FISHES in the Sky

helicopter photo 2We aren’t talking trout with wings – FISHES is a team dedicated to keeping fish in our future. The Southern Alberta Fisheries Habitat Enhancement and Sustainability (FISHES) Program was established in 2013 to find and address risks to the aquatic environment following the 2013 and 2014 floods.

The FISHES team is made up of fisheries biologists whose mission and passion is to protecting the health of Alberta’s lakes and rivers and the fish that live in them. Their primary efforts have been focused on finding priority areas.

The first step in this work was to survey priority areas using high definition, aerial videography. This information helped identify which areas needed further detailed fish habitat assessment. You can check out videos of the flights online.

FISHES team member flying over the Livingstone Gap Fire Base. The door was removed in order to obtain clear high definition videography.

FISHES team member flying over the Livingstone Gap Fire Base. The door was removed in order to obtain clear high definition videography.

Once an area has been identified for rehabilitation, bioengineering techniques are used to help repair them.  Bioengineering is the combination of biological, mechanical, and ecological concepts to control erosion and stabilize soil through the use of vegetation and/or construction materials. This restores and enhance fish habitat by stabilizing slopes, establishing vegetation and reducing the amount of sediment entering the water.

FISHES team member measures the depth of Girardi Creek (near Blairmore). The team also assesses other stream characteristics such as bank stability and substrates.

FISHES team member measures the depth of Girardi Creek (near Blairmore). The team also assesses other stream characteristics such as bank stability and substrates.

The team has been busy! As of November 2015, the FISHES program completed the overview, preliminary and detailed habitat assessments for the initial group of priority projects and they are partnering with the City of Calgary to implement a Bioengineering Demonstration and Education Project on the Bow River.

Much of the work has been focused within the Eastern Slopes of Alberta where westslope cutthroat trout, one of Alberta’s species-at-risk, are known to reside. The team spent last summer working to document fish habitat and identify features that may limit its potential. The result of this work provided insight on how best to use FISHES program funding to define a restoration strategy and develop projects that will make a difference to fish populations and Albertans alike.

Whether in the sky, on the ground or in the water one thing is certain – there really is something fishy about this team!

7 thoughts on “FISHES in the Sky

  1. “Fishes in the sky” or pie in the sky? Finding fish habitat destruction doesn’t really require high resolution photography. How about a simple road trip to audit road/stream crossings, hanging culverts & OHV trails of the Eastern Slopes? ‘Bioengineering’ sounds sophisticated & technical but why not stop the damage by industries and OHV’s and protect riparian areas with strict treed ‘no-go’ buffers that include ephemeral streams that moderate flow and provide clean, cool water for fish habitat and spawning? Why not, ‘ Regulate, Monitor and Enforce’ to stop the damage from sediment & habitat fragmentation (hanging culverts) instead of patching up the ‘crumbs’?

    • Right on, Carl !! The FISHES approach is essentially like trying to fight the forest fires started by an arsonist, as opposed to tackling the arsonist and taking away his matches

    • Enviro & Parks needs to be seen to be doing something to keep fish in our future. It’s more comfortable to blame nature for deteriorating habitats than to confront the real culprits.
      Suppose the FISHES project is a complete success and the flood ravaged habitats, including those of the at risk westslope cutthroat, are completely restored…what’s next?
      As Hunt suggests, those revitalized habitats will still be vulnerable to loggers, road builders, gravel extractors, OHV cowboys and any others who desecrate the places our fish live.

    • Funding for the FISHES Program is dedicated to mitigating the risks to fish and fish habitat arising from the 2013 and 2014 floods in southern Alberta. In order to prioritize sites that would benefit the most from habitat restoration activities and make the most effective use of program funds, a watershed scale approach to assessment was required. High definition, low level aerial reconnaissance provides a cost effective way to survey large remote areas, much of which is not easily accessible by road. Once priority stream reaches are identified, staff do conduct more detailed field surveys. Issues identified to date do include habitat fragmentation and sedimentation which have been identified as major factors contributing to habitat degradation in a number of flood affected basins in southern Alberta. These issues will be considered as projects are developed to restore fish habitat and mitigate flood damage.

      • Over the past 40 years, I have observed 1 in 100 year flood events that occur about every 10 to 20 years on unregulated rivers and tributaries of the Athabasca River. Repairing the damage, that mostly occurs in areas that have been manipulated by humans, is very expensive and the most cost effective and practical way to avoid the damage is by protecting the natural vegetation in the floodplain. Why not spend the time, effort and excessive expenses to taxpayers by protecting the floodplain of rivers, streams and ephemerals with mandatory riparian buffers? Emphasis should be placed on protecting the floodplain rather than restoring a few pieces, or the crumbs!

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