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Ronan's report

Tuesday 18th August, 2009

Sitting here, with too many beers at my little brothers wedding, got me thinking... A couple of years ago my brother kept a bull trout because he was proud of how big it was. No camera, nobody around; he poached to brag about a big fish.

Illegal, immoral, stupid.
Would you turn your own brother in?

Over the last century, bull trout populations in Alberta had been decimated. There were two big reasons:

In the great white version of the Wild West, men took whatever food they could, when they could. Bull trout were an easy fish to catch. Besides, bull trout were competing with the newly introduced rainbow trout. Albertans had no issue with wiping them out. Sure, bull trout are big, but they don't taste as good as rainbows and they put up the same aerial fight. In that Wild West, men also conquered the rivers. Dams were built and trees were cut, the river was straightened as much as possible. All bad for trout.

By the early 1990's it was accepted in Alberta that bull trout were in trouble (80 years of killing and still the old-timers hated the bull trout).
In 1995 the Alberta government took a very forward thinking, drastic step. All bull trout had to be released. No exceptions. "No Black; Put It Back" became a mantra chanted by Fish and Wildlife Officers and kids in schools.

It's over a decade later, and there are mixed results. Bull trout numbers are up, but not everywhere. Environmental regulations and enforcement have improved, acceptance of C&R is province wide, but... What else?

It's getting to be that time of the year here in Southern Alberta when the fluvial and adfluvial bull trout have reached their natal streams. There is not enough food in the small creeks for these large bodied fish to survive so they travel to lakes and large rivers during non-spawning times. Fishing these aggressive beasts is hard to pass up.
As it becomes fashionable in Alberta to fish for bull trout, anglers are flocking to any area where bull trout are stacked up waiting to spawn. There is mortality associated with C&R.

Also, some of these creeks are coming under typical Albertan pressures... Natural resource extraction at the top of that list. Un-fished Bull trout in the north are being impacted from new developments and recovering populations in the south are facing second cuts of the forests. At least this time there are rules to protect fish... but what if nobody is around to see?

Anglers fishing bull trout will watch for poachers and possible industrial problems. But, poachers learn about the area and too much fishing pressure impacts the trout. On the other hand, if nobody sees a trout die in the forest, does a corporation get fined?

The question at hand... would you turn in a brother? For one bull trout I did not. I did give him a piece of my mind, drink all his beer, and put his wet boots in the freezer, but I still feel bad. I know one fish won't wipe out the population. I know that fish could have died many other ways (old age, predation, angling injury, etc)
When I think about it, I may not have turned in another poacher if it wasn't my brother. Education might prevent him from doing it again and he might teach his ignorant friends to be respectful.
Or there would be more ignorant poachers and a decline in the fishery.

Is it a lose-lose situation?


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