Endangered Atlantic whitefish faces new threat
Fisheries and Oceans Canada promises action after demolishing broodstock hatchery
Scientists and researchers are promising an intensive effort this summer to try and eliminate a new hazard for Nova Scotia's endangered Atlantic whitefish.
The threat comes from the chain pickerel — a voracious pike like fish — that was discovered for the first time last summer in lakes outside Bridgewater, a town on the province's South Shore.
Those lakes are the only home to the remaining wild population of Atlantic whitefish, believed to be less than 1,000.
"This is a devastating predator that could cause serious harm to what remains of the population," said Jim Duston, a fish biologist at Dalhousie University.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it is responding to the threat.
"Our focus right now is on assessing the health of the population in those lakes and in controlling the predators," said Alain Vezina, the regional director of science for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
"That is our focus right now and we are going to move forward from what we find."
Vezina said electrical fishing equipment that stuns fish will be used on the chain pickerel this summer. He avoided directly answering questions about the impact of the federal government's decision to close and then demolish the department's Mersey Biodiversity Centre in Queens County.
For more than a decade, scientists raised, researched and released Atlantic whitefish.
In 2012, federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield said the Mersey Biodiversity Centre was no longer needed because the department had stocked Anderson Lake in Dartmouth with Atlantic whitefish raised at Mersey.
"We found some sexually mature fish in the lake a year and a half a go and we are looking to see what the status of the population is. We haven't gone back again this year unfortunately," Vezina said.
"We know they survived. We know they overwintered. We are trying to extend our knowledge on that."
Fisheries and Oceans Canada said it will be working with the Nova Scotia government and local stewards like the Bluenose Coastal Action Network, which first discovered the presence of chain pickerel in the Petite Rivière watershed in June 2013.