Habitat Science

A number of human industrial activities can affect fish and their habitat. These include oil & gas development, mining, chemical industries, shipping and electricity generation. In order to sustain and soundly manage these activities to ensure minimum impact on ecosystems, accurate and informed regulatory and policy decisions must be made. As a result, Environmental Science at DFO is issue driven; focusing our scientific expertise on the environmental effects that must be factored in to all decision-making.

Hydro Electricity

Hydroelectric generation in Canada is expected to continue to increase over the next decade. Hydroelectric dams can significantly alter the flow regime of rivers. Unfortunately changing flow regimes and impoundments affect fish migration and survival, along with the food webs upon which they depend.

Research on stream flows for fish survival leads to better design of hydroelectric facilities and better operating practices, consistent with the conservation and protection objectives of the Fisheries Act. Research is also being conducted on the effects of reservoir creation on mercury availability. Flooding caused by reservoir creation can lead to elevated levels of mercury in the water and fish.

An example of successful science-based fishery management is the Exploits River in Newfoundland, which supports one of the largest Atlantic salmon runs in North America. The Exploits has two major power dams and several pulp mills. DFO has worked for several decades at improving salmon production, including conducting research on the environmental impacts of pulp & paper and hydro facilities. Since 1997, Environmental Scientists in Newfoundland have worked with Abitibi Consolidated Company of Canada, the Exploits River Management Association, the Universities of Waterloo and British Columbia, and consulting firms to provide scientific advice on the construction of a by-pass system to allow fish to get safely past the turbines. As a result, downstream fish passage has increased. Overall, the salmon population has been steadily increasing due to, both, an enhancement program of stocking and the fishway by-pass.

Oil & Gas

In light of recent international pressures on oil supply and cost, oil & gas related activities have increased on Canada's coasts. The oil & gas moratorium on the Pacific Coast is currently being re-evaluated and in Atlantic Canada oil & gas exploration and development is expanding. There is renewed interest in exploration in the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea. Science research and advice is required by the Habitat and Oceans branches to support their decision-making related to marine ecosystem conservation. Advice is provided on a range of issues from the effects of seismic surveys on marine species and ecosystems to the effects of drilling operations, production systems and the decommissioning of oil drilling platforms.

Targeted scientific research and expertise is used to provide timely, informed science advice to DFO decision-makers to support their policy development related to marine ecosystem conservation.

Environmental Science at DFO acquires scientific understanding of marine ecosystems through a coordinated national program of targeted research that focuses on ecosystem impacts of offshore oil & gas activities. We also provide scientific information and advice to support conservation and protection of marine ecosystems and the sustainable utilization of aquatic resources.

DFO established the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research (COOGER) to coordinate the department's nation-wide research on the environmental and oceanographic impacts of offshore petroleum exploration, production and transportation. COOGER addresses the departmental mandate and industry need by providing scientific knowledge for use to ensure safe and environmentally sound management of offshore oil and gas operations.

Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research

Toxic Contaminants

Canada has over 35,000 chemical substances in commercial use. An overwhelming majority of existing chemicals have not been tested for toxicity, and very little data exist on these substances. To reduce the impacts of toxic chemicals on fish, fish habitat and fishery resources, DFO conducts research on toxic chemicals. This provides the scientific advice necessary in the regulatory and policy decision-making process.

The desired end-point of the toxic chemicals research is the identification of the biological impact of toxic chemicals on aquatic ecosystems and the understanding of how these changes are reflected in the health of the fishery resource. The issues facing toxics research are broad and range from cellular to population levels; from marine to freshwater systems; toxic sources such as agriculture, municipal effluent, energy development, pulp mills and aquaculture; and are responsive to a variety of federal legislation [e.g., Fisheries Act, Oceans Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Pest Control Products Act]. To understand and advise on these issues requires not only the individual expertise of the researcher, but that of a research team that is usually multi-disciplinary, multi-regional and multi-sectoral.

Examples of current research by DFO on toxic chemicals include:

  • The effects of exposure to pesticides and nonylphenol on juvenile lobster and salmon smolts;
  • the effects of submarine mine tailings disposal, salmonoid aquaculture wastes and sewage outfalls on fish, fish habitat and marine ecosystems;
  • ecosystem assessment of marine environmental quality;
  • the use of health tracers to study the effects of toxic chemicals on free-ranging marine mammals; and
  • the impact of pesticides on fish in Newfoundland Labrador, St. Lawrence Estuary, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.

A key outcome of a recent review of toxic chemical research in DFO was the conclusion that DFO's toxics research should allocate higher priority to biological impacts. A peer review of toxic chemicals will be conducted to support the refocused toxic chemicals research program. Teams of DFO scientists will draft working papers exploring the following themes:

  • Impacts of classes and mixtures of toxics on endpoints;
  • ecological interactions with other factors;
  • marine mammals; and
  • sentinel species and best practices in monitoring.
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