Quest for fish 

Rainbow trout stocking this week, be on the lookout for bulltrout

Whistler’s lakes have been stocked with fish since the 1920s, and nobody is exactly sure what the dominant fish were before the stocking programs began.

However, despite decades of development impacting local creeks and years of experimentation with fish species, Whistler’s lakes are thriving. One recent sampling of fish found that more than half were born in the lake, while the other half were stocked to boost the recreational fishery.

Vesna Young, the coordinator for the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship Group, is preparing to launch this season’s programs. Today (June 5), hundreds of sterile rainbow trout from the Fraser Valley Hatchery will be added to Nita Lake, Lost Lake, Alpha Lake and Loggers Lake, and are big enough to reel in and keep — if you have a fishing licence and the fish fall within regulations.

Young says that maintaining a recreational fishery is a priority, as well as finding a natural balance between conservation and development.

“Because the stocking started in the 1920s it’s hard to know what the natural system was then,” she said. “A few believed that cutthroat trout were the dominant trout through the whole area until the introduction of rainbow and Kokanee that could out-compete for food. So now we’re 80 years later, and it’s hard to know what was here first.”

One naturally occurring species that is currently blue listed as a species at risk in the province is bull trout. Many live in Green Lake and use Fitzsimmons Creek in the fall for spawning.

“They like the cold, fast moving water for spawning, but there’s been a lot of development around the Fitz in recent years,” said Young. “Again, it’s tough to know how much they’ve impacted unless someone has been keeping baseline numbers for many years, and bull trout typically don’t do well in the hatchery.”

Young is hoping to get a good photo of a bull trout from Green Lake to use on an interpretive sign in Peace Park. As well, Young is interested in any fish sightings in Jordan Creek, with local data showing a significant decrease in spawning Rainbow trout over the past three years — possibly as a result of development around Nita Lake.

Not all species are having issues. A program started more than five years ago where sterilized cutthroat trout have been added to local lakes to cull the stickleback population that competes for food with Rainbow and Kokanee has been a huge success and will continue in the future, says Young. In the meantime the success of the cutthroat trout is another indication that cutthroat may have been the dominant species in Whistler’s lakes before stocking began.

But getting fish populations in balance is only part of the challenge. Creating habitat for native fish has also been tough.

“We’ve done a lot of mini projects and in-stream work to introduce habitat and breeding areas, put in boulders and logs, and we’ve planted banks with riparian plants for food and shade, and it’s been really effective. It can be difficult… because creek water can be constrained upstream as a result of development, houses and roads, and some of the work we’ve done has just collected sediment over time from developments up slope. It’s a lot to stay on top of.”

The loss of wetlands has also reduced fish habitat, especially for alpine lakes that traditionally have less nutrients than lakes in warmer climates and lower elevations. Young doubts that local lakes could sustain a recreational fishery, although some populations may be self-sustaining.

In addition to stocking rainbow trout, the Whistler Fisheries Stewardship is planning several other projects this season that will require the help of volunteers:

• Rainbow spawning surveys will be conducted on Crabapple, Lakeside, Jordan, Whistler, Blackcomb, Scotia and Agnew Creeks. The WFSG needs volunteers to help with Whistler and Blackcomb Creeks, with spawning from June to mid-July.

• Volunteers are needed to help set up fences, signs and a crossing structure to protect Western Toads as they migrate through Lost Lake Park in mid-August. The toads are part of the fishery ecosystem, and are at risk from bikers, runners and hikers.

• Sampling is required for the Fish Distribution Mapping Project, setting minnow traps and GPS locations to determine what fish are based in certain areas. Help is needed from June to September.

• The B.C. Lake Stewardship Society is recruiting volunteers province-wide for a lake monitoring program. Locally, that means gathering data from Alpha, Nita, Alta and Green Lakes. Volunteers will take surface water temperatures, Secchi turbidity readings, and dissolved oxygen readings, with equipment and training supplied by the Whistler fisheries Stewardship Group.

If you have a good photo of a bull trout or would like to volunteer for this year’s WFSG projects, email Vesna Young at vyoung@whistler.ca or call 604-935-8323.

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