Brook trout under pressure, says researcher

A U.P.E.I. researcher would like to see brook trout, native to PEI, helped through tougher fishing limits.

Rainbow trout are hardier than brook trout

Yesterday was the first day P.E.I. anglers could fish trout this year, and one P.E.I. researcher is asking for new regulations to help native brook trout.

Scott Roloson, a graduate researcher at UPEI, is in his second season tagging rainbow trout in P.E.I. waterways.

Rainbow trout are not native to P.E.I. They were introduced almost 100 years ago as a sports fish.

The hardy fish have done well in Island waterways, Roloson said.

Last year, Roloson's acoustic tags showed that rainbow trout stay in river systems that have gone anoxic. While P.E.I.'s native brook trout flee to other areas with cooler temperatures and more oxygen, he said.

Roloson also discovered rainbow trout aren't as badly affected by fish kills for two reasons: one, because their more hardy nature is more resistant to chemicals; and, two, when fish kills tend to happen, rainbow trout aren't always in the waterways.  

Rainbow trout go to sea in late April and usually don't return to Island waterways until August.

These discoveries during Roloson's first year of research suggest rainbow trout have a competitive advantage over brook trout.

"Brook trout are particularly sensitive to any environmental degradation, such as anoxic events or sedimentation or fish kill events as well," Roloson said.

Helping hand

That's why Roloson believes brook trout need a helping hand.

The province put in special fishing regulations on brook trout in the Trout River in Coleman a number of years ago. The brook trout fishing season opened later, the maximum size of fish allowed was reduced, as was the daily catch limit.

Brook trout returns were up substantially in the Trout River, Roloson said, until last summer's fish kill.

"In the short term, maybe we as anglers can look upon ourselves to reduce the number of fish that we kill of the brood stock of brook trout."

Roloson said he would like to see similar regulations put in place on other rivers around the province. He said, although these kind of rules might not be popular with some anglers, it's about the health of the fish.

The Department of Environment, Energy and Forestry will wait to see Roloson's final report and decide what to do based on his recommendations, according to Rosanne MacFarlane, a freshwater fisheries biologist with the Forests, Fish and Wildlife division.

"You have to be careful with regulations, between improving the fishery and turning people off," MacFarlane said. "The province has to think very carefully how to accomplish those goals."

The province is floating the idea of opening a special fall fishery on rainbow trout next year, after the regular angling season shuts down.

A fall rainbow trout fishery has already been tried in the Souris River watershed and has been very popular, MacFarlane said.

"Like them or hate them, they’re becoming a very popular sports fish in P.E.I.," said MacFarlane. "And many anglers like to target them."

The province would like to know if island anglers  would support the plan.