Running with the Bulls in Fort McMurray

Who says horror stories can’t have happy endings? After nearly two years, the Texaco East Pond has been restocked and is open to fishing again. The popular local fishing hole was closed after an angler reported an unusual catch on June 23, 2015. This fishy find was in fact a black bullhead – a species of catfish – and the ecological impacts it had on the pond were devastating.

Some bullheaded facts

Black bullhead are considered highly invasive and pose a threat to Alberta’s native fish and aquatic ecosystems, which is why they are listed as a prohibited species in Alberta under the provincial Fisheries (Alberta) Act. They will eat anything that can fit inside their mouths and they disturb the bottom sediment, making the water appear dirty, reduced light reaching the bottom does not allow aquatic plants to grow. Black bullhead easily out-compete native species for habitat and resources, and they even prey on our native species.

So, how did the black bullhead wind up in the Texaco East Pond? The answer is startling: someone illegally introduced the fish into the pond!  We know this is not an isolated incident, as this species has been introduced in many places across the United States in the same way.

Aquatic Invasive Species team to the rescue!

Black bullhead have the ability to spawn in and survive Fort McMurray’s harsh winters. The situation was considered an environmental emergency, prompting the Alberta Aquatic Invasive Species Program to spring into action immediately.BullheadEradication-EastTexacoPondFtMcMurray2015_0077_JPG

The response team closed the pond to angling and recreation, and quickly got to work sampling neighboring waterbodies to evaluate just how far the invasive species had spread. Once it was determined the fish were only found in the Texaco East Pond, a fish toxicant was applied to the pond in September 2015. The pond remained closed until June 2017 to ensure the invasive species was successfully eradicated. The pond was sampled by the local fisheries biologists, who are very happy to report no bullheads were to be found and the treatment was a success.

The pond was restocked with 2,700 rainbow trout from the Cold Lake Fish Hatchery in late September 2017 and the result is a swimming success. Now, anglers can again enjoy making more fishing memories close to home.

Although this story has a happy ending, responding to the intentional introduction of a prohibited species is an action that never should have had to happen in the first place.  While this instance met with positive results, if variables had been different or the problem was left unchecked, it could have created a ripple effect through the region or the entire province.

What can you to do to help?

  1. Don’t let it loose! Introducing invasive species can land you a year in jail and up to $100,000 in fines.
  2. Report it! If you see something that doesn’t belong, call 1-855-336-BOAT(2628).
  3. Be a responsible angler and follow the regulations.

We all play a vital role in protecting our water and by working together we can decrease the risk of invasive species in Alberta.

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