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Canada’s National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank and Database

Environment Canada scientists collect fish samples for the sediment speciment bank by trawling the Great Lakes aboard the CCGS Shark | Photo: Melanie Neilson (EC)Environment Canada collects biological samples from a number of lakes and rivers across Canada in support of federally mandated programs. Environment Canada has collected fish and invertebrates from the Great Lakes since 1977 in support of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). More recently, samples have been collected nationally to support Canada's Chemicals Management Plan and the Clean Air Regulatory Agenda. Environment Canada also maintains a specimen bank of frozen tissues which is a requirement of the GLWQA and is an integral part of departmental monitoring and research programs. The National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank (NABSB) is located in a dedicated facility at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario. The NABSB holds more than 37,000 samples of fish and invertebrates collected over the last 30+ years of environmental monitoring in Canada. Research conducted using samples from the NABSB has produced more than 60 scientific publications, reports and book chapters.

Specimen Collection

  • Trout specimens tagged for processing to be added to collection | Photo: Michael Keir (EC)The primary targets for collection are top predator fish species such as lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), walleye (Sander vitreus), and lake whitefish(Coregonus clupeaformis)
  • Forage fish species targeted for collection vary by waterbody. In the Great Lakes these are typically alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), and slimy sculpin (Cottus cognatus)
  • Plankton (>153 µm) and two key components of the profundal food web (Mysis relicta and Diporeia hoyi) are also targeted for collection at monitoring sites in the Great Lakes
Summary of the holdings of the National Aquatic Biological Specimen Bank - January 2012
Family NameScientific NameCommon Name# of specimens# of sub-samples
AcipenseridaeAcipenser fulvescenslake sturgeon833
AnguillidaeAnguilla rostrataamercian eel95690
AnguillidaeAnguilla anguillaeuropean eel9106
CatostomidaeCatostomus commersoniiwhite sucker2131845
CatostomidaeCatostomus cotostomuslongnose sucker2071
CentrarchidaeMicropterus dolomieusmallmouth bass87929
CentrarchidaeMicropterus salmoideslargemouth bass14
ClupeidaeAlosa pseudoharengusalewife454785
ClupeidaeDorosoma cepedianumgizzard shad35 
CottidaeCottus aperprickly sculpin1423
CottidaeCottus cognatusslimy sculpin411783
CottidaeCottus riceispoonhead sculpin1033
CottidaeMyoxocephalus thompsoniideepwater sculpin226474
CyprinidaeCouesius plumbeuslake chub2153
CyprinidaeCyprinus carpiocommon carp101474
CyprinidaeLuxilus cornutuscommon shiner2250
CyprinidaeNotemigonus crysoleucasgolden shiner35
CyprinidaeNotropus atherinoidesemerald shiner52133
CyprinidaeNotropis hudsoniusspottail shiner44
CyprinidaePhoxinus eosnorthern redbelly dace44
CyprinidaeRhinichthys cataractaelongnose dace11
CyprinidaeSemotilus atromaculatuscreek chub34
EsocidaeEsox luciusnorthern pike2452726
EsocidaeEsox masquinongymuskellunge341
EsocidaeEsox nigerchain pickerel53408
GadidaeLota lotaburbot269778
GasterosteidaeGasterosteus aculeatus aculeatusthree-spined stickleback47
GobiidaeNeogobius melanostomusround goby162411
HiodontidaeHiodon alosoidesgoldeye22
HiodontidaeHiodon tergisusmooneye1546
IctaluridaeAmeiurus nebulosusbrown bullhead43178
IctaluridaeIctalurus punctatuschannel catfish129978
MoronidaeMorone americanawhite perch88266
MoronidaeMorone chrysopswhite bass99
OsmeridaeOsmerus mordaxrainbow smelt1009 
PercidaeEtheostoma blennoidesgreenside darter66
PercidaePerca flavescensyellow perch310709
PercidaeSander vitreuswalleye23689919
PercidaeStizostedion canadensesauger29141
PercopsidaePercopsis omiscomaycustrout perch2466
PetromyzontidaePetromyzon marinussea lamprey190313
SalmonidaeCoregonus spp.cisco235643
SalmonidaeCoregonus clupeaformislake whitefish5892049
SalmonidaeCoregonus hoyibloater69176
SalmonidaeOncorhynchus clarki clarkicutthroat trout61221
SalmonidaeOncorhynchus gorbuschapink salmon3232
SalmonidaeOncorhynchus kisutchcoho salmon364441
SalmonidaeOncorhynchus mykissrainbow trout189447
SalmonidaeOncorhynchus tshawytschachinook salmon22
SalmonidaeProsopium coulteriipygmy whitefish520
SalmonidaeProsopium cylindraceumround whitefish85255
SalmonidaeProsopium williamsoniimountain whitefish11125
SalmonidaeSalmo truttabrown trout78
SalmonidaeSalvelinus fontinalisbrook trout189529
SalmonidaeSalvelinus fontinalis X namaycushsplake307411
SalmonidaeSalvelinus namaycushlake trout1121448916
SciaenidaeAplodinotus grunniensfreshwater drum145649
PontoporeiidaeDiporeia hoyi 695705
MysidaeMysis relictaopossum shrimp827872
  Bulk plankton (153µm)9661040
  Other invertebrates110116

Storage Conditions

Each specimen is homogenized and divided into 5 to 15 subsamples of ~20 g. All samples are stored at -80°C in a dedicated climate-controlled building with continuous monitoring of security and storage conditions. In the event of power failure, electricity to the facility is maintained by backup generators. In the event of mechanical failure in any of the freezer units, temperature sensors will trigger the release of liquid CO2 to maintain freezing temperatures until the specimens can be manually transferred to another freezer.

Information Management

All information related to the NABSB is maintained within a secured relational database. All specimens received and/or collected are registered and assigned with successive and unique identification numbers. The database maintains all biological data (length, age, etc.) associated with each specimen number as well as data with regard to location, collection methods, storage and the results of all chemical analyses that have been performed on the specimen. We are continually working to improve the database to increase its functionality and access to the data within.

Access to Specimens

Tissue samples from the NABSB are available for collaborative research projects. The release of specimens for research purposes will adhere to Environment Canada’s policy which follows these general principles:

  • The research proposed has been reviewed for scientific merit
  • There is sufficient tissue to issue without unduly depleting the total specimen.  If a request would exhaust the remaining tissue then the rationale for issuing it will be stringent
  • Other means of obtaining the information have been explored and are not possible
  • Co-authorship will be given on resulting publications along with acknowledgement of the NABSB

For more information on the process to initiate a request for samples and/or data from the NABSB please contact

Science and Technology into Action to Benefit Canadians - Environment Canada's National Environmental Specimen Banks: Following a chemical trail from the past

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