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Unlocking Ontario’s fishy secret

MUDDY BOOTS BLOG

Read the article published in Canadian Geographic.

5 August 2020

The far north in Ontario has innumerable lakes and thousands of kilometres of rivers crisscrossing a landscape that is as much water as land. In fact, some of the world’s last large free-flowing rivers – including the Albany, Winisk and Severn – wind their way across this landscape and carry its abundant freshwater north toward Hudson and James Bay.  

For freshwater fish, this area is an aquatic haven. We know that at least 50 species of fish can be found in the Arctic drainage basin in Ontario – the largest area of high freshwater species diversity and low levels of environmental disruption in Canada. But exactly where those fish are is something we know a lot less about. And that matters, because Canada is committed to protecting 30 per cent of its freshwater and land area by 2030 in an effort to address the global biodiversity crisis. If our protection efforts are to be effective, especially in globally important areas like the far north in Ontario, they must focus on places that will benefit biodiversity, and where human communities will support them today and in the future. 

Right now, we have a critical window for proactive planning for the protection of ecological and social values in this wild area ahead of impending developments – there are multiple major mining and infrastructure projects, including all-weather roads, being proposed for the far north. The problem is that scientific data is scarce across this vast area, especially for fish. As field scientists, we have no problem spending hours in tiny planes searching for animal tracks or getting our boots muddy doing fish sampling work at lake level. But it can take days to sample just one lake, and so getting a picture of what fish were where in the tens of thousands of northern lakes was clearly going to require a different approach.

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