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Fishing for facts in Canada’s lakes and waterways: UNB researcher part of a national project to identify fish species in Canada

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Feb 19, 2020

Category: UNB Saint John

Dr. Scott Pavey

With just one water sample, and using no nets or fishhooks, the University of New Brunswick’s Dr. Scott Pavey can tell what types of fish live in a stream or lake. Now, Dr. Pavey is using his expertise, equipment and lab in a nation-wide, $9.1-million funded project that will catalogue fish across Canada.

GEN-FISH, the Genomics Network for Fish Identification, Stress and Health, is based out of the University of Windsor. Researchers from 13 institutions across Canada will create systems both to identify the presence of species using DNA barcoding and to monitor stressors detectable through gene expression.

“This project will give us high-throughput tools to measure the presence and health of fish species, which has important implications for the conservation and management of fish stocks,” said Dr. Pavey. “Government, Indigenous Peoples, and other groups will be able to benefit from the project’s findings and from easier and cheaper access to data about lakes and waterways.”

Dr. Pavey, a Canada Research Chair and associate professor of biological sciences at UNB in Saint John, is the only Atlantic Canadian researcher on the project. He will be responsible for all of the project’s work on New Brunswick’s bodies of water and will contribute to the development of stress-monitoring tools. He has received $239,000 in project funding to support his participation.

Dr. Pavey will also collaborate with external partners, including New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development.

Sampling a lake or river with nets to catch, identify and release fish is a labour-intensive process prone to errors and can risk already-endangered stocks. Dr. Pavey’s research lab overcomes these challenges by analyzing environmental DNA. Environmental DNA is the DNA that is shed by an organism and dispersed through the water.

“This process is fast and efficient,” said Dr. Pavey. “By separating and comparing DNA segments found in the water to a reference library of genetic barcodes, one sample can reveal every species found in that ecosystem.”

Dr. Pavey recently acquired new equipment and infrastructure for the CRI Genomics lab at the Canadian Rivers Institute, enabling greater research capacity.

“Our lab is the most advanced ecology-focused genomics lab in New Brunswick, and we use it to support ongoing research in both the public and private sectors,” said Dr. Pavey. “For example, in cooperation with New Brunswick Natural Resources and Energy Development, we’ve used eDNA testing to monitor the presence of the endangered wood turtle in some of New Brunswick’s rivers. We will continue working with them on this project, developing eDNA tools and resources that work well for our province.”

GEN-FISH has received $9.1 million in funding from Genome Canada and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, with additional financial support from provincial governments, Canadian universities and other partners. It was officially launched on Dec. 9, 2019.

Media contact: Jeremy Elder-Jubelin

Photo credit: Rob Blanchard/UNB