Researching the Effects of Climate Change on Forage Fish in the Arctic with Metrec•X

By: Jehan Zouak, Marketing Manager

students cr2

AML is an excellent company to work with. The expertise and knowledge of the staff and their willingness to assist goes far beyond my expectations....I highly recommend this company for the quality equipment and long term staff relations.

Helen Drost, PhD
Fish Eco-physiologist & Oceanographer, Sheluqun Environmental Consulting

The Challenge

For scientist Helen Drost, climate change is not just something she reads about in the news. Dr. Drost studies forage fish to identify the range of conditions under which they can live comfortably and determine if their range of tolerance will allow them to survive rapid climate change.

Helen measures cardio-respiratory performance in forage fish to identify their physiological limits as well as their potential to acclimate to different environments. She wants to answer questions like:

  • What is the highest temperature the fish can live in without changing their behaviour?
  • What happens if the water’s pH levels (ocean acidification) increase?
  • How does fish performance change when exposed to climate change multi-stressors?
Why are forage fish important?

Forage fish are a critical food source for a wide variety of ocean dwellers, including whales, dolphins, sharks, seals, sea lions, seabirds, salmon, cod, and tuna. See something from last night’s dinner on that list?

For the Inuit – who continue to harvest for their subsistence – healthy populations of forage fish are directly related to the continuance of their cultural traditions and overall well being. In the Arctic, rapid change is occurring including forage fish abundance and species.

In addition to being the main food source for a wide array of ocean wildlife, forage fish are caught and used as fish feed for farmed fish, and also for a wide range of products from cat food to cosmetics. With the demand for forage fish for these commercial endeavors continuously increasing, their ability to maintain population levels is challenged even without the further threat of climate change.

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Forage fish such as herring, capelin and Arctic cod, along with shrimp-like creatures such as copepods, krill and amphipods are diet staples of many predatory fish and marine mammals.

To observe the fish in the wild and collect benchmark habitat conditions, Helen records video footage while measuring the environment. This is achieved by attaching a custom underwater camera (Indro Robotics and AGO Environmental) to a Metrec•X multiparameter sonde with CTD and Dissolved Oxygen sensors. The sonde captures the characteristics of the water at the time and place of the recording of the fish’s behaviour, providing Dr. Drost with a multidimensional view of the fish’s preferred habitat during each season and stage of life.

Temperature data from the Metrec•X at Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

Underwater camera footage from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

The Arctic Research Foundation and Polar Knowledge Canada provided support during Arctic field testing in 2017.
Dr. Helen Drost has attached a drop camera to her modular Metrec•X multiparameter sonde to simultaneously capture her subject's habitat and their behaviour in it.

Why AML?

Dr. Drost came to AML because she needed several parameters, and with limited funding knew she could not acquire all of them at once. AML’s modular solution would enable Helen to add to her equipment at the pace her budget would allow. The ability to add sensors to the instrument as she could afford them would enable her to begin her studies immediately rather than having to either:

  • Wait until she had the funds to purchase an instrument with all the sensors she ultimately wanted.
  • Buy a more limited solution and have to purchase a whole new instrument in the future in order to have all desired parameters.

AML is an excellent company to work with. The expertise and knowledge of the staff and their willingness to assist goes far beyond my expectations. The work I am trying to implement (Arctic community forage fish monitoring and Inuit student environmental training) is hindered by limited funding. AML has shown compassion and understanding of our long term goals to build a system that can add on sensors, withstand harsh conditions and withstand introductory multi-users. I highly recommend this company for the quality equipment and long term staff relations.

Helen Drost, PhD

Fish Eco-physiologist & Oceanographer, Sheluqun Environmental Consulting

The Future

Forage fish may be small, but they play a massive role in the marine food web. Dr. Drost’s work is closely linked with a Canadian Fisheries and Oceans Arctic ecosystem modeller, Dr. Nadja Steiner, who can – based on the data Helen provides – map not only their ideal living conditions but also their limits. This helps to more accurately predict future species distribution and even survival during rapid climate change and increasing ocean acidification. In turn, this knowledge will help governing bodies and Inuit communities make more informed decisions on how to preserve this important piece of our marine ecosystem.

Arctic Youth Take Active Role in Protecting Their Communities

Last year, Helen taught an Environmental Technician (ET) field camp through Nunavut Arctic College. The students were keen to learn not only how to collect the data but also how to graph, analyse, and include data in reports.

The students at Nunavut Arctic College in Cambridge Bay, NU are seeing their territory change right in front of their eyes. With a dearth of environmental data in these remote locations, it is important that residents learn how to collect, graph, and analyze data properly so that data can be collected year-round rather than just a couple times a year by visiting scientists and Inuit Coastal Monitoring initiatives can become self sustaining.

Students in the Arctic College Environmental Technology program are learning how to monitor their environment to establish a baseline against which they can detect change, be it through climate change or increased commercial activity. The program introduces the students to the opportunities available to them out in the world beyond their communities, while also giving them tools and education to help protect their way of life.

Helen's Environmental Technician students are learning how to collect ocean data. (l-r: Doreen Porter, Kayla Carter, Leanne Beaulieu, Shannon Evetalegak, Boyd Klengenberg)

1 Steiner, N., Drost, H. E., Hunter, K. [2018]. A physiological limits database for Arctic and subarctic aquatic species. Canadian Technical Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 3256: v + 56 p.

2 Steiner, N.S., Cheung, W., Drost, H.E., Hoover, C., Lam, J., Miller, L., Cisneros-Montemayor, A., Sou, T., Sumaila, U.R., Suprenand, P., Tai, T., VanderZwaag, D.L. [2018]. Changing ocean impacts on the key forage fish species Arctic cod in the Western Canadian Arctic – Linking climate model projections to subsistence fisheries. AMAP Assessment 2018: Arctic Ocean Acidification, Tromsø, Norway. Annex 6, pp. 151-185.

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