a probe into an opening in the ice to measure water temperature and salinity up to a depth of 200 metres.

Analysis of the winter surface layer makes it possible to forecast summer oceanographic conditions. In winter, this surface layer of water features temperatures that are typically near the freezing mark for Gulf waters, which is around -1.7°C. In the spring, the winter surface layer remains partly isolated below the warming surface waters to form the cold intermediate layer. A thick surface layer in winter therefore means a thick cold intermediate layer in summer. Monitoring over the past 14 years has revealed that between 30 and 45 percent of the Gulf's waters are cooled to near freezing every winter, with corresponding effects on the thickness and minimum core temperature of the cold intermediate layer the following summer. The thickness of the winter surface layer — measuring an average of 75 metres — was below normal in 2009, slightly below normal in 2008 and near normal in 2007.

This information is very useful for biologists assessing fish stocks because the core of the cold intermediate layer, which remains at or below 2°C even in the hottest summer weather, serves as vital habitat for some organisms and a passageway for others. The period spent in the cold intermediate layer is a critical life stage for most commercially fished species. Every March, biologists and oceanographers eagerly await the data from the winter mission to find out what cold intermediate layer conditions will prevail for the rest of the year.

ADVICE

The Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) coordinates the DFO science advisory process in collaboration with the regional Centres for Science Advice. This network is responsible for maintaining high standards of excellence in the provision of peer-reviewed scientific information and advice in support of sound decision-making. During 2008-2009, 68 peer review meetings (advisory meetings and workshops) were conducted and almost 200 scientific publications were produced, including science advisory reports, research documents, proceedings and science responses. These covered a broad range of issues including stock assessments, species at risk, ecosystem assessments, effects of aquaculture, invasive species and marine protected areas. Several advisory reports that may be of interest to the general public were released on cod, salmon, snow crab, beluga whales, sharks, seals and other species of particular interest. In addition, CSAS developed a risk-based framework to inform the prioritization of peer-review meetings to ensure that needed science advice is provided. CSAS publications and the calendar of activities are available at: www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas/Csas/Home-Accueil_e.htm.

Sustainable Fisheries Framework Finalized

In 2008, DFO held two national workshops and established a National Working Group to develop a decision-making framework for Canadian shrimp and prawn fisheries. This initiative is an important first step towards helping these fisheries implement the “precautionary approach” and address eco-certification requirements to preserve their market access. For more information, see Proceedings of the Precautionary Approach Workshop on Canadian Shrimp and Prawn Stocks and Fisheries; November 26-27, 2008: www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/CSAS/Csas/Publications/Pro-CR/2008/2008_031_e.htm.

The precautionary approach is a key aspect of the department's new Sustainable Fisheries Framework, which DFO Science played a central role in finalizing during 2008-2009. The framework incorporates existing policies on fisheries management, conservation, sustainable use, governance and economics with new and evolving policies. It also includes tools to monitor and assess conservation and sustainable use initiatives in order to identify areas that may need improvement. The key conservation and sustainable use policies include:

  • a fishery decision-making framework incorporating the precautionary approach to resource management. This approach entails being cautious when scientific information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate and not using the absence of adequate scientific information as a reason to postpone or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to the resource;
  • a policy to manage the impacts of fishing on seafloor habitat, communities and species; and
  • a policy on new fisheries for forage species to ensure they are conducted in ways that are compatible with the conservation and sustainability of the entire ecosystem.

Assessing the Status of Atlantic Cod Stocks

In March 2009, DFO scientists completed an assessment of the status of five managed Atlantic cod populations in order to develop advice within DFO. This meeting, known as a Zonal Advisory Process, is one step in a comprehensive decision-making process leading to the development and adoption of fishery management plans for 2009. The two-week scientific peer review involved the evaluation of all relevant fishery and research information available for each stock, including: DFO and industry monitoring programs, data from fishing activities, direct input from resource users, and research and monitoring of the state of the ocean and predators and prey of cod.

