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Findings of multi-year fish study expected by year end

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 4, 2012

A team of researchers have made their fourth - and, for now, final visit - to two NWT communities as part of a study of fish in rivers north of the Alberta oilsands.

NNSL photo/graphic

University of Saskatchewan professor Dr. Paul Jones, left, and Andrew Edjericon of Fort Resolution examine a fish caught in a northern river. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The researchers from the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon were in Fort Resolution for most of last week, after stopping in Fort Smith the week before.

Dr. Paul Jones, an associate professor at the university's School of Environment and Sustainability, said the information gathered over the past year will now be analyzed and several reports prepared.

"That should be done by the end of the year," he said in Fort Resolution on May 29.

Jones declined to offer any preliminary findings, explaining he did not want to release any information out of the context of a full report.

Beginning last summer, the researchers studied fish during all four seasons in five communities on the Athabasca and Slave rivers. Along with Fort Resolution and Fort Smith, they visited the Alberta communities of Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay and Fort McMurray.

Jones said it was important to look at the fish in all four seasons because their health and conditions change throughout the year.

The study is looking at five species of fish - pike, walleye, whitefish, goldeye and burbot.

Among other possible contaminants, the study is looking for chemicals that may be coming out of the oilsands development.

It is also looking for any abnormalities such as lesions and deformities, along with parasites and bacterial diseases.

Patrick Simon, the environmental manager with Deninu Ku'e First Nation in Fort Resolution, said a number of organizations were involved in the study, including the band, the Fort Resolution Metis Council, the Hamlet of Fort Resolution, Deninu School, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"It's a whole community effort," he said.

Seven people from the community helped catch fish in the Slave River Delta for testing, while four others helped with cutting up the fish and packaging samples at Deninu School.

Simon said everyone in Fort Resolution will be interested in seeing the results of the study.

Residents of Fort Resolution have a number of concerns that may be partially addressed by the study, he noted, pointing to a high rate of cancer as one concern.

"We're looking at all the different aspects of that," he said. "What's in our community. How we're living in terms of our lifestyle, our habits and, of course, the water and the animals."

Jones said the recent visits are the last currently planned in the study, although more will take place if additional funding can be obtained.

The professor would like to turn the study into a long-term monitoring program.

The University of Saskatchewan research was funded for one year with $280,000 from the Pew Charitable Trust in the United States.

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