Assessment of eDNA technique as a potential monitoring tool for Chinook Salmon in northern Canada

Environmental DNA (eDNA) technology was demonstrated to be highly accurate and effective at detecting Chinook salmon DNA in Southern Yukon waterways. eDNA was compared to historical Chinook inventories in the same waterways to compare the accuracy of this technology. Chinook DNA was detected in 94.6% of locations where Chinook Salmon were expected. This is the first project to apply eDNA technology to detecting Salmonid species in the North, and the first to apply eDNA in high volume waterways.

Project Overview

This project was a proof of concept, demonstrating the success of this technology in Southern Yukon for use by environmental consultants, environmental scientists, governments, and fisheries managers. This project demonstrated that eDNA technology is an effective tool when used on its own or to support conventional, more invasive, species inventory techniques widely used in fisheries management and assessments. eDNA technology relies on faeces, mucus, urine, and exfoliation suspended in water sample to determine if the desired aquatic species is present, determined by detecting the species’ DNA.  Surface water samples from the Yukon, Nisutlin, Kusawa, and Teslin basins were collected in August 2015  to determine the presence of Chinook salmon in the system. These samples were analysed at Washington State University by comparing DNA to existing Chinook Salmon biomarkers established for British Columbia.

Salmon are a culturally and commercially significant species in the Yukon and require accurate monitoring and protection for fisheries management, and before proposed development projects can occur. eDNA technology provides cost effective and accurate information on species upstream from sample site by identifying DNA contained in water samples. eDNA sampling is advantageous over conventional inventory methods as there is no contact with fish therefore no stress on Chinook, reduced pathogen transfer to between waterways, and has a 7-21 day sampling range potentially improving species detection accuracy.  If applied in Yukon, eDNA can result in cheaper and more effective consulting and conservation programs, reduced cost and regulatory risk for prospective projects in the Yukon, and improved focus of resources for salmon conservation on waterways with documented Chinook use.

Yukon Research Centre partnered with industry partner, Hemmera Environmental Consultants to support the development of eDNA technology in the North.  We have demonstrated that eDNA technology is highly effective and accurate for detecting the presence of Chinook Salmon DNA in Yukon waterways. The November 2015 information session can be accessed through the following link.

Project Team

Project Lead, Dr. Lisa Kanary, Adjunct Professor at Yukon College

Project Coordinator, Kirstin Damude, Technology Innovation, Yukon Research Centre, Yukon College

Industry Project Manager, Michael Muller, Director Northern Projects, Hemmera Envirochem Inc


Hemmera Envirochem Inc


Cold Climate Innovation through Yukon Government Economic Development Strategic Industries Fund

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) College and Community Innovation Program Applied Research and Development Grant