Prehistoric Creature of the North Saskatchewan River

The North Saskatchewan River is home to a wide diversity of fascinating creatures. Some are feathered, some are furry, and some are scaly. One of the most interesting of these creatures has been on Earth for at least 100 million years. This animal existed while dinosaurs were still walking the planet. This creature is known as a living fossil, since it has lived for many Eras relatively unchanged, while its relatives have gone extinct. They can reach 2 meters in length and 90 kg in weight. Also, these species can live for up to 150 years! This creature is: Lake Sturgeon.

 

These fish are recognizable by their shark-like tail, their thick skin with armour-like plates (called scutes), and their barbels that hang down like a moustache in front of their retractable mouth. Sturgeon are bottom feeders, meaning that they feed on creatures on the bottom of the lakes and rivers in which they live. Their barbels are used to detect food, which they suck up with their toothless mouth, which is located under their head. They mainly feed on small fish, insect larvae, mollusks, crayfish, and fish eggs.

@Tomas Tuma

 

Sturgeon are famous for their expensive eggs, which are considered a delicacy, known as caviar. Lake sturgeon caviar is not as desirable as the beluga, osetra, and sevgura species of sturgeon which live in the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. These species are all Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list. Female sturgeon reach sexual maturity after 14-33 years, and are killed for their caviar, often illegally. While their caviar is not as consumed as other sturgeon species, the lake sturgeon’s eggs and meat were overexploited in the 1800s. Today, they are considered Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act and At Risk under the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. Sturgeon are also threatened by dams, habitat degradation, contaminants, deformations, destruction of spawning grounds, and invasive species. The populations of lake sturgeon are endangered in the North and South Saskatchewan Rivers, but the populations are on the rise due to habitat management and fishing regulation. In the North Saskatchewan River, Lake Sturgeon are a catch and release species for sport fishing. There are many locations in Edmonton along the river that anglers report catching sturgeon, including Dawson Park (a known sturgeon spawning location) and Rundle Park.

USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr

 

It can be quite surprising to learn about what lives within the river. Sturgeon are incredible creatures that capture the imaginations of anglers, conservationists, and people of all walks of life. In the news we hear about endangered species going extinct almost every day. Extinction rates on our planet are occurring 1,000 to 10,000 faster than natural extinction rates. It is rare yet affirming that lake sturgeon, which had almost been wiped out of the North Saskatchewan River, are increasing in both population and size. As they grow, this indicates that they are living longer since they never stop growing during their lives. We may not be able to bring dinosaurs back, but with hard work in conservation we can maintain these prehistoric creature’s presence on Earth.

Sources

 

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. 2002. Status of the Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in Alberta. Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, Fish and Wildlife Division, and Alberta Conservation Association, Wildlife Status Report No. 46, Edmonton, AB. 30pp.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. “Lake Sturgeon (Saskatchewan River).” Government of Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Statistical Services, 2006, dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/profiles-profils/sturgeon2-esturgeon-eng.html.

 

Dove, Laurie L. “How Caviar Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 8 Mar. 2018, science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/caviar1.htm.

 

Grant, Travis. “Here Be Sturgeons: Fishing in Edmonton.” Vue Weekly, 27 June 2018, www.vueweekly.com/here-be-sturgeons-fishing-in-edmonton/.

 

“Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser Fulvescens).” South Saskatchewan River Basin Water Information | AEP – Environment and Parks, aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/fish/sturgeons/lake-sturgeon/lake-sturgeon.aspx.

 

Snowdon, Wallis. “Big Fish Story: Sturgeon Make a Comeback in North Saskatchewan River | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 24 June 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sturgeon-north-saskatchewan-river-comeback-1.3649674.

 

“Sturgeon.” WWF, wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/sturgeon/.

 

“The Extinction Crisis.” Centre for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/.

 

Featured image: USFWS Midwest Region – Flickr

 

Federal Government Declares Proposed Mine Site To Be Critical Habitat

Last week, the federal government declared that dozens of streams and rivers in southwestern Alberta are critical habitat for endangered trout species.

On December 2nd, the Alberta Wilderness Association said that it would drop a lawsuit against Ottawa which sought to force the federal government to issue the order. Under law, critical habitat for native cutthroat trout was supposed to have been declared more than a year ago under the previous Conservative government.