The review concluded that four of the five managed cod stocks were below the conservation limits for the stocks — the point at which the ability of the stock to rebuild is compromised. The assessed stocks included:

  • Eastern and northern Newfoundland: after nearly 20 years of collapse, this stock is showing evidence of an increase in abundance in a limited part of its historical offshore range primarily due to improved cod survival, but it still remains well below historical levels of biomass.
  • Southern Newfoundland: this stock has declined substantially in the offshore and is, at best, stable in the inshore. Young cod appear to be relatively abundant. This stock was just above the conservation limit.
  • Northern Gulf of St. Lawrence: still near its lowest level in the historical record and increasing very slowly, if at all. Mortality from non-fishery causes remains high. There is evidence that young cod are fairly numerous.
  • Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence: at its lowest level ever observed and declining. Non-fishery mortality is so high that there is a moderate risk that the stock will continue to decline even with no fishing.
  • Western Scotian Shelf and Bay of Fundy: this stock is also at or near the lowest level ever observed and non-fishery mortality is also very high.

For more information, visit: www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas/

DNA Markers Aid in Mussel Seed Stock Evaluation

Future expansion of the mussel culture industry in Newfoundland is restricted by the quantity and quality of seed supply. Identifying new potential seed collection sites for commercial development is an industry priority. Many indigenous seed stock sites along the Newfoundland coast have relatively high proportions of the species M. trossulus, which has been a major source of problems for industry in the past due to poor growth, poor production performance and unsatisfactory shell appearance in the marketplace. Before commercial investment in new seed stocks can be recommended, there is a pressing need to conduct trial performance evaluations to ensure the stocks are high-performance M. edulis and not M. trossulus.

Using DNA markers to differentiate between mussel species

Using DNA markers to differentiate between mussel species, DFO scientists are helping mussel farmers in Newfoundland identify the best sites for seed collection and assess the quality of their stocks.

Photo: DFO

To aid in this process, a DFO research team at the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, N.L., is using two DNA markers (Me16/16 and ITS) for differentiating between the two species. This enabled the team, led by DFO research scientist Randy Penney, to determine the ratio of each species in several seed stocks and to quickly and accurately identify highperformance seed stock for collection. Trials are also being carried out to see how well the stocks perform when transferred to new sites and to determine if this is a viable option for growers. The initial findings of this research, which is funded by DFO's Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program, were presented to growers in March 2009. The technique is now being used to help growers in Newfoundland assess the quality of their stocks and identify the best sites for seed collection.

Regulatory Research on Ecosystem Interactions with Shellfish Aquaculture

The DFO Program for Aquaculture Regulatory Research (PARR) is designed to increase scientific knowledge and to support informed decisions related to the federal regulation of aquaculture, including commitments to ecosystem-based management. Regulatory research on shellfish culture in the Maritimes Region of DFO includes the development of knowledge, predictive tools, monitoring strategies and indicators of local- to bay-scale ecological effects of cultivated mussels. The goal is to minimize the key social and environmental issues associated with mussel farming while permitting the industry to remain economically viable.

In 2008, a research project at one of the largest mussel culture operations in Canada, led by Dr. Peter Cranford of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, tested the effectiveness of both the environmental impact assessment predictions for this site and the ongoing monitoring program. The findings will be used to recommend improvements to mussel culture site assessment protocols.

Since the extent and magnitude of ecological interactions with mussel culture are always site-specific, studies at multiple sites enhance our capacity to predict and assess impacts. National and international collaborations aid in the development of expertise and approaches to farm management. In 2008-2009, Dr. Cranford was also very active in international research aimed at improving aquaculture and standards for certification.

A Well of Expertise in Aquaculture Systems

The tank room at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute in Mont-Joli, Quebec, is a state-of-the-art facility designed for large-scale, controlled-environment experimental studies on living organisms gathered at sea and kept in seawater tanks.

