Kenora student enjoyed three-month research stint in Yukon

Kenora’s Julia Beveridge had the opportunity of a lifetime last summer when she got the chance to head up to the Yukon on a contract as a fisheries biologist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Central and Arctic Division) based out of the Freshwater Institute at the University of Manitoba.
Now away at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay studying medicine to become a doctor just like her dad, Julia recently gave me a report on her three-month visit to the Yukon and it sounds like she had a great time in the north—and found plenty of fish to play with.
Julia and her crew of six were stationed on the Beaufort Sea.
“To get there, we flew via Edmonton and Yellowknife to Inuvik,” she recounted. “From there, we took a Twin Otter plane to an old DEW site (Distant Early Warning from the Cold War days) with a tundra runway near the border of Alaska.
“At that point, we used a helicopter to sling all our gear 10 miles east to our selected site,” she added. “It took seven Twin Otter flights and 20 helicopter slings to transport all our equipment and supplies!”
They were on a three-month contract from the middle of June until the middle of September, during which time they were reproducing a study first done 20 years ago that looked at nearshore fish populations.
“We set up directional trap nets to assess how many and what kinds of fish were present in that area,” Julia explained. “With the trap nets, the fish aren’t killed but they have to be checked and emptied regularly.
“We checked the traps every single day at 9 a.m., 4 p.m., and 11 p.m.,” she continued. “We identified, counted, and measured every single fish we caught and took a daily sub-sample to dead-sample.
“The sub-sampled fish were weighed, the otoliths were taken for aging structures, the gonads were examined and weighed for sex and maturity, and the stomach contents were examined.
“In addition, we set off-shore gill nets twice a week, seine-netted for invertebrates, and took water samples.”
Julia and her group encountered various species of fish in their nets, with the most common being various types of ciscos, whitefish, and flounders. The most well-known and controversial fish they dealt with was the Arctic Char.
“We never dead-sampled these due to regulations, but instead clipped their adipose fin for DNA analysis,” she explained. “This information will be used to assess their population genetics [i.e., which fish are coming from which river systems].”
Less prevalent species they ran into were Arctic grayling, burbot, and Arctic cod. They also sampled a whole host of smaller species that I had never heard of.
The data they recorded will take time to analyze, but they caught more than 20,000 fish in their nets—most of which were released.
“A big feature of our study was the double trap-net, which determined which direction the fish were travelling,” Julia noted. “Many of the species were swimming west, away from the river systems [Mackenzie delta, Babbage] in the spring, then starting to return in the fall.
“We also caught many of the young-of-the-year fish midway through the summer as they grew to a size that could be caught in our nets,” she added. “Essentially, it was a survey to see what fish were there and in what numbers to better assess the current fisheries and regulations.
“I’d have to say that my lasting impression of the trip is of the northern scenery,” she added. “I had never been above the tree-line before and looking around at the open landscape and the vast ocean made me realize just how small and insignificant I was . . . and how isolated I was!
“However, the wildflowers on the tundra in the spring were spectacular.
“The other initial shock was the 24-hour sunlight!” she recalled. “It wasn’t until late August that the sun began to set . . . we all woke up at 4 a.m. to glimpse the darkness!
“As well, we had to take apart our nets for several days in July when there was a windstorm that caused a bunch of pack ice to break off and blow into shore,” Julia remarked. “I can now say that I’ve stood on an iceberg in July!”

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