Which came first – the fish or the eggs? Things get ‘fishy’ during Alberta’s trout stocking season

Every year, eager anglers wait for a rather unusual sight of spring: stocking trucks pulling up to over 200 of Alberta’s lakes and ponds. Their cargo? Millions of trout that are raised each year in Alberta’s four fish culture facilities.

A stocking truck set up to release trout into their new home.

A stocking truck set up to release trout into their new home.

This fish stocking program has two goals. First, it reduces pressure on our native trout populations. And secondly, it creates new fishing opportunities throughout the province, in areas that don’t have natural trout populations.

Which came first – the fish or the eggs?

Obviously, we can’t just ‘grow’ trout like oranges or apples – we need to raise them from eggs. At the Raven and Allison Brood Trout Stations, adult trout – between two and five years old – are raised to supply us with eggs. Those eggs then go to the Sam Livingston and Cold Lake Fish Hatcheries, where the fry are raised until it’s time to ship them out. Over 2.2 million trout are raised each year at these facilities – that’s 115,000 kilos of fish!

The ins and outs of stocking season

When the weather warms up and the ice begins to melt off the lakes, we know it’s time to start shipping out the trout. Here’s how it happens:

  • First, the fish are weighed and sample counts are taken to ensure we’re not over-loading the trucks and that each lake is being appropriately stocked. Then, we put them in special fish transfer tanks and take them out to the loading docks. Each of the stocking trucks is fitted with five special tanks that can hold anywhere from 800 to 10,000 fish at a time. Often, more than one lake is being stocked in a single trip – in these cases, the technicians put the fish for each lake in a different tank.

Fish stocking 2014 - loading fish.

  • Each of the stocking tanks is filled with water and connected to oxygen tanks to ensure that the fish can breathe comfortably during their trip. Controls to the oxygen tanks are connected right to the driver’s cab, so they can easily monitor the levels of each tank. Whenever the truck stops, the fish are given a quick check-up to ensure their water quality hasn’t dipped.

Fish stocking 2014 - truck oxygen controls

  • Once everything is loaded up, it’s the job of our technicians to get the fish safely to their destinations. We stock lakes as far north as Zama City Pond and as far south as Police Outpost Lake – which means lots of driving during the stocking season. From May blizzards to absolute downpours, each Fisheries Technician has their share of stories about white-knuckle driving in poor conditions – especially since some of the lakes are pretty far off the beaten path…or the well-paved highway.
Photo of a pH test.

Before fish are released, we test to ensure their new home is suitable.

  • At the lake, the stocking truck pulls as close to the shoreline as possible. pH and oxygen tests are done on the water to ensure the environment is suitable for the fish prior to releasing them. Once the all-clear is given, the technician hooks up a long hose to the tank and places it directly into the lake. Then, with a quick lift of a hatch, the fish slide right out into their new home.
Photo of fish being released into an Alberta lake.

Freedom!

  • As you might guess, fish stocking can turn into quite the spectacle and can attract a curious crowd of anglers – who often enjoy swapping both stocking and fishing stories with our technicians. So keep your eyes peeled for these trucks in the coming weeks as they move some of our 2.2 million trout out into Alberta’s lakes.

Check out this year’s stocking report to see which lakes and ponds have been stocked so far. 

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