Abegweit First Nation assists fish stocking program

The Abegweit First Nation has stepped in to assist a fish stocking program on Prince Edward Island.

Recreational fishery on P.E.I. is worth $3 million a year

A program that stocks P.E.I. rivers with fish is once again afloat.

There were concerns it was sunk because the fish hatchery in Cardigan couldn't afford to help anymore. That was until a First Nations group stepped up to help.

Friday in the cold waters of the Morell River there was a very unusual sight, fishermen armed with electrical currents.

"That is a backpack electric fisher and it just puts an electrical current into the water and the fish are momentarily stunned," said provincial biologist Rosanne MacFarlane. "Their muscles contract, they get drawn towards the electric fisher and we can pick them up with a net. It's a very slick way of catching fish."

They're collecting brook trout for the province's fish stocking program. That program was in jeopardy because the fish hatchery couldn't afford to provide fish to it any more. Now, the Abegweit First Nation has stepped up to make sure the province has enough fish.

"Well they certainly did save the day, because we want healthy rivers and streams and we want fish in those streams," said recreational fisheries minister George Webster.

"It would have been a shame to see it end and it means there's a lot of possibilities with these little fish," said MacFarlane. "You can stock them in the event of a fish kill."

The recreational fishery is worth about $3 million a year on P.E.I. The P.E.I. Wildlife Federation provides a big part of the funds for the program.

"There's a lot more at stake then just the recreational fishery here when we consider the wild stocks of the fish in the streams and when we have incidents such as fish kills," said Becky Peterson of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation. "That affects not just the recreational fishery, that affects the whole ecosystem."

The Abegweit First Nation says the program is a natural fit.

"We've been involved in stream enhancement projects for the last five years so this is a natural progression for us," said Roger Sark.

Abegweit First Nation is taking over the fish re-stocking contract out of a sense of responsibility, for both the environment and for the resource. It won't be making any money from the contract and is still looking for partners to help cover costs.

"If there's any industry partners out there that's looking to buy some stock from us for restocking purposes, our door is open for that," said Sark.

The contract means 40,000 small brook trout will be released into P.E.I. rivers next year. It also means 4,000 larger trout for fishing derbies will be released in the future.