Alberta’s Fish Story

In the first of our series about why we climb, we’re telling the story of Alberta’s freshwater fish. Whether it’s a summer day by the side of a river or at the lake waiting for that coveted tug on a fishing line, or the satisfaction of cooking a meal you caught yourself while on a camping trip, fish play a big role in our lives outdoors.

For the Alberta Wilderness Association, our native fish species are important for a few other reasons as well. They indicate the health of our watersheds, as one of the first signs of stress in an ecosystem. Because of this, their loss helps warn us of other problems. They’re also the building block of many watersheds, acting as both predator and prey in our rivers and lakes.

Who’s in trouble?

When we think about Alberta’s wilderness, species at risk aren’t often the first things that come to mind. Instead, we tend to think of wide open spaces, endless trees, or an abundance of wildlife. Alberta’s fish tell a different story.

You might remember the critical situation facing Westslope Cutthroat Trout this past summer in Alberta. Already under stress from population loss, this species was pushed to the brink by extreme drought. As it turns out, this is only one part of a bigger story for our native fish species. Upwards of 10 species in Alberta are threatened and we need to take action to help them survive.

Westslope cutthroat trout in spawning habitat, 8 July 2012. These fish are part of a pure population introduced into Rawson Lake. Source: D. Mayhood

Under the surface, species are suffering because of habitat loss, over-fishing, and development. For example, did you know that Alberta is home to a distinct species of Rainbow Trout known as the Athabasca Rainbow Trout? The population is steadily decreasing and as a result it’s now endangered. As one of the few native Rainbow Trout species left in North America it’s a valuable link to our past. Other well known species like Bull Trout, Rocky Mountain Sculpin, Arctic Grayling, and Lake Sturgeon are also at risk of being lost forever.

What happens when you climb?

Thanks to efforts by the Alberta Wilderness Association and other conservation groups, steps are being taken to help ensure the survival of our native fish. When you Climb for Wilderness, you’re not only helping to give us the resources to continue these efforts but you’re also bringing visibility to these causes. On April 21st you’re not just Climbing for fun, you’re climbing for a cause as well. Register now and help our keep our fish swimming!

Learn more about Cutthroat Trout Here: albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlife/cutthroat-trout/

Learn more about species at risk here: albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlife/species-at-risk/

 E-mail: nschmidt.c4w@abwild.ca