The tank room at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute

The tank room at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute provides a venue for large-scale, controlledenvironment studies.

Photo: F. Tremblay

Many groups, partners and consultants model their own research equipment on this room, or draw from it to create special exhibits and educational activities on the marine sciences. Among other achievements, the team responsible for the aquaculture system, led by Bernard Chenard, came up with the basic design for a boat-shaped aquarium installed in 2009 at the St. Lawrence Exploration Centre in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. Organizations such as the Aquarium du Québec, the Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski and government research centres regularly consult with this group of scientists on the construction and upgrading of facilities using seawater. Discussions focus on sophisticated heat exchanger or cooling systems, seawater-resistant materials, piping and mechanical and technical specifications, as well as on a host of new aquaculture techniques.

Photo: Canadian Hydrographic Service, Atlantic Region
An 18-day survey of 500 square kilometres of seabedAn 18-day survey of 500 square kilometres of seabed off the south coast of Newfoundland was among the many surveys carried out by the Canadian Hydrographic Service in 2008-2009. Ship- and launch-based multibeam echo sounders were used to collect the data. The coloured areas of CHS Chart 4826 represent the survey area, with warmer colours corresponding to shallower waters and cooler colours representing deeper waters.

Hydrographic Surveys Highlight Diversity of Applications

In 2008, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) carried out surveys from coast to coast to coast to gather data for its own hydrographic charting program as well as for other federal departments and agencies including Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the Canadian Coast Guard. Among the projects CHS undertook were:

  • a seven-week survey of the eastern Arctic to collect data for updating the nautical charts for harbours and approaches to Resolute, Arctic Bay and Nanisivik, the proposed site of a deep-water port;
  • the completion of the three-year Geoscience for Management and Economic Development survey in the Bay of Fundy, in collaboration with NRCan, to create surficial geology maps to help determine the best location for experimental tidal generators in the Minas Channel area;
  • an 18-day survey of some 500 square kilometres of seabed off the south coast of Newfoundland within the limits of CHS Chart 4826, which includes an area of 1,300 square kilometres of uncharted shoals, isolated rocks and islands, some of which are poorly positioned on the chart. The survey will aid in charting a safe route from the Newfoundland communities of Ramea and Francois to the Penguin Islands to enable resupply of the light station and to aid navigation during search and rescue missions;
  • a joint survey by CHS, NRCan and the engineering company C-CORE of Newfoundland to map Makkovik Bank off the coast of Labrador, a potential area for oil and gas development. The main goal was to map iceberg scours since icebergs pose a risk to both wellheads and undersea piping infrastructure;
  • a 10-day survey of the Strait of Honguedo in the Gulf of St. Lawrence south of Anticosti Island, in collaboration with the Geological Survey of Canada. Bathymetric and stratigraphic surveys were conducted for NRCan's Program of Energy Research and Development to evaluate the stability of the sea floor in an area for potential offshore oil and gas development.

Hydrographers Support New Small Craft Harbours Project in Pangnirtung

The Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) completed field surveys in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, during 2008. The data are being used to develop the critical base mapping necessary for DFO's Small Craft Harbours program (SCH) to design and construct the best possible facility for the community. SCH operates and maintains a national system of harbours that provide safe and accessible facilities to commercial fish harvesters and other users.

Photo: DFO, Terese Herron
Canadian Hydrographic Service staff carried out topographic and hydrographic surveys
Canadian Hydrographic Service staff carried out topographic and hydrographic surveys in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, and Cumberland Sound to support the design and construction of a new harbour facility.

In July 2008, CHS deployed two submersible tide gauges and two current meters in Cumberland Sound and returned to retrieve the data in September. This survey provided ocean current information to SCH while also allowing CHS to confirm maximum tidal ranges and improve the accuracy of tidal predictions in the region.

