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Fish Ageing Lab

The Sclerochronology Lab is a highly-skilled, internationally recognized research lab providing fish age analysis services to clients across British Columbia and the Yukon. It was formed in 1977 under the guidance and leadership of Dr. Richard Beamish and Ms. Doris Chilton. The team was recognized nationally in 2001 when they were presented with the Prix d’Excellence Award in Ottawa.

The study of temporal formation of hard tissues is called sclerochronology. Estimating the age of fish allows us to also determine size at age, age at first spawning, reproductive life span, maximum age, growth rates, mortality rates, and identify strong year classes. The Sclerochronology Lab maintains records of the species and number of individuals aged each year. This includes more than 20 species of groundfish, 5 species of salmon (representing hundreds of stocks), herring, shellfish and miscellaneous marine and freshwater species. Since 1995 the program has estimated close to 3 million ages, and maintains a reference library of 4.6 million structures (otoliths, scales, fin-rays and shell-peels) including two sizeable salmon scale series from 1912 to 1947 and 1943 to 1996.

The program has developed standards for their activities and follows strict policies and procedures to ensure the highest quality and continuity of age data. This age information is then used by scientists in studies of population dynamics for shellfish, salmon, groundfish and pelagic stocks.

Today, fish otoliths can be used for more than just estimating fish age. Otolith microchemistry is a technique used in fisheries management to determine stock structure, characterize movements and natal origins of fish, as well as food web interactions and historical global climate patterns to mention only a few. Elements and isotopes are sequestered from the surrounding water and precipitated within the otolith in a sequential and chronological order allowing fisheries biologists access to a window of the fishes natural history. The SCL has acquired state of the art equipment for generating microchemistry samples and is preparing to operationalize this methodology.

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