Overview

The Eastern Slopes Fish Management Zones (FMZ) are home to a network of popular sportfishing rivers and waterbodies. It is also an important and popular landscape for industrial and recreational activities. This has placed enormous pressure on local native fish populations and habitats, making recovery efforts in the area necessary to ensure populations remain sustainable.

This map shows the boundaries to Alberta’s Eastern Slopes area, which covers a number of watersheds and waterbodies where the provincial Native Trout Recovery Program (NTRP) is taking place.

Alberta's NTRP is a comprehensive, long-term fish conservation initiative aimed at assessing, recovering and monitoring populations of native trout in the watersheds of the Eastern Slopes. The purpose of the NTRP is to align the work of the Fish and Wildlife Stewardship Division, other Government of Alberta ministries and divisions, and program delivery partners to advance the recovery of native trout in the eastern slopes.

Native trout species directly supported by the native trout recovery program include Athabasca rainbow trout, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. Other species that will benefit from actions taken under this program due to their overlapping habitat include mountain whitefish, and arctic grayling, which are species that are of conservation concern.

How the program works

Fisheries biologists have developed a cumulative effects model to understand which threats are most likely limiting fish populations at a local watershed level. The model predicts where targeted action can make the most difference to fish populations and helps to prioritize recovery efforts. Focusing fish population recovery efforts in a few watersheds using the best available science allows biologists, regulators, industry and stakeholders to work together more effectively and learn how to most efficiently recover fish in the face of multiple concerns.

Partners interested in projects that address the threats in the identified watersheds are engaged to help implement the management action. The project is monitored for effectiveness and learnings are documented so that successful actions can be applied to other watersheds in the future

The NTRP is guided by provincial and federal recovery plans and strategies while using a multi-species approach for the eastern slopes. New multi-species planning documents will be developed as needed.

Partnerships and collaboration

The NTRP is being implemented with the help of partners who have expertise in watershed conservation, including habitat restoration, riparian area protection and public education. Through collaboration with stakeholders, watersheds are being improved and maintained in order to support recovery of native trout species. Current program partners include:

Threats to Alberta’s native trout

Alberta Environment and Parks has been examining the various negative impacts on native trout populations and the cumulative effects of these impacts. Of the more than 20 such impacts that are caused by human activity, fisheries biologists have categorized the main threats into 3 categories: Habitat, Harvest and Hybridization. These threats must be addressed simultaneously to make a noticeable impact on native trout populations.

Habitat: Degradation, destruction and fragmentation of habitats

Habitat loss and degradation are caused by past and ongoing land uses of all kinds; from infrastructure development to recreation that occurs adjacent to, or across watercourses where fish live.

Stream crossings like culverts, roads and some bridges may also limit or prevent fish migrations and restrict access to spawning or overwintering streams, which is referred to as fragmentation.

Land use activities such as industry development, off-highway vehicle use, poorly constructed road crossings and livestock grazing, can impact water quality if erosion results in sediment entering the stream, creating silty water and increasing nutrient loads. Silty (or turbid) waters have negative impacts on trout nests (called redds) as sediment settles on newly laid eggs, and restricts availability to the clean, oxygenated water needed for embryological development and survival.

Management actions being taken:

  • restoration of degraded habitats
  • mitigation of sediment and phosphorous runoff to improve water quality
  • addressing threats through implementation of land use planning, processes and practices

Harvest: Indirect mortality resulting from catch and release fishing and illegal harvest

Reducing poaching and improving an angler’s ability to properly handle and identify native trout species is a key area of focus for native trout public education. Being caught and released can be stressful for fish, especially if improperly handled or released. This can cause a hooking injury or reduced fitness leading to lower reproductive success or being eaten by a predator. In areas of high fishing pressure, the same fish could be caught several times.

Catching a fish during low flows or warm water temperatures or during spawning times also increases stress on the fish. Anglers can help keep these fish in our future by improving their fish handling skills which will increase the survival of caught and released fish.

Management actions being taken:

  • angling regulation changes in select habitats
  • fish identification education
  • fish handling education

Hybridization: interbreeding and competition with non-native trout

Hybridization is a mixing of the gene pools of 2 distinct species. It occurs when closely related species of trout interbreed and produce offspring of a new, genetically different species from each of the parent trout. As a result of past non-native fish stocking in native trout habitat, native trout are spawning at the same time as closely related non-native species leading to hybridized offspring.

Hybridization alters genetic traits linked to the long-term resilience of native trout populations, and increases the risk of losing these native species entirely. Even experienced biologists cannot identify hybrids with much certainty just by looking at them, as there is a wide range in the degree of hybridization.

For a more in-depth look at the threat of hybridization on Westslope cutthroat trout populations visit:

Hybridization can also provide unique angling opportunities through species such as tiger trout, which are a sterile hybrids of brown and brook trout. While there is less risk of hybridization with native trout, extensive planning is taken when stocking these hybrids for recreational purposes to ensure there is no impact on native trout populations. Learn more at:

Management actions being taken:

Program resources

Review additional information and links about the NTRP

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