North Saskatchewan River Drainage,
Fish Sustainability Index Data Gaps
Mike Rodtka, Chad Judd, and Andrew Clough
Alberta Environment and Parks Fish Sustainability Index is a standardized process of assessment that provides a landscape-level overview of fish sustainability within the province and enables broad-scale evaluation of management actions and land-use planning. Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) is a native sport species classed as Threatened in Alberta and is particularly sensitive to habitat change. In the summer of 2015, Alberta Conservation Association partnered with Sundre Forest Products (SFP) to assess bull trout distribution and abundance in areas of mutual interest to SFP and government land-use planners in SFP’s Forest Management Area. Our objective was to describe the distribution and abundance of bull trout and other fish species in the headwaters of the
North Saskatchewan River watershed to address Fish Sustainability Index data deficiencies. Focal areas for the inventory in 2015 were identified in consultation with project partners and included the headwaters of the Baptiste River, Pineneedle Creek and surrounding streams, and Trout Creek.
From June 16 to August 17, we visited 87 sites randomly distributed throughout the three focal areas. We monitored stream temperature (every two hours) at four stations in the Trout Creek focal area to assess thermal suitability for bull trout. We sampled 50 sites using backpack electrofishing gear and captured 648 fish including 7 bull trout. The remaining 37 sites were dry. Bull trout were detected at two sites in both the Pineneedle Creek and Trout Creek focal areas. Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) dominated our catch (n = 502), was detected in every area, and was the most widely distributed species overall (detected at 20 sites). Brown trout (Salmo trutta) was the second most abundant species (9 sites; n = 121) but was detected only in the Trout Creek focal area along with longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae), mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni), spoonhead
sculpin (Cottus ricei) and white sucker (Catostomus commersoni). Our catch of brook trout and brown trout included a wide size range of fish.
The spring and early summer of 2015 was notably dry and this undoubtedly impacted the stream habitats we observed and should be considered when interpreting the results of our habitat assessment. Streams in the Pineneedle Creek focal area exhibited relatively low water conductivities, which may have diminished the efficiency of our electrofishing gear. Stream temperature monitoring of the Trout Creek focal area indicated that the headwaters provided highly suitable thermal habitat for bull trout in the summer of 2015. Our study provides land-use managers with fish species distribution and abundance information necessary to balance the diverse values of the land base upon which they operate and to evaluate bull trout status in the North Saskatchewan River