Fish tests done by the Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) found no toxicology concern for fish in lakes tested, including Lesser Slave Lake.
MNA started Askîy Fish Health Monitoring in 2021. In 2022, it tested Lesser Slave Lake along with four other Alberta lakes.
“Askîy is the Cree word for the land or earth,” says Jordan York, MNA Environmental pro- grams manager.
“The MNA Environment and Climate Change department adopted it as the name for our environment and climate monitoring initiative.”
In 2022, the researchers tested 17 whitefish for toxicology. These were one each from Lesser Slave Lake and Moose Lake where only one whitefish was caught. Five fish from each of the other lakes were sent for testing.
The toxicology tests suggest the fish are safe.
According to a report provided by the MNA, “our mercury testing indicates that Métis harvesters do not need to limit their fish consumption at the sampled lakes. The mercury testing results from all lakes showed concentration levels below the 0.2 micrograms per gram (it takes one-million micrograms to make a gram) recommended consumption limit.”
Lesser Slave Lake whitefish had a mercury level of 0.08 micrograms.
The study suggests more research is needed on Lesser Slave Lake and Moose Lake because of the small sample size (one fish). These two lakes also had higher levels than the others, but still below the limit.
The same was true for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH).
“PAH tests indicate Métis harvesters do not need to limit their fish consumption at the sampled lakes and PAHs have not impacted fish reproductive rates,” says the study.
Lesser Slave Lake whitefish had a PAH of 12.02 gigatonnes per gram.
More information about the program is on the MNA website, albertametis.com.
MNA staff and Métis harvesters ice fished in mid-January to mid-February. In 2021, North Wabasca Lake was one of six lakes sampled. In 2022, Lesser Slave Lake was sampled along with four of the previous ones: Sturgeon Lake, Lac La Biche, Moose Lake, and Pigeon Lake.
The report says lakes were chosen for the study based on concerns shared by Métis citizens and the expected presence of walleye and lake whitefish.
“These species were targeted because citizens previously indicated these were the most desirable fish.”
Researchers looked at fish health [weight, length, condition, and palatability (how tasty it is)] and kept a few for toxicology testing.
The study used traditional and modern fishing methods. Traditional methods were the use of gillnets. The modern method was angling, called in the study rod-and-reel fishing.
First Nations and Métis harvesters and researchers are the only people allowed to get a licence for gillnetting in Alberta.
Each gillnet in the test was up for six daylight hours. Once it was in place, the harvesters fished with rod and reel. Gillnet fish which had to be killed were kept to be eaten by harvesters’ households.
This is where the palatability test came in. Harvesters tagged each kept fish with a unique number and reported back on its taste and quality for the study.
The testing results for 2022 were as follows:
Lesser Slave Lake was the northernmost of the five lakes. The southernmost lake was Pigeon Lake.
In Lesser Slave, one gillnet caught one lake whitefish, two northern pike, and one walleye. No fish were caught with rod and reel. The whitefish weighed 1.3 kg and had speckled gills. The other fish were healthy. The northern pike were 6.2 and 6.4 kg. The walleye was 1.4 kg.
In Moose Lake, the gillnet caught one whitefish and one northern pike and rod and reel caught two northern pike. The whitefish had tapeworm cysts in intestinal track, but no worms. It weighed 1.4 kg. One northern pike had superficial wounds, otherwise the fish were healthy. These weighed 1.4 to 2.5 kg.
The gillnet in Pigeon Lake caught five whitefish and two walleye. No fish were caught with a rod and reel. The fish were healthy, with the whitefish weighing between 0.7 and 2.7 kg and the walleye were 0.8 and 1 kg.
In Lac La Biche, one gillnet caught five lake whitefish, 10 northern pike, and one walleye. No fish were caught by rod and reel during the six hours. The whitefish were 0.8 to 2.1 kg, with four healthy and one with worms. Of the northern pike, one had white flecks, but the rest were healthy.
Sturgeon Lake yielded 12 whitefish, one walleye, and one burbot in the gillnet. Harvesters caught three northern pike with by rod and reel. All of the fish were healthy. The whitefish were between 1.2 and 4.8 kg, the northern pike were 0.7 to 1.1 kg, the walleye was 1.1 kg, and the burbot was 2.4 kg.
In February 2021, the team tested North Wabasca Lake.
“Unfortunately, we did not have funds to do toxicological sampling, at that time. Instead, we set a single net and relied on fishing success and visual health indicators to assess fish health,” says York.
A report about the 2021 testing says one gillnet set overnight in North Wabasca Lake for 12 hours caught 30 lake whitefish (1.9 to 4 lbs), five northern pike (8.3 to 14.9 lbs), three walleye (3.4 to 5.1 lbs). Of these, eight fish had damaged fins, spots on gills, black spots on skin, wounds or scarring. One other walleye was seen through a fishing hole.
The research continues.
“This winter our project team visited the four lakes (Calling Lake, Lesser Slave Lake, Sturgeon Lake, and Pigeon Lake) in late February and set two gillnets out overnight, catching a total of 96 fish,” York says.
“We’ve submitted 10 whitefish samples for mercury analysis; however, the results will not be ready for another six-plus weeks.”
by Pearl Lorentzen
May 1, 2023
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