Youth, elders and Tlicho government staff are beginning preparations for the annual fish camp on several lakes in the region after a planning workshop ironed out some details in Whati in late June.
A partnership of the Wek’eezhii Renewable Resources Board (WRRB), Wek’eezhii Land and Water Board (WLWB) and the Tlicho Government, the fish camps have been held in different communities for the past three years to monitor fish and fish habitats by combining traditional and Western science and to teach community-based monitoring techniques to youth.
This year’s camp, which will be held in Whati in late summer, will be the fourth and final for baseline data collection in the first round of sampling. Next year, the cycling will begin again in Behchoko, allowing comparative analysis to be done with the first samples, which were taken four years ago.
The camps are led by Boyan Tracz, biologist for the WRRB, and Sarah Elsasser, regulatory specialist from the WLWB, along with Tlicho Government staff and elders from each community.
Over five days, the young participants learn to take fish samples in order to test 20 whitefish and 20 lake trout. They process each fish before sending it away to a laboratory where results determine the contamination levels of the fish by testing for metals, including mercury.
The campers also learn to calculate the age of the fish by the size and rings found on a bone in the fish’s head. The age allows them to determine levels of contamination relative to age.
In 2012, sampling from the fish camp on Snare Lake found that large, older lake trout were six times more contaminated than smaller, younger trout.
Despite this, results from the past three years in Behchoko, Wekweeti and Gameti found contamination levels were not above average.
“There is mercury in the rock, there is mercury in the water, we just want to make sure it is not above the normal background levels,” Tracz explains in a video by the Tlicho Government posted on the WRRB website.
The campers also learn to take samples of sediment from the lakes, which are sent to a laboratory for contamination testing.
Beyond Western science methods, the camps are attended by elders in the community who share on-the-land skills in the aquatic environment like fishing and making dry fish, fried fish and bannock.
The goal, according to the WRRB website, is to connect youth to the land, and foster a sense of pride and desire for environmental and cultural preservation in the future leaders.
“In the future, when they have families and kids of their own, our knowledge and culture will continue to go on and on,” an elder shared in the video.
To watch the video from last year’s Gameti fish camp, visit http://wrrb.ca/content/new-gameti-fish-camp-video-ready-viewing
For results from the last three fish camps, visit http://wrrb.ca/content/aquatic-ecosystem-monitoring-project