Fish population ‘teetering between high and moderate risk’

Joe McWilliams
For South Peace News

The good news about walleye populations in Lesser Slave Lake, if you can call it that, is the lake’s east basin is better off than the west.
Walleye in the west basin are smaller and fewer, attendees at last week’s fishery education session learned. The east basin, probably due to less access and development, is better off.
But overall, fisheries biologist Myles Brown told his online audience, Lesser Slave is “teetering between high and moderate risk.”
The session was not intended to present or discuss specific management strategies. That comes sometime later. It was more in the nature of a status report on the big lake, with Brown doing most of the work in presenting the case. It was followed by a question and answer session.
One of the questions was about how the test-netting sites are chosen. These are the operations on which the resource managers base their conclusions about fish population numbers and trends. There have been three such sampling projects in Lesser Slave in the past 10 years, and the results are consistent.
The question usually comes up at such sessions. One reason it does is because some anglers suspect the test-netting paints an inaccurate picture, due to nets being set in places where fish are not.
Explaining the process, biologist Kristy Wakeling said nets are set at a variety of locations, intended to get a random sample of fish. If they were all set in areas where walleye are known to congregate, it would skew the results upward, she said.
So, the bottom line appears to be walleye are in a bit of trouble in Lesser Slave, and stricter management measures are likely coming. It is pretty much the same message that was delivered last year and the year before.
“There’s no silver bullet to recovery,” said Brown.
“We need to make sure resiliency is there for all users.”
Speaking of users, Brown provided some statistics. It is estimated 340,000 to 440,000 walleye are caught per year in Lesser Slave Lake. Angler visits are estimated to be 80,000 – 100,000 per year, the great majority of these being in the open water months.
Ice fishing estimates range from 2,000 – 6,000 per year, with an estimated catch of walleye at 2,500 – 4,000 and about half that number northern pike.


The state of northern pike in Lesser Slave is on the dire side.
“High to very high risk,” is how Brown put it.
The “dire side” is in both basins.


Lake whitefish populations are on the rise since commercial fishing was stopped by the province a few years ago – but only slightly. They are still the target species for domestic netting licences, but these do not amount to a big catch.


Somebody asked about perch numbers. They are there, Brown said, but they show up in low numbers in test nets. Perch are “not a current area of concern,” for resource managers, he said.
Somebody else asked about stocking perch. No plans to do that. Stocking of perch has caused problems for other fish in some places it has been tried.
Another question was what can be done to reduce harmful algae growth. Wakeling said algae is good for fish, up to a point. Beyond that point it steals oxygen and can be deadly for fish.
Phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizer, flowing into the lake, can lead to excessive algae growth. Reducing that would be a good place to start, Wakeling said.
What happens next? Look for another online consultation session with stakeholders – this time discussing specific management proposals and options and seeking feedback.

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