Anglers face catch-and-release restrictions two months after an oil spill fouled the Red Deer River and Dickson Dam, the province announced on Friday.
Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development will assess fish populations and aquatic ecosystem health through various sampling and monitoring programs on the main stem of the Red Deer River, upstream of Dickson Dam, including Gleniffer Lake and Dickson Trout Pond, to Banff National Park boundary and all flowing tributary waters.
The zero harvest restriction, which takes effect on Tuesday, will be in place for the remainder of the 2012 to 2013 angling season to allow officials to productively study the fish.
The announcement of the restriction two months after 3,000 barrels (475,000 litres) of light sour crude oil was released into the Red Deer River from a rupture Plains Midstream Canada pipeline about one km north of Sundre is questionable, local fishing outfitters say.
For 16 years, Dave Jensen has operated Flyfish Alberta, a local company that hosts guided flyfishing trips on the Red Deer River.
He said the catch-and-release restriction two months after the spill indicates that there are few things happening when it comes to environmental protection. He adds that the Fisheries Management Branch is reactionary to the things that happen.
“The fact that the government takes so long to make a decision on ‘Hey, maybe we should make this a catch-and-release’ tells you about the larger picture,” Jensen said.
“It has taken two months for something so obvious to happen and it is just reflective on how these things work,” he said.
“Is this something that could have happened immediately but didn’t? Yes.”
But the study, which will analyze fish tissue for contaminants, changes to fish biology, ecology or physiology is merely “proactive and precautionary,” Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development spokesperson Jessica Potter said.
“The program itself is going into effect right now. The first priority is to clean up the problem. We tested the water itself and now it is a matter on determining if there are long-term impacts to the fish.”
Potter said fishers shouldn’t be concerned if they consumed the fish prior to the catch-and-release restriction issued on Friday.
It is unknown what action the government would take if the fish were found to be impacted by the spill.
“I don’t want to speculate on the what if,” Potter said.
“I think it is important for us to get the study underway and once those results are in, we will determine the next step.”
The Red Deer River and its tributaries are home to various species of fish, including bull trout, brown trout and Rocky Mountain white fish. Walleye and pike can be found in Gleniffer Lake.
Garry Pierce has been running his business Tailwater Drifters, a fishing guide company on the Red Deer River, for 16 years.
“I have been on this river since I was a young boy, it’s my whole life,” he said.
He said it’s going to take the government a full season to compile proper data.
“Spawning grounds for the fish require clean, oxygenated water, which I am sure we have lost.
“The fish will go through their annual spawning naturally but with the contamination in the gravel, who knows if those eggs will ever hatch?” he said.
Pierce is not only concerned about impacts to recreation and his business, but also about conservation and the well-being of the habitat.
“Nothing will ever be the same after a disaster like this, it just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
The catch-and-release restrictions do not apply to the Burnstick Lake or the stocked trout lakes and ponds, such as Beaver Lake, Birch Lake, Dormer Lake, Eagle Lake and Yellowhead Lake.
More information can be found at www.mywildalberta.ca.