Reeling It In: Can Fishing Be Sustainable?

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Fishing. For me, it sparks foggy memories of sitting with my grandfather on a small metal boat in Lac-des-Sables, Quebec, waiting impatiently for any sign of movement. I kept busy playing with the bucket full of wriggling worms. I’ll never forget how peaceful it was, just us, out on the water watching for a nibble on the line, listening for the soft hum of the reel as the line dragged across the water. He caught something. My fuzzy mind remembers it to be a brightly coloured angelfish, but looking back, it was more likely a small perch or bass, simply coloured grey or brown. I wanted him to throw the fish back in the water and save its life. But he knew the opportunity to eat a freshly caught fish was a valuable chance for me to learn where food comes from. Floating out on the calm lake, my grandfather showed me the hard work it takes to put something fresh on the table. That night, my family and I shared stories and bonded while we devoured the fresh catch. That’s the power of fishing—connection. Connection to yourself as you wait. Connection to nature as you study patterns and behaviours of the water, rocks, plants, and animals. Connection to each other as you sit together, and perhaps get to share a meal at the end of the day.


When the topic of fishing comes up, the first thing that may come to mind for many people is the unsustainable overfishing practices currently happening across the world. Globally, fish populations are declining. Locally, fish populations in the North Saskatchewan River watershed are also dying off. Many native species across the watershed are endangered or vulnerable. This is a result of habitat degradation and fragmentation, over-harvesting, invasive species, industrial activities, stream flow fluctuations, poor water quality, climate change, and more. Species like the Lake Sturgeon nearly disappeared from the North Saskatchewan River. But thanks to the improvement of sewage treatment processes and fishing regulations, local fish species have been given a chance.


It may come as a surprise that fishing can be an important tool for protecting fish species. Sustainable fishing, that is. Local, sustainable fishing is a time-honoured tradition passed down by generations of people living in Canada. Those who regularly visit their waterbodies, cast out their line, and follow fishing regulations are some of the greatest water stewards. By spending periods of time out on the water, watching and learning from their surroundings, people begin to notice changes that are much more subtle to others. Fishers are often more aware of changes in the health of local fish, the populations of the fish in the water, and the biodiversity of other aquatic life. Indigenous peoples have been fishing in the North Saskatchewan watershed for tens of thousands of years at rates that haven’t depleted fish stocks. Since fishing is an activity that is directly correlated with a healthy environment, fishers often take on the responsibility to advocate for strong environmental protections, ensuring thriving fish populations for future generations.


Sustainable fishing is fishing at a rate that allows the fish to reproduce, maintaining their populations in the long term (or even improving them). One of the ways that local fishers can help to balance fish populations is by following fishing regulations. There are diverse regulations in place throughout Alberta that you absolutely need to be aware of before casting your line. One of the most important regulations is to clean, drain, and dry all equipment (including fishing rods and boats) to help prevent any invasive species from taking over our waterways. Another important regulation is to keep shorelines intact and natural. This helps to prevent erosion, as well as algal blooms that are very common in Alberta’s mineral-rich soil. Blooms of blue-green algae cover the surface of Alberta’s beautiful lakes with toxic cyanobacteria threatening the swimmability and fishability of our waters.


Thriving aquatic biodiversity helps ensure a fishable future for all. Fishers wanting to enjoy fishing for years to come will make sure not to take more than they need. This is especially important since our waterbodies have many threatened species that are only allowed for catch & release fishing. When you catch and release fish properly, it can be a conservation strategy and spare the lives of endangered or threatened species including Lake Sturgeon, Walleye, and Sauger. Fishing regulations like catch & release, size limits, and catch limits give fish species an opportunity to recover, and hopefully to thrive once again. Be sure to know your local fishing regulations and get your fishing license to become a sustainable fisher yourself!


Another way that fishers can help to ensure thriving fish populations and a safe, secure environment is by reporting problems in the watershed. When the fish populations are unstable, it’s best to report to your local Fish and Wildlife representative, or call the toll-free Alberta number at 310-0000 and Saskatchewan number at 1-800-567-4224. If you notice an environmental emergency in Alberta, call the 24 hour line at 1-800-222-6514. 


Fishers are incredibly knowledgeable on the fish status in the watershed. Stewards that can protect aquatic biodiversity need to be able to recognize the different species within the waterbody, when those species are plentiful or scarce, and when there’s a threat to the health of the waterbody. If you’re a fisher with knowledge to share, please write a watermark story about your fishing experiences for Watermark Project, an initiative to collect and share true water stories. Years ago, I was fortunate enough to learn the value of fishing and found it to be an incredible way to connect to water. For those looking to try fishing for the first time, be patient, experience the world around you, and follow your local regulations. Happy fishing!





Alberta, Environment and Parks, Fish and Wildlife. “2019 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations.” 2019 Alberta Guide to Sportfishing Regulations, 2019.

Horton, Jennifer. “5 Ways To Fish Responsibly.” How Stuff Works,  

“Lake Sturgeon FSI.”,

MacDougall-Davis , Robert. “Fishing and the Environment: Why the Two Are Inextricably Linked.” Ecologist: Journal for the Post-Industrial Age, 15 Oct. 2010,

“Regulations.” Tourism Saskatchewan, 2019,

“Saskatchewan Angler’s Guide 2019.” Edited by Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Fishing, 2019,   

“Species at Risk.”,

“The Dependable Online Resource For Fishing In Alberta.”, 2019,


  1. Hannah Flack

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