The Fish Identification Nearshore Survey (FINS) was started in 2015 as a research partnership between the River Institute and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, to address concerns over the state of minnows and other small fish communities in the Upper St. Lawrence River. The project aims to collect baseline information on the status of these nearshore fish communities and aquatic habitats of the river, and to fill in knowledge gaps on the distribution and habitat associations of species at risk. With students, partners, and local volunteers, the project also seeks to increase awareness on the importance of small fish species to food webs, and how these species can be used as indicators of the health of the St. Lawrence River ecosystem.
This project has generated a considerable dataset of environmental health indicators for the Upper St. Lawrence River that connects nearshore food web health (invertebrates and minnows) to habitat, species invasion, predation pressure, water quality, water levels and other environmental changes. Through this work, the River Institute and Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) have established a network of Canadian and U.S. researchers and partners conducting surveys and monitoring the Upper St. Lawrence River.
The project is already informing governments and stakeholders about water quality, benthic invertebrates, fish population indices, and overall ecosystem health in relation to habitat characteristics and environmental change. Results have been shared through scientific publications and conferences, community outreach and education programs, and social media (@fins.riverinstitute). This unique dataset provides the scientific basis needed to guide restoration and conservation efforts and policies. This data will also contribute to an ecosystem health report for the Upper St. Lawrence River, known as the Great River Rapport (https://riverrapport.ca). Funding from Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) Habitat Stewardship Fund, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) & Loblaw Water Fund, and private foundations including the Trottier Family Foundation have been critical in supporting this work.
2015-2023 PROJECT OUTCOMES
Matt Windle – Research Scientist