Application of the Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network and reference condition approach to Canada’s Pacific Wild Salmon Policy

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The strategy for implementing Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Pacific Wild Salmon Policy (WSP) will involve the selection of indicators to assess the quantity and quality of fish habitat. Environment Canada’s Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN) is a program that has been established to assess and monitor the biological condition of fresh water systems in Canada. The approach involves the use of benthic invertebrates as a biological indicator, which has been effective in many other monitoring programs. The CABIN program has established a large number of reference sites across DFO’s Pacific Region (e.g. the Fraser/Georgia basin, Skeena River, and Yukon River) and is a valuable resource. Access to existing assessments, the standardized protocol, training program, analytical tools, and information delivery system are all consistent with the objectives of the WSP.

A case study involving the use of CABIN to assess fish habitat in Salmon and Bessette Creek in the British Columbia interior showed that the sampling protocol and analytical tools provide clear designations of ecological stress level at the sample sites, though the scale at which they measure perturbations could be too fine for the purposes of the WSP. There is also uncertainty regarding the relevance of the stress designations to fish habitat condition. Also, some risk is associated with relying on a program that is currently transitioning from a research project to an applied biomonitoring program.

Reference Condition Approach based biomonitoring following the CABIN protocol has the potential to serve as a site specific stress indicator in a tiered approach to habitat monitoring under the WSP. Low cost options for leverage between the two programs and possible others would have to be employed, given the funding level of the WSP. At minimum, the development of the CABIN program should be tracked as the WSP monitoring program evolves.