Metis Nation of Alberta (MNA) has released a report from fish health monitoring that took place last year on Pigeon Lake and several other Alberta lakes that show low levels of mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present.
Fish tissues samples from Pigeon Lake, as well as Sturgeon Lake, Lac La Biche, Moose Lake and Lesser Slave Lake, indicated levels below Alberta’s recommended consumption limit.
“Overall, results suggest the concentration of mercury and PAHs are small enough that the human body will metabolize them faster than they will accumulate,” stated a press release.
The fish monitoring program started in 2021 as an addition to the MNA’s environment and climate monitoring initiative, “Askiy,” meaning earth, or land, in Cree.
The fish monitoring program was launched to assess fish health for lakes MNA citizens identified to be of concern and/or of importance to support traditional harvesting activities.
For all fish sampled, data was collected on species’ weight, length, condition, and palatability.
For the past three years, teams of MNA staff and Metis harvesters have sampled fish from a variety of lakes across Alberta, using Metis knowledge and western science.
“Through Askiy, the Environment and Climate Change Department engages with MNA Citizens, hears their climate and environment related concerns, and designs and implements projects to monitor and address them,” said MNA manager of environment Kimberly Mosicki. “Concerns around fish health, abundance, and water quality are repeatedly expressed and are priorities for us, so that Metis harvesters can continue to safely fish and exercise their rights.”
From Feb. 21 to 25, MNA Environment and Climate Change staff and Métis harvesters went to Calling Lake, Lesser Slave Lake, Sturgeon Lake, and Pigeon Lake for this year’s initiative, where they caught 94 fish including lake whitefish, walleye, northern pike, and burbot.
Monitoring locations are selected annually, taking into consideration available data, citizen concerns, use, and the presence of target fish species, such as walleye and lake whitefish – two prized fish for Metis harvesters.
“Pollution of rivers and lakes need to be addressed as soon as possible, or the fish we rely on for our livelihood and wellbeing will become extinct,” said Métis harvester Dean Fahner. “Harvesting has always been an integral part of Metis culture and it’s our collectively-held right.
“With that comes responsibility toward protecting our lands, waters, and wildlife, which we’ve been working hard to do for generations.”
A new addition to Askiy fish monitoring in 2023 was a youth monitor contest, where four Alberta Métis youth aged 18-29 were provided the opportunity to spend a week ice fishing and learning scientific methods and sustainable harvesting practices firsthand from Métis harvesters.
“Many of our Métis youth who grow up in urban environments don’t often have opportunities to connect with the land in this way,” said MNA Environment and Climate Change Engagement and Policy Manager, Jennifer Pylypiw. “Their families may have practiced harvesting years ago, but those traditions may have not been passed down. Initiatives like Askîy provide an important opportunity for young MNA citizens to reconnect with the land and Métis culture.”