Overcoming the Challenge of Harsh Weather in the High Arctic

 

When Les Harris and Brendan Malley of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO, Winnipeg) and their research team embarked on the 2018 field season in the high Arctic near the community of Cambridge Bay, NU, they expected harsh conditions. What they didn’t expect was the weather being the worst they had seen in 13 Arctic field seasons which threatened to derail their VPS fine scale positioning study of spawning Arctic Char and Lake Trout. But thanks to some traditional knowledge relayed by local elders and some logistical creativity, the tagging season did not result in a washout.

“This season was unseasonably cold, wet and windy,” said Harris. “We were constantly dealing with 20 to 30 kilometre per hour winds from the north-northwest that were often gusting to 40 and 50 and even higher – up to 80 one day!”

Their original plan was to set up a VPS study in Spawning Lake – located in Canada’s Nunavut territory – which is seven kilometres long and four kilometres wide. Harris was concerned that the persistent winds would be detrimental to their season given the size of the lake and the limitations of their main vessel, a 10-foot inflatable boat.

Eventually the VPS study was deemed unfeasible at Spawning Lake as the team would not have had ample time nor safe opportunity to deploy equipment. It was time to come up with Plan B.

“We consulted with local elders and resource users on potential other lakes that would suit our needs,” said Harris. “We were informed of two lakes known locally as Inuhuktok and Nakyulik that met all the criteria as candidate lakes for our VPS study.”

Both lakes had plenty of spawning Arctic Char and Lake Trout, sufficient depths for deploying equipment, and impassable inflows and outflows ensuring all tagged fish would remain in the lakes until the spring thaw.

After much scrambling, re-planning and redesigning of the receiver arrays, Harris, Malley and team were able to successfully deploy VPS arrays in both lakes, tag 24 Arctic Char and 21 Lake Trout with V16 and V16TPs, and put V7 tags in the oviducts of 15 fish.

“Overall, despite our setbacks, we feel it was a very successful field season,” said Harris. “Now we wait a year and hope our two VPS arrays are collecting a lot of cool data. Both Brendan and I have never been more excited to get back up there to retrieve equipment.”

Photo 1: Maude Sévigny of Université Laval releases a giant lake trout. Photo by Brendan Malley

Photo 2: Finally, there is a moment of calm. Photo by Brendan Malley

Photo 3: VR2AR Acoustic Release Receivers are ready for deployment. Photo by Brendan Malley

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