Hundreds of thousands of Albertans and visitors love to go fishing or "angling". Over the years, many factors have contributed to a large decrease in the fish populations of Alberta's northern rivers and streams. These factors include habitat degradation, water pollution and increased angling pressure.
Older Albertans can recall the boom that hit Alberta when oil and gas exploration spread across the province. Seismic lines and roads increased access to northern Alberta and towns grew in size. Alberta's population expanded from about 1.4 million in 1965 to over 3 million today. All this change has brought a lot of pressure to our northern streams - not just by changing the
habitat, but also in the form of heavy fishing because of higher populations and easier access to streams. There are now about 350 000 anglers in Alberta. These anglers fish a total of four million days a year.
Stream fishing in the north is not as popular as fishing trout streams in the
mountains and foothills; however, anglers spend a combined 250 000 days a year fishing northern streams. Arctic grayling, northern pike and walleye are the most common fish
species caught by anglers on northern streams. Fish in streams are quite vulnerable to capture because they are aggressive feeders and are often found in recognizable places like pools, back-eddies and the confluence of tributaries.
In an effort to decrease some of the angling pressure, Alberta now has more restrictive sport fishing regulations than it has ever seen. For example, streams of northern Alberta are closed to fishing during the season of fish migrations, from November 1 to May 31. Also, to protect fish populations, special limits and size restrictions are enforced. The catch limit for Arctic grayling is two and they must be greater than 35 centimetres in length. This size limit allows fish to reach maturity and spawn at least twice before they are large enough to be kept by an angler.
Anglers themselves have also initiated practices to help relieve the increased angling pressure in Alberta. More and more anglers now practice "catch and release" fishing methods that allow them to enjoy their sport while preventing the overharvest of fish. Through these conservative practices and continued habitat protection, Alberta's fisheries are sure to carry into the future.
Reprinted from Stream Connections with permission of Alberta