Building Long-term Collaboration for Sustainable Resource Management: Kemano Oolichan Monitoring Program

Project Overview:

The Kemano Oolichan Monitoring Program is an ongoing initiative led by Rio Tinto in collaboration with the Haisla Nation and Ecofish Research Ltd. The program focuses on effectively managing the Oolichan population through monitoring the spawning, productivity, and harvest of Oolichan, a culturally significant food fish for the Haisla community. By combining Indigenous Knowledge and innovative science and monitoring, the project aims to support Rio Tinto’s commitment to protect biodiversity by mitigating operational impacts to healthy ecosystems to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources.

Initial Challenge:

Rio Tinto operates the Kemano hydropower project and manages flow releases from the project to maintain stable conditions in the lower Kemano River for Oolichan egg development and larval outmigration. The Kemano River is one of the rivers on the Pacific coast where a consistent run of Oolichan returns and First Nations subsistence fishing continues as it has for generations. Fluctuations in the abundance of returning adult Oolichan populations along the Pacific coast have focused researchers on the health of all Oolichan spawning rivers.


In close collaboration with the Haisla Fisheries Commission and fishers, Rio Tinto and Ecofish developed a monitoring plan for the Oolichan population, to collect the data necessary to track stock health, identify potential effects, and implement effective mitigation.

Ecofish offered a range of solutions and services, including:

  • Oolichan spawning monitoring
  • Oolichan egg development and survival monitoring
  • Oolichan spawning distribution monitoring
  • Haisla fishery monitoring
  • Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling

Key Outcomes and Results:

Through the Kemano Oolichan Monitoring Program, a long-term dataset of Oolichan spawning timing, egg distribution, and Haisla fishery data has been continuously collected for 36 years. The program has fostered a close relationship with the Haisla community, enabling the successful management of the Oolichan population while addressing the needs of multiple stakeholders and Rio Tinto’s commitment to ensuring the sustainable management of natural resources.

Ecofish’s experience working with Oolichan and extensive knowledge of the Kemano River ecosystem provided Rio Tinto with valuable insights into environmental impacts, potential mitigation measures, and best practices for sustainable resource management.

Effective Strategies and Techniques:

A notable achievement of the Kemano Oolichan Monitoring Program is the development of a novel eDNA assay for Oolichan, a groundbreaking technique used to detect the presence of a species based on traces the fish leaves behind without the need to catch and release. This innovative scientific method has not only been utilized in the lower river to correlate with Oolichan spawning abundance data but has also been adopted in other river systems across the province.