No, Mistissini doesn’t have any problems with fishing yet but the community would like to see it stay that way. Usually it’s the government’s responsibility to do studies on fish and fauna but Mistissini First Nation got tired of waiting for government budget increases and took on the responsibility themselves. The government told Mistissini that when it comes to conservation plans they put their budget where there’s a crisis. “Our argument was that it would be good to find out what makes an area good so you can know what to do to keep it that way,” said Prince.
Speckled trout DNA was collected this summer and fall for the first part of the fish study. The beautiful thing about a DNA study is that DNA doesn’t change for about a million years, said Prince. Other sports fish like lake trout, pike and walleye will be studied in later phases. The results will be an essential tool in developing a management plan for the Mistassini Lake.
Micheal Price, of Mistissini’s economic development department, is quite excited about the project. “There are three important considerations in Mistassini Lake when you consider fishing,” he said. To begin with, there are the Native fishers who depended on the fish for subsistence, then there are the tourists, Cree outfitters and the fishers from the Mistissini preserve. Prince says the community didn’t want to wait until there was a problem before trying to fix it “We want to keep the lake the way it is,” he said, adding that the study might help others trying to revitalize a lake somewhere else.
The route to that was to get everyone involved as funds were limited. Guides and Cree outfitters would take samples of the Speckle trouts fin and mark where on Mistissini Lake the sample was taken from. The fish would then be released.
Cree guides and trappers told where the spawning beds were so that in the fall samples could be taken there. Speckle trout always return to the same spawning beds. This information would be used to determine migration patterns of the speckle trout in Mistassini Lake. It can also tell the average size of the fish spawning and how healthy it is. “With all of this information you can create a more detailed management plan,” says Prince. “When the studies are done we can send it to the government and say look we’ve studied this and we propose we manage the lake this way.”
Helping to create that plan is Dylan Fraser, a Laval University Master’s candidate under the supervision of Dr. Louis Bernarchez, the world’s acknowledge expert in fish DNA studies. René Dion, a biologist with the CRA, is contributing his expertise. Prince is glad to see all the different people and entities involved in the work. “This is a community-based study that combines traditional knowledge with western knowledge,” Prince said. He said the scientific study itself will be free from any outside influences except for the researchers.
Prince said the current management method treats the lake as if it was a one big pool and to estimate how many fish it should have. “It isn’t specific,” said Prince. “Say they say there are only 500 available, well then they’ll close the lake to speckle when that limit is reached except for subsistence fishing. That’s the way it’s estimated and we hope to change that.”
Prince said the community is hoping to prove itself with the study. “We’ll be looking for more partners for next years study and we think the government will contribute more once they see we’re serious,” Prince said.