River otters will be studied by Alberta Fish and Wildlife researchers who want to know whether their population is exploding and putting pressure on the sports fishery in the Rocky Mountain House area.

River otters will be studied by Alberta Fish and Wildlife researchers who want to know whether their population is exploding and putting pressure on the sports fishery in the Rocky Mountain House area.

Otter numbers appear low

Preliminary findings from an Alberta Environment study show that the otter population in the West Country is seemingly low and sustainable.

Preliminary findings from an Alberta Environment study show that the otter population in the West Country is seemingly low and sustainable.

Concerns from anglers around Rocky Mountain House over recent years about the health of the sport fisheries sparked a two-year research project into what many thought was a growing otter problem.

Fish are alleged to be one of the main items on an otter’s diet list after all.

However, since Carrie Nugent, a wildlife biologist with Alberta Environment and based in Drayton Valley, began the hunt for more data collection on the West Country otters in September 2011, she spotted only one otter.

“We saw one otter . . . It was around Nordegg and for the amount of time spent in the field, that is a really low number. I was just as surprised as anyone about that,” Nugent said.

“We looked for tracks, scats and just found not a lot of signs.

“So at this point I would say the otter population is at a really low density as it was difficult to detect them, despite targeting areas where we thought they would be most active.”

Without some sort of sample size, it’s impossible to create a population estimate, she added.

While it is known there are otters living at Cow Lake, Nugent focused on streams to find out more about the river creatures and the fisheries.

Her team researched at least 20 different streams, honing in on about 1-km sections where “prey availability” would also be escalated due to high fish density.

She also spent a large amount of time at Prairie Creek during the brown trout spawning season (October and November).

“This was an area that many anglers were specifically concerned about and if there was an otter effect, we were going to detect it over spawning or wintering,” Nugent said.

“I walked that area every week for six weeks throughout the season and didn’t find a single track, scat, no sign of an otter there.”

While it’s not a “fully conclusive study,” the fact that there were no signs of otters during a time when fish are most vulnerable, led the researchers to believe the otters may not be as big of an issue as originally thought.

Something Nugent did notice was the state of the surrounding habitat.

“I was shocked at the habitat’s state on the Prairie Creek spawning grounds. This is where anglers are complaining about decreasing catch and I thought I would be walking around a mainly undisturbed area but it’s on private land largely and there are a lot of areas where cows, horses and ATVs are in the river,” she said.

“I found one area where there was obvious illegal harvesting going on, some poaching.”

It’s key to look at the “big picture” when looking at issues with the fisheries, Nugent said.

“Anglers are aware of a lot of the challenges that the fish face and are concerned that otter mortality is one more pressure on the population but whether otters are the real driver behind the complaints we’re receiving about fisheries,

“I couldn’t say. I doubt it based on what I saw.”

Nugent is now in the middle of another analysis based on otter fur harvest data from trappers.

“I have fur harvest records back to the 80s and 90s,” she said.

“I have completed a preliminary spatial analysis looking at the harvest density across the whole province. Cold Lake has the highest harvest density — we know that’s an area with historically a higher otter population.

“In the West Country most of the areas have a quota of zero. In some the quota is of one.”

She discovered the number of otters trapped in each WMUs (Wildlife Management Units or zones that divide up the province primarily for hunting purposes) in the West Country over a five-year period average out to about one.

From 2003 to 2008, she found an average of 0.4 otters were trapped per trapline in one WMU, where there are about three to four traplines, Nugent said.

The total number of otters trapped from 1985 to 2008 is 13 in another West Country WMU, 338 (in the middle of Edmonton and Jasper), and 14 in WMU 330 (covering just north of Rocky Mountain House to just south of Drayton Valley).

“Overall, it’s a really low harvest,” she said.

Nugent’s final report on what she found on otters in the West Country should be ready by February.

It is not yet known if it will be made available to the public.

“I am continuing to do a little bit of investigating over the winter at stocked trout ponds that are aerated, looking for signs or tracks of otters being active. It’s an ongoing interest of mine,” Nugent said.

rfrancoeur@bprda.wpengine.com

Just Posted

The second Leah’s Light 5K walk/run for overdose awareness was held at Kiwanis Picnic Park in Red Deer on Saturday morning. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff
Child advocate calls for provincial youth strategy to address opioid crisis

Twenty-nine young Albertans died from opioid poisoning in the first three months of 2021

(File photo by Advocate staff)
Youth faces weapons charge after incident at Sylvan Lake Beach

A 16-year-old male has been charged with possession of a weapon for… Continue reading

The viewing tower at Medicine River Wildife Centre is part of the centre’s walking trail. (Photo from Facebook)
Cross-country skiing coming to Medicine River Wildlife Centre

Recipient of $10,000 from 2019 Canada Winter Games Legacy Fund Society

The City of Red Deer is reaching out to the community to see if anyone wants to move and maintain the Scout Hut from 1937. The land it sits on is needed for a women’s shelter expansion. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
City of Red Deer calling for proposals for preserving, moving Scout Hut

The 47th Avenue land it sits on is needed for women’s shelter expansion

Students at Olds College will be learning what’s new in agricultural technology at the facility’s Smart Farm. (Photo contributed)
New agricultural technologies explored by students at Olds College

Olds College is launching a new SmartFarm program to help farmers and… Continue reading

Vaccination, Maple Ridge, March 26, 2021 (Ronan O'Doherty/Black Press Media)
Alberta confirms two patient deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant at Calgary hospital

EDMONTON — A health official says two patients at Calgary’s Foothills hospital… Continue reading

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan's decision to travel to Arizona for a holiday has been sharply criticized by many.
Advocate file photo
Jason Stephan: Quebec’s actions undermine interests of Alberta

Prior to serving as a MLA, I structured many commercial partnership agreements.… Continue reading

FILE - Great Britain’s Andrew Matthews, from left to right, Ben Simons, Toby Olubi and Lamin Deen celebrate after their second-place finish in a four-man World Cup Bobsleigh race in Whistler, British Columbia, in this Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, file photo. British Bobsleigh and Skeleton announced Thursday, June 17, 2021, that the four-man team of Deen, Simons, Olubi and Matthews has been upgraded to the gold medal for a race that occurred Nov. 25, 2017 in Whistler, Canada. The Russian crew that beat them that day has since been disqualified. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Britain upgraded to World Cup bobsled gold from 2017 race

Driver of Russian sled was sanctioned for doping violations

Leylah Annie Fernandez, of Canada, returns a shot Marie Bouzkova, of the Czech Republic, in round 1 of the Rogers Cup women’s tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday August 5, 2019. Leylah Annie Fernandez lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3) to No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the second round of the Viking Classic Birmingham on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez loses third-set tiebreaker against Ons Jabeur

Jabeur now heads to the quarterfinals at the WTA Tour 250 grass-court event

Feist performs during the Polaris Music Prize gala in Toronto on September 18, 2017. Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist is hitting the road with what’s described as an intimate and “unconventional production” featuring all new music.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Donovan
Leslie Feist to debut new music in ‘unconventional’ and intimate ‘Multitudes’ show

Calgary-raised artist will debut show at Kampnagel Festival in Germany

Letter: Improvements coming to two intersections in Red Deer to help cyclists

A letter in the Advocate on June 9 with complaints about cyclists… Continue reading

Opinion
Opinion: Trudeau tight-lipped on Constitution attack

When exactly did Canada become a Constitution-bashing country? For nearly 30 years,… Continue reading

Most Read