About the Native Trout Recovery Program

Alberta's Native Trout Recovery Program is a comprehensive, long-term fish conservation initiative aimed at monitoring and recovering populations of native trout and whitefish in the watersheds of the Eastern Slopes.

The Native Recovery Program’s focus is to recover the species through understanding the threats to its survival, through co-ordinated action, and through the support of stakeholders, the public, and multiple levels of government.

The Native Trout Recovery Program is part of an integrated provincial fisheries management approach, which means it is linked to:

  • Westslope cutthroat trout, bull trout and Athabasca rainbow trout recovery planning processes
  • Watercourse Crossings Remediation Program
  • Whirling disease and invasive species management

How the Native Trout Recovery Program works

Many native fish populations in the Eastern Slopes of Alberta have experienced severe declines in abundance and distribution. As a result, several species are now listed provincially and federally as follows:

  • Athabasca rainbow trout – Endangered under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act.
  • Bull trout – Threatened under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, Saskatchewan-Nelson River populations listed as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act: Western Arctic populations listed as Special Concern.
  • Westslope cutthroat trout – Threatened under both the Species at Risk Act and Alberta’s Wildlife Act.
  • Arctic grayling and mountain whitefish are species that are of conservation concern.

All these species have overlapping ranges within the east slopes. Efforts to recover listed native trout species is expected to benefit all species in overlapping areas.

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 identified several that have particularly significant effects:

Habitat: Degradation, destruction and fragmentation of habitats

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

Hybridization: interbreeding and competition with non-native trout, and restoration stocking of native trout

A coordinated recovery program for Eastern Slopes fish species at risk, focused on a multi-species approach rather than a single species, is expected to have a higher likelihood of success. An adaptive management approach will be used that will require measurable actions at varying watershed spatial scales and time frames, and will provide be inclusive of additional opportunities for Albertan’s to contribute to species recovery.

Select from the collapsible menu topics below to learn more about the Native Trout Recovery Program. Also see the Program resources section below for additional fact sheets about the program.

Where the program is taking place in the Eastern Slopes

Berland River

Bow River

Clearwater River – including Tay River; Rocky Creek

Kakwa River

Lower Ram River / North Saskatchewan River – including Fall Creek

Narraway River

Oldman River

Pembina River

Pinto Lake

Red Deer River

  • Thumbnail of East Slopes area of Alberta map.
    East Slopes area map

    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 is taking place.

    Download: East Slopes area map (PDF, 755 KB)

How focal watersheds were selected

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 fish populations and habitats, making recovery efforts in the area necessary to ensure populations remain sustainable.

Recovering fish populations is a complex and costly task. Threats limiting the abundance and distribution of fish populations, such as habitat degradation and fragmentation, can accumulate over time and overlap in a particular watershed.

Fisheries management and our stakeholders have developed a cumulative effects framework to understand which threats are most likely limiting fish populations.

Addressing these threats requires coordinated efforts that span entire watersheds within meaningful timeframes. 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. Successful actions are intended to be applied to other watersheds planned for recovery action.

The watersheds being monitored by the Native Trout Recovery Program were selected based on 3 main factors:

Biological factors – how successful recovery efforts can be, based on how degraded the watershed is, and whether or not local fish populations have a reasonable chance of recovery

Economic factors – whether or not government or stakeholder driven fish population restoration work has taken place, is taking place, or will take place in a given watershed

Social factors – a measure of the ability to change attitudes and actions to support sustainable fish populations in the area

Management actions in the Eastern Slopes

Actions will address the key threats limiting bull trout, Westslope cutthroat trout and Athabasca rainbow trout populations, and will include:

  • restoration of degraded habitats
  • angling regulation changes in select habitats
  • mitigation of sediment and phosphorous runoff to improve water quality
  • suppression or removal of non-native
  • fish and other aquatic invasive species
  • restoration stocking
  • addressing threats through implementation of sound land use planning, processes, and practices

Assessment of native trout program results

During the program, the abundance and distribution of fish populations in focal watersheds will be tracked, and local results compared with fish population targets established for each watershed.

All recovery efforts in the selected watersheds will be carefully recorded to determine which actions were successful and which were not. The information and knowledge gained will help address Alberta's ongoing fish management challenges.

Program highlights and future actions

Select a year below to learn what the Government of Alberta, together with partners and stakeholders, accomplished on the path towards native trout recovery and for annual reports on comprehensive fish and fish habitat assessments.

