Digging deeper for native trout recovery on the eastern slopes

Assessing human impacts on fish habitat has never been easy, but thanks to a partnership between several organizations, we are digging deeper to learn more about sediment that is piling up on native trout habitat. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry & the Foothills Research Institute have teamed up with the Alberta Environment and Parks Fisheries Management team, Trout Unlimited Canada, Cows and Fish and the University of Calgary to learn how to assess the scope and severity of human-caused sediment deposition into native trout habitat.

With this training in hand, Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) and our partner agencies will be locating and assessing sediment deposition areas in native trout recovery watersheds this summer. This information helps us target reclamation activities that will make the biggest impact to recovering native trout populations.

Where does all of this sediment come from?

When off-highway vehicles are driven through the water, plants are removed from the shoreline, or when roads and culverts are improperly built or maintained, fine sediment such as mud and silt enters the river from its usual resting place.

Sediment poses problems for native fish, including bull trout, Westslope cutthroat trout, and Athabasca rainbow trout. Floating sediment travels downstream and impacts water quality. When sediment settles to the bottom of these waterbodies, it can kill fish eggs by coating and cutting off their supply of oxygen and can reduce the quality and quantity of spawning habitat for future generations of fish. Native fish need access to clean, oxygen rich water at every stage of their life.

Unfortunately, sediment isn’t the only thing making life hard for native trout. Alberta’s fish populations are already threatened by loss of habitat, hybridization with other fish and over harvesting.

There are several initiatives taking place across Alberta to lend native trout a helping hand. The new Alberta Watercourse Crossing Inventory Mobile Application (ABWCI) was designed to empower all Albertans to report infrastructure around waterbodies, including crossings and culverts, which could lead to sedimentation. Users can capture the location and condition of crossings and share their findings to support effective watercourse crossing management.

Westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout, and Athabasca rainbow trout are listed as Threatened or Endangered under the provincial Alberta Wildlife Act and federal Species at Risk Act. Addressing major sources of human-caused sedimentation is an essential part of native trout recovery and improves the overall watershed health with cool clean water for all our fish species.

How can you get involved?

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