2020 Fish Rescue: Each fall, the headgates of irrigation canals in southern Alberta are closed as the water is no longer needed, resulting in thousands of fish trapped in the receding water of the canals. Volunteers and staff with Trout Unlimited Canada, in partnership with Alberta Environment and Parks, have been conducting fall fish rescues in these canals for the past 22 years.
Though there was some uncertainty at the beginning of the season as to whether the annual Fish Rescue would even happen due to the global pandemic, we managed to carry out the project and visit every site that we would under more normal circumstances.
Fewer volunteers than could normally attend were allowed to participate this year in order to keep group sizes small and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, but those who did attend made up for it with enthusiasm and hard work.
Crunching the Numbers
In October 2020, TUC conducted fish rescues in the Western Headworks Canal (WHC), Carseland Bow River Headworks Canal (CBRHC), Lethbridge Northern Headworks Canal (LNID), and Waterton Belly Diversion Canal (WBD). With a total of only about 30 volunteers over seven days of fieldwork (compared to over 250 volunteers in 2019), 36 930 fish were rescued from the four irrigation canals and returned to the rivers (or reservoir) that they originated from.
This year, sportfish made 42% of the total catch, with a whopping 13,985 Mountain Whitefish (MNWH) making up 38% of the total. The next most abundant sportfish were Brown Trout (BNTR) (762 individuals) and Rainbow Trout (RNTR) (607 individuals). Two Bull Trout (BLTR), three Lake Trout (LKTR), and one Cutthroat x Rainbow Trout (Cutbow, CNTR) were also rescued.
Non-sportfish made up 58% of the total catch, with Longnose Dace (LNDC) being the most abundant at 8,987 individuals or 24% of the total, and 5,032 Brook Stickleback (BRST) making up 14% of the total catch as the second most abundant non-sportfish species.
The largest fish rescued this year was an 802 mm (just over 31 inches) Northern Pike (NRPK) from the Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District Canal. The next largest, also from the Lethbridge Northern Canal, was a 705 mm (almost 28 inches) Bull Trout (BLTR). The only other Bull Trout (BLTR) caught this year (in the same section of canal as the first) measured 611 mm.
Only 28 volunteers were able to attend this year’s rescue due to pandemic-induced limits on group sizes, but they put in a collective 331 hours assisting us with 7 days of fieldwork in some inclement weather to make the 2020 Fish Rescue a success.
TUC once again thanks those who managed to come out for all of their hard work. For those who wanted to attend but couldn’t, we thank you for your interest and hope that we can see you at next year’s Fish Rescue!
2020 Fish Rescue Species Summary by Location