Using Ancient DNA to Inform Modern Day Fisheries and Conservation Management

A trio from Archaeology (PhD student Antonia Rodrigues, Professor Dongya Yang and alumnus Iain McKechnie) conducted the first study to use ancient DNA to identify rockfish species in BC occurring over the past 2,500 years. Rockfish are commonly found in nearshore and continental shelf environments in the North Pacific Ocean and frequently found in coastal archaeological sites in western North America; however, the similarity of these species limits conventional zooarchaeological identifications to the genus level. This study changes all that as these archaeologists applied ancient DNA analysis to 96 archaeological rockfish specimens from four sites on western Vancouver Island. Two sites were located within a marine protected area designed to facilitate the recovery of inshore rockfish populations and two sites were located outside this boundary and subject to considerable fishing pressure. Using specialized techniques, they identified at least twelve different rockfish species occurring during the past 2,500 years. Identification of rockfish at closely spaced and contemporaneously occupied sites confirms that a variety of rockfish species were consistently exploited at each site, with more exposed areas having higher number of species present. This study demonstrates that ancient DNA identifications of archaeological assemblages can complement and expand perspectives on modern day fisheries conservation and management in this National Park Reserve and First Nations ancestral territory.