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More fishy friends join the project: fall 2022 update

Updated: Nov 10, 2022

I have a fall update to share.

Things are going well with the fish tracking work. In October, we spent more time on Stoney Lake trying to catch fish to tag. We were mostly catching fish by angling. When I say “we”, what I really mean is Dr. Jake Brownscombe and his crew from DFO. A few of my lab members and me were out to help on some days, but Jake and his crew continue to lead the field work and data management.

There’s a well-developed science of catch-and-release angling. Catch-and-release is stressful for fish, but when it’s done well, with minimal air exposure, most fish recover well. Water temperature plays a big part; if the water is cold, catch-and-release is usually benign, although what is defined as ‘cold’ is species-specific, and there are loads of other factors that can cause problems. Anyway, you may recall from an earlier post that we were out tagging fish (catching them and implanting transmitters) in early June (only 18 in total), but then stopped for the summer. We are avoiding warm water temperatures (20°C) when doing this work to maximize fish health and survival after they’re released. Fall weather (as warm as it’s been) has brought lower water temperatures, which is why we’ve been out again lately. We’re now done with catching and tagging fish for the season (I think). Here’s where we sit in terms of total numbers of fish we have swimming around in the lake with transmitters:

Walleye: 24

Smallmouth bass: 22

Yellow perch: 13

Muskellunge: 2

We’re still looking for donations to help bring these numbers up a lot, but we still have a few tags in hand and will now start preparing for a big spring tagging season. The muskellunge are big enough to handle larger tags: the transmitters we’ve put in them will last for 10 years! We’re excited about learning more about the lives of these fish, and the individual ‘personality’ of each animal.

While we were on the water in October, we caught up with Ed and Jackie from USLA, and Josh Feltham from Fleming College. Ed and Jackie have been helping develop a bioenvironmental monitoring plan for the lake, in partnership with the lake community including local First Nations. We spent some time checking out the long-term monitoring sites and continued our conversion about how we might add to what is up and running. It’s important that lake communities take environmental monitoring into their own hands, and we’re excited to (hopefully) help with developing that program. The information we’ll generate from the fish tracking work over the next several years will just be one part of how we can contribute to helping monitor ecosystem health.

(Above) En route to check out a long-term benthic biomonitoring site on Upper Stoney Lake.

Another fun update from today: one of the small walleye we tagged in late spring was captured and harvested this past weekend. Thanks to Trent U graduate Laura for getting in touch with me; I just picked up the tag (picture below), which I’ve now shut off so it can be re-used in a new fish next year. In the spring we’ll likely work on putting up notices around boat launches and post more info online to spread the word about what to do if you catch a tagged fish (i.e., how to get in touch).

(Above) The fish transmitter that was just recovered from one of our tagged walleye.

We’ll likely be out again once or twice between now and when the lake freezes. We need to check on our shallow water receiving stations once the water level drops, to make sure they’re not too shallow. Then we move into planning mode for a big 2023, with new students joining the project and (hopefully) a new research vessel we’ve ordered from Paris Marine.



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