Has fishing been good or bad this year? Steve Arndt, fisheries biologist with the Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP), said he has been getting mixed answers.
To keep the public informed about current operations on the Arrow Lakes and statistics on fish numbers, Angus Glass, Communications Coordinator from the FWCP along with biologists Jeff Burrows, Senior fisheries biologist for the Ministry of Forestry Lands and Natural Resources, as well as Arndt, came to Nakusp on September 28.
Speaking to a group of interested locals, as well as concerned individuals, the three discussed the goals of the FWCP in both the short term and long term.
In the Arrow Lakes region, fish were greatly affected by the building of the Revelstoke and Mica dams.
“These caused the nutrients, most importantly phosphorous, to become trapped in the reservoirs mud,” explained Burrows. Phosphorous is important to the fish population because it feeds algae, which feeds zooplankton, which in turn feeds the fish.
Following the relatively good fishing years of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, the Arrow Lakes reached a critical point of inadequate nutrient levels in the ‘90s and local fishing took a major dive.
To stop the Arrow Lakes Reservoir from becoming uninhabited by fish, the FWCP started the Nutrient Restoration Program in 1999. The program replenishes nutrients by putting a mixture of agricultural grade phosphorus, along with nitrogen dissolved in water, into the lake through spreader bars on the Galena Bay ferry. The major releases of fertilizer occur following the busy summer season, and require the ferry to be chartered with no passengers in order to accommodate the large tanker truck that carries the compound.
This year’s large snow pack and resulting high water levels meant that more nutrients than usual entered into the lake, and the FWCP didn’t have to release as much nutrient.
Concerns were brought up at the meeting about whether this fertilizer has been corroding boats or is harmful to the general public. The guest speakers confirmed that it will kill grass if spilled on it; however, when it is administered through the spreaders on the ferries and diluted, it poses no greater threat than natural nutrients.
The FWCP are confident that spawning kokanee increased thanks to the nutrient program, as their numbers increased from under 200,000 in 1994 up to around 500,000 in 2010. According to their data, bull trout have also had a great response from the program with their numbers, and the number of larger fish, being greater since the program started.
A large amount of FWCP’s data comes from the Hill Creek Fish Hatchery, where the last two years have seen the best fry production and survival rates in the last 25 years. They will continue this with adjustments in fry production to increase adult size therefore improving fishing and providing optimal prey for bull trout.
With all this being done and certain fish numbers doubling, why then isn’t the sport fishing like what it was back in the peak years of the ‘70s and ‘80s?
The biologists indicated that although the numbers of fish have been increasing since the program, sport fishing in the Arrow Lakes, according to their statistics, has not benefitted from the program. Arndt believes that is mostly because, at the current time, there is a greater amount of small, younger fish rather than large fish. These small fish are not typically caught by fishermen or kept by them.
“Even though we think we’re firing all the cylinders with fertilizer and lots of fry,” Burrows said, “there are still natural cycles and we are at a low point in the cycle right now, it is possible we can expect better fishing here at Arrow if we just be patient.”