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Dolly Varden Charr

Salvelinus Malma - "Qalukpik"

Population Status


Dolly Varden charr occur within four systems in the northern Yukon and northwestern Northwest Territories (Babbage, Firth, Rat and Big Fish rivers). In summer, charr from all four stocks intermingle in Yukon nearshore waters to feed.

Population Size:

Anadromous Dolly Varden charr have been enumerated at the Babbage, Big Fish, and Rat rivers. The Dept of Fisheries and Oceans completed a stock assessment of the Rat River population in 2001. The size of the Firth River stock is not known but is believed to be larger than the Babbage River stock. Since all four systems have never been enumerated in the same season, and some of the fish are thought to move among systems in different years, these estimates must be interpreted with caution.

Population Trend:

Babbage and Firth rivers: unknown, but probably stable as neither river receives significant harvest pressure. Population estimates of charr in the Rat River system in 1996 and 1998 indicated the population to be relatively stable. Concerns over the decline of charr in the Big Fish River prompted a conservation closure of the fishery – almost 20 years have passed and the fishery remains closed..

Unique or special characteristics

  • Anadromous Dolly Varden charr of the Yukon North Slope are an international species, with some life history stages ranging to Alaskan coastal waters and streams (particularly from the Firth River). There are many streams in northern Alaska that are utilized by Dolly Varden charr, and these fish probably also utilize Yukon coastal waters to some extent.

Habitat Features

Each of the four river systems (Babbage, Firth, Big Fish, and Rat) is fed by one or more perennial springs, and this produces one or more "fish holes": areas that remain open year-round and thus provide overwintering and spawning habitat for the charr. Hence, spawning and overwintering sites are relatively well known, and recent studies have shown that the physical characteristics of the fish holes may change with time as sodium, water, and silt levels fluctuate. The effects of these changes on the fish could be dramatic and this is currently under investigation.



Under the IFA, the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee has the authority to develop bylaws that apply to the Inuvialuit harvest of specific species, if required. NWT laws must then reflect these bylaws; bylaws may also be reflected in Ivvavik National Park regulations and Yukon wildlife regulations. There are no bylaws in place in Aklavik for charr fishing at the present time. However, from time to time, the community has voluntary closures and limits, set by the HTC for specific cases (e.g., Big Fish River, 1992, 1993).

Annual subsistence harvests at the Big Fish River, Shingle Point, and Rat River are monitored by the community harvest monitors hired by FJMC and the Gwich’in Renewable Resource Board. Data is also collected by the Gwich’in Harvest Study.

From 1988 to 1999 Inuvialuit harvest data was collected through the Inuvialuit Harvest Study. In the period from 1988 to 1997, the average annual harvest reported by Aklavik residents was 1110.

There is little or no subsistence harvesting of Dolly Varden charr from the Firth River. The Rat River continues to support a significant subsistence harvest of Dolly Varden charr by the residents of Fort McPherson. Residents of Aklavik catch Rat River charr as well, when the fish are migrating past Shingle Point and past Aklavik, en route to the Rat River overwintering areas.


Within Ivvavik National Park, a sport fishing licence issued by Parks Canada is necessary, with regulations set by Parks Canada.

The FJMC conducts a sport angler survey of recreational anglers who have purchased a licence, or registered to fish, in the ISR between April and September each year. The objective of the survey is to determine the number, species and location of fish caught by sport anglers within the ISR during the spring and summer fishing season. Anglers surveyed include those issued with a Parks Canada fishing permits to fish within Ivvavik National Park. Most sport fish catches were reported from along the Firth River corridor. There are no areas in the Western Arctic open to commercial fishing for Dolly Varden charr.


The charr can be relatively visible when on the overwintering/spawning grounds (e.g., "fish holes"). However, these sites are very inaccessible, and the fish are particularly sensitive to disturbance/fishing at that time. As a sport fish, it is prized by anglers due to its limited range, big size, and good flavour.


Habitat alterations and overharvesting are the major threats faced by these charr. Any development activity (roads, right-of-ways, etc.) that would diminish the integrity or physical characteristics (water level, oxygen level, silt loads, temperature, pH, etc.) of the spawning/overwintering area would pose a threat to developing embryos, rearing juveniles, or spawning/overwintering adults found in these areas.

