Aquarium du Québec – SEPAQ - About

The early years

Fisheries managers have always collaborated with fishermen to study the ecology and dynamics of fish communities. In the St. Lawrence, Dr. Vadim D. Vladykov recognized the value of information resulting from the fixed-gear fisheries along the shore and established, between 1944 and 1960, the monitoring of daily fish catches at a commercial weir fishery operated by Arthur Matte at Neuville on the north shore. These data were carefully archived at the Aquarium du Québec. The Aquarium du Québec opened in 1959, and an experimental weir fishery became operational in 1961. From 1961 to 1970, the fishery was operated sporadically (Centre Saint-Laurent, 1996) and was used to renew native specimens in the Aquarium’s collection. It was only from 1971 that the same gear was set at the same location in Saint-Nicolas (Figure 1), and a series of systematic observations were carried out from spring to fall each yearan continues to this day.

Figure 1: Location and photograph of the Aquarium du Québec’s fishing gear at Saint-Nicolas
Source: Yves de Lafontaine

Scientific relevance of the fishery

At the inception of the St. Lawrence Action Plan, which is a federal–provincial agreement signed in 1988, data that had been collected at the Aquarium’s experimental fishery constituted the longest time series on fish communities in eastern Canada, along with statistics from commercial fisheries (Bernier et al., 1996). Hence, the experimental fishery was proposed as a reference site as part of the quinquennial Fish Monitoring Network (FMN) launched in 1995 and operated by the ministère de l’Environnement et de la Faune (which became the ministère des Forêts de la Faune et des Parcs, MFFP) and by Environment Canada’s Centre Saint-Laurent (which became Environment and Climate Change Canada).

In 1996, a first database was created at the Centre Saint-Laurent. Over the years, it was improved by many new tools, additions, updates and validations, and the relational database, which was developed using Microsoft ACCESS, contains information on daily fish catches between 15 May and 31 October since 1975 (Lacroix and de Lafontaine, 2004).

In 2017, a partnership between the Aquarium du Québec and Fisheries and Oceans Canada allowed a complete validation of the database and generated products available on the web application of the St. Lawrence Global Observatory. In addition, a time series of annual catches from 1971 to 1974 was included for the Saint-Nicolas station and two more historic time series of daily catches were included from the nearby sites of Neuville (1944–1957) and Saint-Romuald (1962).

Projects and studies undertaken

Like a sentinel of the St. Lawrence River, the fishery permitted the identification and monitoring of different environmental issues particular to the fluvial ecosystem. These studies led to many scientific publications:

  1. Inventory of the pathological conditions in fishes of the St. Lawrence (Lair et Martineau, 1997, Mikaelian et Martineau, 1997, Mikaelian et al., 1998; Uhland et al., 2000).
  2. Monitoring the chemical contamination of biota (de Lafontaine et al., 1999, Mikaelian et al., 2002).
  3. Hydrological impact on the seasonal occurrence and migratory timing of freshwater fish species in the Lower St. Lawrence (de Lafontaine et al., 2002, de Lafontaine et Marchand, 2003, Marchand et de Lafontaine, 2004).
  4. Population decline of American eel in the St. Lawrence River (Cairns et al., 2008, de Lafontaine et al., 2010).
  5. Participation in the Estuary Fish Inventory Network from 2009 to 2012 (Bourget et al., 2011).
  6. Monitoring the striped bas (Morone saxatilis) reintroduction program (Pelletier et al., 2011).
  7. Detection of invasive exotic species:
    • Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis) (de Lafontaine, 2005; Ikeda et al., 2009),
    • Tench (Tinca tinca) (Masson et al., 2013),
    • Round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) (Brodeur et al., 2011).
As of 2020, there are ongoing collaborations with the Ministère des Forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec for some species of interest (Shads, Stripped bass, American eels, etc.) as well as with various university researchers to support their reseach projects.

Partners and collaborators

The Aquarium du Québec is grateful to the numerous partners and collaborators who enabled it to maintain these operations over the years:

  • Environment Canada’s Centre Saint-Laurent (which became Environment and Climate Change Canada) contributed funding for the experimental fishery operations between 1994 and 2014 and for the compilation, organization, and validation of the catch data and creation of the database structure.
  • The scientific team of the Regional Direction of Sciences of Maurice Lamontagne Institute, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, for the reorganization and update of the database.
  • The fishermen responsible of the weir operations since its inception, late Mr. Fernand Gingras from 1971 to 1988 and from 1992 to 1995, Mr. Bernard Côté from 1989 to 1991 and from 1996 to 2014 and Mr. Chris Loebsack from 2016 up to now. Their dedication to the acquisition of reliable data has been a key element in the production of the database.