Low water levels threaten fish migration

Precipitation levels are just over half what they should have been the last 12 months, and that's affecting the water levels in rivers flowing into Lake Superior.

Fish trying to swim upstream could be left stranded

More water could soon be flowing along the fish ladder at the Current River dam. A fish ladder is a man made way of getting fish around dams. It looks like a big set of stairs and contains pools of water in which fish jump up to get upstream. (www.northshoresteelhead.com)

A conservation group has worries about low water levels in rivers flowing into Lake Superior this spring.

Tom Whalley, president of the North Shore Steelhead Association, said the Ministry of Natural Resources has told him precipitation levels are just over half what they should have been the last 12 months.

Whalley said that could affect fish trying to swim upstream.

"So when they can't migrate into the headwater streams, that means they can't spawn in the headwaters," Whalley said. "[That] means, in subsequent years, there's less productivity or fewer young fish are produced to replace them."

Whalley said members of the North Shore Steelhead group are watching flows on the Current River. He said, if necessary, they'll ask for an increase in the amount of water diverted through the fish ladder, a man-made throughway for migrating fish.

The association has paid the owner of a hydro dam along the Current River in the past to flow water through the fish ladder, instead of the hydro dam, and this could be the case again this year.

If there isn't more rainfall, and soon, the association worries about the state of the Neebing and McIntyre Rivers. They said some of the larger streams along the North Shore aren't as desperate for rain as the ones in the city.

The Ministry of Natural Resources says low flows in rivers and streams could result in poor reproduction for spring spawning fish. However, fish populations do adapt to periodic changes in water flows, which the ministry calls population resilience.