Species at Risk Status


Research and Monitoring

Population monitoring

Ongoing monitoring of the Rat River population.


In 2000, the Dept of Fisheries and Oceans initiated the Tariuq program in the communities of Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik as a means for community members to discuss concerns related to the health of the ocean and to develop their own community-based monitoring program. The program included a gillnetting study in order to understand species abundance and health of fish from selected locations in the Mackenzie estuary. Species collected include broad whitefish, lake whitefish, inconnu, pike, least cisco, arctic cisco, burbot, pacific herring, Dolly Varden, and four horned sculpins.

The Dept of Fisheries and Oceans completed a stock assessment of the Rat River population in 2001.

Twenty external radio tags were applied to post-spawners at the Big Fish River in fall 1993 to determine annual movements and degree of mixing among systems. Energetic studies comparing Babbage and Big Fish River charr are complete. Developmental chronology, age of maturity, sex ratio, food habits, size range, morphology and age have been studied.


Work currently underway is needed to more fully define and understand the management units (abundance, movements, productivity, behaviour) and their habitats. Little is known about residual and isolated-resident fish. Little information exists on their marine habitats.


The Fisheries Joint Management Committee makes recommendations to the Minister of Fisheries for all fisheries matters in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. The FJMC provides the means to jointly set Inuvialuit subsistence quota and allocate such quota among the communities.

A Rat River Char Fishing Plan has been developed by working group that includes representatives of the Aklavik Renewable Resource Council, the Fort McPherson Renewable Resource Council, and the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee. While the Rat River is not within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, the Dolly Varden char that spawn in the river make their way to the ocean by way of the west channel of the Mackenzie River and spend time in the coastal waters of the Beaufort Sea. During those migrations they are harvested by Inuvialuit, particularly the residents of Aklavik.

Community-based Information

In 2000, the Dept of Fisheries and Oceans initiated the Tariuq program in the communities of Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik as a means for community members to discuss concerns related to the health of the ocean and to develop their own community-based monitoring program.

In 2002 and 2003, the West Side Working group conducted a traditional ecological knowledge of fisheries in rivers west of the Mackenzie Delta. The study enabled fishers and elders to share their knowledge related to fish species, fishing methods and changes in species and fishing areas over time.

Community-based information on this species may also be found in the reports of the annual community-based monitoring program conducted in Aklavik and neighbouring communities by the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op.

Related Literature and Information Sources

Harwood, L. Personal Communication, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Yellowknife.

Harwood, L. and S. Sandstrom. 1996. Stock status of Dolly Varden charr in the Big Fish River, Northwest Territories. Background document prep’d for Arctic Fisheries Scientific Advisory Committee (AFSAC). Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Winnipeg.

Johnson, L. 1980. The Arctic charr, Salvelinus alpinus. p. 15-98. in: E. Balon (ed.), Charrs: Salmonid fishes of the genus Salvelinus. The Hague.

Joint Secretariat, 2003. Inuvialuit Harvest Study, Data and Methods Report 1988 – 1997. Inuvik, NT.

Gordon, Danny C. Personal communication, Elder, Aklavik, NWT.

Papik, R., M. Marschke and G.B. Ayles, 2003. Inuvialuit traditional ecological knowledge of fisheries in rivers west of the Mackenzie Delta in the Canadian Arctic. Canada/ Inuvialuit Fisheries Joint Management Committee report 2003 - 4.

Parks Canada. 2003. Annual Report of Research and Monitoring in National Parks of the Western Arctic 2003.

Reist, J. 1989. Genetic structuring of allopatric populations and sympatric life history types of charr, Salvelinus alpinus/malma, in the western Arctic. Canada. Physiol. Ecol. Japan, Spec. Vol. 1: 405-420.

Reist, J.D., J.D. Johnson, and T.J. Carmichael. 1997. Variation and specific identity of char from Northwestern Arctic Canada and Alaska. Amer. Fish. Soc. Symp. 19:250-261.

Stephenson, T. and P. Lemieux. 1990. Status of the Rat River Arctic charr population, 1989. Prep’d by Department of Fisheries and Oceans for Fisheries Joint Management Committee, Inuvik.