CHS also conducted topographic surveys to supplement both the Nunavut mapping and the 2003-2004 hydrographic surveys, completing the engineering surveys required by Small Crafts Harbours.

Activities in Support of Species at Risk

In support of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), DFO held a National Science Workshop in 2008 to assist in the development of guidelines for the nationally consistent interpretation of terms and concepts that are used in the preparation of Recovery Potential Assessments and other activities related to the Species at Risk Act. More than 60 DFO staff from across Canada attended the workshop, the results of which will be published in the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat series of Science Advisory Reports.

DFO Science also contributed to the preparation of species status reports for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Peer-review meetings were held to transfer DFO data to COSEWIC for darkblotched rockfish, yellowmouth rockfish, wavyrayed lampmussel, dolly varden (northern form), Atlantic cod, barndoor skate, Atlantic salmon and Atlantic whitefish. The proceedings of these meetings will be available on the CSAS website (www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/csas/). The Science sector also contributed to the development of several Government of Canada Species at Risk policies, as well as to guidelines on critical habitat, especially identification.

MANAGEMENT OF DATA AND INFORMATION

Real-time Ocean Data Collection Nearly Doubles

The volume of ocean data managed by the Science Sector's Integrated Science Data Management (ISDM) Branch during 2008-2009 continues to grow. For example, the number of ocean temperature profiles reported within a few days of collection has nearly doubled from 18,000 to 32,000. This is largely due to the continuing support of the global Argo floats program by the international community. In addition to managing the real-time global data from Argo, ISDM also processes and manages the data from about 120 Canadian floats, which, in 2008-2009, returned about 3,700 profiles of both temperature and salinity from the ocean surface to depths of up to 2,000 metres.

ISDM manages data for DFO programs such as the Atlantic Zone Monitoring Program, BioChem (the water sample and plankton database), as well as the international Surface Drifter Program. This latter program provides almost one million records a month of measurements of ocean variables such as water and air temperature, air pressure and air pressure changes. These are used by all national meteorological services with atmospheric modelling capability for short-term weather prediction.

The branch also coordinates funding for improving data management activities within DFO Science. This fund supports a variety of initiatives including extending data management capabilities by developing new data access capabilities through web services technology. Efforts are also underway to secure older data by processing them into managed archives. In 2008-2009, the emphasis was on processing older data from the Canadian Arctic so it can provide historical context for data collected by International Polar Year research.

To improve accessibility to information for Canadians, ISDM used database technology and modern web development tools to rebuild the web pages of ISDM as well as other DFO Science groups including the Canadian Hydrographic Service and Strategic Science Outreach.

Did you know?

BIOCHEM ARCHIVES

Dots on the map represent locations where some of the data are collected for the BioChem database, which ismanaged by DFO's Integrated Science Data Management Branch. As of January 2008, the BioChem archives became accessible via the Internet to anyone wanting to query its growing database (www.meds-sdmm.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/biochem/Biochem_e.htm) . In the past year, ISDM also converted many of the archives tomore user friendly modern technologies so other government departments, universities, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and the general public can easily access them.

Map

Navigational chart

In 2008-2009, CHS introduced eight new electronic navigational charts for the communities in Nunavik that are marked by red dots on the map.

64 Sailing Directions publications

Map: DFO, John Mercuri

The Canadian Hydrographic Service is in the process of converting the 64 Sailing Directions publications to print-on-demand delivery.

DATA PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Modernizing the Delivery of Navigation Products

Since 2007, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) has been improving the delivery of hydrographic data and navigation products to mariners and the scientific community through its digital products and intellectual property licensing program. As Canada's official hydrographic office, CHS is responsible for and strives to offer the most reliable navigational charts of Canadian waters. This includes the production and distribution of charts in paper as well as in two electronic formats to meet both commercial shipping and recreational boating needs. Improvements in 2008-2009 included:

  • the introduction of new CDs of Arctic charts, one for raster navigational charts (RNCs) in the BSB* raster format and one for vector electronic navigational charts (ENCs) in the international S-57 standard format. The S-57 ENC CD includes eight new releases for communities in Nunavik; and
  • the development of a system to enable registered users to download updates, new editions and new charts from the CHS web site at www.charts.gc.ca. Full implementation of this service is expected by 2010.

