Nunatsiavut Government

August 3, 2015

Labrador. Unquestionably one of the last strongholds for wild Atlantic salmon. So much so, in fact, that stocks in places like Lake Melville can sustain an important subsistence and resident food fishery for local Nunatsiavut (Inuit), Innu and NunatuKavut (Inuit-Metis) communities.

The Nunatsiavut government, Memorial University, the Department of Fisheries and Ocean, Dalhousie University, and l’Université du Québec à Rimouski (UQAR) have partnered to spearhead a project to study Atlantic salmon stocks in Lake Melville, and its extensive watershed.

“Labrador is currently experiencing rapid economic development – the lower Churchill hydroelectric project, road construction and mining,” says Todd Broomfield, Director of Renewable Resources with the Nunatsiavut government’s Department of Lands and Natural Resources. “We need a better understanding of the salmon populations there to properly manage, conserve and secure this important food source for future generations.”

ASCF provided $30,000 for the project, which is aimed at determining three important pieces of information: whether Atlantic salmon in Lake Melville are genetically distinct and should be managed independently, whether the fisheries in Lake Melville are comprised of a single stock or represent a mixed stock harvest, and which rivers in the lake’s large watershed contribute to salmon production.

“This field season went really well,” says Marie Clément, a research scientist working for the Marine Institute’s Centre for Fisheries Ecosystems Research and stationed at the Labrador Institute of Memorial University. So well, in fact, that the team met all of the fieldwork objectives in just over two months, instead of the expected two field seasons.

“Our graduate students spent from mid-June to mid-August sampling within the Lake Melville region and Upper Grand Lake,” Clément reports. “Most rivers flowing into Lake Melville are not accessible by roads and the remoteness of juvenile salmon habitats represented the main challenge of this field season. Using a combination of boats, canoes and a helicopter, our students successfully reached salmon juvenile habitats and captured 531 salmon parr in 11 rivers.”

Meanwhile, two students hired by the Nunatsiavut government spent their summer on the wharves of the North West River and Rigolet, gathering samples from some 424 adult salmon that were harvested through the local subsistence fisheries.

“The fishers expressed a lot of interest in the project,” says Broomfield. “They interacted with the students and team members on almost a daily basis, providing samples without hesitation and askingabout salmon conservation in general. We’re looking forward to sharing our results with the community in the future.”

All samples have been sent for analysis at the various labs that are also partners in the project. Once assessed, the team hopes that the data will answer some crucial questions.

“The results should inform us about which rivers contribute to salmon production,” says Marie Clément. “This will help us protect important salmon habitat during the planning phase for any construction projects that will be part of the area’s economic development.”

The information will also be valuable to the Nunatsiavut government as it considers the future of, and the best location for, a salmon assessment facility within the Lake Melville watershed.