“We’re happy that we likely do not have to follow through with it,” said Brittany Verbeek, the association’s conservation director.

Verbeek said the order lends protection to the creeks, streams and tributaries draining into the Oldman and Crowsnest rivers that are home to the trout. The fish were already protected under the Fisheries Act; now their home is protected under the Species At Risk Act.

“It just means that the area surrounding where the fish live has that increased protection.”

Changes to the stream, such as increasing its sediment load, are now forbidden.

The Alberta government is considering an application from a subsidiary of an Australian company to build a coal mine on a mountaintop in the protected habitat. Benga Mining proposes to turn 12 square kilometres on the top of Grassy Mountain near Blairmore into a terraced site.

At the same time, the province’s energy regulator is investigating the company for a release of coal into Gold Creek, one of the streams included in the critical habitat declaration.

A recent survey by a fisheries biologist found virtually all southern Alberta streams that spawn native trout are threatened by industrial development or overuse.

Lorne Fitch studied 54 small rivers and streams that flow into the Oldman River and which hold bull and cutthroat trout, largely in the area now considered critical habitat. He found nearly all of them face damage from logging roads, energy development and off-highway vehicle trails.

Scientists suggest land that contains trout streams shouldn’t have more than just over half a kilometre of trail, cutline or road per square kilometre. The disturbance density in parts of the Oldman watershed is nearly 10 times that.

Cutthroat populations are estimated at five per cent of historic levels.

 

From Bob Weber – The Canadian Press

Source: http://www.ctvnews.ca/business/feds-say-proposed-alberta-coal-mine-site-a-key-fish-habitat-1.2684688

Photo credit: Robert Berdan

 

 

Why are Alberta’s trout species threatened?

5 per cent.

That’s what’s left of the once-thriving population of cutthroat trout in Alberta. Combine that with a 70 per cent loss of habitat for Alberta’s provincial fish, the bull trout, and things aren’t looking too positive for our freshwater fishes. Both cutthroat and bull trout are now restricted to high elevations, when they were once abundant through the Oldman and Bow river basins.

Facing multiple pressures

So why the dramatic decline? The biggest threat might not be what you think: off-highway vehicles. Quads, 4x4s, dirt bikes, and other off-highway vehicles tear up the stream bottom, compromise important habitat, and increase the amount of silt and sediment being deposited into important spawning grounds.1

But it’s not just our off-roading friends to blame. The creation of logging roads, expansion of energy development, effluent runoff from feedlots, and draining of watersheds to meet irrigation needs are all part of the problem. Together, these pressures create an ecosystem that is heavily disturbed, and its estimated that the disturbance density of the Oldman watershed are ten times the recommended maximum to ensure the long-term health of cutthroat and bull trout.

But why is silt and sediment a problem?

We used to think silt and sediment would just be washed away when it entered our waterways, but this actually isn’t the case: these tiny particles of sand and dirt become trapped in the bigger stones and gravel that make up the stream bed, where it solidifies. Eventually, the sediment and silt becomes so concentrated in the seafloor that water can’t permeate through it, creating what is referred to as a “hardpack streambed.” This makes it extremely difficult for trout to carve out redds (nests) – and hardpacks aren’t expected to go anywhere soon.

Echoed all over the province

In order to see real, lasting change for all of our native species of fishes and freshwater species, Alberta will need to address its land-use policies and make considerable changes.2 Some of these would include better protection for headwaters, more control of industrial activity, and improved water quality monitoring.

What can you do?

The biggest thing we can do to ensure the long-term health of our freshwater species is to limit the impact we have on our waterways directly. When you’re out camping, leave some distance between your site and the water. Don’t use your off-highway vehicle in or near the water. And make sure you use caution down on the waterfront.

 

Sources

CBC News. (June 13, 2015). Alberta trout threatened, say anglers and environmentalists. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-trout-threatened-say-anglers-and-environmentalists-1.3112452.

 

Bob Weber. (July 12, 2015). Most Alberta trout streams threatened: survey. The Canadian Press. Retrieved from: http://globalnews.ca/news/2106366/most-alberta-trout-streams-threatened-survey/.