eDNA Water and Fish Health Monitoring

Environmental DNA (eDNA) provides evidence of the presence or absence of living organisms in the environment using nature’s genetic fingerprint. This works well with water samples, in which microorganisms, detached cells, and genetic debris float freely and can be detected by molecular methods to assess their presence and occurrence.

Despite the successful use of eDNA in the past for several applications (such as assessing the presence of invasive species), the comparison described here is needed because this eDNA approach to fish health monitoring has not yet been tested. Several uncertainties around its sensitivity and reliability (compared to current fish health practices) need to be assessed and resolved before this method could be applied at larger scales. The access to eDNA monitoring would open the path to several applications for First Nations (empowering independent monitoring), for Government (increasing monitoring and enforcement capabilities), and for Industry, which could use such technology to closely monitor production operations and better control the occurrence of outbreaks.

This research is being led by the Broughton First Nations and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) through a ‘Specified Purpose Agreement’ (SPA) between ‘Namgis and DFO, with the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF) functioning as the First Nations’ contracted expert. Monthly fish tissue and eDNA water samples will be analyzed over 12 months at the DFO genomics lab during which staff of the BC First Nations Genomics Lab will be trained in the genomics analytical techniques needed to continue this work after the DFO collaboration ends. The SPA also provides for a postdoctoral fellow to produce a peer reviewed report.