Fish and Wildlife Officers would like to remind everyone how important water bodies are for our native fish species, some of which have been deemed “threatened” by the Alberta Endangered Species Conservation Committee.
These species include the Athabasca rainbow trout, the bull trout, and the westslope cutthroat trout. Arctic Grayling have recently been classified a “species of concern,” with a zero catch limit across the province to help aid in its recovery.
While most off-highway vehicle (OHV) operators are responsible, there are some who do not always give thought to the damage they could potentially cause to the land. Some natural areas are extremely sensitive to any kind of disturbance. Some take a long time to return to a natural state while some may never fully recover.
Spinning tires kick up fine sediment that would not naturally occur. This sediment floats down the stream covering fish eggs, clogging the gills of fry and completely coating other aquatic species. This may cause the organisms to suffocate if they can no longer absorb oxygen from the water.
Depending on the time of year, a vehicle in a waterway may be running over large numbers of fertilized fish eggs or fry, which hinders population growth and recovery. In addition, even if there are no eggs, running a vehicle through a water body could destroy spawning grounds. Fish can only spawn in certain areas, and if there is no suitable habitat, they may not spawn at all.
When vehicles are driven into a waterway, oil and other toxins may enter the water. Mud, grass, oil, grease and seeds that machines carry are washed off into the stream. All of these are detrimental to aquatic species in that area. Mud becomes fine sediment; oil and grease wash off and are extremely toxic to all forms of life. Seeds that travel on machines could introduce invasive plant species that are then enabled to force out indigenous plant life.
If there is a bridge nearby, even a few kilometres away, please take the extra time to use it. Repeated vehicular crossings over a waterbody can change the form and function of a watercourse. As the vehicles cross the waterbody, they erode the banks and, over time, can cause the watercourse to become wider and shallower. This reduces cover used by fish and can potentially lead to them not being able to pass through areas with low water levels. Furthermore, stream temperature is increased as there is a greater surface area absorbing sunlight. Many of our fish species, particularly trout, require clean cold water and any increases to stream temperature can cause adverse effects for these species.
Offences under the Public Lands Act, such as damaging the bed or shore of a naturally occurring waterway, or operating a vehicle in them, can result in a maximum penalty of $25,000 for first time offenses. Please report irresponsible OHV use through the Report A Poacher line at 1-800-642-3800. We can all play a part in looking after these amazing species so that future generations can enjoy them just as we do today.