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The Innu do their part
to protect species at risk
Minaikuss Odette and Jolyane Briand-Fontaine on the job with an eel caught in one of the Baie de Sept-Îles eelgrass beds, DFO  H. F. Ellefsen Minaikuss Odette and Jolyane Briand-Fontaine on the job with an eel caught in one of the Baie de Sept-Îles eelgrass beds

DFO  H. F. Ellefsen

Over the course of the last two years, members of the First Nations communities have conducted a biological survey of the rich eelgrass beds along the North Shore, on the look-out for species at risk. This initiative by the Agence Mamu Innu Kaikusseht (AMIK) aims to encourage Aboriginal communities to become involved in protecting species at risk. Funding for the survey is provided by the Government of Canada’s Aboriginal Funds for Species at Risk, the Fondation Hydro-Québec pour l’environnement and Mountain Equipment CO OP’s Environmental Fund.

Field operation in the eelgrass beds

From June 2008 to September 2009, some twenty Innu from Essipit (Les Escoumins), Uashat-Maliotenam (Sept-Îles), Ekuanitshit (Mingan) and Unamen Shipu (La Romaine) received training in fishing techniques and proceeded to survey the fish in a dozen eelgrass beds. It took nearly 3,500 hours of sampling to complete this part of the survey.

Soazig Le Breton, a biologist with AMIK, is pleased with the commitment of Innu communities and Fisheries and Oceans Canada to this project, “Researchers are delighted with the species that were reported here for the first time, said she. The Innu add to our knowledge of the area, acquire technical skills and improve their ability to manage aquatic and marine species. This expertise could ultimately be of interest to consultants or researchers seeking experienced workers.”

Juvenile cod caught using a beach seine in an eelgrass bed at Uashat, DFO  H. F. Ellefsen
Juvenile cod caught using a beach seine in an eelgrass bed at Uashat.
DFO  H. F. Ellefsen

An impressive experience, valuable findings

Eelgrass beds are incredibly productive habitats for the marine environment and for the species that use them for shelter, food, nurseries or incubators. A first sampling campaign, in 2008, revealed the presence of the Atlantic cod and the American eel, both considered to be species at risk by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and produced a few surprising observations… including a flying fish.

These reports are compiled by scientific researchers like Jean-Denis Dutil at Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Maurice Lamontagne Institute. “The sampling done in eelgrass beds is a valuable source of information, not only in terms of the biology of numerous less familiar species but also regarding the valuable role this habitat plays in their growth and reproduction,” says Dutil. Jolyane Briand-Fontaine, a participant in the program in summer 2008, was very astonished by the many discoveries made during the training period. “What most impressed me, was seeing how many fish live so close to our shores.”

Increased awareness-raising and involvement in 2009

In 2009, AMIK stepped up its efforts to encourage Aboriginal communities to become committed to the recovery of species at risk and their habitats. An awareness-raising component was added; school workshops, folders, and meetings with the communities and band councils were organised and panels informing the public about species at risk were installed. In addition to increasing the project’s visibility, this component gives all members of the community the opportunity to become involved in conservation efforts while informing them about concrete actions each person can take individually to support the recovery of species at risk and their habitats.

Supported by the Aboriginal Funds for Species at Risk, the project is expected to continue in 2010.

Did you know...

Since 2004, the Aboriginal Funds for Species at Risk supports the commitment of Aboriginal peoples and organizations in the implementation of the Species at Risk Act. The Act recognizes the role that Aboriginal people play in wildlife conservation.

What is AMIK?

AMIK is a not-for-profit organization active in maritime matters in such areas as fishing and marine product processing, marine resource management and research. AMIK represents the interests of nine communities – the seven Innu communities on the North Shore, the Maliseet of Viger and the Gespeg Mi’gmaq.

Myriam Bourgeois, Oceans, Habitat and Species at Risk
Hans Frédéric Ellefsen, North Shore Area