An adult Chinook salmon swimming., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
An adult Chinook salmon swimming. © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Freshwater fish

Safeguarding healthy fish populations for future generations

Why freshwater fish matter

The Ontario Northern Boreal contains thousands of lakes, five of the last undammed and intact large rivers left in the world, and the largest wetlands in North America. This vast landscape is more water than land, and all of this water is home to more than 50 species of fish – the highest fish biodiversity in a largely still natural state left in Canada.

Healthy populations of fish are integral for First Nations people who live in northern Ontario. Fish is an important subsistence food source in an area where grocery stores are filled with highly processed and expensive food that is flown in from the south, and fishing is a culturally and spiritually important connection to a traditional way of life. Fish also support economically important recreational fisheries, especially fly-in fishing tourism. And they are a key component of the boreal ecosystem, providing a food source for animals ranging from birds to bears.

In order to safeguard healthy fish populations for future generations, we need better information and monitoring for fish in northern Ontario, and this information needs to be integrated into planning and management.

The challenge

Climate change and industrial activities

Warming water, hydropower dams, mines, and forestry are impacting fish, as well as from the roads and transmissions lines that industrial activities bring with them.

A lack of scientific data

We often don’t have a complete understanding of how fish are being impacted by these forces.

Our solutions

Better planning

We seek to improve planning in order to limit the impacts of development on fish. Fish are particularly sensitive to cumulative impacts because watersheds are connected, and impacts from a localized development can spread downstream. We are calling for big-picture regional planning for northern Ontario, so that the cumulative impacts of development at the watershed level are considered and accounted for in planning processes.

Better data

We are working to fill knowledge gaps and identify the main threats for freshwater fish by supporting the development of community-based monitoring programs; using computer-based modelling; and through targeted on-the-ground data collection.

We're using advanced computer modelling to identify the watersheds in northern Ontario that currently have the highest freshwater fish biodiversity today, and under likely climate change scenarios, in order to prioritize areas for protection.

Better management

We need data in order to make evidence-based decisions, and so we work to improve monitoring by supporting community-based monitoring; compiling and adding to existing scientific data; and collecting data on lake sturgeon in the intact North French River (Kah-pana-yow sîpi or Meh-ko-pwa-meh-ŝtik sîpi).

We have been working with Moose Cree First Nation Resource Protection on an ecological study of lake sturgeon at one of the largest hydropower facilities in Ontario, in order to identify whether management practices can be improved to reduce the impact of the dams (which are partially owned by Moose Cree First Nation) on this important fish species.


Learning from Lake Sturgeon

Learning from Lake Sturgeon

Big fish need healthy rivers.


Stories and op-eds

New insights into an ancient fish

New insights into an ancient fish

Known as namew in Ililîmowin (the Moose Cree dialect), lake sturgeon in English: these are the largest freshwater fish in Canada.
Claire Farrell
Connecting with Rivers: Reflections from Moose Cree Youth Ocean Skye Phillips

Connecting with Rivers: Reflections from Moose Cree Youth Ocean Skye Phillips

My name is Ocean Phillips. I’m a 20-year-old Moose Cree youth, living in Kapuskasing Ontario.
I am namew

I am namew

They call me a living fossil. I call myself a survivor.

Media coverage

Study shows impacts on Yukon chinook salmon due to weather, streamflow and more

Late 2023 study suggests positive and negative environmental impacts on the chinooks’ productivity
2024-01-29 | Yukon News

Our team

Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle

Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle

Co-Director, Northern Boreal Mountains Program

Constance O'Connor

Constance O'Connor

Director, Ontario Northern Boreal Program

Haley MacLeod

Haley MacLeod

Postdoctoral Fellow

Press releases

Lake Sturgeon in deeper trouble than previously thought

Lake Sturgeon in deeper trouble than previously thought

Northern Ontario is one of the last strongholds for a species now considered endangered worldwide.