Alberta backs down on plans to ban trout fishing from some rivers

The Alberta government is backing away from a proposal to ban trout fishing in some central Alberta streams and rivers starting this year, after an anglers group suggested the province needed to reconsider.

Multi-year trout recovery program is intended to restore fish populations

Alberta is considering a fishing ban on several rivers and streams as part of its trout recovery program. (Fish World )

The Alberta government is backing away from a proposal to ban trout fishing in some central Alberta streams and rivers starting this year, after an anglers group suggested the province needed to reconsider. 

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips says she wasn't convinced the science was strong enough to ban angling on the Ram, Clearwater, Kakwa and North Saskatchewan rivers.

Department officials had suggested at public meetings those rivers would be closed.

Instead, Phillips says, the department will undertake a review of the relevant research and identify where the conflicts between fish habitat, industrial development and recreational use are most intense.

Jordan Pinkster, with Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, agreed that conservation should be the government's priority but said fixing habitats should take precedence over fishing bans. 

"We're kind of looking at this as, I guess, putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, so to speak," Pinkster said of the original plan.

Jordan Pinkster with Alberta Backcountry Hunters and Anglers says the government should address habitat concerns before putting fishing bans in place. (CBC)

"If we're looking at addressing the real crisis, the real problem that exists that faces our native trout, it's addressing the habitat concerns. If they don't have places where they can spawn and places where they can live, then no amount of angling restrictions are going to help that," he said.

The government's trout recovery plan is aimed at monitoring and recovering populations of native trout and whitefish in Alberta. It began in 2017 and is set to run until 2024.

Closures aren't yet set in stone

The fishing closures and habitat restoration activities would have targeted central Alberta watersheds, which could include the Clearwater River, Lower Ram River, Red Deer River, Pembina River and Kakwa River — all popular sport-fishing locations, which include what Pinster said are some of the province's best trout streams.

"The Government of Alberta has a responsibility to protect and conserve this province's fish and wildlife for Albertans and for future generations of Albertans. This includes developing plans to recover populations of bull trout, rainbow trout and westslope cutthroat trout, which are extremely vulnerable. Alberta Environment and Parks routinely consults on changes to fishing regulations each year," Alberta Environment and Parks said in an emailed statement.

The government plans to increase funding for groups to rebuild damaged waterways and undertake public education programs.

Phillips warned stream closures may be reconsidered in the future.

Pinkster said he's worried about a potential impact on business and tourism if the closures go ahead. 

"Guides frequent this areas with their clients … a lot of these guys can't just press pause for five years and wait for the closures to end so they can take their clients out again," said Pinkster.

Many Alberta fish are at-risk, says biologist

Biologist Lesley Peterson with Trout Unlimited Canada said the decline in trout populations isn't caused by one thing — it's a cumulative issue — but a fishing ban is "worth a shot."

"It's certainly a very ambitious plan," said Peterson.

"It's disappointing to see we're at this point where we have to resort to something like this in Alberta — and we do recognize absolutely that there's habitat enhancement, rehabilitation and protection that has to occur to see some meaningful trout recovery.

Peterson said a number of native fish in Alberta are considered at-risk or likely to be considered at-risk.

"It's just not a good situation for our native trout fishes in Alberta," she said. 

Alberta's 2018-2019 fishing regulations come into play on April 1. 

With files from Andrew Brown, The Canadian Press