  • 2019 - 2020

    In 2019 to 2020, the Native Trout Recovery Program, together with partners, completed a number of actions to address native trout recovery, including:

    • Establishment of the Nature Legacy agreement with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada and the Canada Nature Fund.
      • Multi-year funding agreement (2019-2023)
      • Focus on agency coordination, priority setting, recovery actions (habitat restoration, restoration stocking), assessment and monitoring, and native trout education.
      • AEP partners include the Alberta Conservation Association, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Cows and Fish, Foothills Research Institute, and Trout Unlimited.
    • Program public engagement
      • Alberta Environment and Parks held 14 in-person public engagement sessions, as well as hosting an on-line survey to gather input on a number of fisheries management topics including native trout recovery. A summary from this engagement is now available.
    • Watershed assessments
    • Species management planning
      • Incorporated Public Advisory Committee input into draft provincial bull trout recovery plan, with preparations for public input.

    Hybridization

    • Restoration stocking and genetic delineation
      • Pilot project to establish threated WSCT populations in barren headwater streams of the Oldman Watershed using remote streamside incubation.
      • Genetic Delineation Product (GDP) which comprehensively maps genetic status of westslope cutthroat trout through historic range.
      • Collection of DNA information for Athabasca Rainbow Trout to identify potential donor stocks and locations and feasibility as a recovery option.
    • Non-native suppression
      • Continued non-native trout suppression at select waters

    Habitat

    • Habitat threats and restoration projects
      • Continued support to the Roadway Watercourse Remediation Program.
      • Stream bank fortification and riparian restoration projects
      • Identification and evaluation of native trout barrier assessments.
      • Identification of critical riparian habitat for native trout.
      • Refinement of Alberta’s cumulative effects model.
  • 2018 - 2019

    In 2018 to 2019, the Native Trout program, together with partners, is planning to take a number of actions to address native trout recovery.

    Actions to address habitat threats

    • The Government of Alberta and Trout Unlimited Canada completed an extensive reclamation project on Fall Creek to prevent large erosion events that posed a serious threat to the bull trout population.
    • Roadway stream crossing assessments and initiation or completion of remediation activities across the north-central native trout range
    • Support to the Roadway Watercourse Crossings Remediation Program, focusing on the Berland River watershed
    • Inclusion of cumulative effects impacts on native trout into land use planning.

    Actions to address ecosystem threats

    • Non-native trout suppression at Pinto Lake

    Actions to improve knowledge of native trout populations and how they respond to management actions

    • Comprehensive fish and fish habitat assessments in the Clearwater River, Fall Creek, Thistle Creek, Pembina River, Mackenzie Creek, Miette River, Kakwa River, and others.
    • Partnership with University of Calgary researchers to further investigate the impacts of habitat change, overfishing, and non-native species interactions on native trout.
    • Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat (CSAS) review of Alberta fish species at risk cumulative effects models

    Actions to improve knowledge of the potential effects of angling mortality

    • Investigation of angling post-release mortality of bull trout after immediate release, and after photo-then-release
    • Trail camera angler effort creels

    Program public engagement

    • Partnership with Paul First Nation to collect water temperature information and invertebrate samples to inform recovery actions and whirling disease risk mapping
    • Volunteer events with Trout Unlimited Canada to support habitat reclamation activities
  • 2017 - 2018

    In 2017/2018, the Native Trout program, together with partners, took a number of actions to address native trout recovery.

    Actions to address habitat threats

    • The Government of Alberta and Trout Unlimited Canada initiated an extensive reclamation project on Rocky Creek to prevent large erosion events and fish stranding that posed a serious threat to the bull trout population
    • OHV trail reclamation in order to limit detrimental instream activity, reduce sediment input and restore the riparian habitat
    • OHV trail inventories to inform future reclamation works and sustainable trail development
    • Roadway stream crossing assessments and initiation of remediation activities across the native trout range
    • Support to the Watercourse Crossings Remediation Program, focusing on the Berland River watershed
    • Conducted fish rescues at perched culverts and watercourses damaged by OHVs
    • Completion of shoreline health assessments in order to address riparian damage and sedimentation entry
    • Inclusion of cumulative effects impacts on native trout into land use plans and regulatory processes.
    • Pilot recovery sites were identified in the watersheds of:
      • Allison Creek
      • Beaver Creek
      • Camp Creek
      • North Lost Creek
      • O'Haggen Creek
      • Silvester Creek
      • Todd Creek
      • Waiparous Creek

    Actions to address ecosystem threats

    • Non-native trout suppression at Pinto Lake.

    Actions to improve knowledge of native trout populations and their habitat

    Program public engagement

    • Over 30 presentations developed and delivered to industry, regulators, and special interest groups on native trout recovery and proposed actions
    • Two public information sessions held in Calgary and Edmonton
    • On-line public and Indigenous consultation on proposed fishing closures

Program resources

Review additional information and links about the Native Trout Recovery Program.

Fact sheets and reports