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    NNSL Photo/Graphic

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    Char-tracker tags fish in Frobisher Bay

    Herb Mathisen
    Northern News Services
    Published Monday, August 18, 2008

    IQALUIT - Boats became operating rooms and tidal pools were used as makeshift recovery rooms this summer while fish surgeon Aaron Spares inserted transmitter tags into the abdominal cavities of Arctic char.

    NNSL Photo/Graphic

    Aaron Spares holds up two "lethal sample" char, caught from Frobisher Bay. Spares is working with an Ocean Tracking Network project that hopes to find out how far the fish venture from fresh water river mouths in the summer. - photo courtesy of Aaron Spares

    Spares, a student at Dalhousie University working towards a PhD in marine biology, has been inserting the tags into char as part of the Ocean Tracking Network project - a $168 million initiative tracking the movement of marine life around the world.

    "The project is basically tracking travelling marine animals and monitoring the environmental conditions they are moving through," said Spares.

    The crew has been catching char in Frobisher Bay for the past three weeks.

    Just before low tide, they would go out and check the set up gillnets. Char were collected and Spares would insert sound tags, ranging in size from pencil erasers to pen caps, into the fish, which were sedated.

    The sensors are capable of recording temperature or depth or both and will transmit where the char are, and when.

    "Anyone here will tell you that char spend most of their time in fresh water, and then in summer, they come out of the lakes and into the ocean," said Spares.

    Spares hopes to discover how far char venture from the mouths of rivers.

    "The basic questions are, do they hang out in the river mouth, or do they move further? And how far do they go?" said Spares.

    Although data has not yet been collected, one fish - caught by an Iqalummiuq - has already provided the research team with some interesting findings.

    "One fish that I tagged at the Bay of Two Rivers was recaptured by a fisherman in the Sylvia Grinnell," he said. "So they at least move 22 km in a straight line."

    The knowledge of char habitats can be used to either conserve populations or make commercial fishing more efficient.

    "The management implications are huge," said Spares.

    Spares explained the hypothetical situation of an endangered char population.

    "If you know where they are and when they are there, then you could say, no fishing in this particular area right now, to let the population pass through," he said.

    On the flip side, knowing where abundant fish populations are would help the fishing industry operate more efficiently, by burning less fuel to get their stocks, he said.

    Not all fish survived capture, but Spares said dead fish were needed for the study as well.

    Stomach contents were examined to see what the fish had been eating. The ear bones of fish also provide researchers with invaluable information.

    "It's sort of like reading the fish's diary," said Spares, adding that from the bone they can determine how long the fish was in fresh water, or the ocean, and what their diet was.

    Spares had some harrowing experiences on the land.

    On one occasion, as he was performing surgery on char from 3 to 6 a.m., two curious wolves paid him a visit, but he had no idea they had been there until his associates told him later that day.

    The tagging is all done for the year.

    "The receivers are out there, recording and listening," said Spares, who will now spend his time monitoring char movements.

    Spares asks that any caught tagged char be brought to the Nunavut Research Institute.