Researchers use drones to track Skeena River eulachon run

Over the next three weeks, researchers will test the use of drone technology to track the eulachon and gain a deeper understanding of their migration patterns.

Aerial videography to help Metlakatla First Nation track staple fish

Researches plan to use drones to track eulachon predators, such as seagulls, as a proxy for tracking the fish themselves. (Richard Sullivan)

Drone technology is opening up the world of the eulachon to fisheries researchers on the Skeena River.

Over the next three weeks, researchers will test the use of aerial videography to track the eulachon and gain a deeper understanding of their migration patterns.

Richard Sullivan, co-founder of Hummingbird Drones, is supplying the equipment for the project, and teaching locals how to use them.

"As we're on the job, we're working closely with the Metlakatla," Sullivan said. "Not everybody is familiar with drone technology, so it's always a learning opportunity when you're out there trying new technology and new applications."

The eulachon, a type of smelt found along the coast of the Pacific Northwest, is an important part of the traditional Metlakatla diet. Sullivan said the goal of the project is to determine exactly how and where the eulachon enter the Skeena River and ensure productive spawning runs can continue in the future.

First Nation to develop drone program

For the initial three-week trial, Sullivan and the researchers he's working with are focusing mainly on the eulachon's predators. Tracking the presence of sea lions, seagulls and eagles provides a proxy measurement of the presence of eulachon.

One of the drones Sullivan and his team will be using. (Richard Sullivan)

"I was really surprised to see these huge herds of sea lions and the big flocks of seagulls," said Sullivan, who had not previously experienced an eulachon run. "It's really something to see."

In addition to gathering data, Sullivan's team is also working with local Metlakatla researchers to help the nation incorporate drones into their own research efforts.

"The idea [is] that they'll be able to continue the research when we've left," Sullivan said.

With files from Daybreak North.

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