* BSB is a standard computer file format used in the distribution of raster nautical charts.

Hydrographic and bathymetric data collected by CHS is used for charting and also by hundreds of stakeholders for research, engineering projects and a variety of other purposes. In 2008-2009, CHS reached more users by negotiating intellectual property licence agreements with companies to add new features and functions to CHS data and charts. These products were redistributed for use with electronic chart systems, chart plotters, hand-held mobile devices and smart phones such as the iPhone.

CHS also expanded the number of products delivered by print-on-demand and began converting the 64 Sailing Directions publications to this method. Nautical charts and Sailing Directions delivered by print-on-demand improve safety for mariners by ensuring products are printed only when ordered by a dealer so the mariner receives the most recent changes and notices.

2009 survey area

From 2006 to 2009, the Canadian Hydrographic Service resurveyed the waters around Kitimat, B.C. The 2009 survey area, which appears on the terrain map as colour-coded bathymetric depths from 0 metres (dark red) to 400 metres (dark blue), encompassed the northern end of Douglas Channel — the main channel into Kitimat—as well as some subsidiary channels including Devastation, Loretta and Sue channels and Verney Passage.

Image: CHS-DFO

Kitimat: New Charts Aid Navigation for West Coast Port

With changing commercial development comes changing shipping needs. Such is the case on British Columbia's northern coast in the approaches to Kitimat. The area's diverse shipping activities range from commercial carriers, ferries, cruise ships, tugs and tows to fishing vessels and recreational users. In light of the proposed development of a petroleum export and condensate import terminal in Kitimat, the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) has been modernizing its suite of navigational products for the area. To support the development of 24 new charts, CHS resurveyed 95 percent of the area between 2006 and August 2009. To date, CHS has released six new bilingual charts based on North American Datum 83* with common scales and metric units, and 21 Electronic Navigational Charts to meet existing demand.

*NAD83 stands for North American Datum 1983, which is the standard reference system of geographic coordinates for the Earth approved for use by map and chart makers in the U.S., Canada and Central America.

Canadian Hydrographic Conference 2008

The Canadian Hydrographic Service supported the Canadian Hydrographic Association (CHA) and the Association of Canada Lands Surveyors (ACLS) in co-hosting the Canadian Hydrographic Conference 2008, which was held in Victoria, British Columbia, in May. The theme of the conference was “Bringing Land and Sea Together”. More than 500 delegates and exhibitors from 16 countries, representing both land and sea surveying, attended this international event. Discussion focused on the many challenges and opportunities for the profession in the 21st century, and promoted the transfer of ideas, knowledge and technology within the greater geomatics community.

Strategic Science Outreach

In support of a science culture in Canada, DFO Science continued its efforts to build awareness of the aquatic sciences with key audiences including the science and research communities in governments, universities and at the international level, plus the Canadian public. To make DFO science more accessible, Strategic Science Outreach (SSO) launched an online directory of DFO's scientists. Online DFO Science Stories continued to gain in popularity, and are delivered automatically to subscribers on a regular basis. In support of the department's International Polar Year (IPY) projects the unit hosted Oceans and Marine Life Polar Day, a day of lectures and celebration. The unit managed the publication of a series of key direction documents for Science Renewal concerning research priorities and the move to an ecosystem approach to science. The unit produces the DFO Science Annual Report and manages external alliances and partnerships among federal and provincial partners related to science conferences and exhibits at national science centres, outreach activities with non-governmental organizations that contribute to science learning and curricula, and activities involving staff such as internal and external lectures on science.