Saturday, 10 December 2016 13:30

Alberta’s Provincial Fish – still fighting for recognition

Written by Michael Short
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If you didn’t know that the Bull Trout is Alberta’s provincial fish you might be forgiven, for the cold hard fact that this fish is becoming increasingly rare.

Bull Trout populations have been declining in Alberta over the last 100 years. Studies completed recently confirm that in some areas populations have completely disappeared. It would seem the only stable populations can be found in the more remote headwater areas or within protected areas like national and provincial parks.

Tagging a bull trout with a transmitter

- In order to keep track on bull trout movements biologists are implanting transmitters which provide data on the movements of these fish.

According to Alberta Environment and Parks “the populations of bull trout in 20 watersheds have been lost, as well as those portions of populations that seasonally occupied the lower main stems of the Peace, Athabasca, North Saskatchewan, Red Deer, and Bow rivers”. Additionally, Mike Rodtk, a biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association(ACA) says the Saskatchewan – Nelson rivers (Alberta) population is now classified as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Turbid water from run-off impacts stream habitat

- The future of the bull trout remains cloudy

You might be asking yourself, so how did we get here? The answer includes the familiar causes of land use and development. But now there is growing evidence that increasing summer temperatures are also impacting bull trout stream habitat. This is significant for a fish that requires cold water in which to survive.

It should also be noted that while land use and development are ongoing issues, Rota adds “equally important was the over-harvest that occurred throughout the province until a province wide catch-and-release regulation was imposed in 1995. Further complicating matters has been competition with non-native sport species, especially brook trout and brown trout”. Studies have determined that where bull trout populations are stable, catch and release has had little impact on the fish.

Logging near spawning areas impacts fish habitat

- Changing the way we utilize the land would be one way to help bull trout populations recovery, or at the very least stabilize the habitat these fish call home.

While the forecast is grim for the bull trout, work continues as organizations like the ACA cooperate closely with industry partners working in bull trout habitat and spawning areas. Ensuring industry partners have the right information to help limit the impacts on Alberta’s rare provincial fish.

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